JAMES CAMERON, ALIENS (1986, DIRECTOR'S CUT
1992), 2HRS 34 (LD/WS)
THE DIRECTOR: JAMES CAMERON (1954-)
Canadian born director, screenwriter, and producer; studied
physics California State University. Began his career designing
sets for Roger Corman and has since established himself as a premier
director of action films. JC made a name for himself in the 1980s
with SF films which were unusual in their set design (drawing
upon JC's own skill as an artist) and excitingly paced in their
editing. He also co-wrote many of the scripts of the films he
made. His first big success came with "The Terminator"
(1984), a low budget "sleeper" which made his fame and
His films include:
- "Battle Beyond the Stars" (1980) as art director,
based upon the "Seven Samurai" and "Magnificent
- "Galaxy of Terror" (1981) as production designer
and 2nd unit director
- "Piranha II: The Spawning" (1983) a dreadful directorial
- "The Terminator" (1984) as director and co-scriptwriter
- "Rambo: First Blood Part II" (1985) as co-scriptwriter
- "Aliens" (1986) as director and co-scriptwriter
- "The Abyss" (1989) as director and co-scriptwriter
- "Terminator 2: Judgement Day" (1991) as director
- "Point Break" (1991) as executive producer. The
sound tracks of "The Abyss" and "Terminator 2"
are of such high quality that they are often used as demonstation
LDs for home cinema.
THE FILM: THE ALIEN TRILOGY
is a witty variation on the standard horror motifs of the haunted
house and the slasher; Aliens is an all-out dynamic action
picture, a war film in outer space; Alien3 is a brooding
meditation on the theme of guilt. (Scobie, Science Fiction
- Sigourney Weaver - Ripley
- Carrie Henn - Newt Jorden
- Michael Biehn - Corp. Hicks
- Paul Reiser - Carter Burke
- Lance Henriksen - the android Bishop
- Bill Paxton - Pvt. Hudson
- William Hope - Lt. Gorman
- Jenette Goldstein - Pvt. Vasquez
- Al Matthews - Sgt. Apone
- Mark Ralston - Pvt. Drake
- Ricco Ross - Pvt. Frost
- Cynthia Scott - Corp. Dietrich
Part 1 Alien (1979)
Cameron's "Aliens" is the sequel to Ridley Scott's
"Alien" (1979) one of the most influenctial SF films
made. RS also made "The Duellists" (1977) based on a
Conrad story of 2 fanatical duelists during the Napoleonic Wars;
and "Blade Runner" (1982) based a the SF short story
by Philip K. Dick about a group of fugitive android slaves who
flee a slave-catcher assassin.
In "Alien" a commercial bulk ore carrier "The
Nostromo" (from another Conrad story) answers a distress
signal from a small planet only to inadvertently let on board
an "alien." The lone alien runs amok killing all the
crew except for officer Ripley (and her cat) who then blows up
the "Nostromo" and escapes in a small craft. To wait
until rescue R entered "hypersleep". The original alien
grew to maturity through a series of metamorphoses, using other
living creatures like humans as a host for one of these metamorphoses
- the egg out of which hatches the "face hugger", the
face hugger which attaches itself to another creature's face in
order to insert itself into the living flesh of its host organism,
the "chest buster" which tears its way out of the host's
body when it has grown sufficiently, and the "warrior"
or mature alien form which has acid for blood and a total disregard
for all other life forms. The mature alien has a remarkable capacity
to fight for its own survival and seems untroubled by any moral
questions concerning the killing of other species for its survival
(perhaps like humans with respect to other living creatures?).
The film was made cheaply in the UK and very successful at
the box office. It follows the well-worn formula of horror/thriller
movies in which an assailant kills unsuspecting victims one by
one until stopped by the lone hero/ine. The film is unusual in
that it depicted space flight as routine, privately operated,
working class, boring, ramshackle and dirty; the interesting design
of the alien based upon the Swiss surrealist artist Giger; and
the powerful role of a woman - Ripley (Sigourney Weaver).
Designs for ship and aliens by Swiss artist H.R. Giger (born
1940). Themes in his work: phallic images (near pornographic);
death; creatures who are part insect, human, mechanical ("biomechanoids");
creatures which are shaped like guns or bullets in guns; torture
(Vlad the Impaler). Early work depicted himself as one of the
"Atomkinder" whose parents will come to view as abnormal.
Designs for other SF films: "Dune".
The Sequel: Aliens (1986)
The asexual-virgin mother Ripley appropriates
the big phalli of the Colonial Marines and becomes a monstrous
killing machine in order to fight an even more monstrous mother.
JC conceived the idea of a sequel to "Alien" and
wrote an outline for it (called "Ripley and Soldiers")
as he was working on the script for "Rambo: First Blood Part
II". Idea of a squad of "Colonial Marines". In
an interview he noted how much the Vietnam War was on his mind
as he planned "Aliens", especially the issue of a how
a low tech society like North Vietnam could defeat a sophisticated
high tech society like the USA, and the reasons why soldiers regarded
their terrible war experiences as the most exciting of their lives
and sought to re-enlist after their tour of duty ended.
In the sequel Ellen Ripley awakes after the passage of 57 years
to find she has been found by a space salvage crew. In the meantime,
her 11 year old daughter has grown up and died of old age (thus
R has broken her promise to return to her), "The Company"
has established a colony on the planet LV-426 where the "Nostromo"
took on board the alien. In typical fashion in these type of movies,
the oddly named "Weyland-Yutani Corporation" and the
government authorities ignore her warnings. She is suspended from
duty as ship's officier and gets work as a futuristic fork lift
druck driver (a "power-loader" operator) until the inevitable
moment arrives when contact with the colony is lost. R agrees
to advise the company, represented by Carter Burke, and the squad
of "Colonial Marines," led by the unpopular and hapless
("gormless") Lt Gorman, which is sent to rescue the
colonists. All the colonists (except for a little girl "Newt")
have been captured by the warrior aliens and "cacooned"
ready to host the "new born" face huggers. The Colonial
Marines try to rescue them but are caught in an ambush by the
warriors and suffer heavy casualties. R leads an expedition to
rescue the survivors in the Armoured Personnel Carrier. R and
the Marines retreat to the Operations Centre of the colony to
decide their next course of action. With the help of an android
Bishop they realise there must be a "colony" or hive
of aliens, with a "Queen" who lays the eggs and warrior
aliens to protect her and the eggs. The Company's representative
Burke betrays R and N by exposing them to a face hugger so he
can smuggle an alien back to earth for the Bio-Weapons Division.
With the colony's nuclear power station about to explode and the
warrior aliens swarming to attack the Marines, they attempt to
escape. Most of the Marines die in the retreat and N gets lost,
thus forcing R to return alone to rescue her. A final battle takes
place between R and the Queen alien before R and N are safe to
sleep "perchance to dream."
Filmed in decomissioned Acton Power Station in London.
The version we will see is a Laser Disc, Wide Screen so-called
"Letterbox" format in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1.
Ordinary video and TV has an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. It is also
the newer "editor's cut" (1992) which restores an extra
17 of material cut for theatrical release. Commercial films over
2 hours in length suffer at the box office.
The Third in the Trilogy: Alien3
Third film in trilogy "Alien 3" (1993) dir. David
Fincher. Cross between "Alien" and "The Name of
the Rose." Troubled history with several writers and directors.
References to medieval plague (AIDS). Shaven-headed Ripley crashes
on male only prison planet. Prisoners have adopted ascetic Christian
fundamentalism. R's body contains an alien (how did it get there?)
and other eggs are on her crashed ship. Aliens wipe out most of
the prisoners, R leaps to her own destruction as alien bursts
from her chest, which she cradles new born child-like in her arms
as she plummets towards purgatory.
Robin Martin observes of the film Aliens that it has
... praised and criticized as a female
version of Rambo, for which Cameron wrote the first draft
of the screenplay. However, Ripley, the female hero of Aliens,
differs dramatically in her motivation from Rambo. Instead of
acting out of revenge, Ripley is motivated by a new and arguably
feminist formulation of mothering. (p. 353)
Robin Roberts, "Adoptive versus Biological Mothering in
Aliens," Extrapolation: A Journal of Science Fiction
and Fantasy, Winter 1989, vol. 30, no. 4, pp. 353-63.
THINGS TO NOTE
- The influence of other SF works: Robert Heinlein's militaristic
novel Starship Troopers (1959) - language of Marines doing
a "drop" onto a planet in full battle armour; H.G.
Wells' "The War of the Worlds" (1898) in which Martians
conquer and exterminate humans in order to make the earth suitable
for colonisation (like the Europeans did to the Tasmanians in
the 19thC); the film "It! The Terror from Beyond Space"
(1958) inspired by story by A.E. van Vogt "Voyage of the
Space Beagle" about ship returning from Mars with blood-sucking
alien on board which kills crew one by one to store them in airconditioning
unit for future meals; out of court settlement over striking
similarities between "Alien" and van Vogt's 1939 story
"Discord in Scarlet".
- The similarity to Westerns and combat movies in which a galant
"last stand" is taken against enemy who has overwhelming
- The idea that the most violent form of warfare is one between
two different species (races) and that humans may one day be
treated by aliens as they have treated other races or species
on earth (Wells).
- In an interview JC says the key question for sequel is to
explain why R would go back to face danger of aliens? R survived
the first encounter with an alien physically but not mentally.
(Compare dedication of EMR's novel "All Quiet on the Western
Front"). His answer is that the military motif justifies
this: war as a cathartic psychological release caused by closeness
to death as a result of combat. This is partly a Vietnam War
movie relocated to outer space. VN war experience was science
fictional. JC says he was fascinated by fact that US soldiers
would return to Vietnam for a second tour of duty. Desire to
re-experience the "adrenalin rush of combat".
- JC designed an unused publicity poster: "Aliens: This
Time It's War."
- James Horner's music with the deliberate references in the
opening and closing scenes to Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssy"
- The themes of dreaming and sleeping. Dreams begin and end
the film suggesting that the events in the film are a nightmare
or dream shared by Ripley and Newt. We are most vulnerable when
we are asleep. Movie plays upon a number of Freudian fears: chocking,
being trapped in dark confined spaces, fire, spiders and snakes,
being dragged under water and drowned, becoming the "living
dead" as host for parasites. N asks why parents tell little
children there are no monsters. JC says he gets his imagery for
films in his dreams. Movies are a shared dream-like experience.
- The (un)ethical behaviour of "The Company" which
owns the space ships, employs Ripley, develops the technology
for transforming the atmosphere on the colony ("building
better worlds"), wants specimens of the aliens for its Bio-Weapons
Divisions. Morality of the Military-Industrial Complex.
- Promises and keeping one's word: R to real daughter, R to
- The attempt to predict the nature of future war: the example
of Vietnam, the Rapid Deployment Force (R: "These men are
soldiers. They're here to protect you." Newt: "It won't
make any difference"), new "smart weapons". RDF
- idea was to avoid getting "mired" in Vietnam situation
but to have mobile force to go to hot spots to restore order.
E.g. Panama, Grenada, Somalia. Body armour, helmet, shoulder
light, radio and video, monitoring vital signs remotely, electronic
trackers. APC - armoured personnel carrier (based on airport
tractor), drop ship based on military helicopters. New smart
weapons: motion trackers, sentry gun, smart gun.
- Vietnam parallels. "Last stand" of colonists like
defeat of French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 before rescue by US
forces. Depersonalization of the enemy - "bug hunt"
vs body count of gooks. R wants to "nuke them.". US
close to using nuclear weapons in Korea and Vietnam (work of
- Technology and war. Burke describes the Colonial Marines
(obviuosly American as they wear the US flag as a shoulder patch)
as "very tough hombres" with "state of the art
fire power", yet they are unable to defeat the "low
tech" aliens in combat. Parallel with high tech US vs low
tech Vietnamese. WW2 tradition of naming one's weapon, tank or
aircraft: Vasquez' smart gun named "Adios"; drop ship
"Bug Stomper - We Endanger Species," "Smart Ass
- We Aim by P.F.M. (Pure Fucking Magic)". On set used landing
gear and equipment from RAF Vulcan and Canberra bombers.
- The issue of women in the military having combat roles. Ripley
as female Rambo ("Fembo")? The pilot of the drop ship.
The medic. Most macho Marine is female V. Chapter 29 of LD is
called "Reluctant Soldier" (i.e. R). Exchange between
R and Hicks when R wants to know how to use the rifle: R: "You
started this. Show me everything. I can handle myself."
H: "Yeh, I noticed that." Hicks and R exchange first
names before R goes off to combat- sign of respect, equality.
Final scene with V and Gorman in A/C tunnel. G returns to rescue
injured V according to Marine ethic of not ever leaving dead
or injured on battlefield. In spite of lack of respect of V for
G they die like comrades.
- Masculinity (machismo) and femininity (virginity). The marines
joke about the prospect of getting "juicy colonists' daughters"
and rescuing them from their virginity. Reference to "poontang"
- see Kubrick's FMJ. Weakest member of the platoon is a male
Hudson not female. He is emotional, defeatist. Real survivor
is little girl Newt. R takes over platoon as most senior and
most experienced person. Private Vasquez - first shot is of her
doing pull ups and flexing her muscles in a macho fashion. Friendly
banter with the male marines: "Have you ever been mistaken
for a man?" V: "Have you?" V is platoon welder.
R kills in order to save N. Would she kill for the same reason
as men (revenge, ideology, machismo). Would male soldiers do
what R does, rescue a little girl? Image of female R firing phallic
rifle into egg sack of pregnant Queen alien. Queen alien new
to sequel - JC designed it to have clear "feminine characteristics."
- The robot/android Bishop who prefers to be called an "artifical
person". Reference to SF writer Isaac Asimov's Laws of Robotics
from novel I, Robot - androids programmed with "behavioural
inhibitors" - "It is impossible for me to harm or by
omission of action allow to be harmed a human being."
- Motherhood and protecting one's offspring. R feels she betrayed
her daughter by not returning. In screenplay (but not in movie)
N asks R to be her "mother" and R agrees. N asks R
where babies come from and whether she has a little girl. R goes
back to rescue N - maternal instinct or revenge against other
mother (Queen alien)? Queen alien described as the "Big
Mother" in charge of the whole show. Queen lays eggs. Face
huggers "impregnate" humans. Final battle of the Mothers
(R and the Queen). Mother of all Wars (Saddam Hussein). Single
combat between R in power loader suit and Queen. R steps in front
of N to protect her: "Get away from her, you BITCH!"
- Colonization. Colony called "Hadley's Hope" with
graffito "Have a Nice Day".
- References to Joseph Conrad. "Nostromo" name of
ship in "Alien". Conrad's short story "Heart of
Darkness" basis for Coppola's film "Apocalypse Now."
- JC's interest in the work of Swiss surrealist artist H.R.
Giger who designed original alien. Influenced design in JC's
earlier movies and landscape of planet in "Aliens".
- Weak points in movie. Why does R agree to go back? How does
Queen alien operate lift? Why do aliens take so long to attack
colonists? Low tech aliens have no weapons but have ship capable
of space travel. How does alien get from colony to drop ship?
How does queen hold onto drop ship?