Chapters 37 – 40. “Ripley’s Promise” / “Reluctant Soldier” / “The Nest” / “The Final Countdown” (2:05:54 – 2:22:46)
Logline: Ripley arms herself and goes directly to the heart of the colony to rescue Newt, where she gets a harrowing look at the alien queen.
The Sequence. Yesterday I was talking about how there’s nothing more suspenseful than high concentration tasks that need to be performed under incredible pressure. Now we take that concept and blow it up into a big 15+ minute sequence, as Ripley has to find Newt before the colony can explode.
This is as intense a part of the film as anything we’ve seen so far, but in another great example of varying the tempo of every scene, it’s not another scene of running and shooting. It’s creeping and searching, and cautiously urging oneself onwards, punctuated by an explosion of violence and ending in a nightmarish, apocalyptic chase. It’s also full of ambience, it’s all sirens, smoke, and slime, with next to no dialogue. This whole scene is a masterpiece of non-verbal storytelling. It’s crystal clear what’s happening, most notably in the staredown with the alien queen.
That queen. Ripley is incredible in this sequence, but the Queen is an amazing creation. The alien in the first film is made terrifying because we only see it in glimpses, the second film for the most part follows suit. At long last, we get a chance to scrutinize one of the beasts here, and it holds up really well. I’ll be interested to see it in better light in the next scene.
I misspoke. The Queen dies here. This is totally the end of the movie. >_>
For the first time the aliens are humanized a little beyond their life cycle. I feel a little bad for the Queen throughout this third act. She’s not mindlessly vicious like the others, she’s out for revenge against a human that (from her perspective) went apeshit on her children.
But that’s as much as I ever want the alien “mythos” expanded, which is one of many reasons why I’ve not kept up with the series past this one. I never did see the one where we find out the xenomorphs are a part of the Cult of Thorn.
The Big Picture. I used to think it was a flaw in the sequence that we don’t see the Alien Queen again after Ripley gets on the dropship. That we don’t see the Queen die or appear to be stranded is a big tip-off that the movie’s not done just yet. But this feels SO much like the ending that maybe it’s a good thing that there’s still a sense of unease, even as the music swells and the planet blows up behind the escaping dropship.
2:07:27 – The craziest thing is happening with Sigourney Weaver and Michael Biehn’s faces here, I don’t even know how to describe it. The light is kind of shining off them weird and it looks like their faces are quivering. Screencaps don’t do it justice, you’ll have to check it for yourself.
2:07:31 – Another James Cameron movie where Michael Biehn drops out of the action just before the finale, but at least he gets to live this time.
2:07:50 – Of course it’s that same woman’s voice from Alien over the loudspeaker. Just that extra traumatic reminder for Ripley, which naturally makes it all the more awesome that she puts herself back in danger.
2:08:00 – It’s all happening in real time but there’s not a wasted moment. We have to spend a minute in an elevator? No problem, let’s do one of the most badass suiting up montages in all of film.
2:08:57 – That is how you do an entrance. Two doors moving aside, blowing smoke, dolly forward. Gonna need a moment alone, boys.
2:09:11 – Whatever fear Ripley had earlier, I think it’s gone. If she’s proceeding slowly, it’s out of caution more than fear.
2:11:37 – What would be worse? Finding the tracker without Newt, or finding Newt with a facehugger attached?
2:11:38 – Actually, just realized that if Ripley is here to rescue Newt, that might mean she’s prepared to put her out of her misery if she finds her cocooned.
2:12:28 – What if instead of Newt, Ripley found Bill Paxton alive and well? Maybe she has to run back and forth to the elevator rescuing marines like Forrest in Vietnam.
2:13:36 – The moment of quiet is amazing. The sound dropping out, followed by the reveal that they’re in a room of eggs, followed by the pan up the egg sack.
2:14:21 – That is an entrance too. That backlit queen, followed by its demonic grin.
2:14:38 – Here’s a thought that’d never occurred to me, how ancient is the alien queen? Is it possible that she laid all the eggs from the first film as well? Is this creature really responsible for ALL of Ripley’s problems?
2:15:01 – Possibly the first instance in two movies of an alien lingering onscreen in good lighting.
2:15:42 – I always wonder if the Queen broke the silent truce with Ripley when the egg opens. I imagine that those facehuggers run on pure instinct, like sperm. The Queen probably can’t call it off.
2:16:19 – Are we meant to feel like Ripley is going a little overboard here by just shooting and shooting?
2:16:24 – Ok going after the egg sac actually is a terrible idea, if she hadn’t shot that I don’t think the Queen would have been able to pursue her. Ripley pays the price for this not only in this sequence but the next as well. (And the next movie if you’re not pretending it doesn’t exist.)
2:16:49 – Last “normal” alien we see in the movie.
2:17:19 – This poor thing is in incredible physical as well as emotional pain throughout this ending.
2:19:00 – Never realized it’s that same cue from one of the most suspenseful climactic moments of Alien as well. Probably less an homage and more James Cameron not being happy with James Horner’s score so he left some temp music in.
2:19:14 – The alien cocking her head is the most we’ve been able to read one of these things ever (speaking of Michael from Halloween).
2:20:39 – Our second awesome elevator reveal in one sequence. My favourite is the brief glimpse of the queen’s snout a second before the whole creature is (somehow) lit up.
2:20:48 – This probably is the actual darkest moment of the film. When all that’s left is for Ripley to hope she and Newt are killed by a nuclear blast before a furious alien momma rips them apart.
Behind the Scenes
-Gale Anne Hurd brings up the deleted scene in which Ripley finds a cocooned Burke and offers him a grenade. This is a brief tangent, but our ninth grade teacher was teaching us about the euthanasia, and used the Alien films as an example. What’s odd is he didn’t cite the scene where Ripley kills Dallas in the first movie (also a deleted scene but one that was available) but the scene where Ripley kills Paul Reiser. Which wasn’t available at the time. I’ve got some weird personal mysteries with this film.
Chapters 41 – 43. “It’s Over” / “Final Confrontation” / “Dreams” (2:22:46 – 2:31:25)
Logline: The queen stows away and attacks Newt, but Ripley emerges in the loader to do battle.
The Sequence. Ok they’re just fucking with us at this point. Forget the roller coaster metaphor. This is just having given birth and discovering there’s still a twin you didn’t know about. We’re tired of all this. We’re not in any kind of shape to deal with this fresh new horror. The only way we’re getting a second wind at this point is if Ripley can find someway to level the playing field…
The Big Picture. Cameron is best at saving his most technologically astounding scene for the end. Titanic obviously ends with the sinking and Avatar ends with the battle, but the first Terminator ends on the T-800 exoskeleton, T2 saves its most iconic T-1000 morphs for the steel mill, True Lies ends on a military grade jet flying around a skyscraper. And I’m not mentioning The Abyss because it contradicts the point I’m trying to make and we can’t have that.
Aliens ends on a full body bifurcation, a massive alien monster roaming around without any shadows to hide in, and a puppetry-enhanced womano-e-womano with a big yellow loader. But that’s not enough to justify this sort of “second ending” in a movie this long and this draining. There has to be a major catharsis factor. We need a crowd pleasing moment or two, something that’s in short supply in Aliens. We need Ripley to call the Queen a bitch, then start beating the shit out of it.
There was catharsis in the last chapter, when Ripley began blasting away at the eggs, the aliens, and the Queen herself. But that was towards the middle of the sequence, and it still came down to her running away with her nightmare chasing after her. She escaped thanks to Bishop, not really because of anything she did. Cameron’s masterstroke in Aliens is that he finds a way to let Ripley end all this on her own terms. And if that means personally clobbering the thing that’s tormenting her, all the better. She needs it, and as it turns out, so did we.
2:23:10 – This already looks like a battleground even though nothing has happened yet. It’s already dark, with crazy lights and smoke.
2:24:05 – More nonverbal storytelling. The Queen thinking “You killed my kids, I’ll kill yours.”
2:24:36 – The motion of this alien is incredible. Amazing we’re only two years out from that jerky stop motion Terminator in Cameron’s earlier movie (which had a much lower budget but still).
2:25:46 – I think this is the first time in the movie where it feels like everything is going to be ok.
2:28:48 – I’m rooting for Ripley but I can’t shake the weird part of me that just feels bad for the queen.
2:29:45 – “Mommy.” You’re crying, I’m not crying.
2:31:10 – My memory plays one last trick on me. I’d remembered Ripley and Newt sleeping together in the same pod, but they’re just framed together in the same shot. It’s better that way. They’re strong apart, but they’re together.