Chapter 19. “Newt” (1:00:11 – 1:04:47)
Logline: Ripley tries to communicate with the traumatized little girl who survived the alien attack.
The Sequence. Quiet, told mainly in close-ups, with the plot advancing in the background. Sigourney Weaver is allowed to play to her strengths in this movie in ways we’ve not yet seen. We’ll see later that she’s a badass, but she’s amazing in these more maternal scenes with Newt. Shout out to Carrie Hehn too, who mo-stly does a great job. (Mo-stly.) She maintains this trend in the 80s of child actors appearing in really dark films (The Shining, Temple of Doom, Aliens), killing it, then never returning to acting.
The weirdest thing Mandela Effect thing just happened to me in this scene with Bishop examining the facehugger. If you put me on a witness stand and swore me to tell the truth, I would have stated with absolutely confidence that Lance Hendrickson was playing this scene while wearing creepy ass glasses with tiny little flashlights for lenses. That’s not here, and doesn’t happen at any point in the movie.
But then on the commentary track (which I’ve not listened to before), they talk about how he’d been wearing those glasses in this very scene, though Cameron wound up nixing them. Obviously it’s a BTS tidbit I’ve picked up at some point over the years, maybe I even saw a photo of it (thought I can’t find anything on Google Images) but why did I remember it happening in the movie so vividly?
It might be because Lance Hendrickson is just so naturally creepy in this moment without doing anything overtly creepy, that my mind had to conflate some details together in order to justify how suspicious I find him. Because the fact is, Bishop is a character who is 100% what he appears to be throughout this entire movie. He’s very nice to everyone, polite, brave, takes the initiative, and has a good sense of humour. Outside of this one scene, he never acts in any way that seems suspicious. Ripley’s bias against Bishop becomes our bias.
The Big Picture. You don’t necessarily NEED the earlier scene in which Ripley learns her daughter is dead. That wasn’t in the movie when it originally came out, and the Ripley/Newt relationship was cited as a highpoint of the story. But it is a more powerful scene if it’s a mother who (from her perspective) has just lost her daughter with a little girl having lost her family (who we also got to see onscreen).
1:00:44 – Why isn’t Hicks taking the lead on trying to coax information out of Newt? Because Gorman does a shit job at it. “Come on, we’re wasting our time.” What a prick.
Behind the Scenes
-Maybe the first and last (we’ll see, we’re going to cover a lot of his movies) charming James Cameron story. Carrie Hehn really enjoyed playing Newt, but came down with a fever one day and was upset that a scene was going to be shot with a double. So Cameron let her come in to do one quick shot to let her feel included, then sent her back home to recover.
Chapters 20 – 23. “Rescue Mission” / “Cocoons” / “The Battle” / “Ripley’s Rescue” (1:04:47 – 1:21:22)
Logline: The marine’s latest excursion into the heart of the colony goes pear shaped and Ripley must personally rescue the surviving soldiers.
The Big Picture: We’re into a multi-course buffet of a sequence. It’s very long, comprising the majority of the segment we’re covering today, and builds its tension stage by stage before bursting into a cathartic, exciting, proactive moment for Ripley. We get…
1. The marine’s creeping journey into the colony.
2. The discovery of the cocoons.
3. The still living woman who wakes up.
4. The emergence of the aliens themselves.
5. Ripley’s rescue in the armored car.
6. The aftermath.
It’s too sprawling a scene to tidily encapsulate in a paragraph or two so we’ll cover it moment by moment. But if you watch it, this is a masterpiece of escalation through storytelling, editing, and music. The pacing literally picks up as it goes, the marines go from creeping to scrambling to running for their lives, likewise the shot length decreases, and the music wrings you out before exploding into action the moment Ripley comes to the rescue. If you don’t watch this sequence for the storytelling (do people do that?!) watch it for the actual construction.
It’s the centrepiece far beyond the fact that it happens literally in the middle of the movie. It’s not only that it’s the first big action scene. In terms of visceral and emotional impact, what Ripley does, and the reveal of the aliens themselves, this is the sequence upon which Aliens pivots. It’s the first plunge in the roller coaster.
1:04:56 – Why even take Newt (and Ripley and Burke for that matter) directly into the power plant along with the marines? Why not leave them back at the lab where they’ll be relatively safe?
1:05:23 – Goddam that’s good miniature work.
1:06:57 – Are we meant to assume that some of this, I guess, xenomorph terraforming on the ceilings are aliens in disguise? Do they create that to give themselves camouflage?
1:08:57 – “Shit!” I always find it funny when characters curse while there’s child actors in the frame. I half expected Ripley to look at concern towards Newt for having to listen to salty language, but it doesn’t even matter to either of them.
1:09:35 – Is there any reason for Gorman to not tell Apone why it’s so important that the marines not fire a shot in the plant? (Lest they set off a nuclear explosion.) It’s just another example of him being bad at his job, but Vasquez and her boy pal might have given over all their ammo had they known their situation.
1:10:46 – Weeping Angel alert.
1:11:11 – Seeing the first movie is an advantage here. Anyone expect a face hugger to jump out of the egg at Hicks?
1:12:01 – Is there a better jump scare than a seeming corpse’s eyes opening? It’s not quite Se7en, but it’s pretty startling.
1:12:22 – Again, as the alien bursts from that poor colonist’s chest, its Ripley’s reactions we’re seeing. As much as the marines are in the direct line of fire, and as likeable as some of them are, how they feel is nowhere near as important right now.
1:12:29 – Cameron continues to be the master of escalation, even in small moments. We saw the shape of the chestburster start to form through Ripley’s chest in the early dream sequence, later on we see it actually emerge and shriek. He knows how to maintain a sense that things are building, in every aspect of the film.
1:12:55 – If you’re looking for a timestamp as to when an actual xenomorph finally appears onscreen, it’s right here. And I apologize for giving Aliens shit for not having aliens until the halfway point. It appears three minutes before the halfway point.
1:15:15 – This is just an observation from watching the film with commentary, just visually alone it doesn’t engender suspense. It’s that plus the music, sound effects, the panic of the actors, and the sense of rising action up to this point.
1:15:26 – I’m so sorry to see Apone go, but there has to be a cost to every alien encounter.
1:15:48 – Now we’re into some interesting filmmaking, as we see the chaos mainly through the cameras on the marine’s helmets. It’s both new, and keeps us rooted in Ripley’s point of view.
1:16:16 – “Hold on, Newt.” Ripley protecting Newt is the heart of the movie, and there’s a quick reminder of that in a scene where she otherwise doesn’t play a part.
1:16:48 – “You had your chance, Gorman.” This is literally the one moment in the movie I like Burke.
1:18:07 – This is the first time we actually see someone get burnt by alien blood. It doesn’t get injured and never bleeds at any point in the first film.
1:19:20 – It adds something to the scene for the APC to be on fire.
1:19:32 – You can count the number of direct encounters Ripley has with an alien on a couple of fingers prior to the climax with the queen. Escalation escalation escalation.
Behind the Scenes
-Again, find a way to get this commentary track, just to hear the cast members. It’s somehow just so much fun to hear them reacting to the movie, especially when they’re simultaneously delighted yet grossed out by the chestburster.
-Cameron says the whole movie builds to this moment, but cites not the appearance of the aliens, but the moment Ripley takes the lead on the mission away from the hapless chain of command.
-The shots of the aliens crawling on the ceiling are just shots of a floor made to look like a ceiling with the camera upside down. It doesn’t even occur to me to wonder how the scene is made, given how fast it’s moving along.
Chapters 24 – 25. “Altercation” / “Stranded” (1:21:22 – 1:26:21)
Logline: The dropship is attacked by aliens, marooning Ripley and the survivors on the colony.
The Big Picture. This is the first of many times in which in the nightmare threatens to end, only for things to get much worse. Because the reality is, so long as the dropship can carry the marines off the planet, things are going to take care of themselves. They rescued a survivor, half the characters are still alive, and thanks to the firefight in the plant, the site is going to explode and wipe out the aliens. Mixed results overall, but everyone is ready to cut their losses and call it a day.
Of course, the ship crashes, and the cast is stranded in a colony with an angry army, not to mention a queen looking for new human hosts and a nuclear reactor that’s about to explode.
But here’s something to think about. At this point Burke is still planning to smuggle a facehugger aboard to impregnate someone in stasis, and sabotage all the other cryogenic chambers in order to cover his own ass. Ripley wouldn’t have discovered that plot had they just gone home. Being stranded on the planet winds up killing even more of the marines, and the few that survive go through hell. But everyone except Burke would have died, and much sooner, had the dropship not crashed.
1:21:22 – The scene transition is tough to see, but it’s there. They’re still in the same armoured car, and there was no establishing shot, but now Hudson is in a different place and Ripley is smoking. The dialogue is setting up the next scene as opposed to winding down the last one.
1:21:30 – If you’ve got two dropships, why not just leave someone else up in space in case of an emergency?
1:21:44 – The lack of sweat on Burke as he talks about the corporate bottom line always gets a laugh from anyone I watch the movie with.
1:22:09 – “Maybe you haven’t been keeping up on current events but we just got our asses kicked, pal!” Forget “Game Over, Man!” THIS is the memeable Bill Paxton moment for our time.
1:22:50 – “He’s just a grunt, no offence.” Burke and his people skills win another day.
1:23:06 – How likeable I find the characters in this movie is in direct proportion to how much they listen to Ripley.
1:24:17 – The appearance of the alien in the dropship is an actual shock, I think because of the lack of any musical buildup. It’s just there all of a sudden.
1:24:22 – Again because of how drily the moment is presented, the death of the pilot seems so much more violent. No music, no fast cuts, just a creature behaving viciously.
1:26:00 – “Game over, man!” and “They mos-tly come out at night. Mos-tly.” The two most meme’d moments of the movie, together in one shot.