Alien and Aliens

 

THE PERFECT SEQUEL

RIDLEY SCOTT
"Theres also no question that Cameron made an excellent film with Aliens. It really is an achievement" (Alien: Illustrated Screenplay)

""It's always tough to follow a successful film with a sequel to it ... It could never be as frightening [in the sequel] because you've already seen it. Therefore, what I think James Cameron [did with ALIENS] was a terrific action-picture. It's difficult what he accomplished"

"I would never ever critique or criticize Aliens because I think it was very successful and what he did was really good" (Jake Hamil int 2012)

Alien has since been subjected to the ignominy of three sequels.. Of these, Scott (and everyone else) prefers the first: James Cameron's Aliens (1986) -  independent.co.uk introduction before an interview with Ridley Scott

DAN O'BANNON:

 " [Cameron] just about pulled it off. It was a separate movie in its own right. [It's] a good answer to the problem which is how to sequelize this. Plus, he was very wise not to try to handle it as a fear-evoking horror suspense tale like the first one (...) He was able to turn it to something he could work with to advantage. And you know, it was pretty good."

'Cameron, in the first [sequel], did about the only thing you could do, which was that he changed to a different genre, from a horror movie to an action film. But once he had done that, there really was nothing left to do [in the further sequels].'

HR GIGER:

 "It's all beautifully done, everything, the designs and the way they're executed. The Alien Queen is also nice. She's a bit smaller in the face than my alien but my basic design was very well studied. She was frighteningly well animated.

The Alien Queen is very complicated, like the way I would have done. I like how she moves

'James Cameron's sequel, Aliens, was a great film, but I wasn't invited to work on it. My designs were already done, so they didn't need me.'

'Aliens was also terrific. I am sorry I was not asked to work on it. At first I thought, “This is like a war film,” but it is really powerful.

VERONICA CARTWRIGHT

The first sequel I thought was really good however - however, I thought there were far too many aliens. The third one was just depressing, the fourth one was ridiculous, ugh" (jco, chiller expo 2015)

“I like the second, I like the second one very much.” (2013)

DAVID FINCHER:

"The first two Alien films are two of my favorite movies" (Starbust magazine 1992)

“I love Alien and I respect and really liked Aliens. Jim [Cameron]’s movie is one of the 20 best movies ever made (BAFTA discussion 2014)

 

While both movies are different in certain aspects, they do maintain a very impressive continuity in many areas. James Cameron had done an incredible research and study on the first movie, its look, feel and creature, and incorporated it all into his own take on the story. Cameron created a seamless blend with the first movie in the beginning, and then gradually partially freed the movie from Scott's stylistic and visual guidelines. The beginning of Aliens screams Alien stylistically and visually then mixes with Cameron's style but never fully leaves. This way the audience gets something new and interesting while also maintaining a stylistic continuity, and going back to the great visual style that was such a huge part of the Alien look. He also uses the same structure for pacing and story construction.

Both Ridley Scott and James Cameron are visual filmmakers and artists, both putting a lot into their frames, its design and composition, and both fill the frame with some extraordinary artistic images. In order to have a similar feel and not drift too much away from the original Alien and what made it great, Cameron wanted some visual consistency with the first movie. Both movies use this dream-like, nightmarish, backlit shadowy imagery

James Cameron: I wanted to create a seamless blend coming from the end of the first film into the beginning of the second film. And I certainly wanted to honor all the things that were good about the first film, so I went to school on Ridley's style of photography, which was actually quite a bit different from mine because he uses a lot of long lenses much more so than I was used to working with, but you know, the smoke, the backlight , the textures, the way he forces the frame by putting a lot of equipment and machinery and foreground pieces and so on , I really studied all that because I wanted it to be a stylistic continuity. Now, I also wanted to have my own style, you know, grafted onto that so that I felt enough of a sense of authorship to make it worth doing (Aliens Audio Commentary)

The backlit dream-like hazy imagery is preserved

 

The creature itself is presented in the dream-like imagery as well, whether as a shadow, shape or backlit silhouette. The Aliens script itself contains the imagery as well, describing the aliens as  “nightmarish figure[s]“, “dark shapes”, “silhouettes”, and the encounter in the hive as a “battle of phantoms”

"Bone-like, tube-like shapes shift, becoming emerging Aliens. Dimly glimpsed, glints of slime. Silhouettes…" - Aliens script

“The silhouette of the Alien was the most important thing" - Stan Winston in Winston Effect book

Cameron knew exactly how he was gonna shoot these things. He knew how it was going to be an interplay between shadow and light on these things. That was the whole element of the Aliens that he wanted to get across on film, seeing the movement of living creatures coming out of the dark and into the light, moving through the light and never really focusing, never studying them.” -  Tom Woodfruff (former Stan Winston crew member), Making of Aliens

In addition to what has been mentioned above, the original movie used a lot of blues in the night scenery, a style that Aliens continued. In art, the blue color often symbolizes darkness, or accents blackness

The backlight creates a dreamy, otherworldly glow and accents silhouettes

For further visual consistency, Cameron hired Ron Cobb who designed Nostromo and its interiors, to design the colony, Atmosphere Processor, and all of its interiors. He also hired Syd Mead who designed Blade Runner, another one of Scott's classics. One can even notice a spear gun still stuck in the door on Narcissus, an amazing attention to detail, considering the shuttle was built from scratch purely based on photos and videos from the original movie

Cameron took great care in paying respects to the original. What's very interesting is where the action sequences are placed, impacting the story in same places where the action did in the original. "Different yet preserving the spirit and essence of the original".

Alien and Aliens work like parallel lines also when it comes to the story/pacing structure. Nothing happens throughout almost an entire movie and we don't even get to see an alien until over an hour, like in original Alien. Plus it has a very similar pacing structure to the original - Nothing happens in the first 2/3 of the movie except for one major event (chestbursting/hive attack) that takes the story onto different track (trying to survive alien/s, panic and planning). For the last 1/3 it’s a non stop action and fast pace in contrast to the rest of the movie. Both are pressed for time before the mass explosion at the end, Both have a false happy ending. In both we know only as much as the characters, and we're never ahead.

While Aliens is obviously more of an action movie than Alien, and while obviously the action is on a much bigger and grander scale, they actually share the same amount of action sequences

ALIEN

- nothing happens for half of the movie, its just a buildup
- Then one major event happens (1).Chestbursting in Alien, which changes the course of the story into a different track, from planned return home into survival story
- While the characters are sitting thinking what to do next, nothing happens for a while again aside from 2 relatively brief action inserts - (2). Brett's death which alters the events even further, showing that the alien is now big and lethal forcing them to alter plans and figure something new out and (3). Dallas' vents accident, which alters their plan again and makes them rethink their next move
- Then the crew realizes one of them was trying to sacrifice them to obtain the alien, trying to kill them to shut their mouth and not intervene, so (4).Ash tries to kill Ripley
- then the action that doesn't let go till the end starts after (5). Parker and Lambert get attacked and killed,
- (6). Ripley goes back into the bowels of the dying, alarming ship with timer closing in to the explosion that will vaporize it. Takes Jonesy and barely makes an escape from the exploding location
- After a brief sight of relief it appears its not the end yet, as it appears that Alien stowed in the ship, and (7).last conflict/fight for survival commences between Ripley and the alien after which the creature is hurdled into space.

ALIENS

- nothing happens for half of the movie, its just a buildup
- Then one major event happens (1). Marines ambushed in the hive in Alien, which changes the course of the story into a different track, from planned rescue mission into survival story
- While the characters are sitting thinking what to do next, nothing happens for a while again aside from 2 relatively brief action inserts - (2). Ferro's and Spunkmeyer's deaths, which alter the events even further forcing them to alter plans and figure something new out and Atmosphere Processor starting to vent, which alters their plan again and makes them rethink their next move. (3). Sentry gun sweep happens
- Then the crew realizes one of them was trying to sacrifice them to obtain the alien, trying to kill them to shut their mouth and not intervene, so (4).Burke traps Ripley and Newt with 2 loose facehuggers
- then the action that doesnt let go till the end starts after (5). Vasquez, Hudson, Burke and Gorman get killed in Operations ambush,
- (6). Ripley goes back into the bowels of the dying, alarming Atmosphere Prcessor with timer closing in to the explosion that will vaporize it. Takes Newt and barely makes an escape from the exploding location
- After a brief sight of relief it appears its not the end yet, as it appears that Queen stowed in the ship, and (7).last conflict/fight for survival commences between Ripley and the Queen after which the creature is hurdled into space.

Aliens has an extremely unusual structure for a movie billed under the Action genre. It basically has the horror movie structure of the Alien, relying completely on tension of the entrapment until one big climax at the end. While Alien is a marathon of suspense, Aliens is a marathon of tension

H.R. Giger: [Aliens is] one immense buildup towards a single climax" (Cinefantastique '88)

The same kind of hypersensitivity exits in both movies. In Alien, you can "loudly" hear the water dripping, chains clinking, the heart beat, the breath, the dead silence. Aliens also sets up the mood with water dripping, loud breathing and audible wind blowing in empty corridors someplace distant. This kind of ghostly mood heightening all the senses was a very big part of what made those two movies so great

 

Aliens admittedly, goes for a bigger punch and grander scale. While Alien was a simple B story, Aliens went for more depth, dwelling into Ripley's backstory and making her internal struggle and journey the main element of the story, while the original filmmakers were not very interested in characters, nor where they required to be, since the movie was a simple, but terrifying haunted house story

Ridley Scott: 'Alien' has absolutely no message.'Alien's' only point is terror, and more terror. (via indiewire.com)

James Cameron: There are a lot of soldiers from Vietnam, who have been in intense combat situations, who re-enlisted to go back again. Because they had these psychological problems that they had to work out. It's like an inner demon to be exorcised. That was a good metaphor for [Ripley's] character (...) The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile, but that it is indifferent - but if we can come to terms with the indifference, then our existence as a species can have genuine meaning. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.

Sigourney Weaver: The emotional content is much greater in Aliens (...) "To me, [Aliens] is the story of a woman who loses her whole life, and has to start over again (Starbust 1987)

The "Sleeping Beauty' shot from Alien, as described by David Giler (producer, uncredited co-writer of 'Alien'), has also been echoed in Aliens as part of Narrative Symmetry

A careful research was also done on the plot. While it may come up as confusing or not clear in the original movie, the company did not know about the Alien at all, and everything points out at the work of one or few individuals, the same way Burke acted in Aliens.

Ridley Scott: This particular corporation didn't have any preconceived notion that an alien would be found on this mission, much less the particular alien that is brought onto the ship. The idea of bringing it back would not have been on the minds of the corporation executives when they first received the alien transmission. They just had high expectations when they ordered the Nostromo to investigate - it was purely out of curiosity. (via alienseries blog)

Have the Company known about the signal before hand or what to find there, a specialized team would have been sent ASAP, as it has been in Alien 3 - an entire warship with the best scientific team and security, accompanied by a very important designer/scientist has been sent high speed for one specimen only. Nostromo was close when someone in the Company had intercepted the signal, so the blue collar workers had been sent out  to check it out - much the same way as Burke sends blue collar workers with a quiet, direct order to check out the spot where the Derelict was suppose to be. In Alien, after the ship had disappeared, whoever sent them there swept everything under a rug and stayed quiet, hoping no one will trace any of those events to him. Consequences and penalties for being responsible of death of the entire crew and disappearance of the ship would have been dire

The reason why Ash was brought onboard is,  as Ridley says, simply because the Company wanted to have a man who will make sure the workers aren't stealing any of the payload. It was a plain coincidence that this trip would encounter the new life form

Ridley Scott: In fact, [Industrial-Government complex] is already responsible for the paranoia prevalent on all the ships because of its insistence on placing a Company man on each vehicle. In this case, he takes the form of a robot, Ash. This would seem to be the normal development of a huge corporation trying to protect its interests. In this particular future, it would be very easy for pirating to exist. Corporations will have to find ways to assure that vehicles carrying minerals or vital information will not be hijacked. (via alienseries blog)

The special order was given by Muthur intelligence, realizing how precious the organism is to the company. The company itself, or anyone involved could not send this transmission since the ship was beyond the outer rim where they could not send or receive any transmissions. Since Ridley made it clear the company had no idea what is on the planet, the order could not be planted before hand, and since there was no communication available, it was not sent to the computer from outside, therefore it originated from Muthur.

All this explains why the Company itself did not follow up with expedition or another ship. Also, only a research could show at the time that the signal of the derelict was disabled, therefore, could not attract any other ships. In the original script and a scene that was storyboarded but not scripted, Dallas and co. find the source of the signal. The scene made it into novelization. Pictured below is Ridley's diagram showing Dallas discovering the beacon device

In addition to that, James Cameron developed further explanations as to why the derelict hasn't been found since. In Aliens, the derelict is much more damaged, broken and embodied in rock. It has been damaged by earthquakes, storms and lava movement, which dipped it in rock, making it even harder to find

James Cameron: Since we and the Nostromo crew last saw it, it has been damaged by volcanic activity, a lava flow having crushed it against a rock outcropping and ripped open its hull. Aside from considerations of visual interest, this serves as a justification for the acoustic beacon being non-operational. (Starlog 1987)

The smoking lava cracks are visible in the movie, and had also appear in the original Alien. Although hard to see in the movie, the extended scenes showcase them more

In addition to that, the novelization further explains:

"It's blocked off from colony's detector by these mountains, and you know that surveillance satellites are useless in this kind of atmosphere."

"You couldn't pick up any infrared on this part of the planet: new air coming out of the atmosphere processor is too hot"

In the course of 57 years, the mountains- surrounded Derelict has collapsed and partially dipped into ground

With no heat signature, surrounded by mountains and rock formations, and with a silhouette of surrounding rocks, the topographic equipment could not possibly spot it

The creature's design and influence has also remained more or less the same. The design was mainly a reprise of Giger's brilliant original design, showcasing even more of his design by removing the dome and exposing more of Giger's patterns underneath it (more on that HERE), and the creature drew further from the same influences as Obannon, Schusset and Scott did - the terrifying world of insects (more on it HERE). As far as movement, Cameron realized what Scott tried to, but couldn't at the time, due to technical limitations of the era. For example, originally the Alien was suppose to leap from wall to wall chasing Dallas in the vents

Ridley Scott: ‘What I wanted was to have really huge air ducts –taller, in fact, than the corridors in the ship - so that when Dallas first sees it there, it’s standing on the roof of this giant wind tunnel, suspended upside down. Then I was going to have it roar down the tunnel toward him, running and jumping full-circle around the walls.’ (Alien: Special Effects)

Nick Allder: We were really quite limited with what we could do with the Alien. At one point, the script called for it to run up and down the corridors  (Alien: Special Effects)

The original Alien in result, is never actually shown walking or taking a step. The leaping could finally be realize in Aliens

James Cameron: I went more for motion as opposed to design. We kept the design more or less the same as [Alien] ... We spent most of our R&D time on motion (...) people need very few pixels of information to identify a human figure, and most of that identification is through motion. The way we walk is so ingrained in us mentally that you can see it just like that. So what we did was we actually re-designed the suit and made it simpler and less sophisticated and basically freed it so that it was much more flexible (Don Shay Int 1986)

Fortunately, Scott walked around the limitation of the suit and the story didn't call for the creature to be fast except for one moment. Most of Alien's victims walked into him, and were unarmed. Those situations allowed the Alien to sneak up and then hiss at its victim before snatching them up for cocooning (ex. Brett) , like snakes or other animals before attacking. The Alien Warriors do the same when facing a helpless, unarmed victim.

But when the situation calls for action, and the alien senses an (armed) threat, it rushes and lounges in a matter of seconds.

There also has been more elements that were planned but couldn't be done in Alien, but were made possible by Aliens. originally, Ripley was going to be in danger of getting sucked out of the shuttle as well, and the alien was supposed to grab her ankle, as Queen did in Aliens.

Also, originally Scott was thinking about a female Alien (quotes via alienseries blog)

Ridley Scott: 'Originally I wanted a very feminine creature. The idea of associating danger and sexual desire, to have a creature that was at once desirable and lethal and that was exciting' (...) wanted to not only have a strong heroine, but I also wanted to make the creature female as well: two women battling one another would have had a great sexual connotation (via alienseries blog)

Eventually they could not find a female of the tall size and with proper athletic skills at the same time. Of course, a female adversary appeared in Aliens, so it should be no surprise when Scott called the Alien Queen a "great idea" in Aliens: Illustrated Screenplay. The Queen's design itself continued the sexual aspects of the original, since the Queen is a female, with literally grabbing breasts, high heel-like feet and corset-like waist design.

H.R. Giger "I like the fight at the end very much ... The Alien Queen is very complicated, like the way I would have done. I like how she moves, and the scenes with Ripley are very good." (Sci-Fi Invasion! 1998.)

The facehugger itself got an even slightly more sexual makeover. The underbelly area had sexually suggestive designs now

The nature and intentions of the beast are also preserved. Depending on who is asked, the original alien is either an insect (according to Scott) or an animal (according to Obannon), however its rather clear its a mix of both. Scott explained that the alien was a creature driven purely by instinct, and Obannon made it clear he's an animal as well:

 Dan Obannon: I wanted the thing to be, in every respect, a natural animal (2004)

Therefore, as an insectal animal, it  abducts viable hosts and kills the threat (more on it in the Biomechanical Insect article HERE). Therefore some marines get killed, and some taken as hosts. As in original Alien, Parker gets killed while others get abducted.

James Cameron: If we assume the Aliens have intelligence, at least in the central guiding authority of the Queen, then it is possible that these decisions may have a tactical basis. For example, Ferro was a greater threat, piloting the heavily armed dropship, than she was a desirable host for reproduction. Newt, and most of the colonists, were unarmed and relatively helpless, therefore easily captured for hosting. As to the purpose of the Alien... I think that's clear. They're just trying to make a living, same as us. It's not their fault that they happen to be disgusting parasitical predators, any more than a black widow spider or a cobra can be blamed for its biological nature

Sigourney Weaver: Its first priority was to perpetuate itself. Which means it's us or it. ( Fantastic Films, 1979)

Ridley Scott: 'insects will utilise other bodies to be the hosts of their eggs. That's how the Alien would use Dallas and each of the crew members it kills. This explains why the Alien doesn't kill everybody at once, but rather kills them off one by one: it wants to use each person as a separate host each time it has new eggs. (via alienseries blog)

Lambert's fate was not clear in the movie due to an afterthought editing insert, and it created some confusion as to why or how did it kill her. It is hinted that the alien is about to use its bladed tail to kill her, however that is not the case. The insert is taken from an earlier scene with Brett, and from that scene we know the alien used the tail to lift him up and take him to the vents. The 1979 Illustrated Story showed the alien as actually stabbing the back. There have even been some suggestions of some sort of sexual act, however that would make no sense since the alien does not have any reproductive organs and does not need to engage in a sexual act. This wild theory has originated from Sigourney Weaver, but Ridley Scott was puzzled by it himself

Q: Sigourney Weaver told me that she believed the Alien looked at Ripley in the final scene with curiosity and perhaps sexual interest.
Ridley Scott: I never thought about it that way. I find that her comment is ... certainly odd (via alienseries blog)

Ron Shusset: 'People have read all kinds of things into it that we didn’t intend, not even subconsciously. (2004 doc)

Scott naturally denied the creature having sexual desires, and its an "insect" and "natural animal", which was "completely instinctual". Today, in the age of easy access to information, it is more commonly known what had happened to Lambert. She simply unintentionally killed herself , dying from fright trying to escape/hide in a small lock, getting a heart attack and hurting herself in the process

Cartwright: Ridley wanted to do a thing where I freak out and crowded back into one of those lockers that the cat came out of. I sort of crawl up into it and dire of fright.

In the novelization also, its described that Ripley finds Lambert's body squeezed violently into the airshaft (in the movie its been said to be the locker). Lambert pretty much died of fright and panickly tried to hide in a small locker, breaking her bones and ripping her clothes and eventually panicking to the point her heart stopped. This is what she is hanging from, the locker that she stuffed herself into

Scott: Veronica was always great at barely controlled terror. Catatonic terror. She's always like, two steps from a heart attack, which I think she finally does at the end - have a heart attack. 'You'd probably die before the thing touched you anyway. I mean, you'd have a heart attack, right? You'd turn and see it and last about four seconds before you had a coronary

Dan Obannon confirmed what actually happened to Lambert in Famous Monster #159

O'Bannon: "Finally, returning to Lambert & Parker's murders, when we see the result of the creature's attack we notice that her bare legs are hung midair but we are not shown why. Well. the alien came thru the airshaft; that's where it shoved the body."

From the full footage (and graphic novel) we know where the tail goes, it slowly and deeply stabs Brett in the back

In Alien, the alien descends from above (the reason for it, according to Scott being that he "wanted to show them [the audience] that it was big, but not how big") and abducts Brett. The interesting thing about it is that it has never been explained how did it start its ascend back since it was not using his tail or his hands, at least not at first. In Aliens, an alien descends on Dietrich and takes her up as well, in the same way, albeit in one quick shot we can see it climbing up. Its still the same mystery as how it started its ascend.

Alien blends in perfectly with some environment, a skill consciously and purposely recreated in Aliens

Since the original Alien movie went for a more real approach, the creature did not become a grand cliche - it was an animal, which could be killed if shot by weapons of any sort.

Dan Obannon: "I was stuck on one point; once they got the thing on the spaceship, I wanted to avoid the cliché of bullets bouncing off of it: the indestructible monster, I mean, that's the ancient cliché, right? 'You can't stop it, bullets won't stop it.' Not at all. I wanted the thing to be, in every respect, a natural animal, which means, yes, if you shoot it, it'll die."
"Once I had gotten the Alien inside the ship, I encountered a narrative problem, namely, why didn't they just kill the thing? ... Generations of writers before me had resorted to, 'Bullets won't stop it!' which is, of course, the biggest groaner of all time. Bullets will stop anything ... Though deadly, the critter was as vulnerable as any other animal to having holes drilled in it." (2004)

To present that point,  in the movie, when Ripley shoots it with a small spear, the alien's chest explodes with acid and the creature squeals in pain. Naturally, A light fast [up to 1200RPM for the smart gun, apparently], self guiding, steel piercing, explosive, dead-on machine gun caseless rounds that can rip apart vehicles wrecked havoc on them

 The same actor that played the alien in the first movie comes back as one of the aliens in Aliens. In the original, Eddie Powell played the Alien during the Brett's and Kane's death scenes (Bolaji Badejo played during Parker's and Lambert's death scene and in the shuttle, Roy Scammel appeared as the creature outside the shuttle)

 

Written by Adrian Czarny

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