Alien Alumni on Aliens

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[“After The Terminator‘s success] my new agent and all the people around me all said, ‘Oh you can’t do Alien 2, you can’t do Alien 2. That would be career suicide. Don’t do Alien 2. It’s a no-win situation: If it’s good it’s just because Ridley Scott’s classic was so good. And if it’s bad it’s because you’re not Ridley Scott and you can only be held up in a negative comparison, blah blah blah.”
~ James Cameron.

One of the prime reasons I started this blog was because I had heard many things about the series that I later learned were wrong, and yet still persisted among the fandom. One  of those things was the claim that James Cameron was the first to bring an insect influence upon the Alien, against the original creative team’s wishes and intentions. I addressed this claim in The Insect Influence. The other false claim was the assertion that Alien‘s core creative team held Aliens with contempt.

Aliens made Alien look like a cucumber sandwich,” Sigourney Weaver stated in 1997. “I like the second [sequel],” said Veronica Cartwright in 2013, “I like the second one very much.”

Some of the satellite contributors have also voiced their opinions. Set decorator Roger Christian said in 2010: “Cameron’s second one was brilliant. He took it in his own direction and just made an amazing piece of work. It was the right thing to do. You just couldn’t repeat what Ridley had done. Ridley had the advantage that he was able to create the tension, because you really didn’t know what was coming. Cameron was faced with that possibility and turned it into war, and really, really pushing this female heroine idea before anyone else did it. So I think he did a brilliant job.”

Alien and Alien 3 editor Terry Rawlings also chipped in: “They had Alien 2, which was a completely different movie, a great movie I think, but a completely different style [than the original].”

Lastly, Alien and Aliens special/visual effects supervisor Brian Johnson said: “[Aliens] was a good movie too, wasn’t it? The great thing was, it was completely different from the first one. It was a real shoot-em-up job. And just when you think it’s over … I was actually supposed to work on Alien 3, but honestly speaking, I’m quite pleased that I didn’t now.”

Ridley Scott

Scott on the Space Jockey set. “I was a little dismayed,” Ridley said when he learned that an Alien sequel was being made without him, “no one even mentioned it to me.”

Paul Sammon quotes Ridley Scott on the topic of the second movie in Aliens: The Illustrated Screenplay. Scott starts by bringing up his criticisms: “I suppose my main criticism of Aliens would be that there were too many of them. You were exposed to too much of the warriors and even mother Alien, which, by the way, I thought was a very good idea. Therefore there was no catatonic fear. And you know Sigourney’s going to win. So right there you’ve saddled yourself with a problem.”

Barring that, he summarised: “It’s always a tough job to follow a successful film with a sequel to it … so what I think James Cameron did was an excellent action picture. It really was amazing what he accomplished. There’s also no question that Cameron made an excellent film with Aliens. It really is an achievement.”

In 2012, Scott had either overcome his issues with the movie or simply set them aside, stating that, “Jim loved Alien, adored it … I would never, ever critique or criticise [Aliens] because I think it was very successful and what he did was really good.”

Dan O’Bannon

O’Bannon on the topic of Alien sequels: “I’d like to see it stop.”

It’s no secret that O’Bannon loathed the Alien series being taken from him and spun out into numerous sequels – a sentiment no doubt fostered by the fallout between the film’s producers and himself. However, he at least appreciated Cameron’s direction: “[Cameron] just about pulled it off. It was a separate movie in its own right. [It’s] a good answer to the problem, which is how to sequelise this. Plus, he was very wise not to try to handle it as a fear-evoking horror suspense tale like the first one. He was able to turn it to something he could work with to advantage. And you know, it was pretty good.”

He added that he regarded Aliens as the only angle left to the series, in his mind, so long as Fox stayed the course. “Cameron, in the first [sequel], did about the only thing you could do,” he said, “which was that he changed to a different genre, from a horror movie to an action film. But once he had done that, there really was nothing left to do [in the further sequels].”

HR Giger

“I was a little depressed because nobody asked me to work on this film. I was in Los Angeles at the time working on Poltergeist II, and I asked around about Aliens. For me it would have been the most logical thing to work on that film. I was very anxious to collaborate but nobody called me. I’d much rather have done a second Alien than a second Poltergeist because naturally I felt more related to Alien. Perhaps the Poltergeist II people wanted to keep me away from Aliens for fear of losing me. I inquired everywhere but no one could or would inform me about it.”
~ HR Giger, Cinefantastique,

Speaking to Cinefantastique in 1988, Giger was quite downbeat regarding his opinion of the film: “Actually, I expected more after all the enthusiastic reviews,” he began. “It’s a bit too American for me – too much action. I prefer suspense. Half of the action in Aliens would have been sufficient for one film I think. Far too much is happening. Its a bit like Rambo. As far as the designs are concerned, I have no criticism. Only the film’s pace bothers me. And I believe a lot of Europeans react like that. They would rather see a series of slow buildups towards climaxes instead of one immense buildup towards a single climax.”

Years later, Giger gave the film a second chance, and stated that he liked it more with every viewing: “Aliens was also terrific. I am sorry I was not asked to work on it. At first I thought, ‘This is like a war film,’ but it is really powerful.” He expressed the same sentiments elsewhere: “James Cameron’s sequel, Aliens, was a great film, but I wasn’t invited to work on it. My designs were already done, so they didn’t need me.”

Regarding the design for the Aliens in the film, Giger disliked showing off the ridged head which had been covered in the first film. “It’s all beautifully done, everything, the designs and the way they’re executed. The Alien Queen is also nice. She’s a bit smaller in the face than my Alien, but my basic design was very well studied. She was frighteningly well animated.” The same sentiments elsewhere: “The Alien Queen is very complicated, like the way I would have done. I like how she moves.”

Finally, in a statement made to Cinefantastique, Giger said: “When Aliens came out I questioned the change in tone and pacing from the original. It was an unexpected surprise to me, as it was for everyone. When I was able to put aside my personal disappointment in not having been asked to work on it, I soon realised that it was the change from the first film which made it an excellent and original movie, not another predictable sequel. It is a movie I’ve enjoyed more and more with every viewing and I consider it among the best action films ever made. And when I heard James Cameron himself designed the Alien Queen I was even more impressed by the talents of this versatile director.”

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6 Comments

Filed under Alien, Aliens

6 responses to “Alien Alumni on Aliens

  1. Great article as always, I must admit I have a love/hate relationship with the movie. I was smitten with it when it came out but over the years became more and more niggled by certain details. I suppose they could be considered trivial in the overall scheme of things. I grew to intensely dislike the James Horner soundtrack, mainly as I became accustomed to more films featuring his scores, I realised that much of Aliens sounded like Star Trek 2′ – Wrath of Khan, musically. By contrast, I kept in mind the eerie and masterful score by Gerry Goldsmith, which admittedly was an incredibly tough act to follow.
    Like Giger, I disliked the removal of the dome section from the creatures, although I understand there were budgetary factors to consider in the costumes, the domed head just had that weirdness about it that made it feel other-worldly. The ridged versions, had an almost opposite effect and conjured up associations with terrestrial insects. Having never consciously connected the original creature with anything on this world, it was hard to visually reconcile the differences…my personal frustrations were further compounded by the baby elephant noises that they seemed to make.
    As I’ve grown considerably older since either movie came out, my appreciation of the sequel being a US Military shoot-em up has somewhat diminished, it’s probably why I was more forgiving of Alien 3 for it’s faults, on the whole, I welcomed the remixing of the original idea that one creature can terrorise and destroy a large collection of dangerous men.
    I’m not far away from giving Aliens a view on Blu-Ray for the first time in well over a decade, knowing my former likes and dislikes in advance will hopefully allow me to see the film from a balanced perspective. I know the film definitely had its own merits, but like you, I appreciated the seed idea of an unfathomable terror from the blackness of the void, which is why Aliens will always stand in third place between itself , Alien and Alien 3.
    I’m guessing you have read the graphic novel Aliens – Labyrinth ? Written by Jim Woodring. I have often lamented the fact that nobody in Hollywood took inspiration from that story, particularly Jim’s take on the dynamics of the Alien hive and its effects on any unfortunate soul who might end up there, to date it has been the only spin off that has delivered a sense of horror in equal measure to the material that inspired it.

    • Great, measured, and cogent thoughts on the sequel, hiabex. And very fair, too. Aliens: Labyrinth was a horrifying take on the hive concept, it’s a shame that most of the comic books misunderstood a great deal of the second movie; but Labyrinth was the sort of horror the idea should have inspired. Alien 3 was a nice throwback to Alien, but it was devoid of the suspense that marked the first two, I think. I always maintain that the Marines were just as beleaguered as the Nostromo crew, considering they spent the movie with their backs to the wall, and were annihilated in only two encounters. But one of the lingering influences of Aliens is, unfortunately, that the action and blockbuster elements were amplified and almost caricatured in spin-off media, which leaves a bad taste.

    • BillTed

      alienS is a fine example of an action movie

      That it is the sequel to what is despite its pulp and popular attributes very much an ART movie in Alien,
      can make it seem kinda crass and american when compared

      But if you can detach yourself from being precious about art (which we all should),
      and just judge it on its own merits for what it actually is,
      then its probably one of the finest examples of what its trying to be

      (And although I’ve heard that argument offered in defense of prometheus, its not comparisons to other movies, or the constant references to and borrowing from other movies in prometheus that makes it a failure prometheus is just a failure on its own merits as a narrative at all, even if you think you’ve figured out what that narrative actually is)

  2. BillTed

    “It’s no secret that O’Bannon loathed the Alien series being taken from him ”

    I seem to recall (and I’m sure that you recall it better then I do Val) that in that podcast interview that Shusett did that was posted over on Alienscollection a while back,
    that he said that He and Dan had agreed in the contract to not having any attached rights to being involved in any potential sequels in exchange for having more direct involvement with the original production
    Or something like that

    Probably because they started out aiming for a cheapy Corman movie just to get in the business and oonly expected a one-off
    (plus Dan seeming like the stereotypical artist who just isn’t as concerned or slick regarding the business side of things)

    So that in effect it wasn’t technically “taken” from O’Bannon as much as he gave those rights away at the time in exchange for other ones

    Although thats what Shusett said
    Who seems to be a kinda flaky one himself

    He also went on to claim responsibility for co-writing AVP in the same interview,
    which I’m pretty sure never happened

  3. Glenn

    In some ways I liked Alien 4 better than Aliens. The caged creatures was something new.
    Aliens was too fast paced and the first attack scene with the flame-throwers
    was terrible. It was, and still is, impossible to see what’s going on. You can be told what happened but the editing is too much style and it ends up being crap. How did one guy light another on fire and why would trained men be so sloppy? I think they killed off some good characters too fast there. The events after were pretty good as they retreated.
    I liked when they first arrived at the facility and were fixing to go inside. Those scenes were very eerie and good.
    As for the music, the opening with the shuttle drifting is the only ones I liked. Alien had good music throughout the whole.
    I like the mood and feeling we get by the time they hole up inside the medical infirmary. And from there on out its pretty good.
    We all hate the monster grabbing Ripley’s leg in the airlock. It’s hard enough to believe she could hold on in a vacuum, but we had to have a heavy monster on top of that.
    Lucky for me I can get the blue ray of Aliens and not feel bad because I never got around to buying the old DVD.

  4. Alien fan

    Aliens will always be inferior to Alien, TBF though it would’ve been hard for any of the sequels to go back and make a film about the derelict etc without re-using the original sets or ending up making the first film all over again, as cool as it would’ve been to have a sequel centred around it. The whole idea of the planet from alien being colonised is just stupid though and the ending made sure no further sequels could be focused around the derelict. Nice one JC!

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