Tag Archives: Aliens

My Thoughts on: Aliens (1986)

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There is, based on my experience, a long-running argument as to whether Alien or Aliens is the superior film. I’ve heard valid arguments for both films, but the fact is, you can’t compare them to each other. At the end of the day, Alien is first and foremost a horror film (albeit one set in space) while Aliens is firmly set in the action genre.

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I have a confession to make about Aliens: I can’t watch the beginning of the film. Learning that Ripley has been in stasis for 57 years and no one believes her story about the alien is just too painful, for lack of a better word, to watch. I don’t know if it’s just subconscious frustration on my part (because we know Ripley’s telling the truth) but I just can’t watch the opening; I usually just skip to Burke’s visit to Ripley’s home.

Issues with the opening aside, I love Aliens; I love the set up, I love the characters and I love the various plot twists. In summary, Ripley unwillingly returns to LV-426 after a colony established there goes radio silent. She’s accompanied by a squad of colonial marines, Bishop (another android, but one more advanced than Ash) and Burke, an executive who is definitely as slimy as you think he is. In predictable fashion, everyone except Ripley completely underestimates the gravity of the situation, resulting in the marines walking straight into an alien nest (though granted they don’t realize that’s what it is at first). This is one of my favorite scenes in any science fiction film because you just know from the start that most of these characters are going to die, and since it’s an Alien movie, it’s not going to be pretty. After the initial massacre, the plot focuses on Ripley working with the survivors to escape back to their ship, while also bonding with Newt, the lone colony survivor.

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The biggest difference between this film and the original is that the first film only had ONE Alien on the loose; Aliens has several hundred and it’s also responsible for introducing the Alien Queen to the story. And speaking of the queen….what a terrifying creature she is! Until Jurassic Park, the Alien Queen was the largest animatronic/puppet of its kind, requiring over a dozen people to operate at any given time. Technical details aside, the scene introducing the queen is terrifying, I love how the camera only shows bits and pieces before suddenly pulling back and showing the creature in all her scary glory.

Another sub-plot I want to highlight is Ripley’s relationship with Bishop. Given that the last android she knew tried to kill her, Ripley understandably wants nothing to do with Bishop at first. But as time goes on and Bishop proves himself time and again, Ripley comes to respect the android and the feeling is mutual.

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James Horner’s score is a big part of why Aliens is so great: there are hints of the horror/suspense that Goldsmith created in the original film, but also moments of full blown action (notable example: when Ripley charges in to rescue the surviving marines, the score goes into overdrive).

Few more random thoughts:

-Burke’s comeuppance is one of the greatest things you will ever see. My only regret is we don’t get to see more (a lot of it is left to the imagination).

-Since it is the 80s, if you look carefully you can see the wires manipulating some of the Alien puppets (the most obvious one comes when an Alien surfaces out of the water right behind Newt, you can see it attached to the tail).

-That scene where the facehuggers are loose in the medical lab is downright terrifying, but they move so realistically you can’t really tell they’re puppets.

At the end of the day I highly recommend both Alien and Aliens as they’re both great films (just for their own reasons). Let me know what you think of Aliens in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

My Thoughts on: Alien (1979)

Film Reviews

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Film 101: False endings

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*warning, I’m discussing the endings of multiple films so I suppose I should include a spoiler warning

You’ve seen it before: after a long and arduous battle, the bad guy (or group of bad guys) is defeated/killed and the surviving heroes all breathe a sigh of relief as they prepare to return to their mostly normal lives. But wait…what’s that noise? Oh no one of the bad guys isn’t dead and here he comes again!! That, in a nutshell, is the essence of a false ending in film. For a few minutes it seems like the story is wrapping up but it’s actually the prelude to another fight (or in some cases another full act of the story).

False endings are extremely common in horror films and are usually employed to lure the audience into a false sense of security (believing the danger is passed) before using a final jump scare that often takes the last surviving character. In non-horror examples, false endings are usually employed as an excuse to stretch out the ending of a film, either for dramatic or comedic reasons. There are far too many examples for an exhaustive list, but I will do my best to list some of the most notable examples from film history:

The Ten Commandments (1956): There’s a scene towards the end of the film when Rameses returns after his army is destroyed in the Red Sea. He vowed to kill his wife when he returned but when she points out that he failed to kill Moses, he flings the sword down and slumps onto his throne, his only explanation being “His god…IS God.” The way this scene ends, it could almost be viewed as the end of the film, as Moses and his people have safely crossed the Red Sea and Rameses has been thoroughly chastised for his hubris. But then the scene shifts back to the desert and the final act of the film truly begins.

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Alien (1979): This is probably one of the more famous examples. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has destroyed the Nostromo, escaping with her cat into a small shuttle. The danger seemingly passed, she prepares to put herself back into stasis to await rescue when OMG the Alien’s hand shoots out from a wall revealing it had stowed away on the escape ship. This leads to a final battle where a terrified Ripley must blow the Alien into space.

Aliens (1986): An equally notable example: the colony on LV-426 was blasted into oblivion with only Bishop, Hicks, Newt and Ripley escaping alive. They make it back to the Sulacco and prepare to get medical help for Hicks before setting a course for home when suddenly…Bishop is impaled from behind, revealing the fearsome Alien Queen stowed away and she’s madder than ever!

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The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003): As anyone who has seen this film knows, the end of this film has multiple false endings, with it seemingly taking forever to reach the true ending of Frodo sailing away into the West while Sam returns home to his family.

 

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The Descent (2005): This is possibly one of the cruelest false endings ever made. Sarah barely manages to escape the cave with her life and speeds away in her car. Suddenly she sees Juno, one of her dead companions sitting in the passenger seat which causes Sarah to snap awake and realize…it was all a dream, she’s still in the cave and the monsters are closing in.

John Wick (2014): A notable recent example comes in the first John Wick film. After fulfilling his mission and killing Iosef in revenge for killing his dog, the weary assassin prepares to return home. He’s even given a new car as ‘compensation’ for everything. All seems to be well…until Viggo learns that Marcus could’ve killed Wick several times before this and chose not too. When he informs Wick that he’s going after Marcus, the film shifts back into action and we get almost a full act of action and violence before finally reaching the true ending (Wick saves a dog from being put down and limps for home).

Atomic Blonde (2017): It could be argued that the ending sequence of this movie contains several false endings. For a few minutes it seems like the film is going to end with the revelation that Lorraine was Satchel all the time only to shift into an attempted assassination by her Russian handlers (which she escapes), leading to the shock revelation that Lorraine is actually American CIA (and there’s no way of knowing if that’s the actual truth but it’s where the film ends).

Other films with notable false endings include: Spectre (2015); A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984); 47 Meters Down (2017) and Final Destination 2 (2003).

What do you think of these false endings? Are there any examples you can think of that I didn’t list? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Film 101

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Film Music 101: Borrowing

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Borrowing is a tricky subject to discuss in the world of film music. Almost all composers do it, but hardly anyone will talk about it (officially that is). And that’s a shame because borrowing is one of the most interesting things to look at in a film score (or group of scores).

Borrowing is what happens when a composer takes a theme from another score (usually one of their previous works, but not always) and places it in the score they’re presently working on. There are many reasons why this might need to happen. A composer might be working on several scores in a single year (i.e. James Horner in 1995) and instead of creating a wholly original score for each film, it might be more convenient to borrow and re-use several themes, particularly if the music fits in the new film.

As a general rule of thumb, if a composer scores at least two films in the same year, it’s likely you can listen to both soundtracks and find at least several identical cues.

Jerry Goldsmith talks about Alien

Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Alien (both from 1979) both provide a good example as well. In this case, the similarity is slight, but unmistakable. First, watch Alien and listen to the music in the opening of the film (after the opening title), when the camera is panning around the empty ship. Then, go to Star Trek: The Motion Picture and fast forward to the scene where Spock steals a spacesuit. It’s the exact same music!

John Williams is equally guilty in my opinion. While not identical, compare Princess Leia’s theme from Star Wars (1977) to Marian’s theme in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981); they are suspiciously similar.

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Elmer Bernstein (of The Ten Commandments (1956) and The Magnificent Seven (1960) fame) borrowed a fragment of his Magnificent Seven theme and placed it in the opening for The Great Escape (1963) (it can be heard during the opening credits).

But why doesn’t anyone talk about this if everyone does it? Well…while borrowing is a fact of musical life (classical composers have been doing it for centuries), many (outside the industry) view the practice as tantamount to “cheating.” The feeling is that it’s not right to re-use parts of a film score because it “cheapens” the new product. Of particular irritation are the moments when composers borrow themes that they did not originally create. For this reason (I believe), composers choose not to talk about this process very often (though that’s not to say they never talk about it, I just don’t think they discuss it enough).

First of all, I need to point out that this is NOT plagiarism. Once a theme has been written, it belongs to the studio and NOT the artist. So if a composer needs to borrow a certain theme that another composer created, they are free to use it. Case in point: John William’s theme for Superman: The Movie (1978) being reused in Superman Returns (2006) (the first attempt at rebooting the franchise). Also, in a similar vein, John William’s main theme for Jurassic Park (1993) makes a prominent reappearance in Jurassic World (2015).

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*all images are the property of their respective film studios, they are only being used for illustration

See also:

Film Music 101: Arranger

Film Music 101: Anempathetic sound

Film Music 101: Empathetic Sound

Film Music 101: Foley

Film Music 101: Montage

Film Music 101: Compilation Score

Film Music 101: Leitmotif

Film Music 101: “Stinger” Chords

Film Music 101: Dubbing

Film Music 101: Diegetic vs. Non-Diegetic Music

Film Music 101: Underscore

Film Music 101: Sidelining

Film Music 101: “Test” Lyrics

Film Music 101: The First Film Score

Film Music 101: Orchestration and cues