|James Cameron Director||previously directed The Terminator|
Aliens is a 1986 sci-fi film directed by James Cameron and a sequel to the 1979 film, Alien, from Ridley Scott. Ellen Ripley, after surviving her first encounter with a Xenomorph, goes to LV-426 with a group of space marines to investigate a colony that has lost contact with Earth.
Actor Bill Paxton tends to show up in films direct by James Cameron. He has appeared in Aliens, The Terminator, True Lies and Titanic.12 More Trivia
After Ripley is revived, she must rehash the events of this film for The Company and defend her actions.
|Sigourney Weaver||Ellen Ripley|
|Michael Biehn||Dwayne Hicks|
|Paul Reiser||Carter Burke|
|Bill Paxton||Pvt. Hudson|
|William Hope||Lt. Gorman|
|Jenette Goldstein||Pvt. Vasquez|
|Al Matthews||Sgt. Apone|
|Mark Rolston||Pvt. Drake|
|See Full Credits|
Aliens is the sequel to Ridley Scott's 1979 science fiction horror film Alien. The second entry in the long-running series, Aliens was helmed by director James Cameron. Cameron's previous film was The Terminator and he was riding high off its success. While still maintaing similar elements from the first film, rather than do a traditional follow-up to Alien Cameron opted to shift the genre of the sequel to a more traditional action movie. What was finally created was one of the high-water marks for the sci-fi action genre. To this day, it is still one of the most influential pieces of science fiction ever created, directly influencing the video games Doom and Halo, as well as virtually any film involving the military in space.
Still drifting in space from the last film, Ripley is rescued by a company salvage team in deep space.
Ripley is placed in a hospital on a space station around earths orbit. Waking up, Carter Burke ( Paul Reiser), a representative of the Company, brings in Jonesy the cat to reunite with Ripley. He explains that he doesn’t want to overexcite her due to an unusually long hyper sleep. When Ripley asks how long she was out there Burke responds that she was asleep for fifty-seven years. In response to the news Ripley begins to hyperventilate and grab at her chest. Burke tries to hold her down as she convulses. Ripley raises her shirt and watches a Chestburster break through her stomach. Before it could break the skin Ripley wakes up form the nightmare in the hospital room.
At a company meeting the board blames Ripley for blowing up the Nostromo. She tries to explain to them that the Company sent them to retrieve the alien, which killed the crew, forcing her to blow up the ship. The Company obviously denies giving any such orders and considers the “alien” creature that Ripley described to be ridiculous. When she confronts them about going back to the LV-426 they tell her they don’t need to - they've built a thriving colony on that planet while Ripley was in cryo-stasis.
Several months later Ripley has been stripped from her position in the Company as an officer and resides in a small, crappy apartment. Burke and Lt. Gorman ( William Hope) visit and ask for her to come with them back to LV-426 as a consultant. They have, predictably, lost contact with the colonists and fear the worst. After Ripley says no, Burke says he can get her officer status reinstated, and she won’t have to work on the docks loading supplies all day long. Again she refuses and kicks them out.
After having another Chestburster nightmare Ripley calls Burke and agrees to help with the investigation on LV-426 - as long as they destroy the aliens.
After a time skip, a ship full of marines wake up from hyper sleep and prepare for the mission on LV-426. In the mess hall Sgt. Apone ( Al Matthews) explains to Pvt. Hudson ( Bill Paxton) that the mission is nothing more than a rescue op. Hudson asks Bishop ( Lance Henriksen) to play Five-Finger-Filet, a famous scene that would forever after give the dangerous pastime the nickname of "Bishop's Game". Bishop then sits next to Ripley, who notices that he is bleeding white blood, he’s an android. Ripley gets angry due to the incident with Ash in the first film and warns Bishop to stay away from her.
In the hanger the team have a mission briefing. Ripley tries to explain to the hot shot marine squad that the aliens are extremely dangerous. They disregard her warnings and start preparations for the mission.
Feeling out of place Ripley asks Apone and Cpl. Hicks ( Michael Biehn) if there is anything she can do to help. She demonstrates her usefulness by piloting one of the mech loaders. I’m sure we won’t see that again.
The marines load up on guns and ammo just before entering the drop tank. Along with the marines Burke and Ripley join the mission. As they drop to the surface of LV-426 they ask Gorman how many combat drops he has performed, he answers only two. On board Gorman checks everyone’s personal camera’s and health monitors as they get closer to the tank drop.
Flying around the colonist town they see no signs of life, but the power is still on. The tank drops to the ground and stops. The marines exit as Burke, Ripley, and Gorman watch the action from the monitors. Once inside the complex they see evidence of fire fights and sections of the bulkhead melted by acid. With no signs of life or aliens Gorman declares it “safe” and enters the complex with Ripley and Burke.
Entering the med lab they find several Facehuggers in research tubes. One of them is even alive. One of the marines gets movement on his tracker and they start following the signal. Before they can fire Hicks stops them and asks Ripley to help him get a survivor, a little girl about the age Ripley's daughter was when she left Earth ( Carrie Henn), out of the air duct. Hicks tries to grab her but she escapes. Ripley follows the girl into her "lair" where she has salvaged food and some of her personal belongings. Ripley convinces the girl to come with her back to the marines.
Gorman tries to interrogate the girl but she doesn’t say anything even when Ripley tries to calmly talk to her. Hudson and Burke begin looking for the colonists personal transmitters on the electronic blueprints but find nothing. Meanwhile, the girl begins talking to Ripley and reveals her name - " Newt" - and the fact that her entire family is dead.
Finally Hudson finds the colonists' transmitters. They are all huddled underneath the terraforming plant. The team drive out and unload to find the missing colonists. From the tank Ripley reveals that many of the pipes are filled with dangerous gases and that the marines ammo could ignite and blow up the entire structure. As they move deeper there are less mechanical structures and more of the aliens' hive. They eventually stumble upon humans that have been hung up and harvested for Facehuggers to implant their embryos. One of the strung up colonists hasn't "hatched" yet, and begs for death just before a Chestburster rips through her. The marines kill it with one of their flamethrowers only to wake the rest of the sleeping aliens, which quickly surround the marines.
Fighting for their lives the marines are picked off one by one. Gorman in the tank freezes up and Ripley takes over. She drives the tank to the marines and saves the few surviving men. She turns the tank and begins driving back to the complex even though the axle is destroyed. Hicks finally calms Ripley down and begins assessing the situation. Hudson sees that some of their team are still alive but Ripley says they are beyond saving. Ripley suggests leaving the planet and nuking the entire site from orbit. When Burke complains about blowing up one of the Company’s assets Ripley turns to Hicks, the now highest ranking officer (Gorman is unconscious). Hicks agrees with the plan and calls in the plane for pickup.
The pilot and her co-pilot receive the orders and begin to take off, however an alien snuck aboard and attacks both of them, crashing the dropship almost on top of the surviving team.
They take refuge in the complex and assess the weapons that they have. Ripley tells the way-past-gone Hudson to pull up the blueprints of the entire complex. On the blueprints Ripley and Hicks figure out a way to seal off med lab and operations from any alien incursion. Alone, Hicks gives Ripley a locator so he can find her if he needs to.
In med lab Ripley puts Newt to sleep. To help her sleep Ripley gives her the locator Hicks just gave Ripley.
Back with the rest of the team Ripley theorizes that something must be laying the facehugger eggs. She tells Bishop that she wants the specimens destroyed but Bishop explains that Burke gave instructions to keep them alive. Confronting Burke, Ripley realizes that Burke deliberately sent the colonists to the planet to bring back the aliens.
Bishop gathers Ripley and Hicks and tells them that the reactor is about to blow and they don’t have time to wait for rescue. They come up with a plan to remote pilot the other drop ship so that they can escape. Cutting into a conduit Bishop crawls to a satellite dish to bring down the second drop ship.
Alone again Hicks shows Ripley how to fire one of the pulse rifles. She returns to a sleeping Newt and falls asleep next to her surrogate child.
When Bishop finally makes it to the satellite dish Ripley wakes up with Newt and realizes the living Facehuggers have been set loose in their room. With the doors locked and Ripley's rifle gone she uses a lighter and activates the fire alarm. The marines arrive and kill both Facehuggers. Ripley tells everyone that Burke is the only one that would have profited from them being infested and killed
Before a decision can be made about Burke the aliens begin to siege on their location. Burke runs and locks the door as the team tries to cut through the lock. Burke is caught by one of the aliens as Newt shows the team an alternate route through the air ducts. Gorman and Vasquez ( Jenette Goldstein) sacrifice themselves to give everyone else a chance but the shockwave knocks Newt down another shaft which Ripley is to big to fit. Hicks uses the tracker to find Newt. As Hicks cuts through the metal an alien grabs Newt and takes her back to the hive. With Ripley in hysterics Hicks drags her to an elevator. Shooting an alien as they enter the elevator some of the acid blood eats into Hicks, deeply injuring him.
They meat up with Bishop, who has flown in the second drop ship and fly to the reactor to save Newt. With Hicks out of commission Ripley duct tapes a flamethrower to a pulse rifle and uses the motion tracker to find Newt. Deep inside the hive Ripley finds Newt before she is infested and begins to carry her out of the exploding reactor.
Suddenly Ripley stumbles upon the Queen, an enormous alien that lays the facehugger eggs. Ripley inexplicably goads the Queen by burning the eggs, which were soon to be destroyed anyway, right in front of her. The Queen rips herself off the egg sac, and chases after them all the way to the top of the reactor. Ripley and Newt make it on the dropship just as the reactor explodes.
Back on the space ship the survivors begin to unload. However as Bishop steps off the dropship the alien queen rips him in half, she had snuck aboard.
With Newt hiding in the floor Ripley uses one of the loaders from earlier in the film to battle the Queen. Eventually she knocks the Queen into an airlock and jettisons her into space. Ripley loads everyone into "hyper sleep", including a seriously damaged Bishop and a hurt, but alive, Hicks, for the trip back to Earth, and tells Newt that she can dream now.
Putting together the film
David Giler, producer of Alien, started planning a sequel right away. However, the production studio went through a power change leaving Normand Levy in charge. Levy was not interesting in making a sequel. After a few years management changed again and approached David Giler about making another Alien film. Within a couple of days they had the green light.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was cast as The Terminator however he had a contract to shoot the Conan films first. This left Cameron with nine months of time to kill before shooting the first Terminator film. This gave Cameron enough time to take a writing job.
After reading the script for The Terminator David Giler thought Cameron would be a great choice to write Alien 2. Giler petitioned Fox to take Cameron as the director as well but they refused. During those nine months Cameron wrote only ninty pages and had gotten to the second act by the time he had to shoot Terminator. But Fox really liked what he had and decided to wait for Cameron to finish Terminator. They also made a loose promise that if Terminator turned out well they would let him direct the now titled Aliens.
The initial approach by Cameron was to make a sequel not a remake. He didn’t want to do a gothic horror film but a combat film. The idea was to respect the first film and not try to remake it in any form. They things that Cameron want to keep and expand on where the alien life cycle and Ripley as a strong female character. Around that he built his own unique world.
Sigourney Weaver was initially wearery of making a sequel to Alien. While making a film in France she received the finished script for Aliens, and was taken aback about how much it was about Ripley. After Cameron explained the direction he wanted to take this new film she jumped on board. Weaver did have some complaints about how Ripley was written but for the most part she enjoyed what Cameron brought to the script. Cameron and Weaver went through the entire script and collaborated over the actions of Ripley.
At first Fox did not want to pay Weaver her new price tag and asked Cameron to rewrite the script. Cameron completely refused and never even considered an alternative.
Design and Construction
Cameron was a huge fan of Syd Mead who had made a name for himself working on films like 2010, Blade Runner, and Tron. Calling up Mead Cameron asked if he would like to work on another science fiction film. Mead loved the script for Aliens and began do drawings on the flight to met Cameron.
The original design for the Sulaco had a lot of antenaes and sphere’s on it. However due to difficulty’s shooting spherical shapes with the times special effects the design had to be scrapped. Cameron drew something he had in mind for the ship and sent it to Mead who built on Cameron’s drawing.
Ron Cobb, who worked on the first film, was also brought on to help design some of the smaller vechile’s in the film. He also helped to design many of the interior’s of the LV-426 colony. Cobb and Cameron felt the public consciences was still filled with images of Vietnam and used some of the known military designs and repurposed them into the film. Cobb also designed the nose art for the drop ship that was an omage to the cartoons on aircrafts during WW2. Even though it is barely in the film Cameron had t-shirts and jackets made of the logo.
Peter Lamont was the production designer on the film. Having worked on several Bond films he was able to bring many of the design’s to life. It was Lamont that went out and took the undercarriage of a Vulcan plane and matched it up to the dropship in the film. For the tank in the film Lamont used a towing vehicle for 747’s and put a steel cover on it to make it look like the tank in the final film. The problem was that the APC, the tank, weighed over forty tons. To get the vehicle inside the set they had to reinforce the floors. For Ripley’s apartment Lamont had a hard time translating Mead’s drawings. He was forced to change things around to make it logically work. The toilet in her apartment is actually a toilet from a 747 that the production bought. To save money Lamont used several mirror’s to replicate the hyper sleep models. He also recycled much of interior of the Sulaco to look like different parts of the ship.
The film was shot in a decommissioned coal plant in London. This came with a variety of problems. Many of the railings where rusted but the real enemy was the asbestos that was in abundance in the plant. A large chunk of the films budget was used to clear out the asbestos and keep it in check. Later in the production they discovered that it was actually healthier to breath the air in the plant than at Pinewood Studio’s where the rest of the film was being shot.
Gale Anne Hurd, one of the producers, was very involved with the casting of Aliens. Being in London it was very difficult to find actors with a passable American accent. They went through three thousand different actors before even considering bringing actors over form the States. Cameron wanted a American hard edged military type and it made casting very difficult.
Jenette Goldstein, British, played the part of Vasquez. Cameron had written the role for a man but thought it would be interesting to change the character into a woman.
Mark Rolston played the part of Drake. Although he was from the States he had lived and trained as an Actor is England since he was seventeen. He loved the script and jumped on as soon as he could.
The search for Newt was extensive. This was especially difficult since it was even harder to find a child that could do an American accent as well as act. Many of the child actors that they found had done mostly commerial acting, so when ever they delivered a line they would smile at the end. They eventually found Carrie Henn who had zero acting experience.
Not being able to fill all the roles with English actors Cameron and the casting director decided to fill the roles with actors they knew.
Michael Biehn had previously worked with Cameron on Terminator. However Cameron had already cast the role of Hicks. With no time to prepare Biehn was flown to England and immediately started shooting over a single weekend. They had already been shooting for a week and Biehn had to use the previous actors wardrobe. Biehn wasn’t even able to customize his armor like the other actors and was stuck with what was already painted on which included a huge heart that Biehn was not fond of.
Lance Henriksen was cast as the android Bishop. Henrikson saw a child within the character and played the role as Henrikson’s twelve year old self. Cameron struggled with a way to introduce the character of Bishop. He finally came up with the Five Finger Filet game that ended up in the film. Henrikson practiced for weeks trying to be as fast as possible. The actor also came up with the idea of wearing contacts that had two pupils in each eye.
Bill Paxton had been a friend of Cameron’s for years but he still had to audition for the role of Hudson. After the audition Paxton thought he didn’t get the part and returned to California to shoot Weird Science. After the film came out Cameron called up Paxton and told him he had the part.
Allen Matthews actually had some military training before he became an actor. During the training for the film Matthews acted as their sergeant before they shot anything for the film.
Cameron hired Special Forces to train the actors to not just act like Marines but to move as them as well. For two weeks the actors became a unit both off and on screen.
Weaver was working on another film while Cameron was preparing to shoot and the actors trained. Only three days after her film wrapped up did she fly to England to shoot Aliens. Weaver was unaware of how the other actors had bonded like a squadron and used that as an actor interacting with these other characters. The same was true for Paul Reiser(Burke) and William Hope(Gorman).
Cameron gave the actors a bunch of props so they could customize their weapons and gear.
The first cinematographer was Dick Bush. Cameron and Bush did not get along and Bush told Gale that he couldn’t make the schedule Cameron had set. At that point David Giler told Gale to fire Bush. Bush believed that it was not the directors job to light the scenes and decided to leave.
Adrian Biddle was then hired to be cinematographer on set and came highly recommended by Ridley and Tony Scott. He had worked on commercials but Aliens was his first feature film. He got along with Cameron very well and the two of them constructed the look of Aliens. Pinewood Studio’s became the headquarters of the entire production.
All the weapons were made to be realiable blank firing guns. The pulse rifles are military grade Thompson machine guns with an attached shotgun on the bottom for the grenade launcher. The handguns used in Aliens are just Heckler and Koch P7’s. The massive smart guns in the film were designed after an MG-42 German machine gun. The mounts on the actors were just repurposed steady cam rigs. Sigourney Weaver is very anti-gun and had a problem with firing the guns in the film.
With all the fire effects on the set it began to burn some of the plastics causing breathing difficulties. Eventually they had to take the roof off of the set so that the toxic fumes and the flames would not continue to choke the actors.
While filming in the APC the rig that caused the whole set to shake, to recreate the falling effect, began to collapse. Both Weaver and William Hope where slightly injured. Allen Matthews took charge and was able to get everyone out safely.
At one point the APC’s brakes failed and wiped out the cameras at the end of the set. Thankfully, Hurd and foreseen a possible accident and told the crew before hand to operate the camera’s remotely. At another time the driver thought he had the APC in forward but it was actually in reverse almost killing cinematographer Adrien Biddle.
Cameron was considered very technically knowledgeable about all aspects of filming and would chastise people that he felt weren’t doing their job correctly. Another element that added to the tension was the culture class between the American sensibilities of Cameron and the crews English work ethics. The English crew started calling Cameron Grizzly Adams behind his back. On top of that the crew thought Cameron was moving in on a piece of art created by Ridley Scott.
The crew would also have tea breaks in the middle of shooting, to which there are some allegations that Cameron destroyed the cart that the tea came in on. Also there would be a draw of which all the crew would put in five pounds and try to win some money back. This was happening in the middle of shooting which increasingly upset Cameron. At one point Cameron even threatened to fire the entire crew. With that Cameron actually did fire the first AD to which the crew began to walk out. However the AD was rehired and they got back to work.
A full body cast had to be made of Carrie Henn so that she wouldn’t have to be on set for the finale of the film. It would also be a relief on Weaver for not carrying Henn around the entire time
Cameron designed the alien Queen himself and collaborated with Stan Winston on how to make the puppet work. Winston’s team worked on several versions of the puppet trying desperately to get it to work. At the time it was the most complex animatronic creature ever built. It ended up being two stunt men suspended by a crane while around sixteen puppeteers controlled the more detailed parts of the suit as well as the cranes.
The Power Loader was also designed by Cameron and it was built in three months. There was actually a stunt man in side the power loader behind Weaver so that he could move exactly as Weaver would.
Ray Lovejoy was the editor of the film and for the most part was on the same page as Cameron. Computers, at the time, still were not used to edit films so all the footage had to be gone through. This was difficult since Cameron shot much more than he ever needed. With a short post production schedule Loveyjoy had to work very quickly to get the film put together.
Composing the score was James Horner, however when re arrived they were still shooting the film. This left Horner with no film to score and the time began to eat into Horner’s schedule. For three weeks Horner was not able to do anything and visited the set and editing bay every once and a while. When Horner was finally able to start composing at Abbey Road studio’s he found the place horribly behind the times. They were barely able to plug in a synthesizer’s for Horner. With only six weeks until the release of the film they hadn’t even started the dub let alone made the score. With only four days left Horner still had the climatic battle to score and tried to explain to Hurd and Cameron what they were asking was inhuman. With two days left the scene was completely changed and Horner had to redo his entire score for the ending. Throughout the process Cameron and Hurd continually question every move Horner made. At one point Horner said that he can only get eighty percent of what they wanted and with that Hurd threaten to find someone that could do it. Horner replied that if they could he would be pleased to met the new composer. In the end the end musical score became a staple of action movie music and has been used in countless trailers for decades.
Robert and Dennis Shotak had worked with Cameron on the Corman films and Cameron felt comfortable working with them. They needed two full stages for the miniatures. One of the most difficult shots was that of the Queen’s nest. All the eggs, the queen along with the smoke and fire had to work in combination not only to make the shot work but not look like a model.
Due to budget constraints Cameron was forced to use rear projection techniques instead of blue screen.
Aliens had just a big marketing push as the first film which was headlined by James Cameron’s logline for the film “This time it’s war.” Fox’s marketing department went with the fact that the film was combat oriented and much different than the first film.
Barely getting the film out, there was no time for test screenings and the film was printed as is.
Audiences embraced the film and it stayed at number one for four weeks straight. At the time it was rare for a sequel to not just be successful but get a positive critical response. That year Aliens got seven Academy Award nominations including Sigourney Weaver as best Actress.
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