Aliens – FootnotesThe Dark Herald
This post is 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 his 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 when I was in the Marine Corps. Bullpup carbine rifles are a decent 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 report 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 fashion 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.
However, if you mounted it on a low-profile robot you’d be in business.
And so long as I’m on tactics, you don’t lead with that kind of machine gun 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. Leading with your squad’s machine gun is a good way of getting that gun snatched and immediately turned on your own squad.
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 seems to have changed his mind. If you look through the edited out “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. This 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 the first act 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.
For me, the weakest part of the movie was when the Momma Alien 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. Its only real purpose was to tear up the android-like in the first movie. It would have been a better movie if Cameron had cut it entirely.
The characters. Probably the strongest selling point in this film. Ripley was in the position of 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 her consequent motivation for later actions, no matter how extreme they became were justifiable to the audience. She wasn’t losing this daughter too. 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 the history of film 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.
Okay, I’m done here.