This Time it's War.
In 1986 the highly anticipated sequel to Ridley Scott's masterpiece Alien (1979), was released to a very excited film-going audience. Much to everyone's surprise, many found Aliens to be just as good as its predecessor. Staying true to the universe that Ridley Scott had created, James Cameron took the series in a new direction, away from horror to action.
Warning: The following text contains spoilers
57 years after the events in Alien, the escape pod from the Nostromo is intercepted by a deep space salvage ship. Inside, they discover Ellen Ripley fast asleep in her 'hyper-sleep' unit. She is taken back to Earth. After an inquiry into why she blew up the Nostromo, she tries to return to a normal life, but her dreams are filled with nightmares about the alien. One day, she is contacted by Carter Burke, a representative of 'The Company'. He informs her that they have lost contact with a colony set up on LV-4261 and he wants Ripley to go with him and a squad of 'Colonial Marines' to the colony as an advisor. Though initially reluctant, Ripley agrees to join the mission and they board the military space ship Sulaco, bound for LV-426.
The Sulaco pulls into orbit above LV-426; the squad is woken up and briefed on the rescue mission. The team consists of:
- Lieutenant Gorman (William Hope)
- Sergeant Apone (Al Matthews)
- Corporal Dietrich (Cynthia Dale Scott)
- Corporal Ferro (Colette Hiller)
- Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn)
- Private Crowe (Tip Tipping)
- Private Drake (Mark Rolston)
- Private Frost (Ricco Ross)
- Private Hudson (Bill Paxton)
- Private Spunkmeyer (Daniel Kash)
- Private Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein)
- Private Wierzbowski (Trevor Steedman)
They board the drop ship and head down to the planet. Landing at the colony, they drive away in the drop ship's Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) and discover that the colony appears to be deserted. The walls and floors are scarred from a battle between the colonists and the aliens, the aliens' acidic blood melting through several floors of the colony. As the marines search the colony, they find a very scared little girl who calls herself 'Newt3' (Carrie Henn). Taking Newt with them, they head for the colony's command centre, where they use the colony's internal tracking system to look for the other colonists. The scanners find them deep within the colony's Atmosphere Processor4. Leaving Ripley, Newt, Gorman and Burke in the APC watching via cameras, the marines head into the Processor to rescue the colonists.
Within the dark confines of the Atmosphere Processor, the marines discover that the walls are covered with a strange organic structure. Ripley, who is watching closely, notices that the marines are right under the cooling system for the colony's nuclear reactor and that any stray bullets punching the cooling system might cause the reactor to overheat and explode, so she advises not to shoot. Reluctantly the marines holster their machine guns and arm themselves with flamethrowers, shotguns and harsh language. Cautiously the marines edge forward and discover the colonists cocooned in the walls. Most of them are already dead, but one of the colonists suddenly awakes, begging the marines to kill her. An instant later, she starts convulsing and a baby alien5 rips through her chest. The marines immediately torch the baby alien with a flamethrower, but its screams have awoken the alien hive, and the walls begin to move.
The aliens launch themselves out of the darkness with astonishing ferocity; the marines are rapidly cut down from every side. Privates Drake and Vasquez, struggling to hold off the alien advance, defy their ceasefire order and open fire with their huge Smart Guns. At the same time, Ripley has grabbed the controls of the APC and is racing to the rescue. She pulls up and the few surviving marines climb aboard. Ripley races back outside of the Atmosphere Processor, but she drives the APC too hard, wrecking the vehicle's axles, and is forced to stop. They abandon the APC and radio the drop ship to come and pick them up, with the plan to 'nuke' the site from orbit, because: 'it's the only way to be sure', but as the drop ship approaches, the survivors realise something is wrong. An alien has climbed aboard the drop ship and the pilotless craft is now careering out of control, it just misses the survivors and crashes directly behind them.
The survivors, now only comprising Ripley, Newt, Hicks, Hudson, Vasquez, Burke, Bishop (who isn't trusted by Ripley due to her experiences of her first voyage), and unconscious Gorman, retreat back to the Command Centre and build barricades in an effort to keep the aliens out. Bishop then draws their attention to huge plumes of steam coming from the Atmosphere Processor, the earlier firefight has ruptured the reactor's cooling system, and Bishop estimates that they have about four hours before the reactor explodes. Bishop then volunteers to head through a long pipe to the colony's communications dish to contact the Sulaco and bring down the second drop ship. Ripley and Newt try to sleep, but their sleep is interrupted by two 'Facehuggers'. Ripley tries to escape when she discovers that the door is locked. She manages to keep the Facehuggers at bay and sets off the fire alarm, bringing Hicks to the rescue, who dispatches the Facehuggers with his pulse rifle. Ripley realises that the Facehugger attack wasn't an accident: Burke had released the creatures into the room, in the hope of Ripley and Newt being impregnated with aliens, so that he could take alien specimens back to the 'Company' and claim a substantial reward. The survivors are arguing about what to do, when suddenly the power cuts out and the alien attack begins.
Emerging through the ceiling and floor, the aliens catch the survivors by surprise. Hudson is pulled kicking, screaming and cursing to his death and Burke is cornered while trying to escape and is ripped apart. The rest of the survivors flee through the ventilation tunnels, but Vasquez and Gorman fall behind and destroy themselves with a grenade as the aliens close in around them. The blast throws Newt down a ventilation shaft. Ripley and Hicks run after her, but by the time they get to the place, Newt has been dragged away by an alien. Hicks is then badly burned by alien blood and they struggle to get to the surface, where Bishop meets them with the second drop ship.
Ripley orders Bishop to fly to the Atmosphere Processor, where she believes Newt has been taken. Strapping a flamethrower and a pulse rifle together, she heads down into the Processor which is by now dangerously close to meltdown. Deep within the Processor she finds Newt and the alien queen. There is a moment's pause while Ripley and the queen size each other up. Then Ripley torches the nest with the flamethrower and fires grenades into the queen's huge egg-laying sac. Ripley grabs Newt and runs back up to the landing pad. The queen gives chase, ripping her way through the nest in hot pursuit. Ripley makes it to the landing pad to find the drop ship gone. With the queen catching up with them, Ripley prepares herself for her death as the meltdown warning starts the countdown. Then suddenly the drop ship appears, scooping up Ripley and Newt and they fly off to the Sulaco while the colony is obliterated when the Atmosphere Processor explodes.
They dock with the Sulaco and Ripley is talking to Bishop, when suddenly the android gets ripped in half and the alien queen emerges from the drop ship. Ripley runs for the enormous 'Power Loader6'. Climbing aboard, she lunges at the queen, screaming: "Get away from her you Bitch!", drawing the queen towards her and away from Newt. Ripley and the queen struggle, as Ripley edges the alien towards the airlock. Activating the airlock doors, they're blown into space, but the Power Loader catches in the airlock and Ripley manages to clamber back into the Sulaco. Ripley closes the airlock and breathes a sigh of relief as the queen vanishes into the black abyss of space.
The Making of Aliens
Originally hired just to write the screenplay, Cameron so impressed the 20th Century Fox executives with the script that they not only brought him on as director, but also agreed to wait for him to finish filming The Terminator before starting production on Aliens. Unfortunately, like most of James Cameron's productions, Aliens was beset by problems. The first, and possibly the largest, was that originally Sigourney Weaver did not want to be in the movie, as she was worried about substandard sequels spoiling the prestige of the original film. However, after reading James Cameron's script, she decided to join the film, being particularly impressed with the mother-daughter bond between Ripley and Newt which she felt feminised Ripley, making her seem more real. Cameron ran into numerous problems with cast and crew walking out on the notoriously difficult director. Actor James Remar, who was originally to play Hicks, left over 'artistic differences', forcing Cameron to hire Michael Biehn, who he had worked with on The Terminator, to replace him7. The Director of Photography Dick Bush, was replaced with Adrien Biddle: again over 'artistic differences', and the Assistant Director Derek Cracknell staged a mass walkout over the then untested (The Terminator hadn't been released at this point) James Cameron being Director of such a prestigious film.
Eventually all these 'artistic differences' were sorted out and the film production went ahead. Stan Winston and his special effects team worked hard to create alien suits, animatronic aliens of various sizes, a fully-mobile Facehugger and the 19-feet-long alien queen animatronic puppet. The film's vehicles were mainly models, but the APC was originally a 75 ton tow truck used for towing airplanes around airport runways. The 'Power-Loader' was a fibreglass frame that was supported by a stunt man; Sigourney Weaver was then strapped in front of him, leading to a joke among the cast and crew involving a strategically-placed balloon. The weaponry used in the film consisted entirely of real guns with modified outer shells. The 'M-41A Pulse Rifle' was originally a Thompson submachine gun with a Franchi SPAS 12 shotgun welded to the bottom, the outer shell was made very angular and sleek, with a bullet counter that has become standard on many futuristic weapons in both films and computer games. The M-56A2 Smart Gun was once a MG-42 machine gun attached to a Steadicam8 harness and the M-240A1 Incinerator was built from bits of an M-16 Assault Rifle with a special effects flamethrower in the middle.
The filming was a gruelling, but nevertheless fun process. The cast members playing the Colonial Marines were sent on two weeks' training with the SAS. This was designed to get them in the mindset of soldiers and allow them to get to know each other and create a sense of comradeship. They were encouraged to personalise their armour and equipment, to add to their character's personality. The majority of the filming took place either at a decommissioned power plant in Acton or in the Pinewood Studios. The filming in Acton was hampered by the high level of asbestos in the structure as constant checks slowed work, but afterwards it was discovered that the air quality was actually worse at the Pinewood Studios. During filming, a lot of care and attention was focused on making sure that the then nine-year-old Carrie Henn9 wasn't traumatised by what she saw while performing her role as Newt. In fact, Carrie Henn seemed to highly enjoy her experience; Sigourney Weaver took her under her wing, making sure she was always okay, especially during the very tough (and cold) scenes in the queen's lair.
The last weeks before the release were incredibly hectic. The final film had not been completed: special effects shots were still uncompleted and Cameron was continually re-editing them. This was a nightmare for the sound and music departments who needed a finished film to compose to. James Horner, the film's composer, was driven spare and was forced to work around the clock to deliver a soundtrack he still isn't entirely happy with.
Much to the surprise of the fans, Aliens turned out to be at least on par with its predecessor, and arguments over which film is superior fly across Internet forums to this day. To 20th Century Fox's great delight, it made massive profits, grossing over $10million in its opening weekend and more than $85million over its total run. The film won two Academy Awards for its visual effects and sound effects, and combined with the success of The Terminator it launched the career of James Cameron as one of Hollywood's top action directors.
Aliens: The Director's Cut
In 1992 20th Century Fox released the Director's Cut of Aliens on laserdisc and video. This version added seventeen minutes of footage that James Cameron had been forced to cut to comply with Fox's demanded running time. The Director's Cut features three major new scenes, the first shows Newt's parents going to explore the alien wreck and Newt's father coming back with a 'Facehugger' attached to his face. The scene also features Carrie Henn's brother Christopher as Newt's brother Tim. The second new scene features Ripley returning to earth to discover that her daughter (whom she had left at the age of nine) had recently died at the age of 67. The old woman shown in this scene is actually Sigourney Weaver's mother Elizabeth Ingliss. The final major scene features the aliens attacking the colony's automated defense machine guns, which had cut through hundreds of aliens until they ran out of ammunition. Other things that weren't shown in the movie are the company's real name 'Weyland-Yutani' written on the walls of the colony, and the colony's name of 'Hadley's Hope' is mentioned.