Alien Territory Part 2

Film

For many, director James Cameron destroyed the ‘Alien’ franchise.

It was inevitable that a film as successful as ‘Alien’ would continue in a sequel, a series of comics, videogames and even toys. Cameron supposedly killed the golden goose by giving everyone exactly what they wanted to see; a full-throttle action film which did away with the quiet moments and the shadowy creeping dread. He gave us guns and explosions and a full-out war between humans and beasts.

Cameron had no choice. He could not simply rerun the first film when the creature had been seen and dispatched. Plus, he’s an unsubtle director with a tin ear. As a writer I could see the problem outlined in red. Repeating anything from the first film would bring diminishing results. The surprise is that he solved this dilemma – and did so brilliantly.

Aliens

Let’s get up to speed. Lieutenant Ellen Ripley, alone except for her cat in the escape pod, are heading home to Earth in what should by my reckoning be the year 2079. Jones the cat and Ripley are the only survivors of their abortive mission. From this we expect two things; the alien has infected the cat, and it will escape onto Earth.

But we do not get what we expect. In the Alien franchise you never do (until Chapter 4, but more on that later). Ripley is not on Earth, and her drift through space has taken 57 years. In a scene that was originally cut we learn that her daughter Amanda is dead. She has been rescued and is debriefed by her employers at the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, who have placed a colony on the toxic landscape of exomoon LV-426. And now the colony’s messages have suddenly stopped. What could have possibly happened?

Here comes the first of Cameron’s master strokes – no-one in their right mind would go back there, and Ripley, barely of her right mind, mourning the loss of her daughter, tears into the suits. ‘Did IQs suddenly drop while I was away?’

The theme of corporate greed, the driver for the first film, surfaces more openly with company arch-creep Carter Burke (‘I’m one of the good guys’ – ‘It was a bad call, Ripley, a bad call.’). Burke may not just yet be planning to smuggle alien embryos past Earth’s quarantine in the bodies of Ripley and Newt, the damaged little girl she finds at the colony, but his secret agenda, which matches the first film’s, is definitely in place. 

What follows from the drop ship plunge to the planet is frankly fabulous – exciting, disarming and actually fun as a military team, including the amazing Private Vasquez, refuse to believe what they are facing. Ripley’s friendlessness relieved by her alliance with solidly trustworthy working class grunt Hicks (they bond over assault rifles).

Now, though, the aliens must be reduced in strength or there is no film. Once unstoppable, they must fall like ninepins. Therefore the stakes have to be raised with the late appearance of the Alien Queen and the further exploration of the alien’s insectoid life cycle.

Along the way we get iconic moments, especially in the loading bay (‘Get away from her you bitch!’) and with the last of all possible last minute rescues. The lonely cynicism of the first film, replicated in the first half of the second, now gives way to ‘family’ bonding and warmth as Ripley, Newt, Corporal Hicks and even the robot Bishop enter hypersleep for their return trip to Earth. Which, to be fair to the director, provides a closure many members of the sweated-out audience will now be seeking. The end music from the Gayne ballet suite, also memorably used in ‘2001’, places us in a relaxed state of harmony.

Sadly, one of the best parts of the film was edited out. The installation of machine gun posts provided sequences of further dark tension in the planet’s corridors, and can be found reinstalled on the DVD long cut. The horror film has become an action film, but must morph again, this time into a science fiction film. And that’s where the real trouble starts.

To be continued

14 comments on “Alien Territory Part 2”

  1. Anne Billson says:

    I’m SO interested in the way Aliens approaches that big question, the one that needs answering if we are to suspend disbelief: after the first Alien, WHY would Ripley go back to that planet and go anywhere near those creatures again? IIRC the screenplay solution is twofold: 1) she needs to stop the nightmares and – as you suggest – 2) by moving the time frame on by 57 years, everyone important to her has passed away and she has nothing left to lose (and of course the sequel then goes on to replace her lost “family”).

    Also – does Weyland-Yutani apply pressure by hinting they will otherwise deem her responsible – legally, financially, morally – for the loss of the Nostromo and its crew? A while since I last saw it, but sounds exactly like the sort of thing a big corporation would do.

  2. SteveB says:

    I really enjoyed the 2 prequels, but not 3 and 4.
    Newt is unceremoniously disposed of at the start of the third film iirc

  3. chazza says:

    “Alien” is the only film to watch in the franchise, IMO. The others are poor. I would have ended “Alien” differently with Ripley blissfully asleep but the cat watching her with something slightly pulsing from within its fur…
    I agree “The Thing” is a much better film but probably didn’t succeed in the cinema because there were no kick-ass women in it. But to talk of Carpenter, my favourite of his is “In the mouth of madness” a total nightmare of a film ending in a Ligottian universe of indifference and annihilation; very uncomfortable but brilliant, once again , IMO…

  4. snowy says:

    I am also a little bit hazy about details, my recollection is Ripley is blackmailed into going out. But before she gives in she extracts a promise from Burke.

    Hang on… I”ll look it up.

    Ripley: I don't believe this. You guys throw me to the wolves, and now you want me to go back out there? Forget it. It's not my problem.

    Burke: Can I finish?

    Ripley: No. There's no way.

    Gorman: Ripley, you wouldn't be going in with the troops. I can guarantee your safety.

    Burke: These Colonial Marines are very tough hombres. They're packing state-of-the-art firepower. There's nothing they can't handle. Lieutenant, am I right?

    Gorman: That's true. We've been trained to deal with situations like this.

    Ripley: [scoffs] You don't need me. I'm not a soldier.

    Burke: Yeah, but we don't know exactly what's going on out there. It may just a downed transmitter, okay? But if it's not... I'd like you to go there as an adviser. And that's all.

    Ripley: What's your interest in all this? Why are you going?

    Burke: Corporation co-financed that colony along with Colonial Administration. We're going into a lot of terraforming, building better worlds-

    Ripley: Yeah, yeah, I saw the commercial. Look, I don't have time for this. I've gotta get to work.

    Burke: Oh, yeah. I heard you're working at the cargo docks.

    Ripley: That’s right.

    Burke: Running loaders and forklifts.

    Ripley: Yeah. So?

    Burke: Nothing. I think it’s great that you're keeping busy. And I know it's the only thing you could get. There’s nothing wrong with it. [pause] What would you say if I told you I could get you reinstated as a flight officer? The company has already agreed to pick up your contract.

    Ripley: If I go.

    Burke: Yeah, if you go. Come on, that's a second chance, kiddo. I personally think for you the best thing in the world would be to get out there and face this thing, get back on the horse-

    Ripley: Spare me, Burke. I've already had my psych evaluation this month.

    Burke: Yeah, I know, I've read it. You wake up every night, your sheets are soaking with sweat-

    Ripley: [angrily] I said no, and I mean it! [in normal voice again] Now please, leave. I'm not going back. And I... I wouldn't be any good to you if I did.

    Burke: Okay, shhh. Just do one thing for me, okay? Think this over [leaves calling card]

    Gorman: [leaving along with Burke] Thanks for the coffee.

    And then in a following scene:

    [Ripley and Burke are talking via video-link early in the morning]

    Burke: Hello? Ripley? You're okay?

    Ripley: Just tell me one thing, Burke. You're going out there to destroy them, right? Not to study, not to bring back, but to wipe them out.

    Burke: That's the plan. You have my word on it.

    Ripley: [pause] All right, I'm in [disconnects, then turns to Jones, her cat] And you, you little shithead, you're staying here.

  5. Jan says:

    Corporal Hicks – dunno the actor’s name – turns up in Cameron’s first Terminator film he’s John Connor isn’t he? His impregnating Sarah Connor was just as successful when it came to setting up sequels as the Alien’s reproductive cycle!

    He plays a rare baddie role in Camerons undersea film “The Abyss” when he’s psycho in charge of some sort of S.B.S. / navy seals type team. Think the “Abyss” is in some ways underatted maybe the closest Cameron gets to a sort of arty type “Alien” picture. Parts of it just don’t work. It’s proper Slow.

    I liked “Aliens” not only is the title the best sequel title ever and the girl was funny the South American lass (scrolling back to find out how to spell her name)Vasquez. She was a new type of character to the films someone not seen before. Aliens did something different and involving with the original monster that took it some place just as exciting and different. A rare sequel offering something totally new not a reproduction of a winning formula.

    Yes I know I said what you just said. (!) I wonder why

  6. Jan says:

    I think Ripley goes cos there’s not much else for her to actually do. I mean what else is she going to do? Everyone’s gone who she knows and there’s not much work going beyond in the sort of Amazon type warehouse ……. and no place else to go.

    Plus I think Weaver would approve because she gets to put her Sigourney on lots more film contracts ….

  7. Anne Billson says:

    Thanks Snowy. I forgot about them dangling the carrot of being able to get her old job back.

  8. Anne Billson says:

    RIP Ian Holm, by the way. That reveal about his character in the original Alien was the most shocking bit, for me.

  9. Richard says:

    Looking forward to admin’s take on Alien 3 I heard an excellent interview with Paul McGann and one of the other Brit actors recently. They talked about how the filming went on so much longer than expected, to the point they started looking for houses.
    I’m not the best judge of films, I like all the Alien franchise (even the newest ones, and I wasn’t physically sick during AvP), but even I find 3 a bit ‘wandery’

  10. Ian Luck says:

    “An unsubtle director with a tin ear”. This has to be the best description of James Cameron I’ve ever heard. Nice one, Chris.

  11. Derek J Lewis says:

    Afternoon. Nothing much about ‘Aliens’ i’m afraid.
    Just re-reading the B&M ‘on the loose’ The scene in Rocketship always gives me such a nostalgic frisson. A pitch perfect recreation of the tatty second hand shops that I haunted throughout my youth in the early 1970s. These shops were not ‘specialist’ in any way but were fantastic places to pick up early/mid 1960s marvel comics for 6d each (Fantastic Four 6, that’s a tanner mate). Of course next to the comics were the second hand paperbacks from assorted publishers ( again perfectly described) can I add ‘New English Library and Mayflower? As well as picking up my first Michael Moorcock’s there was the added thrill of finding a Robert E Howard ( hardly pubished in the UK then) from a US publisher like Bantam. Cheers Mr. Fowler .

  12. admin says:

    Blimey Derek, I don’t remember writing that. I need to go back to it, pronto!

  13. Donald Miller says:

    Does anyone else question the tactics of sending such a powerful ship with no crew and only a small marine company aboard? No crew. No one to fire off all those amazing weapons Hudson brags about. No second marine company to fly the second drop ship. No medical team to tend to the wounded. No ships captain or other command structure any other ship has.
    James Cameron did a great job at hiding the many shortcomings and holes in this film.

  14. snowy says:

    From the Corporation viewpoint the colony is of trivial importance, it produces no revenue, but is consuming supplies and materials. It’s on the debit side of the register. Enter the villain of the piece Burke, he has read Ripley’s report and thinks he can turn a loss into a profit, and pocket a large bonus for himself. This is where things start to go wrong.

    If he pushes the information up the chain to his boss he doesn’t get his hands on the bonus, his boss does, so he contrives to downplay the threat. He asks for military assistance to investigate a loss of contact, which he passes off as most likely just equipment failure, but mentions that there had been a single report of alien activity.

    Military minds thinking this is a waste of time send a minimal recce squad to have a look around and report the situation before they send in lots of very expensive hardware.

    Hudson claims that they have access these weapons, they might do, but he is ‘all mouth’, [and probably the last person in the team you would let anywhere near the big-boys-toys even if he had the brains to work out what to do with then]. He doesn’t have the military authority to sanction their use in any event.

    The second drop ship is just a ready-to-run spare, it saves taking a maintenance crew for the first.

    There is a medic to take care of everybody in the form of Dietrich, she doesn’t say a lot in the film, examines Newt in the Medical Centre and is lost in the attack on the Hive. They are not expecting trouble, anything she can’t fix, just pop them in the freezer for treatment at base.

    The ship in orbit is functioning as a freighter/military transport with a minimal crew, it’s a simple mission fly-out, fly-back, nothing out of the ordinary.

    [I did try a short answer, but it looked glib and rude…. Now it looks long and nerdy – *Sigh*.]

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