History, Legacy & Showmanship

This Time It’s War: Remembering “Aliens” on its 30th Anniversary

July 18, 2016 - 9:00 am   |   by
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KANSAS

  • Overland Park — Dickinson’s Glenwood Twin

LOUISIANA

  • Baton Rouge — General Cinema’s Cortana Mall Triplex
  • New Orleans — General Cinema’s Robert E. Lee

MANITOBA

  • Winnipeg — Famous Players’ Metropolitan

MARYLAND

  • Catonsville — Einbinder & Brehm’s Westview 8-plex

MASSACHUSETTS

  • Boston — Sack’s Cinema 57 Twin

Aliens projection in 70mm

MICHIGAN

  • Ann Arbor — United Artists’ Fox Village 4-plex
  • Bloomfield Hills — Redstone’s Showcase 10-plex
  • Cascade — Redstone’s Showcase 8-plex
  • Harper Woods — AMC’s Eastland 7-plex
  • Livonia — Nicholas George’s Mai Kai
  • Southfield — Nicholas George’s Americana 8-plex
  • Sterling Heights — Redstone’s Showcase 11-plex
  • Troy — United Artists’ The Movies at Oakland 5-plex

MINNESOTA

  • Bloomington — General Cinema’s Southtown Twin
  • Roseville — United Artists’ The Movies at Pavilion Place 7-plex
  • St. Louis Park — General Cinema’s Shelard Park 5-plex

MISSOURI

  • Independence — Mid-America’s Blue Ridge East 5-plex
  • Richmond Heights — AMC’s Esquire 4-plex
  • Springfield — Dickinson’s Century 21

NEBRASKA

  • Lincoln — Commonwealth’s Cooper/Lincoln
  • Omaha — Commonwealth’s Indian Hills Twin

NEVADA

  • Las Vegas — Syufy’s Cinedome 6-plex

NEW JERSEY

  • Paramus — RKO Century’s Route 17 Triplex
  • Sayreville — Redstone’s Amboy 12-plex

NEW MEXICO

  • Albuquerque — General Cinema’s Louisiana Blvd. Triplex

NEW YORK

  • Albany — Cinema Centers’ Crossgates Mall 12-plex
  • Cheektowaga — AMC’s Holiday 6-plex
  • Henrietta — Loews’ Towne 4-plex
  • Commack — Redstone’s Commack 10-plex
  • Hicksville — Town & Country’s Mid-Plaza 6-plex
  • Levittown — Loews’ Nassau 6-plex
  • Nanuet — United Artists’ Route 59
  • New York — Loews’ 84th Street 6-plex
  • New York — Loews’ Orpheum Twin
  • New York — RKO Century’s Warner Twin (#1)
  • New York — RKO Century’s Warner Twin (#2)
  • New York — Trans-Lux’s Gotham
  • Valley Stream — RKO Century’s Green Acres Triplex

NOVA SCOTIA

  • Halifax — Famous Players’ Scotia Square

OHIO

  • Beavercreek — Chakeres’ Beavercreek 7-plex
  • Cincinnati — USA’s Carousel Twin
  • Columbus — General Cinema’s Eastland Mall Twin
  • Woodmere — Loews’ Village

OKLAHOMA

  • Oklahoma City — General Cinema’s Quail Springs Mall 6-plex

ONTARIO

  • Mississauga — Famous Players’ Square One 4-plex
  • North York — Famous Players’ Town & Countrye Twin
  • Ottawa — Famous Players’ Nelson
  • Scarborough — Famous Players’ Cedarbrae 8-plex
  • Toronto — Famous Players’ Runnymede Twin
  • Toronto — Famous Players’ University 

OREGON

  • Beaverton — Moyer’s Tanasbourne Triplex
  • Portland — Luxury Theatres’ Eastgate Triplex

PENNSYLVANIA

  • Bensalem — AMC’s Premiere Twin
  • Montgomeryville — Budco’s 309 9-plex
  • Philadelphia — Budco’s Orleans 8-plex
  • Philadelphia — Budco’s Regency Twin

QUEBEC

  • Dorval — United’s Dorval Triplex
  • Laval — United’s Laval 5-plex
  • Montreal — United’s Imperial <THX>
  • Sainte-Foy — Cinemas Unis’ Canadien

TEXAS

  • Addison — United Artists’ Prestonwood Creek 5-plex <THX>
  • Austin — Presidio’s Arbor 4-plex <THX>
  • Dallas — General Cinema’s Northpark West Twin <THX>
  • Houston — General Cinema’s Galleria 4-plex
  • Houston — Plitt’s West Oaks 7-plex
  • San Antonio — Santikos’ Northwest 10-plex <THX>

UTAH

  • Riverdale — Plitt’s Cinedome Twin
  • Salt Lake City — Plitt’s Crossroads Triplex
  • South Salt Lake — Syufy’s Century 5-plex

VIRGINIA

  • Richmond — Neighborhood’s Ridge 7-plex
  • Virginia Beach — AMC’s Lynnhaven 8-plex

WASHINGTON

  • Bellevue — SRO’s John Danz
  • Lynnwood — SRO’s Grand Cinemas Alderwood 8-plex
  • Seattle — SRO’s Northgate
  • Seattle — United Artists’ Cinema 150
  • Tacoma — SRO’s Tacoma Mall Twin
  • Tukwila — SRO’s Southcenter

WISCONSIN

  • Milwaukee — United Artists’ Southgate
  • West Allis — Marcus’ Southtown 6-plex

 

THE INTERVIEW

Andrew David Clark is writing the biography of Trevor Steedman (who played Private Wierzbowski in Aliens) and is the director of Alien Encounters: Superior Fan Power Since 1979, a documentary about the fan culture that evolved around the Alien franchise. He was an Art Editor in publishing in the United Kingdom, working at The Daily Mirror, Loaded, The Big Issue and as an illustrator and photographer had works published in The Times, Total Film and Empire among others before making a career change to directing documentaries, music promos and working as a news cameraman. He lives on the road in a motorhome called RV-426.

Andrew David Clark

Willie Goldman contributed materials to the Alien Quadrilogy DVD and Alien Anthology Blu-ray sets. He is the co-executive producer and co-creator of the hit Food Network series Ace of Cakes and author (with brother Duff) of The New York Times Bestseller Ace of Cakes: Inside the World of Charm City Cakes. A screenwriter and producer, Willie began his career at NBC Burbank, where he worked on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Later with Greg Kinnear, and Hang Time, and then moved on to Warner Bros. Television, where he worked on the Emmy-winning drama ER for seven seasons. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, daughter, and massive collection of Aliens memorabilia.

Willie Goldman

Harry Harris is owner/curator of The Harry Harris Aliens Collection and Archive, one of the largest collections of costumes, props and production material from Aliens. In addition to featuring the collection in both magazines and television, Harry was a key contributor to the Alien Quadrilogy DVD set and a Creative Consultant on the Alien Anthology Blu-ray set. He also served as co-producer on the documentary Alien Encounters: Superior Fan Power Since 1979, and currently works with several 20th Century Fox licensees in helping bring fresh and new Alien themed products to market.

Harry Harris

Charles de Lauzirika is the producer of the special features on the award-winning Alien Quadrilogy DVD and Alien Anthology Blu-ray sets. Charles is an acclaimed film documentarian and DVD/Blu-ray producer with over 100 credits, including Blade Runner, Twin Peaks, Prometheus, Top Gun and The Martian. His feature directorial debut Crave, starring Ron Perlman, was released in 2013, and won multiple awards at festivals around the world. He recently produced the Star Wars: Launch Bay featurette now playing at both Disneyland in Anaheim and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, which explores the past, present and future of the Star Wars franchise.

Charles de Lauzirika

The interviews were conducted separately and have been edited into a “roundtable” conversation format.

Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): In what way is Aliens worthy of celebration on its 30th anniversary?

Andrew David Clark: Aliens has just got better with time. Young people I’ve met who weren’t even born when it was released often credit it among their favorite films. That’s partly because unlike modern blockbusters that follow a formulaic, studio safe template in order to make money, films such as Alien, Aliens, Jaws and Star Wars had far more to do with passionate writing, art, design and director’s vision than much of today’s output that’s micro managed by studio executives. And the kids do notice the difference. The proof is most definitely in the pudding. There’s a reason why they prefer the older Indiana Jones movies, the older Alien movies. Like all those classics, 30 years later people still talk about Aliens, they quote lines from it, other movies and computer games still borrow from it. That’s what a classic is, a movie that transcends generations of audiences to entertain as powerfully as it did when it was first released…. Thirty years on and we’ve had conventions where the cast and fans gather to discuss all sorts of aspects of the film, often attended by people in costume dressed as colonial marines and even Aliens — it’s crazy, the love for the film that people have and it shows just how respected this movie is. And this July at San Diego ComicCon, even the director James Cameron will make a rare appearance on stage to join Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn and the rest of the principal cast for a reunion that few other films can muster three decades on. It will probably be the biggest draw of the entire convention…. I attended DragonCon in Atlanta a few years ago and there were 70 colonial marines and four Aliens parading through the city center, flocked by thousands of people at the sides of the street. That’s extraordinary. Star Wars is known for that kind of thing but it would probably surprise people just how popular Aliens really is…. Aliens had a few “firsts”: mixed gender combat units; ‘Nam era subtext; Terraforming; believable Alien life cycles rooted in science and reason; smart weaponry; even wide screen monitors — back in 1985…. Okay, so some of those things may have appeared in sci-fi literature previously, like in some of Heinlein’s work but it was fresh to cinema audiences. There’s so many reasons for Aliens’ enduring appeal that I suspect somewhere people will be celebrating its 50th anniversary one day.

Willie Goldman: You’re probably asking the wrong guy, since I celebrate its worthiness constantly! Honestly, though, so many reasons. Aliens is the reason it became a “franchise.” If Alien 2 had tanked, that would have been it, but instead it did the complete opposite. Putting Empire Strikes Back aside, as a kid in the 70s and 80s, I think a lot of us were conditioned that sequels were always subpar rehashes of what’s come before — but this movie comes along, and did something that made me fall in love with storytelling: it logically followed-up on the events of the first film, but did so with a story that was absolutely unique and a fresh take. It absolutely respected the narrative trajectory of the first film, and asked the question, “Okay, if this really happened in this universe, what logically would happen next?”…. James Cameron has this scene in Terminator 2 — an action movie — where he gathers all his characters around a kitchen table and they... talk to each other. They explain the fantastical situation they are in — and it was my favorite scene in the film, because it made sense — it made it real. Way too many storytellers rely on characters simply not talking to one another in order to superficially advance the plot — but here Cameron did the opposite, and I really admire the way he thinks logically within the context of the sandboxes he plays in…. And I think this is a huge reason a lot of folks were let down by the story in Alien 3. The bad guy in 1 and 2 ain’t the alien — it’s the evil corporation and their desire to get their hands on this creature at all costs. We spent two movies where that single goal drove both plots, and logically should have been the focal point of the third film. It was the unfulfilled promise of Alien and Aliens. I always say the end of Aliens was the greatest lay-up shot in modern movie franchise history, and they totally bricked it. The set up was all there: the four survivors returning to Earth, the much heard about bio-weapons division — if that isn’t a set up for a great Alien story, I don’t know what is (ironically well followed-up and explored in alternate timelines featured in comics, books, and games)…. Maybe this is something that will ultimately get addressed in what Neill Blomkamp is championing — and as a long-time fan, I have no problem with this. Every Alien movie made begins with Ellen Ripley in a state of sleep — the role of sleeping and dreaming is even explored further in Prometheus — so if the events of 3 and 4 end up being addressed as a hypersleep dream, well, works for me. It doesn’t erase those films or events from existence — so personally I’d be happy with a new take on what happened after the events on LV-426. If you really wanted to get picky, there are certainly plenty of “tells” in Alien 3 that could allude to those events taking place in memory as opposed to the original universe (the Sulaco logo colors, the cryo tubes, etc.)…. So, all this time later, worth celebrating? Absolutely. Aliens came in at a perfect time prior the onslaught of FX-driven filmmaking — where you had this wonderful marriage of story and practical effects. It was a movie where you not only have so many creative participants firing on all cylinders, but the craftsmanship on display absolutely serves as a historical showcase of special effects techniques. So just on a technical level, if you love film it’s completely fascinating — but when you add the addition of a fantastic story, worthy of what’s come before, that’s not just the sort of thing that gets celebrated 30 years later, that’s a franchise maker.

Harry Harris: If you ask people to name five great sci-fi movies, Aliens will probably be in that list. It’s one of the greats for me, a seminal sci-fi movie up there with Star Wars, Blade Runner, Terminator (1 and 2), Predator…. I could go on!

Charles de Lauzirika: I think it’s fair to say that Aliens remains the most popular Alien movie, at least with mainstream audiences, and is still referenced throughout pop culture to this day. It’s almost impossible to go through life without hearing someone quote Hudson at some point. But more than that, I think Aliens stands as a powerful and immensely pleasing sequel that has inspired many other films, comics and video games. And I say all of that as a dyed-in-the-wool Alien purist.

Coate: Can you recall the first time you saw Aliens?

Clark: I first saw it at the cinema and I was nervous going in because I’d seen the first one when I was eleven and it gave me nightmares for ages! I think that set me up for some palpable anxiety and the movie didn’t disappoint. It was a relentless adrenaline rush of a film and I remember it being so dark, it really weighed down on you. There’s not a lot of films that achieve that; the original Dawn of the Dead is another one that succeeds in doing that. Roger Ebert expressed similar in his review of the film at the time…. People like to harp on Aliens being an action film and it is, I guess. But to simply label it as such does it an injustice, I think, because there is real horror to the film. It’s like watching someone else’s nightmare. It even starts and ends with someone asleep…. Talking of which…. I really thought that Cameron did an amazing job mimicking some of Ridley Scott’s stylistic ideas, while making a very different film at the same time. I liked the way he moved the camera in a similar manner and pace in some scenes, which helped it connect to Alien. And in the way that at times he also achieved stylistic similarities by not having music at key points, which as Ridley Scott proved, helped to make scenes more realistic…. When you get to the part where Bishop rescues Ripley and Newt in the drop ship, you’re totally satisfied that you’ve seen an amazing film and you think you’re at the end and then — bang! — you get to see Ripley suit up in the loader and she’s fighting the Queen in hand to hand combat, pretty much. It was just a jaw dropping and unexpected amazing, final scene. Cameron had aped what Scott had done in the first film but he really pushed the boat out with Aliens, the way he’d managed to keep the film going at the end with the false ending. That trick has been used a lot over the years but both those guys really nailed it with their endings. When you see Weaver come out in that power loader, you know it’s on. And it’s the most incredible battle you’ve ever seen!.... As in Alien, the bar just keeps getting raised as Aliens goes along, and that’s one of the reasons I think it succeeds in amazing the audience.

Goldman: I first saw Aliens in the summer of ‘86 at the mall theater in Tysons Corner, Virginia — I remember it was blazing hot outside, and the theater was such a cool relief. I saw it with my brother and a few of our mallrat friends, and we all just went nuts for it — I remember all of us cracking ourselves up, quoting Hudson’s lines on the walk back home. I think what struck me the most, even at such a young age was just how believable the world was. It just all seemed so real to me (as opposed to a lot of the genre films of the time) — and that’s when I think I learned that if you’ve got a good enough story, it makes it that much easier for everything else to fall into place.

Harris: I remember it well! I saw it back in ‘86 in my home town in the UK. A friend and I had gone to the cinema to see another movie which was sold out so we decided to see this film called Aliens, which I don’t think we really knew about. I mean I’d definitely read Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of Alien and had probably seen it on video by then but I wasn’t aware of a sequel…. It must have been towards the end of its run because it was on screen 4 (of 4 screens; remember this was the eighties!) so it was pretty small, less than 100 seats definitely. I was completely blown away by everything I saw, and I remember leaving the cinema with a great sense of exhilaration; I mean what a ride, right? Looking back and thinking of that quote from James Cameron that while Alien was a creepy haunted-house, Aliens was a rollercoaster that you couldn’t stop or get off until the end. I completely agree and that was how I felt at the time (and still do!)…. I was only in my early 20s so I don’t think I was experienced enough to think “what fantastic production design,” or “how impressive that nearly all the effects were practical and in-camera” or any of that stuff (that came much later). But something about it stuck with me. I clearly remember thinking how “believable” it all seemed, or at least could have been in the real world. That for me is what sells it in many ways.

Lauzirika: As I mentioned in our previous conversation about Top Gun, I was living in Europe while many of the films from the summer of 1986 were being released. But even while I was living in Barcelona, that first teaser trailer for Aliens had been released there and thoroughly blew my mind. I remember standing in the rain to watch that teaser over and over again as it played on a video monitor outside a local theater. I returned to Los Angeles about two weeks into the theatrical run of Aliens, so I had already heard the raves and the hype. On my flight back, they even had the Time Magazine with Sigourney Weaver on the cover available to read. So as a huge, huge Alien fanatic, my expectations were very high. Probably impossibly high. But I saw it for the first time with a sold out crowd at the Avco Theater in Westwood. The energy level was so high, it was kind of like going to a rock concert. But I ended up having two very different experiences during that first viewing. The movie geek in me had a blast. I was screaming and cheering and laughing along with everyone else. But the Alien snob in me sat there with some concerns. I mean, tonally it was different. Visually it was different. The Aliens seemed different. The humans, aside from Ripley, felt more like comic book characters than the relatively real people who inhabited Alien. And overall, it kind of covered a lot of the same beats as the first film, including the fourth act surprise at the end. So to me, Alien was such an immersive and harrowing visceral experience, while Aliens seemed more like a kick-ass movie-movie. Keep in mind, I still loved Aliens very much. But that love came with a bit of that skeptical super nerd squint where you’re not entirely convinced it’s as great as people are saying it is. But now I look back on it as tremendously engaging film that completely captures an audience the way that few movies do.

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