RE:View Aliens Part II

Typical Marine Corps first date.

This post is really more of a collection of extraneous minutia that I cut from the first post.

One of the Aliens strengths is the design aesthetic. James Cameron started out in the special effects side of things building spaceship models for Battle Beyond the Stars and getting ripped off by Roger Corman for doing it. Corman can spot talent, you have to give him that.

This background as kit-smasher has had a profound impact on the visuals in all of James Cameron’s films. There was a brutalist element that overshadows most of the designs. Probably the place that was most apparent was the surprisingly iconic Aliens Pulse Rifle.

And there is no question, this thing is iconic. There haven’t been too many props that have inspired the cosplay community this much. The interesting thing about it is the detail-work that went into the non-existent technical side of this. I remember when we were looking at the Bullpup Problem. Bullpup carbine rifles are a great solution for urban fighting due to the short barrel length but its architecture creates a fundamental problem in ejecting spent brass. If you are in cover behind the right side of a vehicle you are fine but if you have to go to the left you either expose yourself fully or try to shoot while spraying hot brass in your own face. The simplest solution is to go caseless on the ammo. It’s an idea that comes off the shelf every twenty years or so and invariably the problems of ammo fragility and attendant cook-off put it back on the shelf but it was getting a more serious look than usual in the mid-eighties when Aliens came out. The pump-action grenade launcher was a nice addition too. I also like the unique sound it made when it was being “fired.” Even today you can’t mistake the pulse rifle’s sound for anything else.

The other notable was the (googling now) M56 Smartgun. The specs (that I won’t cut and paste here) mean that it’s basically a mini-gun without the multiple barrels on a steady cam mount. Unlike the pulse rifle, I don’t think you could find a more tactically unsound weapon system. The machine gunner is sky-lining himself in purest John Wayne as soon as he hits the ground. You really, really, really need to be able to lie down if you are using a primary weapon.

And so long as I’m on tactics, you don’t lead with it either. A big part of the squad’s job is to protect it. Which is hard to do if the guy carrying it is the first one in the door.

(*gearshift*)

Aliens appears to be one of those movies that was saved in editing. Initially, Cameron was doing a shot for shot remake of Alien and then he appears to have changed his mind. If you look through the cut “Hadley’s Hope” footage you will see a number of similarities to scenes from the original Alien.

Including the scenes of colonial life on Hadley’s Hope before the infestation would have drastically changed the tone of the film. Just looking at that clip, we would have known everything that was going to happen to the colony. We would have known the sequence of events because we saw them in the first movie. Newt’s Dad “gives birth,” the little Xenomorph gets away. Then the colonists start disappearing as the Queen starts building her brood and then comes the final attack.

Theoretically, we already knew that, but the keyword is, “theoretically.” In the theatrical version, we had a Schrodinger’s Cat of a situation where we didn’t know if the colony was alive or dead until we got a look at it. Not knowing at what stage the problem was at gave it an air of suspense.

If we had seen Hadley’s Hope we would have had a few warm first impressions of work and blue-collar family life. Instead, we only knew it as a cold and empty place and that colored our perceptions, thus affecting the tone.

It also felt just a bit more real to me as a result. When I was a Marine we never got to deal with people before some disaster either man-made or natural had upended their lives. We only showed up after the shit hit the fan.

(*gear shift*)

For me, the weakest part of the movie was when the Momma Alien had hitched a ride back up to the Sulaco. We had already had a climactic battle. The last-minute jump scares and threats to Newt were redundant. I think it’s only real purpose was to tear up the android-like in the first movie.

(*gear shift*)

The characters. Probably the strongest selling point in this film. Ripley, was in the position fo being a mother who had just found out that her daughter, Amanda, had died of old age while she was in hibernation. That gave her a very compelling bond with Newt and gave her consequent motivation for later actions, no matter how extreme they became. Hicks was kind of a retread of Kyle Reese but I was okay with that. He was the Demi-romantic lead for Ripley. Vasquez was one of few women in films who made it look like it would hurt if she punched you. Paul Reiser was fantastic, as the reptilian Burke. A coward but also a closet psychopath that didn’t think twice about endangering a colony and killing Ripley and a child when it was convenient. It was hard not to love Hudson. The loudmouth who was light in the ass, “game over man! Game over!” “Just six weeks left!” But when push came to shove he finally shoved.

And he went down swinging.

(*gear shift*)

Does anybody know if the first colonist the Marines found in the power plant was Newt’s mother?

Possible updates later.

Okay, I’m done here.

8 thoughts on “RE:View Aliens Part II

  1. Another thing I love was that Cameron copied what Ridley did in Alien and Spielberg did in Jaws, which was never giving you a real good look at the creatures until later on. Whatever your imagination fills in the blanks with is far more terrifying than anything they could have put on the screen. This is also why the movie works so much better without the Hadley’s Hope sequence, and why prequels generally suck.

    The Angry Video Game Nerd compared the parts where you’re watching through the marines’ helmet cams to a found footage movie, which makes a lot of sense.

    Fun fact about the pulse rifle: it’s actually just a Thompson SMG and a pump-action shotgun (which is the grenade launcher) held together with a plastic shell and some added metal flair.

    Dark Horse’s first couple of Alien comic arcs (Outbreak, Nightmare Asylum, and Female War) were direct sequels to Aliens until Fox forced them to change Hicks and Newt to “Wilks” and “Billie.” Even with the inherent cheesiness of the medium, they would have been a much better Alien 3 than what we got. The novelizations also have some very spooky details of what an actual Xenomorph takeover of Earth would look like. The original print run is now worth a lot of money.

    I would love to see a sequel to Alien: Isolation set on LV-426 that covers from the outbreak to the marines showing up…

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  2. According to IMDB that is not her mother cocooned. I didn’t know Henn’s actual brother played her brother. I’ve always been happy the Henn left acting and had a real life.

    In the early days of the Internet, some guy had a website dedicated to showing Wierzbowski because he was hard to find in the film.

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  3. Cataline or readers: anyone have a good explanation for why Alien 3 would kill off Newt and Hicks characters at the very beginning? Unless it was a cost-saving measure, it just seems so boneheadedly stupid. I mean, MAYBE the actress’ mom wouldn’t let the evil pederasts at her daughter, so they had to punish her by preventing her from working…but Michael Biehn? Not like he was asking for Tom Cruise money at that time. It’s one of the dumbest most expensive mistakes Hollywood has made, but damned if there’s any explanation I can find on the interwebs about what group of idiots MADE THE CALL to kill off two beloved characters in a money-printing franchise like Aliens.

    If you haven’t read “The Devil’s Candy” about the disaster that became “Bonfire of the Vanities”, strong recommendation. Wish that same author would tackle Aliens 3–fascinating how these dumb decisions get made.

    Also, Kathleen Kennedy for DISNEY CEO!!! Devil Mouse delenda est.

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    1. I haven’t watched this in forever, so it could be in there.

      Alien 3 was one of the most notoriously troubled productions in Hollywood history. Ripley wasn’t even the main character until right before shooting started, for a bunch of reasons. The TV Tropes site has a pretty good summary. Doesn’t excuse the quality of the end product, but it helps you understand how it could be so bad.

      https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/TroubledProduction/FilmSerialOffendersFranchises

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      1. Gibson’s script really gave them the flexibility to add/remove characters from the story without killing them. Since one of the key aspects was the UPP boarding the Sulaco, they could have written it that if the ship was boarded, the pods went into a security lockdown that could only be removed at a military base. Anyone they wanted to use could have had a damaged pod that didn’t lock down properly.

        Sad that Fox went the way they did.

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  4. There should have been no Alien 3. Ripley’s story was pretty much sewn up and didn’t need a continuation. Sigourney Weaver reportedly didn’t want to be in the movie until they promised her a dump truck full of money. I think the producers realized they were up shit crick storywise and that no one was going to like Newt and Hicks dying (apart from those who hated the movie “Aliens” in the first place – yes there are a few who do,) so the moviemakers tried to innovate and get artsy with the production. The problem was, they’d killed off all of the characters the audience liked and introduced (and killed off) a bunch of characters they didn’t like. All because a movie studio wanted to milk a franchise. Alien 3, Home Alone 3, Godfather 3….never trust a movie with 3 in the name….

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  5. First off, THANK YOU MrUNIVAC…that’s an awesome link I didn’t find. IOU a metaphysical beer. Amazes me how the execs can’t keep their finger out of the creative pie. It still doesn’t really explain why KILLING Newt and Hicks was necessary.

    And Cataline re: Henn being 16–that’s not an issue for a decent writer. “9 years later, Newt is 17 and making dinner for her fiance who’s about to graduate Colonial Marine infantry school at Parris Space Station. Her adoptive mother is helping out in kitchen but not very adept at it–she’s also having trouble accepting that Newt is a young woman and will soon move out and leave her nest empty for first time in 9 years.

    Meanwhile, Mustang Captain Hicks (and CO of Recruit Company Delta) has orders to report to a cushy accompanied tour at Ops/Plans but just heard his orders are cancelled–Mining Outpost 47-Charlie has gone radio silent after reporting similar circumstances to LV-426. This time, Hicks will lead an entire company of Colonial Marines with heavy weapons detachment from HHQ to open a can of whup-ass on whatever needs it–the only ROE? No nukes, the stuff being mined too valuable. Hicks not as worried about the redirect assignment as he is worried telling the wife he’s going to face Aliens again. She’ll want to come along as a technical advisor.

    There, now you have Michael Biehn and Sigourney Weaver together, Newt isn’t at risk, and no one is super pissed at killing off beloved characters. Yeah, I know above is just Aliens with more Marines and mayhem. Who in their right mind would have a problem with that?!

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