Chapters 1 & 2. “Main Titles”/“Human Salvage” (0:00 – 5:15)
Logline: Deep space salvagers find a vessel with a long lost occupant… Ellen Ripley.
The Sequence. Slow, moody. Necessary. Longer than it seems.
A bit boring.
The Big Picture. I always compare Alien to a roller coaster. And in this scene, we’re not on the roller coaster. We’re not in line for the roller coaster. We’re not in the amusement park. We’re not in the car on the way to the amusement park. We’re at the kitchen table asking Dad if he can drive us to the amusement park and he’s like “Maybe tomorrow.”
I have issues with the first half hour of this movie (the special edition far more than the theatrical edition), but to get into them now would be not leave ourselves anything to talk about later. That’s how little meat we’ve got on the bone right now. Let’s NOT take a cue from the movie and instead push forward to the good stuff fast as we can.
2:02 – The opening credits are fine but they’ve got nothing on the last film’s opening. I’ll put in Alien and sit there watching raptly as those letters appear on screen one line at a time. I’ll put in Aliens and let the first couple minutes play as I’m on the shitter in the next room.
3:03 – The welder passing by the window looks menacing and alien like, I think by design.
3:38 – The probe that enters Ripley’s escape pod has a vaguely alien silhouette, but as it comes into full view it’s got hard metallic edges and corners. Ridley Scott’s production design was more organic and alive, Cameron’s vision is more utilitarian and militaristic. It makes for a neat little visual transition.
5:05 – It’s a nice dissolve from Ripley’s head to the Earth, but I don’t know what it means.
Behind the Scenes
-James Cameron in an opening voiceover tells us the special edition is his preferred version. He’s wrong. What? You think I’m scared of James Cameron?
-Cameron talks about how he wound up having to write the scripts for Aliens, Terminator, and Rambo 2 in a three month period. He totalled up the number of pages he had to write, divided it by the number of waking hours in three months, and set a goal to write that number of pages per day. I bring it up because I’m doing something similar with this series.
-In this sequence Cameron wanted to honour the continuity of Ridley Scott’s movie and studied his visual style; this sequence has lots of backlight, fog and foreground objects. But he also wanted to do his own thing. It’ll be interesting to see if this opening is the scene that’s most in the style of the original.
Chapters 3 & 4. “57 Years”/“The Park”: (5:15 – 10:52)
Logline: Ripley’s has a rough time reintegrating with the waking world as she’s haunted both by nightmares of the aliens and devastating news about her daughter.
The Sequence. It’s a good look at a character who’s dealing with both PTSD and the harsh realities that come with being frozen in time for nearly sixty years. We get some good performances from Sigourney Weaver and Paul Reiser, and great special effects of both the space station exteriors and the prosthetic chestburster.
The Big Picture. The nightmare is in here mainly so you don’t feel cheated about not seeing aliens in a movie called Aliens until the halfway point. Still, taking the first film into account you’re likely meant to wonder (if only for a moment) if Ripley genuinely was infected by the alien stowaway. A fate that does come true in Alien 3. (I think. I’ve never seen it.)
The second half of the sequence, in which Ripley finds out her daughter has just passed away, is exclusive to the special edition. And the deletion of this scene causes some weird structural problems. Because in fact, the scene in the park is THE reason for the 57 year jump. Not including it hurts the movie.
Ripley’s long absence winds up playing into only one part of the story; her relationship with Newt. And that subplot does indeed resonate more with this scene put back in. But given the success of the theatrical edition, Ripley/Newt clearly plays fine anyway, park or no park. Which means you might as well open on Ripley already having arrived back home not long after the events of Alien, coping with her nightmares and with how no one believes her story. All the better to get us back on the road soon as possible.
And that’s what it’s really about. The very beginning of this movie draaaaags.
5:27 – I appreciate seeing a good 80s outer space medical station in the wake of The Empire Strikes Back. But why get Ripley most of the way to Earth and then treat her in outer space?
5:56 – I mean if Paul Reiser came into a room carrying a cat I’d greet the cat first too.
6:57 – So long as we’re cutting moments out, can we snip out the exchange in which Burke tells Ripley she’s been gone fifty seven years? Does that impact the plot?
7:20 – When do we transition to the dream? Obviously the introduction with Burke happened for real, is the whole scene a dream and she’s accurately remembering the meeting? Did she fall asleep as Burke was talking to her? Is this even important?! Obviously.
8:09 – Note that we don’t actually see the alien before it bursts free. That reveal is saved for much later. Keep an eye out for how Cameron escalates even his SFX moments.
9:10 – I like the moment of the trees being revealed to be a screen. It’s unclear if we’re still in space for the deposition or if future Earth just doesn’t have forests anymore.
10:34 – The moment in which Ripley stares at the photo, Sigourney Weaver is awesome. Let’s hold onto this memory in the next scene.
10:50 – I wonder if Interstellar was basically inspired by this deleted scene?
Behind the Scenes
-James Cameron wrote the entire script without knowing that a deal hadn’t been made with Sigourney Weaver to reprise her role.
-They got the cat to hiss by bringing in another cat.
-A little passive-aggressive battle between Cameron and Weaver. She also thought the daughter scene ought not to have been cut and made her feelings clear in the press, but according to Cameron had told him that she didn’t like the scene herself. She never appears on this track to speak for herself, but they’d worked it out by Avatar clearly.
-The woman in the photograph is Weaver’s mom.
Chapter 5. “Inquest” (10:52 – 15:13)
Logline: Ripley faces an inquest about the fate of her crew and ship, and finds that no one believes her story about the alien.
The Sequence. I don’t like comparing Sigourney Weaver to Tommy Wiseau, and I promise never to do so again, but I do think of his lackadaisical little freak-out at the end of The Room as I watch Ripley in this scene. This performance in the conference room calls for either cool anger or outright screaming, and what we get is a bit of an awkward half measure. She’s comes across like a calm person trying to force some sense of anger, and it really doesn’t work that well.
Aside from that, the best feature of the scene is the novelty of seeing a character turn up in a sequel and have to answer for all the property damage caused in the last movie. It’s a really funny idea, though of course it’s not at all played for laughs.
The Big Picture. Interesting to note that as originally intended, Ripley is carrying the pain of finding out her daughter is dead into this scene. It’s also really nice to see the crew from Alien, if only for a moment, and their photos strengthen the feeling of continuity between the two movies. And in the recap department, the scene does allow for some exposition (for anyone who hasn’t seen the first movie) of the aliens life cycle and its acid blood, so there’s no confusion later when we start seeing all that for ourselves.
10:55 – It’s a bigger deal for us audience members to see the cast from Alien than it is for Ripley I think. She was ready to lock half of them outside the ship on an alien planet, so how much affection was there between those characters, really?
12:25 – “Did IQs just… drop sharply while I was away?” Bad moment, but I blame it on the script.
13:18 – It sort of looks like Paul Reiser is cringing at Sigourney Weaver’s acing but that’s just me projecting.
Behind the Scenes
-The filmmakers deliberately did nothing to stylize this Earth, it’s all just corridors and men still in coats and ties. This was done to make the alien world feel more exotic. Oddly, this was a mistake Cameron nearly made with the future Earth in Avatar before he cut the opening prologue out.
Chapters 6 – 7. “Lv-426” / “The Big Score” (15:13 – 20:54)
Logline: On a distant colony, history repeats itself when a family of four happens upon the same alien ship that Ripley’s crew discovered decades earlier.
The Sequence. Conceptually, this seems like it ought to be a vital piece of Aliens. We see day-to-day life in the human colony before it gets invaded. We get a bit of horror when a married couple ventures into a darkened alien nest as their children wait in fear.
But the late 70s and 80s were rife with scenes like this this. We’ve had other, more memorable depictions of life on alien worlds. In fact, we saw a much better version of this same sequence in this same series. Plus I’ve got so many questions about why these two parents are taking their two children out on what is clearly an incredibly dangerous mission. On the whole it’s best left out of the movie. Which…
The Big Picture. Especially on a second viewing, it’s nice to meet Newt in happier (I guess) times. But that aside, how different does the movie become when this scene is included? On the surface, the main change is that we find out for a fact that the aliens are back well before their entrance in the theatrical cut. But set that aside. We know there are going to be aliens in a movie called Aliens.
Including this scene gives the movie more of a God’s eye POV. By seeing the Facehugger, hell, by seeing the human colony even in a peaceful state, we have information that Ripley doesn’t. Cut this scene, and she becomes our eyes in EVERY single sequence. We, along with Ripley, don’t know what that colony is going to look like. We don’t know exactly what we’re going to find there.
So that being the case, might as well get us to the scene in which Ripley learns about the colony as quickly as possible. The sooner we can start letting our imaginations run wild thinking about the journey ahead, the better.
Behind the Scenes
-It’s my favourite kind of movie magic; the vehicle rolling through the establishing shot is a foreground miniature and the people in the background are real, there’s some forced perspective putting the tractor closer to the camera, there’s some smoke to obscure whatever seams might appear, it all looks flawless. I love the scene now!
-James Cameron says something I’d been afraid to say; he’s nowhere near as good with suspense and atmosphere as Ridley Scott. He thinks the removal of the scene helps the picture because the sequence wound up being a truncated, not-as-good copy of the same moment in the first one.
Chapters 8 & 9. “Home Alone”/“Ripley’s Decision” (20:54 – 25:54)
Logline: Still grappling with PTSD and a listless existence, Ripley must choose to face her nightmares and return to the planet where it all began.
The Sequence. In terms of filmmaking it’s a pretty ordinary looking scene. It’s really claustrophobic too. Even before Ripley, Burke, and Gorman (somehow I’d never noticed that Gorman is in the movie this early) are crammed together, the hallway outside Ripley’s apartment is super narrow. The scene is all dialogue too, and there’s nothing extraordinary about how the conversation is filmed.
But there’s real emotional drama to what they’re saying. There’s irony in how no one believed Ripley before they came to her for advice. There’s real interest in what Ripley’s going to do. Stay on Earth without closure and be eternally haunted? Or go conquer her trauma and possibly die as a result? There’s much more happening in these conversations than anything outside of the deleted park scene
The Big Picture. We’re at the end of the first act. I’ve got mixed feelings, especially when I think about the deleted scenes. On one hand, losing Ripley’s daughter weakens the theatrical cut. On the other hand, it was a smart move getting rid of the colony scene. It’s weird to realize that the most Alien like scene of the first half hour is the one that most needed to go. Always good to keep an open mind in the edit bay.
I’m really glad we’re able to compare and contrast two well known cuts of the same movie, and both have strengths and weaknesses that we can learn a lot from. But between the 137 minute theatrical cut and the 152 director’s cut, the perfect Aliens is probably some kind of 2:20 version that puts back Ripley’s daughter and a couple small moments we’ll get to later.
21:09 – There’s some danger in the opening shot. Has Ripley fallen asleep with the cigarette in her hand? We don’t know for sure until we pan up to her looking lost.
21:19 – Look at the clutter and claustrophobia of that hallway. Even with the future aesthetic we can still tell it’s a shithole.
21:29 – A rare (non Bill Paxton) comedy beat in the movie, the door opens and closes without us ever seeing Ripley’s face.
23:10 – Burke is just awful at what he does. He alternately condescending, and friendly, or somehow both (“Come on, kiddo.”) Whatever choice Ripley makes, Burke plays no part in persuading her.
24:30 – Ripley has literal internal demons.
25:40 – Jones is left behind. Was this something fans would have wondered about?
Behind the Scenes
-According to the commentators, Ripley never made it back to Earth. She’s still living up on that ship.
-Cameron and Weaver disagreed over Ripley’s motivations. Cameron saw the story as a straight up revenge tale, Weaver felt Ripley was really in love with the aliens. I wish I could expand on that but Sigourney never shows up on this track to air her point of view.