Alien Territory Part 2
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.
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