Every year, I watch the classic James Cameron movie Aliens as a sort of nod towards reminding myself why I got into creative writing in the first place. Also, it’s simply one of the best movies of all time and possibly my favorite. However, on this viewing, a few things stuck out to me that never occurred in previous viewings, namely a few key plot points that don’t seem to hold up where well the more I think about the story. I want to unveil these rather glaring errors to show how ludicrous the movie becomes under a more critical eye.
Dumb Ass Colonists
The first noticeable error I uncovered was in a deleted scene where Newt’s family goes to investigate the derelict craft. Up until this point. most of the story has made sense. It is when Newt’s mother returns with the immobile father where I began having issues with the story. I suppose the biggest flaw is that the pair made the exact same mistake as Kane did in exploring the depths of the craft in uncovering the egg chamber. I can understand to a degree the couple exploring the craft and seeing up to the space jockey (or as we now can officially call him/them “the engineer”). But wouldn’t you think that possibly these people have alternate thoughts upon seeing what appears to be a once sentient form of another life for the first time in “over 200 surveyed worlds?” Wouldn’t that be enough to convince this family to return back to the base with their findings alone?
No, with the luck of fools, they repeat the same steps (presumably) as Kane did in going through the exact process of lowering the husband into the egg chamber just so that a facehugger could conveniently leap upon him. Obviously, we’re not given more visuals but it isn’t that far of a leap in logic for fans of the original movie to see that this idiot more than likely did exactly as Kane did.
Now, before you come at me with, “Well, Burke probably told them to investigate that egg chamber” excuse, these morons had no idea what they were looking at. The father himself had no idea “what to call it in as,” meaning that the details about how the investigation should proceed were probably vague such that Burke would want to minimize his knowledge of the incident should someone on the colony were able to uncover Ripley’s ship of mysterious origins.
Along with that major issue, the fact that the wife somehow by herself managed to drag her dead weight husband with that ghoulish beast on his face all the way from the egg chamber back to the survey vehicle too made no sense. With Kane, at least he had two others with a makeshift gurney to haul him back to the ship. Also, wouldn’t you think that the wife upon seeing the husband would just prefer to leave him inside the ship? There’s too many bad what ifs that made me realize this whole explanation of the colony’s demise never made it into the final film. Plus, you would think Newt herself could have explained to Ripley and the others what happened to her family since she was a witness to the first facehugger.
Flame Units Only
Obviously, the whole setup of getting a bunch of marines and slowly disarming them was to create a ton of tension. But there’s so many problems with the setup in the first place that we need to address the situation one by one. First, I want to talk about the decision to for the most part disarm the marines. Just the fact that the marines had a single clip made no sense. At least with Vasquez, she had a spare (I believe) battery for her weapon as well as another for Drake. You would think that the marines would carry more than one clip. In the book, Apone gives Hudson a clip to make him feel better, which makes sense because he’s the sergeant. But the insane part is how they handed off their entire clips to a single person to watch over just so that he can go boom and take out two other marines in the process. Why would any sane person do that?
Next, the fact that Gormon only allows flamethrowers makes even less sense. Fire is uncontrollable. If the whole point is that there’s a heat exchange along with a cooling system, wouldn’t an out of control fire be far worse than a stray bullet? I know Backdraft came out a few years later, but we still had the Towering Inferno when it comes to insane fire hazards. Certainly, in a place that’s performing all this chemical manipulation, you would think that there could be places where a gas leak might occur that would ignite the whole place once these flamethrowers start tossing napalm all over the place.
And if you think along these lines, then why the hell did Ripley completely ignore her own initial observations about the heat exchange and cooling systems where she brought grenades AND a heavily loaded up Pulse Rifle to rescue Newt? Yes, the plant was about to blow, but wouldn’t her additional weaponry possibly cause a worse reaction? I mean, she threw a belt of grenades at the nest! Yes, she probably was like “fuck it!” at this stage and only had a single purpose in mind. But her initial observation effectively helped kill off the marines and would do nothing to prevent the inevitable fate of the processing station going up.
Just One Android?
The next major issue I have with Aliens is that they sent in human marines to investigate the disturbance but only a single android, who had zero military capabilities beyond acting as a servant. It’s clear that humans by this point in the Ridley Scott/James Cameron universe have the capability to produce highly intelligent androids and even entrust them with some of the most critical functions. If that’s the case, why bother sending expendable people into a situation like this? Wouldn’t it make more sense to send a whole contingent of armed Bishops?
Heck, I’d argue that this colonization process alone should have seen more androids considering the type of dangerous work involved. In fact, why didn’t the colony itself have androids to at the very minimal help with the atmosphere processing? Part of the reason humans are trying to automate everything is to offload the worst, most tedious and possibly dangerous tasks to something that can be more reliable and alleviate all the risks that a human would normally bear. Seeing how Bishop was able to autopilot a dropship while Ash had the cunning capability to act on behalf of his corporation to try and protect the original Alien clearly demonstrate that androids, in this universe, were more than capable of handling all these dangerous tasks. There’s zero reasons for humans to have been involved outside of making bureaucratic decisions (i.e. Burke)
They’re Animals, Man!
While the other two issues are glaring flaws, the one that burns me up the most in retrospect is the fact that the aliens kept coming at the operations center for no good reason. When Ripley has Hudson bring up how the aliens were moving between operations and the atmosphere processing station, you can see the extreme distance at which these creatures have to undertake in order to acquire more victims.
Not only that, but they are exclusively using a single, narrow service tunnel to move between both areas. But just how the hell do these beings know that there are more victims in the operations complex? Outside of Newt, the entire colony seemed to have been captured and brought back to the station. So why continue making that assault?
People can argue, “Well, survivors decided to hole up in operations.” Yes, but again, how do these creatures know that? There is no logical explanation for the creatures to continually assault the complex once the colonists had been secured. When the marines first encountered the mature aliens in the processing station, the aliens were all hibernating it seemed. That to me implies that the aliens were effectively “done” hunting humans because in all likelihood, they couldn’t find anymore. And while the marines did “wake” the aliens up in assaulting the nest, there is no reasonable manner in which the aliens could presume the survivors of the APC/dropship crash would return to the operations complex. You can’t argue with me on how the aliens were able to “sniff” out the survivors because of the distance displayed through that service elevator.
One remote, possible answer could point to the two facehuggers in stasis. It is conceivable (though almost ludicrous) that the aliens were trying to rescue their babies all this time. Maybe the facehuggers emitted some distress signal that only the aliens could detect. Given the possibility, in the scheme of things, that too would seem equally lame just based on the distance of the two areas. There’s not enough to establish regarding the alien biology to make it seem feasible that the aliens would try to rescue their young. The only two analogies in the movie we get to bring some understanding of what these creatures are like come in the form of a comparison to an ant hive and when the queen becomes enraged during Ripley’s assault in the egg chamber. Nevertheless, I still have trouble accepting that the only reason the aliens are capable of locating the survivors is because of their inherent desire to rescue their young.
In addition, this might be a minor point in comparison, but why use the service tunnel exclusively to move back and forth? Also, wouldn’t that point nullify how the one alien managed to board the first dropship? Wouldn’t you think that after conquering the colonists, these aliens might start wandering around the surface?
I guess the reason I’m so upset by this detail is that the survivors could have found one of those survey vehicles and just drove off as far as they could from the colony, grab some equipment and with the aid of Bishop (whom I assume should have enough knowledge of things) to create their own satellite uplink to talk to the Sulaco. The only problem would be the eventual nuclear blast caused by the damage to the station. But again, why not just take a pair of vehicles, loaded with supplies and whatnot then drive off as far as possible? Basically, Newt and Ripley sealed themselves to an almost deserved demise.
How The Hell Did She Get In There?
I’m sure I’m not the only person bothered by the ending but the fact that the queen managed to board the dropship arbitrarily because it “crashed” into a heap of scrap just drove me nuts for years. If you look close at that moment, it seems as though when the dropship’s landing gear is closing up, you can see the legs of the queen just dangling like twisted metal. I can’t tell if that was meant to indicate to the viewer that the queen was scooped up but visually it looked like shit.
First, look at how skinny those “legs” are. You can also see the hint of the shape of the queen’s head. You would think that with such tiny legs, this thing would get crushed. No, apparently it manages to survive the vacuum of space! By this point, the movie has gotten so ridiculous in terms of the serendipitous favoritism towards the aliens that you just have to start shaking your head.
Okay, this is really small complaint but not so small issue at the same time. Around the same scene (a little before actually), Ripley tells Newt to “close her eyes, baby!” just as the queen emerges from the second elevator. Just then as the dropship comes into view, it is Newt who tells Ripley, “Look!” Perhaps, it’s me but I’ve come to the belief that Newt ends up being the smartest person in the entire film. Without the extra scene where Ripley is shown the fate of her daughter, there’s absolutely zero reason for Ripley to have wanted to join the mission. Just get rid of bad memories? Why not go on drugs? I’m sure with enough hallucinogenics Ripley could have easily forgotten or sedated herself out of consciousness. But the more you examine Ripley’s character and her decisions in all of this, the more you come to realize that perhaps she isn’t that smart. That she really was the cause for the demise of the colony inadvertently and the marines. And in that moment, she nearly got herself and Newt killed.
Sure, you can place a lot of the blame on Burke. But without Ripley, Burke would’ve just been a typical business man within the company, trying to slither up to the top. With Ripley, she inherently gave Burke the impetus to perform the investigation, which lead towards all the fateful events on Archeron. If Ripley was more cunning about the inquiry, she could’ve figured out a better deposition to get herself out of that situation rather than alert everyone to a hostile organism where she, in the first movie, already noted that the company had wanted for their weapons division. She already was paranoid about her initial encounter with the alien, so why wasn’t she more distrustful of anyone she had to deal with involved in that corporation?
Sentry Guns Are Cool (?)
One scene that in retrospect I’m happy that got deleted was the whole sentry guns scene. In reality, it would have killed the movie even worse than what I have pointed out in terms of flaws. First, let’s talk about what we’re shown. There are four sentries, separated into pairs at key barrier spots. Each are armed with 500 rounds of ammo. That’s a total of 2000 rounds combined with state-of-the-art AI to track and target enemies. In comparison, we have a little over 150 colonists, most of who probably were captured and used as hosts for the eggs. So let’s say that at a minimum there are at minimal 150 aliens running around. During the first marine encounter, Apone, Dietrich, Wierzbowski and possibly Drake were also captured. Frost and Crowe were clearly dead. So we can bring up the alien count to 154 at best. Eliminate anywhere between 10-12 aliens because of Hicks, Drake, Vasquez, the chestburster and the one crushed by the APC. So you’re down to 140 or so. Now’s let’s do some math.
2000 rounds of ammo vs 140 aliens (let’s not include the queen for obvious reasons).
We can remove 10 rounds of ammo because of the test that Hudson and Vasquez provide in their little scene when they setup their sentries at the service tunnel. So that’s still 1990 rounds of ammo left over for 140 aliens. That means at full force, there will be at least 10 rounds of ammo per alien with some left over (the last sentry had 10 rounds remaining). How the fuck does four sentry guns not be able to take out at least 100 of these guys? The aliens do retreat which should leave a good 40 or so. It just feels…inefficient.
I can kind of buy that just because 40 aliens is a solid number to setup as an assault for the survivors (although Hudson’s remark of “a big fuckin’ signal” no longer feels so big). I could see at least 20 assaulting the group because that could leave another 20 at the atmosphere station for Ripley to handle. However, when you factor in the fact that say at least 100 or so were blown to bits, you’d have a huge amount of acid damage as a result. That would mean with all that blood spraying around from large blast in that volume, the entire service tunnel and the area around the blockade should’ve been destroyed.
In the end, as cool as the sentries seemed, the whole scene does not work in the end. At least by removing that sequence, the attack against the operations center actually feels large. Also, there shouldn’t be a reason for those areas that were assaulted by the aliens not to have significant acid damage that would cause building integrity loss. So as a whole, it really didn’t deserve to be in there.
“We’ll Find Her With This”
The one thing the book explains that the movie never bothered to consider was how Hicks knew they could trace Newt through the locator device that he had. While it was shown how Ripley gave Newt her location device, Hicks never saw that. But in the movie he’s the one that pointed out they could find Newt. In the books, Hicks was quizzical about Ripley giving Newt the device since Hicks gave her his. But you could see the writers going, “Alright, let’s use another previously established thing!” If anything at least they could’ve given Hicks’ dialog to Ripley about the device. Still, what a huge plot hole that is with both the uncut and director’s cut versions.
If there’s one thing that has annoyed me consistently throughout the entire Alien series it’s been the usage of time. In the initial Alien, time wasn’t well defined nor played up. For instance, we don’t know “when” the movie is supposed to take place. Then there’s the issue of the incubation process of the facehugger -> embryo -> chestburster scene. We don’t know how long the distress signal has been going on and we don’t know how long those alien eggs were kept in the cargo bay (shouldn’t they have simply rotted away at some point?). The few instances of time that are revealed occur when Parker and Brett fix up the cattle prods and net as well as the incinerators. And even the cattle prod aspect was relegated to a deleted scene. And this all comes into play down the road because we learn so little of the alien’s life cycle. How long can it persist? How long does it take to mature into a full formed creature? How long does it take for Brett and Dallas to be cocooned and turned into eggs? (or at least Brett). In the case of Brett, one interview (HR Giger I believe) that his corpse/egg was supposed to be a few days old, which makes sense given his condition. But it took an interview to obtain that information. Also, another interview suggest that the alien was going to expire because it had such a short life span. Okay, I get that because of the analogy to insects.
However, without this set of explanations for the life cycle of the creature, there is no way to infer time in the Alien movie. The franchise gets worse because the life cycle seems to drop from possibly a few days of incubation to maybe a few minutes. But let’s not dwell on that just yet. I want to talk about how this affects Aliens on a whole.
So let’s start by talking about the colony’s initial infection. How long could that have taken? A week? A few weeks? Then how long would it take before it was discovered that they had a “down transmission?” Obviously, Burke was keenly interested because of how he sent Newt’s family to investigate. But what was the entire timeline to effectively capture 150 or so colonists, cocoon them and prepare them for embryo implantation?
Now, hold that thought as we get into the next part. Once Burke and the others figure out that the colony requires an investigation, how long would it take for Burke to make a request to get a group of colonial marines to investigate? Shouldn’t that take months? Then you have Ripley who probably had needed more than a single nightmare to realize that she had to face her fears. That’s another week or more, right? If anything at least a single night because she does go to sleep and have that nightmare before contacting Burke. Given how she was already stubborn and unwilling to help out when Burke and Gormon made their plea, wouldn’t you think it would take more convincing from her nightmares to confront her inner demons?
So she gets her buy in, has to figure out what to do with her cat Jones, get all her personal life taken care of (she’s supposed to be under a psyche evaluation and has a normal day job. Wouldn’t you think her just ditching everything on the fly would alert the authorities who were probably already monitoring her because she’s labeled as a crazy capable of destroying multi billion dollars worth of facilities?) and then situated on a colonial marine craft, which probably wasn’t ready to be on the go and probably would take ages to get to the planet if she’s already on Earth (not to mention it took her 57 years before being discovered!)
Let’s be generous and say that just to get to Archeron it would take a few months. We don’t know the speed at which these crafts can move, they have not established light speed travel nor do they have a hyper drive system. So poor little Newt is on this planet all by herself trying to fend off a bunch of aliens. Yeah…
Okay, fine. Let’s accept that because we’ve already established that Newt is by far the most intelligent person in this movie. Now, I’m going to fast forward things a bit to where Burke gets captured by the aliens, taken down to the station, cocooned, had an embryo implanted just so that Ripley, in the nick of time, can encounter him for an ironic moment. Mind you, Burke was conscious by this point and the embryo seemed ready to burst from him. This occurred in what seemed a matter of less than half an hour given how much time remained for Ripley and the others to escape the operations center and get to Bishop. Aren’t you glad they took that scene out of the movie now?
But that one scene to me just has helped kill off what is possible in the whole alien series. Fast forward even more to Alien: Covenant where some guy gets “kinda” facehugged but has his removed then spawns an alien. That probably took what a few minutes before everything came together? So we’ve devolved from a movie that tried to carefully explain the lifecycle of a meticulously created creature to mere plot contrivance. And I argue that time is such a critical but forgotten aspect in movies because of artificial tension and surprises that the film makers want to inject, despite NONE OF IT MAKING ANY SENSE.
Less about plot and just how well Aliens has held up compared to Alien, I would say that the movie hasn’t aged as well, although storywise, it feels tighter (except when properly deconstructed). But the effects at times does not look as elegant compared to Scott’s version. Probably, the worst offender to me, even before the explosion of CGI was the dropship sequence.
There’s no easy way to put this so I’ll just say it: this does not look good. It’s just a model with a green screen in the first shot and another model with bad movement and fog being thrown on in the second. It’s so bad it looked comedic to me. The dropship itself is design quite well and is intimidating with all the missiles, guns, etc. But the landing itself was horrible and you cannot compare this to the original Alien Nostromo landing, which remains top notch.
Here’s another scene which is obviously green screened. Sigourney does a great job reacting to all the explosions in the background but it’s so obviously green screened that it just looks awful. I’m sorry but again, it’s another spot that doesn’t hold up.
For the most part, there’s a lot of this going on where you have models that are obviously models or where the green screen gets used to create an effect. But I guess this is where Alien holds up much better visually especially when you consider the difference in time when both movies were made. In Alien, I only thought one shot looked flawed overall whereas there were more abundantly clear flaws in Aliens.
Holy geeze for my favorite movie, I never thought I would’ve caught so many glaring errors. I knew of some beforehand like the locator (my mom pointed that one out but I forgave the movie just because I read the novelization). But upon just thinking about certain aspects of the movie and how the flow wasn’t as good as I originally had praised, it makes me realize just how arbitrary things would come together for the sake of flow. I think Aliens ends up working so well just because of the pacing. So by the time you realize just how fucked up everything is and nonsensical, you’re already glued to the next bit. Also, the characters are all distinct with their own sets of motives so you end up liking the people rather than looking at them as simpletons (compare that to Covenant, Prometheus, etc. where people are inherently dumb. I have no idea about the Predator – Alien movies as I flat out refuse to acknowledge their existence). Nonetheless, this movie isn’t without it’s share of problems and I think this blog nails the worst down.