Ok, so I think that Aliens is probably up there on the Mount Rushmore of the best sequels ever made. Though this leans far more into being an action movie than the prior entry, it feels like an evolution of what came before, and it naturally builds on character arcs, the xenomorphs backstory, and everything that made that first film a masterpiece. Throughout this video, we’re going to be breaking down the movie and going over the themes, hidden details, easter eggs, and other things you may have missed.
Now, whereas Ridley Scott said that he actually preferred the original version of the film, James Cameron has said that the Aliens director’s cut is his preferred version of the film. Cameron described it as 40 miles of bad road, saying this is a longer and more intense journey through hell.
This is the version I’m going to be reviewing for this movie, and if you haven’t seen it then I definitely recommend that you watch it over the theatrical version. Aliens is a far faster and more intense story than its predecessor, which is even clearly shown by the title reveal, which happens way quicker than it did in the prior movie.
Aliens Breakdown: Hero’s Journey
Now, the story itself features the archetypes of Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey,” and in case you’re unaware of this, it basically provides an outline for a typical hero character. This starts off with a call to action, which is Ripley being asked to go back to LV-426; we then have a refusal like what we see in the film; the aid and mentor can initially be seen as Carter Burker; and then from here we cross the threshold when going to the planet. New allies and enemies are made in the marines and Newt before we get an ordeal in which they discover the xenomorphs. From here, we have the death of the mentor, the battle with the brother, who could both represent Burke, and so on and so forth.
Another evolution of the themes is seen in the reoccurring motifs around motherhood. In our Alien breakdown, we discussed how childbirth was something that reoccurred throughout, and this was seen in how the crew were framed when they woke up; the eggs, chest burster, and even the alien being ejected into space with the cord being cut have been taken as being like a baby exiting the womb on its umbilical cord.
This harpoon gun actually returns early on in the movie, and when we first get to Ripley’s ship, you can see where the gun got stuck in the door at the end of the last movie.
Now, motherhood in this film is very much felt within Ripley’s character arc.
In the extended edition, we see her daughter Amanda, who you actually play in the seminal Alien Isolation. Ripley learns that Amanda died while she was in space, and she very much becomes a surrogate mother to Newt. This is reflected in the final scene of the movie, which has Ripley looking over Newt as they both sleep in stasis pods. Cameron beautifully builds upon the ending of the past film, which too closed out on a shot of Ripley in her pod, mirroring what happens here.
The big bad of this movie is also a mother. The Alien Queen is at the heart of this film, and it protects its own children just like Ripley does.
Now if you want the scene with Amanda, you have to watch the director’s cut, and she was actually played by Sigourney’s real-life mother Elizabeth. Though this has never been outright confirmed, it was said that Sigourney was pretty annoyed that the studio made Cameron cut so many scenes from the film, including this one centered around motherhood. According to the reports, Fox wanted Sigourney back for Alien 3, but she refused to do it. They gained some goodwill by saying they’d release the director’s cut with the scenes added. The theatrical release was dropped in 1986, and by 1987, they were working on the special edition, which was aired on CBS in 1989. Director’s cuts are a lot more common now, but back then this was a big deal, and we all know that Weaver of course came back for Alien 3.
As for this movie itself, discussions about a sequel happened right after the release of the first movie, but the reason that it took 7 years to make was because Fox didn’t actually believe that there was enough interest to warrant a follow-up. They actually thought that the first film was a fluke, and due to declining box office returns with Horrors, it got shelved for a while.
The production company behind the first film, Brandywine, still came up with ideas, and these ranged from things like a ship finding the alien out in space to Jones the cat being a carrier. The only thing that stayed was the idea that this would center around the military. So who do you look to for this?
Well, James Cameron had actually been working alongside Sylvester Stallone on Rambo 2, and together they were the ones who turned in the final draft. Cameron also had a screenplay floating around for a little film that you might have heard about called The Terminator. Blown away by this Brandywine, Ripley asked Cameron to do a treatment of her and the soldiers, which he wrote over three days.
Strangely enough, they actually didn’t want Ridley Scott to return as the director, and they never pegged Cameron for it either. However, things sort of fell into place, and the reason why the movie took so long to release was because they were beholden to Cameron working on Terminator whilst this was on the backfoot.
I’m not going to get too far into it, but there was a lot of distrust around Cameron initially due to Scott being British and James being Canadian. There were also lots of arguments on set with us Brits demanding tea breaks, which Cameron got annoyed about to the point he apparently smashed a tea cart like it was the like button.
Oh, the humanity!
Several people were fired, including the director of photography, who didn’t light things the way that Cameron wanted, and also James Remar, who initially played Hicks. Caught with drugs he was kicked off the cast though some of the shots of Hicks from behind are actually Remar in the helmet. Sigourney Weaver also hadn’t signed on until three months before the project was due to start, and she had a number of demands.
These included, s**t you not, that there were to be no guns in the movie, that she would have sex with the alien, and that she was going to die at the end.
Sigourney Weaver is a strong anti-gun advocate, so she didn’t want any weapons like that, but Cameron talked her out of that and the other two things she wanted. Interestingly, when she became a producer on Alien 3 and Ressurection, these things all ended up happening, which, yeah, maybe Cameron was right.
So how did they get her to agree to it?
Which in the 1980s was the biggest pay day an actress had ever received. Compare this to the first film, where she was paid $35,000, and you can see how much of an increase this was.
Now, much like the first film, we open in space with the Narcossic slowly drifting towards the camera. This is named after the ship from the Joseph Conrad novel Children of the Sea,” which is a book about isolation and loneliness. The Nostromo was also a name that Conrad came up with, and keeping in line with this, Sulaco was the name of the town that the events of that novel played out in.
We catch a frozen vessel blanketed in ice, giving off a cold feeling that is instantly juxtaposed by the burning heat of the door being cut open. In our Alien breakdown, we talked about how the xenomorph was brought into the design of the environment, and this is shown at several points in that film. Here it’s very much present, with the drone coming in too. We see it has a long black head and also has pipes on the side, evoking the xenomorph tail. Cameraon actually turned down HR Giger’s request to work on this movie, which he has since admitted was due to how arrogant he was. He clearly regrets it, but I do think that a lot of the designs in this film work really well. As it scans the room, we can see several items that carry over from the first film, including the helmet that Ripley wore at the end.
We’re very much meant to feel detached from this futuristic world, and the salvage team enters almost as aliens themselves with their futuristic technology and space suits. To compare it to another film, I think it’s like when Marty first travels to 1955 in Back To The Future and he scares the peacocks due to how he looks. Alien had this almost VHS quality to it with the technology, whereas here it’s highly advanced, letting us instantly know this is beyond what we’ve seen before.
We also hear someone say this.
Easter Eggs In Aliens
This is actually the voice of James Cameron doing a vocal cameo and providing the film with its first lines of dialogue.
Cut to Ripley at Gateway Station, which is when she’s visited by Carter Burke. We learn she’s been out there for 57 years, as opposed to the six weeks she initially thought she’d be out there for in the first film. I think something Cameron does brilliantly is that he doesn’t fall into the trap that a lot of sequels do. They tend to just remake and rehash elements of the original, whereas he throws the character a curveball like this early on in order to completely place her in an alien environment she won’t really recognize.
Had the cat in space or egg thing happened, then we likely would’ve gotten the beats of the first movie, and this is what I’ve dinged films like The Thing prequel for doing. However, this allows him to take things in a new direction and evolve the character in several ways. Rob Ager did a brilliant analysis of the film, and he said that whereas in the first film the fight was a physical one with the alien, here it’s a psychological one. This entire movie is very much about Ripley overcoming her fear, which we see showcased early on when she learns about how long she was out there for.
This sets her into a panic, and it’s revealed that this is a dream sequence in which Ripley believes she has a chest burster inside of her. Jonesy hisses, and this of course calls back to the first film, when the animal did the same thing with the Xenomorph.
And this is a callback to the director’s cut of Alien, in which Dallas said the same thing.
Though this is somewhat decanonized, Cameron did take the idea and integrate it into Aliens with people being stuck in the wall. He also borrowed from Dallas, saying kill me,” and had the woman we came across say that.
Now one of the films themes is set up here, and huge shoutouts to Rob Ager for pointing out the differences and similarities between the two movies. Alien was very much a physical battle against the alien whereas Aliens is a psychological one. Ripley is racked with nightmares, but her sleeping soundly at the end next to Newt shows that she has overcome this.
We cut to her sitting on a park bench, but this is later revealed just to be a projection, and it shows that the world Ripley once knew is gone and just something that’s archived in recordings and photographs.
Originally, we weren’t meant to see this flicker like it does, and they were going to have Jones try and jump up at a bird, smack into the wall, and then reveal it was fake.
This is followed up by her learning what happened to her daughter, who too is shown as an image, highlighting the past that is now gone.
Her and Newt share a lot of common ground and they’re both people who’ve lost their families due to encounters with the xenomorphs.
The novel adds a line about how she died of cancer, and there’s also a bit about how the black box on the Narcissus was broken, suggesting that someone tampered with it to destroy evidence before the hearing.
I wonder who that could be.
From here, we cut to a hearing of what happened on the Nostromo and learn that they’ve been there for three hours. Ripley is desperately trying to tell the company about the horror that they faced, but they just see numbers and dollar signs. Some aren’t even listening to her, and we can catch someone on the lift sitting and sketching her. As the camera pans, we can catch a man on the right sitting and doing a crossword on his lap, and they’re completely switched off to what she’s saying.
In the background, we can also catch the crew from the first movie along with their biographies.
There are some really interesting details on them, and for Dallas, we can see that he worked as a former employee for the Tyrell Corporation. This is the company from Blade Runner, which is a little nod to Ridley Scott. We also have Lambert, and viewed in isolation, her bio says that she was born a man and is trans.
Ripley gets frustrated and loses it, and her license is suspended by the company. Though she won’t get fined for blowing up the ship, she won’t have the career that she once had. We learn that LV-426 isn’t seen as being hostile because terraformers are already there, and one of the big criticisms of the film is how they didn’t discover the engineer ship when they did. In Camden’s original script treatment, he had machines that hit the planet first and then terraformed it before humans arrived. This actually buried the engineer ship, and it stopped the SOS from getting out, which is why it was never picked up.
We see that Hadley’s Hope has been set up there with a colony of 158 people.
Here we see Mac McDonald playing the character Al, and the first episode of Red Dwarf would have him giving somewhat of a nod to this as he played the captain of a doomed mining vessel.
We discover that Burke actually sent a message out there asking them to go and investigate the grid coordinates for where the Engineer ship was, and this adds an extra layer of subtext to it. Just like how the company sent Ash out on the Nostromo, Burke was clearly after the money and didn’t care about killing people to get it.
It’s kind of heartbreaking seeing kids playing in the halls in the very same scene, and originally Newt was supposed to be apart of this. Later on, we learn that she survived for seven months out there on her own, and this was through hiding in the vents and recesses.
There was a bit of added character backstory in the original script, and there were versions where she was playing it with the kids at this point. Newt was the best at it on the entire station, and she even got the nickname “Newt” in reference to the little reptile because she could fit into places that other kids couldn’t.
For the final version, they ended up removing that, but we do get a line from her brother that gives a nod to this.
Now Newt is played by Carrie Hahn, and to make this scene a bit easier on her, her real-life brother is playing him.
We watch as her dad discovers the ship from the first film, which had still been kept in storage, so Cameron was able to use it as a location.
We once more get the xenomorph design broguth into the location, and inside the ship we can see bone-like structures on the wall that later resemble the limbs of the alien queen.
The facehugger once more returns with Newt’s scream being drowned out, possibly tying back to the films. In space, no one can hear you scream.-
Now from here, we jump back to Ripley, and she’s cut her hair and is donning a white t-shirt. This is something Scott himself later paid tribute to in Alien Covenant, and Daniels at one point looks like she’s cosplaying as the character. Ripley is smoking the longest cigarette you’ve ever seen, and this ash just hanging on, waiting to fall off, is of course symbolic of her mood. However, it’s also used to set up somewhat of a narrative device, as later on she uses a lighter to set off the sprinklers in Hadley’s hope. Had she not been smoking, then people might be like, “Ey, why is she carrying around a lighter?” So I like how Cameron at least gave a reason for that.
Burke comes to her home, and we also meet Leuitenant Gorman. He’s got a badge with USCM on his arm, which stands for United States Colonial Marines. The United States Marines badge is a golden eagle standing on top of Earth, but now that we’ve conquered planets, it’s now swooping down on them.
In the film, we discover that Burke is extremely inexperienced, which is why none of the marines respect him. The book actually adds some extra reasoning to this, and we discover that Burke picked him because he’d be easier to manipulate due to his not really understanding the situation they were heading into.
Inside Carter talks about how the corporation is building better worlds, which calls back to the tagline on the Weyland Yutani sign. It’s all propaganda, and they just care about colonizing planets and making weapons. It’s a really sleazy way to get Ripley involved, and he tries to sell her on how much of an opportunity it is.
He also calls her kiddo.
Paul Reiser also plays Doctor Owens in Stranger Things, and he refers to Eleven as Kiddo at several points.
Now he brings up the Marines and talks about how state-of-the art they are.
This has been talked about in a number of videos on this film, but Cameron has stated that he had lots of metaphors for the Vietnam War in this movie. As we mentioned earlier, he was a big part of Rambo 2, and this clearly seeped into his mind when making this movie. Cameron stated that the film can be seen as an allegory to the inability of the superior American firepower to conquer the unseen enemy in Vietnam.
He later stated that they represented a lot of firepower and very little wisdom.
Cameron modeled the marines on how soldiers appeared in movies, with them being overtly masculine, even down to Vasquesz.
The drop ship was based on an Apache helicopter, and Cameron also had all the actors personalize their own suits of armor, similar to those worn by soldiers in Vietnam. Hudson has the word Louise written on his, which is a nod to Bill Paxton’s real-life wife, along with several other things.
We can catch a calendar on it, and this shows that he has just one month left in service. Later on, he mentions having just four weeks left.
We can also see the word game over which the character of course says in the movie.
Cameron gave the impression that Hudson is very much meant to represent the marine mindstate, and when he thinks he has an easy target, he’s over there talking trash. However, when he’s actually in danger, he turns into a coward and is the complete opposite of how he comes across when he thinks he has the upper hand.
Now I actually purchased a masterclass membership to see Cameron talk about some of the scenes, and he did say that he regretted how he portrayed the marines in the movie. He said that his brother served in them for six years, and if he were to do this again, he’d have them be the complete opposite of how they were here. He said that as a film maker, you learn and grow, and that he has nothing but respect for the marines now.
Now that Cameron has also predicted the video phone, we see Carter’s analysis of Ripley coming true.
I love how she grabs her chest in this moment, and it instantly tells you exactly what happened in her nightmare.
Burke reassures her that they’re going out there to destroy the creatures, but we learn that was a f**king lie.
Now, the first film had lots of talk about shares and money, and this is once again mirrored in Burke.
The reason that he doesn’t go out there with another company is that he’d have to split the discovery with them, so he’s on his own for his own ends.
Cut to space, and we see the Sulaco, which itself looks like a gun cutting through the cosmos. Echoing the opening of Alien, we move through the ship and see it on display. Ridley Scott used this to great effect in the first film, and it made the audience take on this voyeuristic point of view as we traveled through the long corridors. We saw two nodding birds on a table, and Cameron somewhat mimics this by having two spinning table things as we travel through the ship.
I don’t think that’s what they’re called, but you know what I mean.
Now at this point, we cut to the stasis pods, which line an entire wall.
There’s a little bit of movie magic here, and the team didn’t want to waste money building all these pods, so they made five of them and then just placed a mirror at the end of the wall. If you look closely at it, you can kind of tell, but it gives the impression that the ship is much larger than it actually is. We see the computer start up, and this somewhat mimics the opening of the first film in which the machines turned on.
We then get a list of all the crew on board and their initials. Gorman is amongst these, and he’s the only marine to have their first name said because they don’t respect him and he doesn’t fit in. You can really feel the camaraderie in these moments, and that’s actually for a good reason. Cameron filmed the movie out of order, with this being one of the last scenes they shot, and this is because he wanted to build the relationships on set so that they felt like an authentic team when we got to this part.
We get more Vietnam imagery with the cigar-chomping Sergeant Apone and the dark green clothes that are reminiscent of jungle wear. Vasquez later wears a red bandana, and the pilot wears aviators, evoking imagery of the era. Vasquesz also does chin-ups with her buddy, Private Drake.
This is where we get the mistaken for a man line, and this actually pulls from an interview with 1930s actress Talah Bankhead. A newspaper columnist asked if she’d ever been mistaken for one, and she replied, “No, darling, have you?”
After owning Hudson, they do a special handshake that shows their friendship. Now, this actually appears later on in the movie when Vasquesz dies alongside Gorman. Though she initially doesn’t respect him in the film, she does this at the end to show that he’s now one of them.
In the end, he gets to die an Avenger.
They also bring up the fact that several other planets have been colonized.
Now it shows that there are other planets out there populated with humans, tying back to the building better worlds tagline, and those Arturians sure sound better, GADAMN.
I’ve also seen readings of this tying in with the Lambert reveal from before, along with the comment on Vasquesz being mistaken for a man and that genders will be far more fluid in the future. I don’t know if that’s been retroactively added in due to more modern mind states, and you’d have to ask Cameron himself whether those lines all tie together or not.
Anyway, at this point Bishop does the knife and finger trick, which…I must have tried to do about 40 times when I was a teenager. Actually, I got pretty good at it too, because I was really skilled with my right hand around those days.
This was achieved pretty simply, and they just sped up the footage, which you can kind of tell if you keep an eye on Drake and how fast his head moves.
At this point, Bishop is revealed to be an android, which freaks Ripley out. She of course had a major run-in with Ash during the first film, and similar to him, a milky white substance leaks out of a cut on his finger. Androids are also meant to be infallible, but we see here that Bishop has missed and cut himself. This is obviously worrying, and he’s meant to be a red herring in the movie that Ripley eventually learns to trust. In case you missed our last video as well, the androids names ascend through the alphabet as they appear in the franchise, and we had A for Ash, B for Bishop, C for Call, and then D for David.
Now, the robot being bad in the first film and then good in the second is something that Cameron ended up repeating, and he of course did the same thing with the first Terminator movies.
We find out that the older models were twitchy, and that since then they’ve had behavioral inhibitors put in place. However, to me, this shows that the company just doesn’t really care and that, though they’ve fixed the androids, they’re still happy sending people to their deaths.
Anyway, from here, we jump to the briefing on the xenomorphs. We get some hilarious lines here with Hicks busting loads of jokes.
Hudson sir, he’s Hicks
Sorry, Hudson, and I remember that even back in the day, everyone still got these two names confused.
thought they said illegal alien and signed up.
We also see that the Marines are so sure of their methods that it’s become almost like a shooting gallery for them to go on these missions.
I only need to know one thing.
If you pay close attention to Hicks during this, you can actually see him mouthing her words, showing how many times they’ve gone through this.
Drake also has writing on his cap, which was also referenced in the helmets of Full Metal Jacket as something that soldiers used to do in Vietnam.
Now, up until this point, Ripley was seen as being one of the corporate heads on the mission, and she wasn’t really respected.
However, she gets her hands dirty and helps out by using the power loader in the bay. This of course foreshadows how she fights the Queen later on, and it’s such a cool bit of armor that really adds to that battle. Initially it was supposed to be a four-legged thing, but after Cameron saw the AT-ATs in “Empire Strikes Back,” he felt it would be too similar. However, the quadripartite rendition appears in the novelization of the movie, which contains some other notable differences.
The Alien Queen in that has small albino drone aliens surrounding her, and these move the eggs after they’re laid. These completely ignored Ripley and just went about their business like drones in a beehive or ant colony.
Anyway, Cameron originally wanted to use stop motion for the Power Loader, but this proved to be expensive and difficult to integrate, so they used rod puppets instead. Five people had to operate it, and mannequins of Ripley were also used to make it seem like someone was in the machine.
During this scene, we see Ripley moving stuff around, and you can catch another machine being operated behind her. If you zoom in, you can see that this is actually a mannequin, and this is the same one that was used for Ripley; it’s just dressed in a military uniform.
So many cool moments as they move in like Vasquesz and Drake moving their guns about and we see Adios written on hers with TCH on his. The dropship pilot Collette also has fly the friendly skies on her helmet, which was the slogan used by Delta Airlines in the 1980s. On the ship itself, we can see a sticker that says Bug Stomper with an eagle on it and the tagline “We Endanger Species.” Now the term bug hunt appears earlier in the movie during the briefing scene, and we get lines about there being a xenomorph.
Because of this, people have theorized that they’d run into Xenomorphs before, which kind of contradicts how surprised they are later on when they encounter them. However, the website Arsetechnica.com explained that this was simply a play on the term snipe hunt,” which means basically a task in which they can shoot from afar without getting their hands dirty.
Bugs is a term used to describe all extraterrestrial life, and when terraforming a planet, there are probably life forms and creatures that they have to kill first in order to clear out the area.
We watch them getting ready and see that Vasquesz’s armor says El Riesgo Siempre Vive. This means the risk always exists, and it was later used in Lightyear as an inscription on Deric’s outer panel.
Described as an express elevator to hell, we see the drop ship scene play out with the marines being excited at the prospect of having some fun on the planet. It shows their hubris, and we even get Hicks asleep, which cements how little worry they have about this.
I am the ultimate badass.
Such a good little bit of acting here by Bill Paxton, and as the ship shakes, we see him drop his guard slightly and show a slight bit of fear on his face as he reaches to hold onto something.
Dropships like this were used in Vietnam and throughout warfare situations to get soldiers in quickly. Steve Spielberg brilliantly recaptured missions like this in the opening of Saving Private Ryan, but whereas that was awash with fear, these Marines are overly confident.
Cameron beautifully laced tension throughout the scene as we sensed that something was off and couldn’t share the confidence that the Marines had.
Where’s the damn beacon?
From the skies, they patrol the base, and we see how the biomechanical design of the alien’s tail has been integrated once more into the pipes that line the facility. The marines then move in and approach Hadley’s Hope, finding it eerily abandoned. No music is used in these moments, and instead we get near silence as they patrol the insides.
Cameron’s directing here makes it so tense, and for a lot of this scene, we have the camera pointed towards the marines instead of what they’re looking at. Psychologically, this creates a feeling of tension as we are looking at them and unaware of what they’re able to see. When we do cut to their point of view, it’s through their grainy camera, which again adds to the idea that we as an audience don’t know exactly what’s going on. Eventually they pick something up on the motion detector and move into a room. So far, there haven’t been any bodies because all the people here were taken off to be used as hosts for the facehuggers. However, just before they go into the room with Newt, we can catch a bloody hand print hinting at something bad happening here.
It’s an animal faking out with some hamsters, and Ridley Scott did something similar with Jonesy in the first film just before we saw the Xenomorph for the first time. They then pass through some holes running through the hull, and as we learned in Alien, a xenomorph’s blood is acidic. This melted through several floors, as we see demonstrated here once more.
Now the area is safe, and the next part of the movie was something that Cameron went in depth on during his masterclass lesson. As they come in, we can see that they tried to barricade a door shut, and in the movie NoVacation, the entrances were all covered by tractors blocking the entrances.
They discover face huggers in jars, and we get some lines that subtly hint towards Burke and his plan.
It looks like love at first sight.
Burke is, of course, trying to use the aliens for profit, and he’s very much on their side in many ways. The first Alien film, of course, had the twist that Ash was a villain too, and Bishop is suspected to be a villain in this. However, Cameron subverts expectations by making the hidden threat a human, and Burke remains, in my opinion, one of the best baddies in the franchise.
Later on, he tries to use these facehuggers on Newt and Ripley in order to smuggle Xenomorphs back to the planet. They of course would need two which we get foreshadowed in this line here.
In Alien, there was also the fear that removing a facehugger could kill the host, and this is confirmed by Bishop here while discussing a surgical procedure that was carried out.
The marines then move further into the compound after the motion detector goes off again. Again, Cameron framed it so we were looking at them, so we can’t see what they’re moving into. They willingly walk towards the danger due to their hubris, whereas Ripley hangs back because she knows what the danger is. If we look at her face, she’s the only one who seems afraid here, but this changes when we learn it’s a little girl and not a xenomorph. Newt runs out, and in a nice subtle touch that you really only catch in slow motion, we watch Hicks move Drake’s gun out of the way so that he misses as he fires.
In the masterclass, Cameron talked about how this also changes the dynamics of the scene as we go from fearful to curious after we see that it’s not a threat but instead a new character. Ripley then squats down, and we get a close-up of her face, which is when we see her eyes move about, and just as they lock onto Newt, we then cut to what she’s seeing, which is the first big reveal in this entire segment. It’s just subtly building upon what’s been talked about before, and we find she’s created her own little mancave that looks like your room when you were 15.
As Hadley’s hope is deemed safe, everything opens up, including Newt, who was initially mute. This happens because Ripley actually treats her like a human, whereas the Marines ignore her and just want her out of the way. Ripley actually cares about her.
She asks about her family and brother, and like Ripley, we learn that she’s now completely on her own.
Mirroring the examination in the first film, we see Bishop carrying one out on the facehugger, and Ash was of course fascinated by it too. Ash thought it was the perfect organism, and they do a nice little play on that by having him say it’s magnificent. Again, it’s meant to make us suspect something is off, and this all comes before the big action scene in the hero’s journey. We see how the pipes of the factory have turned into the spinal columns and bones of the xenomorph, and it transforms the industrial landscape into something more alien. When crafting the original film, HR Giger wanted to create something biomechanical in which machine seamlessly blended into flesh. That’s definitely the case here, with the characters very much traveling into the abyss. In Campbell’s hero’s journey, this typically happens at the midpoint, and it’s what triggers a transformation in the main character.
After learning that firing the guns will create a thermonuclear explosion, the marines are left with their hands tied behind their backs.
However, Hicks keeps his shotgun, and we get this infamous line that’s been used across a number of different things.
This later comes to be true as a xenomorph almost gets Hicks, but he uses the shotgun to kill it.
Now they come across a woman about to give birth to a chestburst which we showed before with the kill me scene. This is very much Ripley’s dream coming true, and in a subtle moment, we see Sigourney grab her chest to display this.
It’s then revealed that the xenomorphs are very much embedded into the wall and ceiling. Scott set the trend for this with the Nostromo purposely being filled with pipes and crevices that resembled the creature. Everything goes to hell, and Ripley goes from being a passive to an active character after she takes control of the troop carrier and drives in to save them.
This is the beginning of her transformation in the hero’s journey, which makes her start to face her fears rather than letting them control her.
At this point, Ripley drives through the factory, and there’s a chance that you might recognize this place. This is actually the same location that Batman drove through in the batmobile at the end of the 1989 film, which too ended up blowing up like how this place eventually does.
The score thumps away, and this was composed by James Horner in just three weeks.
The now-playing podcast went over it in depth, and I definitely recommend you give them a listen. I checked them out before making these videos, and they’re filled to the brim with trivia.
Horner was furious with Cameron because he kept sending him new versions of the final cut due to his constant changing of mind. He hired Ray Lovejoy to put together the film, who had worked on a lot of Stanley Kubrick movies. However, Lovejoy had developed quite a slow style working for him, which Cameron ended up feeling was wrong for this movie, so it had to be redone several times. This meant Horner was constantly working away and redoing things, which led to some bad blood between them. Horner said he’d never work with him again; however, he did end up doing the scores for Titanic and Avatar after the pair smoothed things out.
I think you can tell that some of these bits were done quickly, as at points it sounds identical to Horner’s work on Wrath of Khan.
I guess if you’re in a rush, just reuse stuff, and the score is still excellent for the film, I think. Especially the escape scene at the end.
Now they make it out, and we hear that some of the vital signs on the soldiers are still ticking. These were people that were captured, cocooned, and held in place so that more xenomorphs could be created. Outside, we see that the planet isn’t as harsh as it used to be, and Ripley’s father, at the start of the movie, went out without a space suit. In the first film, the search team had to don them, but this shows how the terraforming has made the planet more hospitable.
Now at the ship, we get one of my favorite moments, with a xenomorph attacking the drop ship.
Read projection was used here for the crash scene, and it feels like a massive gut punch watching this thing crash.
Aliens Ending Explained
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Now back at the main hub, we watch as the shutters go up once more, juxtaposing how they opened up before, and this shows how lost the group is. They’re pretty much going for the same plan that doomed the colony. I love Bill Paxton in this moment, and he gets all the best lines as he turns into a bumbling wreck.
Why don’t you put her in charge?
In the director’s cut, they arm some auto cannons that will kill anything that moves, and they seal themselves in, even blocking up the same bunch of boxes that we saw didn’t work before. It’s a pretty crap plan, but it’s all they have, and it actually shows the intelligence of the xenomorphs. The idea was that the one on the Nostromo was only alive for 24 hours, so it was more primal. These, however, are way smarter, with the Queen even having intelligence that rivals that of a human.
Ripley nutures Newt and the pair talk about nightmares and Ripley’s daughter being dead. This further hammers home the idea that she has to protect Newt so that she doesn’t lose another daughter.
Now at this point, they discuss the eggs, give each other face hugs, and question what’s laying the eggs. Hudson figures out that they operate similarly to a beehive with a queen at the center of them. Originally in this scene, they were going to talk about how the xenomorphs operated, and we were going to learn that the tail actually came with a stinger in it that paralyzed its victims. This was going to be why the stinger went up Lambert’s trouser in the first film, and it was a technique they used to subdue their prey. Later on in the film, they were going to have developed a neurotoxin that countered this, and after Newt was taken, Hicks and Ripley were going to inject themselves with it. They would then wake up on the other side in the hive, which is how they were going to save Newt and escape.
Either way, we get what we get, and Ripley confronts Burke after Bishop says that he wants to bring back the two living face huggers. His hand is played slightly here as he reveals he wants to slip them past quarantine undetected.
They wouldn’t know because Ripley and Newt would have the embryos inside of them, and wanting to kill a woman and a kid is pretty despicable. He tries to talk Ripley into letting him bring the embryos back because they’d be set for life, and of course he also promised Newt’s father a big share. It’s a Faustian deal that won’t work out for Ripley, and she sees through it instantly.
They end up sending Bishop up the pipe, and in the build-up to this, they talk about how bad the deal is, but ey, I’d be that cramped to get away from the xenomorphs. Hicks shows Ripley his gun—not like that, mate—and Gorman wakes up, which is when Burke launches his attack.
Ripley goes into Newt’s room to find her asleep on the floor, and this ends up saving the pair’s lives. Hiding behind a blanket is likely what she would have done in order to survive, and being hidden explains why the facehugger doesn’t attack them until after they wake up.
It all goes down when they do, with Burke turning off the monitor as she screams for help on the monitor.
She signals the alarm by starting a fire, and after getting a little too close for comfort, they reveal the truth about Burke. However, before he can be brought to justice, the xenomorphs swarm in, and we once again get an amazing motion tracker screen where we can’t see what’s coming in but we know that it is.
There’s an amazing reveal with the vents, and we catch them climbing upside-down, which leads into a big standoff.
Burke locks himself in a room, but he’s eventually given the villain’s death when he comes face to face with a xenomorph. Now a deleted scene that isn’t in the director’s cut actually revealed that he survived this and Ripley came across him in the hive. He was strung up on the wall, screaming about the pain in his chest, and Ripley gave him a grenade before she carried on. Kind of a mercy killing that’s probably better than he deserves, but I think they cut it because of how Vasquesz and Gorman go out. Now slowly, the group is picked off one by one, with Hudson being killed before the other two with the explosive. This vent scene somewhat mirrors the one from the first movie, with Newt knowing the way she’s able to lead them through it. However, the explosion throws her into a gear, which then drops her down, which is where she’s grabbed by the Xenomorph.
This is a brilliant shot with it coming up behind her in the water, and it’s probably one of the most horrifying images in the film.
Honestly, I dunno if the injection thing that we talked about before would’ve worked better, because Hicks and Ripley both know that she’ll be kept alive, but they’re still like, “F**k them kids.
Nah, to be fair, she does decide to go back for her even after Bishop lands. He tells her that they have 26 minutes left, and at this point, it’s actually 26 minutes until the movie ends.
From here, Ripley descends into the nest, and this is almost like a journey through the nine circles of hell as she goes deeper into it.
This shows how much she’s grown from the first film, even though the two climaxes share similar beats. That had Ripley returning for the cat Jonesy, but she ended up running away. Here, Ripley does the same thing, but she’s prepared and going towards the danger instead of just trying to run away again.
We see her arming up and even get the nagging wife voiceover that’s become a cliche in movies.
Bit sexist, but this is actually a callback to Mother from the first movie.
We very much get the hero shot as she steps in, and from her, we see as Ripley descends through the factory desperately searching for Newt.
Eventually she gets her, and they actually used a dummy for most of this so that Sigourney was able to carry her along with the gun. We have her surrogate child in one arm and a weapon in the other, and it’s such a cool image that it was used for the poster.
Now the alien queen moment was another thing that Cameron talked about in the masterclass. We watch as the location starts to blow up around Ripley and then follow her as she walks into somewhere we can’t see, which makes her stop. Again, the camera is pointed at her rather than what she’s looking at, and as an audience, we’re meant to pause and wonder what it is that’s made her stop amongst this carnage.
Cameron said that the idea for this actually came to him in a dream, and during that, he ran into a room, got to the center of it, and realized that he was surrounded by wasps. He knew he couldn’t get to the door before they got to him, and that made him freeze.
The whole point of this moment is for us to go from one extreme to the other, and we watch as Ripley goes from sprinting through the area to then standing still. The explosions take over the sound stage, but they’re then silenced when Ripley realizes what’s going on.
This provides an altered state of awareness, and the camera goes from 24 to 48 frames per second so that it can transition into slow motion.
This moment is almost completely silent as well, until we hear the eggs being laid and we get the slow reveal of the queen as we follow Ripley’s eye along it.
This pulls up to very much reveal its throne with the creature in the middle.
It’s like nothing we’ve seen before, and to this day, this is the biggest puppet ever put on film. It’s actually what got Stan Winston the job on Jurassic, and to me, it’s the coolest creature in the entire franchise. Cameron said that this very much leads into a negotiation, which keeps things tense, but it also gives Ripley a reason for how she got out of there.
However, the Queen goes back on it, and we see an egg opening up, which makes Ripley burn the entire area. In a cathartic moment, we see her just standing there, shooting away until she runs out of bullets, and she fires her weapons until they’re empty before launching grenades. It reminds me a lot of video games when you face a boss character and just keep shooting and switching guns until you run out of ammo.
Such a great scene that leads into the final chase as Ripley desperately races out of there with Newt. It all goes to hell with the Queen pursuing Ripley through the corridors until the lift comes. Again, I think this inspired a lot of games with you having to survive until your exit arrives.
However, with it comes another elevator for the Queen, which follows Ripley up there.
We get a great fake out where she thinks that Bishop has left her and an amazing reveal of the Queen coming out of the darkness of the lift. Bishop saves them though, and originally the novel had it saying that Ripley was going to throw herself and Newt over the edge instead of them being killed by the Queen.
Everything seems like it’s going to be okay, but onboard the ship, we see that the alien queen has a surprise. Blood drips down and melts the floor, and Bishop is ripped in half before Ripley can tell Bishiop she trusts him.
Described as the bitch vs. bitch fight”—not by me, mate—that’s sexist. We watch as Ripley goes head-to-head with the Queen, leading to a major showdown. It attacks Newt in the vents, and Ripley dons the power armor to take it out.
Originally in the script, things went to the airlock like they do here, but the Queen’s blood was what caused a hole in the hull. This then sucked her out, and it was something that was also used in Alien Resurrection. However, the whole point of this movie is to turn Ripley from being a passive character into an active one, which is why she has to be the one who opens the airlock.
The queen is sucked out, and the shot of her going into space was later referenced in Infinity War when they killed Ebony Maw. Peter Parker even asks if they saw that really old movie aliens and they use the same technique to take him out.
As Ripley climbs back into Newt’s arms,
and she finally gets redemption for being unable to get back to her daughter.
We watch as Bishop and Hicks are sealed off, and Ripley goes to sleep with Newt next to her, bringing things full circle from the end of the first movie.
That ends the film, and they of course did have a sequel in mind, which is teased at in the end. Though they never knew which way they would take things, we can hear the opening of an egg sack at the end of the credits.
Anyway, that closes out the movie, and what an incredible film it is. For my entire life, I’ve always had Alien as my favorite out of the two, but after doing this breakdown, I’m not so sure anymore. I forgot how dense that film was, and when you compare the run times of this and my last video, there’s a big difference.
Ask me again and I might say that this is my favorite, but either way, I think this is a perfect movie.
Alien probably stuck with me because of how much it scared me as a kid, and I can remember the first time I saw it, whereas I can’t with that. However, ignoring that scar from my childhood, judged on its own merits, I think this is probably better.
It works as an amazing sequel, and Cameron masterfully builds on the first movie to create an arc for Ripley that makes her face up to her fears and defeat the thing that had terrified her. This movie even kind of crafted what the archetype of a sequel is, and normally when we think of one, we say it has to be bigger and badder. That’s what Cameron has done, but he’s done it without being cheap. Things like the Alien Queen take the elements of the first film and evolve them to their eventuality. That makes sense, and I think there’s a reason that the Queen hasn’t been topped when it comes to the Xenomorph food chain. Its the next step up in absolutely every single way.
Not only does it build on the first film so well, but it also manages to actually change genres and turn the franchise into an action movie. It’s something others would mimic, and I think games like Dead Space 2, Metroid, and Resistance 2 owe a hell of a lot to it.
This movie changed cinema, and I hope that you’ve had as good of a time going back through it as I have. I really think this is Cameron’s best movie. Well, maybe this or Terminator 2, but off the back of this, the franchise has remained one of the sci-fi genre’s best even if everything after it was pretty meh or bad. It shows just how strong this film is that we are still riding on its back nearly 40 years later, and I forgot just how much I love this.
Now Predator was rushed into production off the back of it, with that and its sequel arriving before Ripley’s return six years later. Whether that was for better or worse is another conversation, but in the end, I think these first two movies are outstanding. It’s rare that you get two classics like this back-to-back, and for me, it’s up there with the first two Godfather films in terms of them both being incredible.
Obviously, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, so make sure you comment below and let me know.
Anyway, that wraps up the video, and make sure you check out our breakdown of Alien, which will be on screen right now. A huge thank you for sitting until the end; I’ve been Paul; you’ve been the best; and I’ll see you next time. Peace.