|by The Guv'nor
*** Warning - the conclusion of Aliens is disclosed in this essay ***
Yesterday I finally got my hands on a pristine DVD copy of Aliens, a film I've always loved but, for whatever reason, hadn't revisited in over a decade. I rushed home, cracked a beer, and waited to be impressed.
And impressed I certainly was. Despite a few bum lines and effects which are showing their age, it's still a case study in the art of building suspense. Cameron takes his time setting the scene, to the extent that you're into the second hour of the film before the first alien shows its ugly face. This pays dividends in the form of emotional investment - by the time the slaughter commences in earnest you've come to care about each and every character, and the initial confrontation between the marines and the alien hordes is still one of the most wrenching action sequences you'll ever witness.
In 1986 I walked away from the film with a sense of satisfaction - I wasn't exactly uplifted, but the final scenes still represented an ode to the indomitable human spirit. However, in the year 2000 I walked away in anger, and the source of that resentment goes by the name of Alien3.
In 1992 the powers that be decided that a film which never needed a sequel warranted exactly that. None of the creative forces behind either of the first two films wanted anything to do with it, but unfortunately Sigourney Weaver evidently had a point to prove about the power of female actresses to attract huge salaries, and with one signature on a dotted line she betrayed the memory of a glorious film.
At the conclusion of Aliens there are exactly four people still alive - Ripley, Hicks, Newt and half an android. The loss of life weighs heavily upon the viewer's mind, but some small satisfaction can be taken from the fact that at least somebody made it through, and what's more Hicks and Newt are likeable individuals, well deserving of a continued existence.
The creators of Alien3 rightly realised that they would be foolish to attempt a rehash of the previous film, so they decided that the escape shuttle should crash-land on a prison planet bereft of high-powered weaponry. That's fine as far as it goes, but the scriptwriters also knew that since Michael Biehn and Carrie Henn weren't signed for the sequel they had to get rid of their characters as quickly as possible. To this end they conspired to have them perish in the crash, a fact which is revealed in little more than a throwaway line (and a gruesome one at that). To add insult to injury, we are then treated to the sight of these two loveable individuals (one of who's a little girl, for Chrissakes!) being cremated in a memorable fashion.
And therein lies the problem - now when I watch Aliens I am left to mourn, not rejoice, since I know that Hicks and Newt don't make it through, that their fate is to die in their sleep, with no chance for heroics or pithy last words.
You could argue that I should simply ignore the existence of Alien3, but it's not that simple. The film is undeniably part of the Alien canon, not the least because it features the same actress playing the same lead character. It's also considerably more than a low-budget rip-off of the franchise - the opening scenes aside, it's actually a rather stylish, atmospheric film.
But here's the rub. Alien3 was made for one reason only - to rake in a large amount of money from everyone who loved the first two films. However, the studio executives were so overcome by greed that they green-lighted a script which cold-bloodedly destroyed the sense of hope occasioned by its predecessor's conclusion. With a little thought the scriptwriters could have allowed our heroes to exit the picture intact, but it's obvious that nobody gave a damn. There was money to be made, so if those pesky hangovers from an earlier film had to be eliminated with extreme prejudice it's nothing more than the price of progress, and after all, who really cares?
I do, you money-grubbing bastards. I love films, and the best are like old friends, filled with characters who live on in my imagination long after the closing credits have faded. Aliens was such a film, but for the sake of a quick buck the studios destroyed my memories, ensuring that I will never be able to enjoy it in quite the same way again. The studio executives dance to the tune of commerce, their shirt pockets stuffed with filthy lucre, and those of us who took something special away from Cameron's creation are left with nothing more than fool's gold.
It's a fable for our times, ruined by a Hollywood ending.
* * *
"It's never 'only a movie'"
- ABH, 7th June 2000
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originally posted: 07/07/00 02:31:28