Aliens: Part 4

Turrets, countdown to nuclear annihilation, facehugger attacks, the Red Wedding of Aliens.

Chapters 26 – 29. “Barricade” / “A Mother’s Love” / “Speculation” / “The Tunnel” (1:26:21 – 1:38:40)

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Logline: The marines hole up in the colony and barricade the aliens outside as best they can.

The Big Picture. It feels like I’m cheating a bit here by grouping around a half dozen little short scenes here into one section, but they’re all united around a core couple of themes. First, there’s a feeling of reorientation. The marines have made it to a tenuous safety, and now they’re discussing their options for what comes next.

All well and good, but here’s what really unifies the scene; Ellen Ripley is now fully in charge. I’d never thought about what the point was of knocking Gorman out cold for a stretch of the movie, only to kill him shortly after he wakes up. But with Apone dead (or worse than dead) and Gorman unconscious, Hicks is nominally in charge. And Hicks is smart enough to immediately cede the floor to the person who’s faced a alien before and won.

So, Ripley captain now. And she has a moment of significance with just about everyone in the cast. It’s a great chance to see every side of Sigourney Weaver, because she shifts her performance quite noticeably depending on who she’s talking to.

All of this is worth getting into below, but overall this stretch of the movie does a fantastic job reorienting you after the mini-climax of the colony escape. There’s a feeling like we’re starting anew, it’s like the first episode back after a mid season hiatus on that AMC show everyone still hate watches.

Live Reactions
1:27:08 – Bill Paxton does this whole moment with clenched teeth, but it someone makes him look wimpier. Never saw that happen before.

1:27:28 – Newt really snapped out of her trauma without anyone noticing. Now she’s the cute little team mascot.

1:27:38 – Here’s Ripley 1.0, bluntly telling Hudson their situation, getting angry with him, but only so that he can remain functional.

1:28:17 – BWAH! Bishop just appears in the scene.

1:28:50 – Hicks is pretty awesome on this watch for me. All the attention is rightfully on Newt’s connection with Ripley, but I do love him giving that paternal little leg up to Newt so she can see what’s happening.

1:30:52 – Not to be an Internet guy but Ripley is really pretty when she smiles. It’s really that she’s such a strung out character for most of this movie, it’s honestly kind of beautiful to see her share a moment of relief with the character who’s most consistently treated her with respect.

1:33:34 – Here’s the third and fourth versions of Ripley in the scene where she puts Newt to bed. I really love this whole moment, Ripley tries to reassure Newt by pretending her doll is real, Newt says her doll is just a piece of plastic. Ripley apologizes, and from that that point on speaks to Newt far more plainly and seriously. She doesn’t talk to her like an adult, the dialogue is very plainly worded, but she’s also is very direct and truthful about all matters, including birth and death. It’s a wonderful scene mainly because of Sigourney Weaver but it’s scripted well too.

1:34:42 – Yet another version of Ripley, brusk and impatient around Bishop. She doesn’t trust him but does seem to realize that there’s no good reason for that, considering she still gives his opinion weight.

1:35:02 – Based on very little information, Ripley, Hudson, and Bishop speculate that there’s something in the colony laying eggs, even thinking it might be a lone female queen. Their speculation is so dead on it’s crazy. But consider that there’s no dialogue in most of the third act of this movie. No one ever directly calls that creature the Alien Queen, but we in pop culture just call it that anyway. We wouldn’t have immediately recognized what the creature is without the seeds being planted here.

1:36:48 – Ripley V6 when she gets outright furious with Burke. Notice how this whole scene is shot in one take, the action and reaction of both characters is in full view at all time, it’s all the more intense.

1:36:59 – I like that they don’t make Burke’s villainy a reveal too. It’s like, oh yeah, the guy who seemed like a creep from the beginning is just a bigger creep than we thought. Just like how the helpful seeming android was also even more helpful than we thought.

1:38:20 – I came loaded for bear to criticize the added scene of the sentry guns taking out the aliens in the corridor, and will have more to say about it next section. But the first half of this scene is actually really effective, especially the moment when the ammo runs out and we hear the aliens pounding on the door. It works mainly because we only hear the aliens and never see them.

Behind the Scenes
-They talk about it throughout, but this is the section of the commentary in which Gale Anne Hurd goes into the most detail about how there was a behind the scenes mutiny against James Cameron. Although we only hear one side of the movie, Hurd actually doesn’t paint anyone as a hero or villain. It just sounds like a clash between North American and European filmmaking styles, and a seasoned crew not being able to recognize Cameron’s talent because of his inexperience.

Action Level
Moderate

Rating
Great


Chapters 30 – 31. “Bad News” / “The Corridor (1:38:40 – 1:45:03)

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Logline: The colony is set to blow up within a few hours, so Ripley and the marines put together a hasty escape plan.

The Sequence. The characters are sealed into a compound, with aliens on all sides. That’s enough for one movie, but the filmmakers pile on more and more urgency with almost every new sequence. That’s one thing that makes Aliens so good. It’s never content to settle for just one dangerous premise.

The Big Picture. Let’s talk about the deleted scenes of the aliens in the corridor. Following the armoured car escape, the original version doesn’t feature the aliens at all for a very long time. We don’t know where they are or what they’re doing for a good half hour of the movie. It’s a jolt when they suddenly reappear in the vents.

In the special edition, it’s more of a siege. They’re constantly trying to get in, and there’s definitely tension in the drone guns scene. But I do think it diminishes the aliens a bit, to see them trying to get in, getting blown apart, and ultimately retreating. In the theatrical version, the two major encounters with the aliens leads to huge swaths of the characters getting wiped out. In this edition, the humans are allowed to win.

Just as an editor I’m really glad there’s two cuts available to compare and contrast. Like with the scene where we see the colony and we meet Newt beforehand, the special edition offers something different here. Something not as good, but not terrible. And very educational.

Live Reactions
1:40:15 – Two great Bishop moments in a row. Him quietly volunteering to go out and align the dish as everyone’s shouting. And his little twitch smile when he says he’s synthetic but not stupid. It’s like he’s programmed to say something funny, and he knows he’s said something funny, but his makers haven’t quite figured out how to make that convincing. I’ve never seen a real human being exist in the uncanny valley before but Lance Henriksen does it.

1:40:27 – You don’t realize how small the size of that pipe actually is until Bishop sticks his head inside, that’s a really good reveal.

1:41:03 – “Watch your fingers,” one last bit of helpfulness. The movie belongs to Ripley overall but this scene belongs to Bishop.

1:44:11 – Bishop in the pipe is always the image that most stuck with me. It’s that pipe under your driveway you got caught in.

1:44:23 – This scene where Hicks shows Ripley how to use a gun.

Action Level
Moderate

Rating
Good (Special Edition)
Great (Theatrical Edition)


Chapters 32 & 33. “Dreamland” / “Not a Dream” (1:45:03 – 1:51:41)

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Logline: Ripley and Newt are attacked in their sleep by a pair of facehuggers.

The Sequence. There’s this feeling when you think back on Aliens of just relentless encounters with the xenomorphs. But despite the sameness of the setting, and the same ongoing goal of not being killed by aliens from scene to scene, James Cameron does vary the danger. Following the encounter in the colony, the marines nearly get killed by the careening dropship. There’s an explosion set to go off in a few hours. Bishop has to crawl through a claustrophobic pipe. And now Ripley and Newt have to fend off a pair of facehuggers.

It’s not a scene about running. It’s about creeping and hiding, a nightmarish scene of a weird THING coming at you, ending in explosive action. With water for added effect. Every scene feels different, and considering that the movie is basically just Sigourney Weaver in a series of metallic rooms, that’s saying something.

The Big Picture. I know Aliens is backloaded but I didn’t realize that it’s REALLY backloaded. We’re at minute 105 of a 150 minute movie, the 70% mark, and we’re only at the second of five major action set pieces in the film. That speaks to how little downtime there is from this point out. And despite the problems I had and still have with the film’s first half hour, I like the ballsiness of only starting to ramp up to the big finish at the point in which most other films would be winding down.

In the last decade or so I’m finding that the final half hour of an action film that tops everything that came before is a rare thing (more on that in The Avengers next week) so any kind of film that saves the best for last is something I’m grateful for.

Live Reactions
1:45:17 – Nothing is made of it, but Ripley hates Burke and Vasquez hates Gorman. There’s two simmering conflicts in the background of even this short scene.

1:45:57 – James Horner has beautifully manipulative music here. The cue starts off a little tense without being panicky when Newt appears to be missing, then transitions into something warmer as Ripley realizes she’s under the bed.

1:50:26 – The facehugger tries to get a tendril into her mouth. HR Giger watched this and kicked himself, probably, that’s the one rapey moment that didn’t happen in the first film.

1:50:55 – I’m glad Hudson and Vasquez get to kill the facehugger, considering their time is short. Oh, I’ve made myself sad.

Behind the Scenes
-Sigourney Weaver came into the movie with three requests. She wanted to be killed off, she wanted to not use a gun, she wanted to have sex with an alien. You can see how much control she gained over the series as it went along because she later got to do all three.

Action Level
High

Rating
Great.


Chapters 34 – 36. “For a Percentage” / “Game Time” / “Little Girl Lost” (1:51:41 – 2:05:54)

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Logline: The aliens break into the compound and the Marines sustain heavy losses as they escape.

The Sequence. We’re here. The Red Wedding of Aliens. Ridley Scott’s approach was to give us an array of very distinct characters and make a cruel guessing game out of having them picked off one by one. Cameron gives us a large group of sketched out marines, and has the aliens take out about half of them in one sequence. He then lets us get attached to the survivors, only to wipe out nearly all of them over the course of one extended chase/shoot-out. It’s a scene that’s both thrilling and devastating.

Aside from what actually happens in the story, the scene is bathed in red light once the power is cut. Everyone is drenched in sweat. The beeping of the motion censors is needlessly high pitched, and gets shriller and shriller as the aliens approach. This place is a pressure cooker. EVERYTHING about the scene is designed to bring anxiety to a fever pitch.

The Big Picture. That reliable End-of-Part-4 darkest hour, but it goes by really quickly. We get the despair (Newt is captured), the demoralization (Ripley is shocked), and the second wind (Ripley decides to go rescue Newt), over the course of about a minute.

It’s also the second of two near endings for the movie, following the dropship crash. The next sequence will surely be the finale though.

Live Reactions
1:51:48 – Did they get someone else to dub over Bill Paxton here?

1:51:59 – I don’t get how Burke’s plan was going to work. Were they going to bring Ripley and Newt onboard the ship with facehuggers attached? If they were meant to fall off by the time Bishop got the dropship down it’s not like Ripley and Newt wouldn’t remember being attacked. Can Burke guarantee getting Ripley on ice before the aliens bursts out of her and attacks him? I can’t see any version of this plan working out for him. He ought to have brought the facehuggers aboard the main ship and attached them while everyone else was asleep.

1:54:36 – For my money, there’s nothing more suspenseful in a movie than someone having to perform a task that cannot be rushed under great pressure. Hicks and Vasquez welding the door shut as the beeping of the motion sensor grows more shrill is one of the most agonizing moments of the film.

1:55:42 – Giving Ripley another little hero moment, she’s the first to realize they’re in the vents.

1:55:55 – The aliens in the vent has more impact if it’s the first sighting in a half hour, I’m sorry to keep coming back to it.

1:57:13 – It’s great that Hudson goes out fighting after all his seeming cowardice, but I hate that he’s taken alive. Is it wrong that I hope he managed to shoot himself after we lose sight of him?

1:58:07 – Look at the camera placement as Burke opens the door, it’s a head taller than him. We realize there’s an alien waiting for him even before he turns around.

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1:58:41 – That’s some nice storytelling, setting up that Newt knows the layout of the air vents and having it come in handy.

2:00:05 – How absolutely awesome is Vasquez pinning the alien with her boot and shooting it point blank? I’m sorry she’s about to go too but man do these characters get fantastic final moments.

2:00:51 – The aliens are more vicious than menacing, and we don’t get to scrutinize them. The alien crawling towards Vasquez and Gorman is I think the first time we’ve seen one move slowly in this film and it’s terrifying.

2:01:17 – I am glad that Vasquez and Gorman kill the aliens on their way out, but their grenade causes Newt to fall down the vent. They let themselves get taken alive, the movie ends much earlier.

2:02:19 – Don’t know if it’s intentional, but Newt’s floating coattails does resemble one of the alien’s tails. Adds a bit of extra nervousness.

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2:03:22 – More welding, more motion beeping. Hey it worked before.

2:04:09 – Hicks for the only time really taking the lead over Ripley. For a second it does feel like the first half of Terminator.

2:04:30 – Considering all the violence on either side that’s a strangely playful moment. Elevator door doesn’t close. Pause. Hicks hits the button again. HRRK ALIEN ATTACK!

2:04:48 – And with this Hicks is alive but out of the action. It does really feel as though Ripley is the sole survivor of this attack.

2:05:05 – I’m already a Bishop fan but you’re still not meant to trust him at this point. How do you feel being reminded that he’s still alright? Relieved? Or worried that Ripley is essentially alone with him?

2:05:34 – One of those little things I love, Bishop says they’ve got 26 minutes to escape the planet. The rest of the movie isn’t quite in real time, but there are in fact 26 minutes before the credit roll. It’s been a long ride but the end is in sight.

Behind the Scenes
-Cameron takes us on a bit of a ride in discussing the movies on either side of this one. Says that David Fincher did a great job visually with Alien 3, but felt like the movie was a slap in the face to his movie. Then acknowledges that you have to make a sequel your own, and figures that Ridley Scott probably saw Aliens and wasn’t pleased with some things. Then, without a hint of immodesty, Cameron figures that Ridley “probably wasn’t pleased that he hadn’t made it.” That’s some very weird, yet matter of fact bragging, but can’t say I disagree with it.

-The first movie cast a seven foot guy to play the alien, and it would have been difficult to track down multiple really tall people to play the multiple aliens. So it’s all six foot people and they never appear in the same frame as a human, with the exception of the scene where Newt is captured (which is fine because she’s a child.

Action Level
Wall-to-Wall

Rating
Extraordinary

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