Aliens: Part 2

Sleeping pods, knife games, dropships, an abandoned colony, a girl in the vents.

Chapters 10 – 12. “Sulaco” / “The Android” / “Briefing” (25:54 – 35:53)

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Logline: Ripley and the marines awaken en route to Lv-426 and prepare for the mission ahead.

The Sequence. The 152 minute cut puts back some footage that sets the scene on the Sulaco. Static shots of empty, metallic rooms, long lines of sleeping pods that open to reveal our cast of characters. In other words, the exact same thing that we saw in Alien, but without the sense of awe and foreboding. A great way to appreciate Ridley Scott’s strengths is to see another director do the exact same thing he did and have it not be as good. And just like Newt’s approach to the alien ship earlier, it was deleted.

I can pinpoint the moment that Aliens steps out of the shadow of Alien and becomes James Cameron’s movie wholly. It when Apone wakes up, instantly pops in a cigar, and starts barking orders. Cameron likes the military. His films are about soldiers, or people with a soldier mentality. As on his sets, he likes regimented, disciplined, highly competent organizations run from the top down.

So many moments you remember from Aliens are in this scene. “Have you ever been mistaken for a man?” “No, have you?” Artarian pussy, which I have like five questions about. Bishop’s little knifey game with Hudson. “She thought they said illegal aliens and signed up.” This kind of familiar, shit-talking banter between army types is what Cameron does best. By putting that at the centre of Aliens, he makes the franchise his own.

After the awakening and breakfast, Ripley gives a briefing, and here’s where things slow down again. She recaps information that we’ve already had recapped in the inquest scene, and it’s not that interesting. But the movie comes back to life as the marines interrupt her, and Ripley switches from informing them (and the audience) to warning them of their danger.

The lesson from this sequence would appear to be that Cameron isn’t on as solid a ground when he has to directly invoke the first movie. Making his own movie that just happens to take place in the same world works out a lot better.

The Big Picture. Aliens throws a lot of characters at us at once, but does a great job giving them memorable traits and exchanges. Apone has his cigar, Vasquez is doing chin-ups, Bishop nearly stabs Hudson’s hand as Hudson screams about nearly have his hand stabbed, Gorman sits apart from the others. A nice thing about Aliens is that a bit of time passes before everyone is in their identical uniforms, and more time passes still before anyone dies. So there’s room for these forceful little introductions that give us time to recognize everyone. Once the cast is whittled down at the halfway point we can get on to actually liking the ones left over.

Live Reactions
26:54 – It’s the hanging chains that invites Alien comparisons, I think. As it turns out it’s not that important to establish the layout of this room, especially since it won’t come into play for almost two hours.

29:09 – Damn, Keith David had abs for days in 1986.

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(That’s not a racist joke about black people look alike. It’s a joke about how this guy’s voice sounds a lot like Keith David. …In a written review. Ok.)

Behind the Scenes
-I’ve never listened to this track, and received the most pleasant surprise starting with this sequence; Michael Biehn, Lance Hendrickson, Jennette Goldstein, and Bill Paxton are all recording this track together. These cats are FUNNY, and clearly having a great time hanging out again. This track is going to be a better Aliens sequel than any that have been put out since 1986.

-Due to budget cuts there are only four sleeping chambers. Mirror trickery is used to make it seem like there’s more.

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-The situation in the film is compared to the Vietnam war. Competent yet undisciplined soldiers going into combat against an enemy they underestimate. Cameron has since learned more about what marines actually go through and apologizes to them here.

Action Level
Low.

Rating
Good


Chapter 13. “The Loader” (35:53 – 38:03)

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Logline: Ripley shows off her skill with a loader.

The Big Picture. The audience intuitively knows that this loader is going to play into the film much later. Basically nothing else whatsoever is going on in this scene, aside from some newly admiring glances from Hicks towards Ripley. There was maybe another way to have more naturally foreshadowed Ripley’s proficiency with the loader to make this moment stand out less, but the payoff comes so so so so much later after we’ve long forgotten about this, so it works anyway.

Live Reactions
37:05 – Apone’s chewing on that cigar like there’s a Tootsie Pop at the other end.

37:56 – I like Apone more watching the movie this time. Maybe it’s just because I’ve been going through it so slowly, it’s scene after scene of Ripley being talked down to, and he’s the first character who actually seems impressed by her.

Behind the Scenes
-James Cameron’s description of how the loader works defies description, but there’s basically a bodybuilder inside the yellow metal and Sigourney Weaver has to coordinate her steps with his.

Action Level
None

Rating
Decent


Chapter 14. “Express Elevator to Hell” (38:03 – 45:40)

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Logline: The marines reach Lv-426 and plunge to the planet below in a dropship.

The Sequence. Are you not pumped up? Here’s a chapter that, from beginning to end, makes jingoism look like a lot of fun. Military recruitment ads in this world show just show this sequence from beginning to end. Later on they made a movie (Starship Troopers) that was essentially just based on this scene.

This whole section of the movie is gritty and fun in the way that deployment scenes often are in war movies, but with that fantastical futuristic edge. The weaponry is advanced, they’re being dropped out of a spaceship, and they’re on there way to shoot up some aliens.

The Big Picture. Another instance of James Cameron staking out his own claim to the Alien franchise, this differs vastly from the parallel scene in Ridley Scott’s movie. The approach to the planet in Alien built dread or atmosphere, the overriding tone in Aliens is that these marines are off to kick some ass. There’s far more dramatic irony here than tension, especially if you know going in that this is a Vietnam allegory. The marines, especially Hudson, come across as cocky, doomed sumbitches who are vastly underestimating what’s to come.

Live Reactions
38:12 – Vasquez not wearing a bra. I feel your judgement and I don’t care.

38:41 – Burke goes up to stand beside Ripley. He’s doing that thing where you’re not friends with anyone at the party so you just go stand near (but don’t talk to) the one person you kind of know.

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40:02 – The safety bars are pulled down across the marines. That exactly matches where we are in the roller coaster metaphor.

40:40 – I do like the nesting doll nature of this sequence. Ripley and the others are inside an armoured car, which is inside a dropship, which is inside a space ship.

41:39 – One of the less successful visual effect shots of the film as the dropship drops towards earth. There’s a bit of a natural shake to the stock footage of the clouds that doesn’t match the superimposed model.

42:29 – Hicks being asleep is great. He was the least defined of the major characters in that big introductory sequence (maybe just being the guy from Terminator was enough) but he’s getting his moment here.

42:57 – The idea that the marines have cameras strapped to their helmets and that their hearts are being monitored is introduced here, and both will later be used for horrifying effect.

Behind the Scenes
-After Hudson says a couple words, Bill Paxton self deprecatingly mentions staying up all night to learn his “big speech,” to riotous laughter from the other cast members. Given his relatively recent death it’s a real pleasure to have him on this commentary track.

-To make the drop more realistic, Cameron whacked the camera and gave the operator a black eye. That is just not something you do, I know a DOP who was furious when the director touched her camera, and she wasn’t even injured. Even on his second film, James Cameron has already become James Cameron in his own mind, the rest of the crew just doesn’t know it yet.

Action Level
Moderate

Rating
Great


Chapter 15. “Arrival”: (45:40 – 52:28)

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Logline: The first wave of marines search the empty colony as Ripley watches on the monitors.

The Sequence. This is really the first time there’s a sense of danger in the movie. And if you’re watching the theatrical cut, we get the first undeniable sign that there are in fact aliens in the movie (once again, other than the title).

The Big Picture. Let’s talk about the sense of geography in Alien vs. Aliens. The Nostradamus in Alien is its own character. A lot of time was spent establishing layout, showing how one room connects to another, giving every set its own personality. All of this groundwork was laid early on.

We’ll see that again in a handful of upcoming movies we’ll get around to covering on Cine-Betweener like Die Hard, The Shining, and Cameron’s later Titanic. Movies in which characters are trapped in a single, dangerous location, in which an early stretch of the film is dedicated simply to establishing that location in calm circumstances, so we understand where characters are in relation to each other when shit hits the fan. Alien did that masterfully.

Aliens is not nearly as interested in all that. For all the time that characters spend in the colony, it’s really just a series of metallic hallways and rooms. When characters are fleeing later, we don’t have much of a sense of where they need to go in order to find an exit.

Despite this, and this may be surprising to everyone who’s read this far, but I still find Aliens to be (narrowly) a superior film to Alien. Why? That’s coming right up.

Live Reactions
46:25 – More and more I feel like that scene showing the colony in happier times was better off cut. This place is roughly as bleak post alien attack as it was before, so we can’t even really contrast them in different times.

50:17 – The DVD comes with a little icon that marks the deleted footage, which is a feature that is I think useful solely for a person who’s doing a scene by scene comparison on the internet, so major gratitude.

50:55 – The scene where Vasguez’s motion tracker leads to her hamsters in a maze, they still make sure to cut back to Ripley watching in apprehension. She’s not the one in danger, but if we’re about to see an alien for the first time, it’s her reaction we care about.

Action Level:
Low.

Rating
Good


Chapters 16 – 18. “Memories” / “Lab Specimens” / “Movement” (52:28 – 1:00:11)

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Logline: Ripley sets foot in the colony, and discovers a little girl hiding in the vents.

The Sequence. There’s not a whole lot more I can say about the look and tone of the sequence itself, it’s a lot like the last one. More creeping around corridors with guns, more unmistakable signs that that the aliens have been here. Only this time, Ripley is inside the complex. And just like that, the movie becomes magnitudes more compelling.

The Big Picture. That’s what makes Aliens the better of the two movies even if Alien is artistically superior; this is Ripley’s story. Alien was an ensemble movie, and thereby more of a sadistic guessing game once the cast started getting picked off. Tom Skerrit was the de facto lead by virtue of the fact that he was the most traditional leading man type (the younger, good looking white guy), and it’s meant to be a big shock when he’s taken out relatively early. Near the end, there’s a scene in which Veronica Cartwright and Yaphet Kotto are in a well lit wide open space while Sigourney Weaver is off by herself looking for a cat. Even that late in the movie we’re misled into thinking Ripley is the next to die before the alien kills the other two and leaves her the sole survivor. It’s pretty cool, but we’re a bit detached from the characters until the point where Ripley is all we have left.

Aliens is unambiguously Ripley’s journey at every stage. She doesn’t become the surprise lead near the end, the way she’s reacting and feeling about all this is the core of the story. And this entire second act of the film, even with the who’s who of colourful supporting characters, has been tracking her journey towards her greatest fear one stage at a time. What you don’t expect is that the journey to the colony reaches its mini climax not with the discovery of the aliens, but with the character who can begin to heal Ripley.

Though for real, lets start seeing some aliens pretty soon.

Live Reactions
52:47 – Nice moment. Burke comes out of the armoured car shivering, Ripley comes out unphased.

53:09 – The deleted moment where Ripley has a moment of apprehension before stepping into the compound, then says she’s fine and goes in without hesitation absolutely should have stayed in.

53:21 – And the shot of the blast doors shutting behind Ripley and the marines is awesome too. They’re not trapped, they can and do use these doors again without issue, but it sure feels like they are.

57:46 – I like Hicks calling Ripley over after he realizes there’s a child. He knows she’ll be more reassured by a civilian woman, way moreso than by a marine and WAY moreso than by Paul Reiser.

Behind the Scenes
-Hurd talks about here about facing sexism, a story she tells in contemporary interviews as well. Many department heads assumed she wasn’t the real producer, and seemingly didn’t realize they were paralleling Gorman and the others in the movie they were all making.

Action Level
Moderate

Rating
Great

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