Fortunately for all of us, this is the third and last installment in my Aliens review. And it’s a very long one! I’m gonna backtrack a bit from where I ended last week’s column, to just after the lander crashes.
As the lander cartwheels over our little group of survivors, narrowly missing them, it bursts into flame, coming to rest somewhere inside the cooling tower. Our guys, on foot, re-enter the command tower/med. Lab area they so recently left in the APC, carrying Lt. Gorman (William Hope) on a stretcher (you will recall that when Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) took command of the APC, something fell down from the overhead, bashing Gorman on the skull. He’s been out since.
Knowing that it’s getting dark and the aliens will be coming out soon (“The mostly come out at night,” Newt (Carrie Henn) says, “Mostly.”) they raise the blast shutters on all the windows. Hicks (Michael Biehn), as the ranking non-comatose noncom (he’s a corporal; the rest are privates), takes inventory of all they could salvage from the wreckage of the APC, plus what they left with Bishop (Lance Henriksen), who had stayed behind autopsying/analyzing one of the dead facehuggers. It consists of four robot sentry guns with tripods, one half-full flamethrower, four pulse rifles with about fifty rounds each, and about fifteen M-40 grenades. After Hicks tells Ripley it’ll take 17 days for them to attempt a rescue after they’re declared missing, Hudson (Bill Paxton) goes ballistic: “Seventeen days? I don’t wanna rain on your parade, but we ain’t gonna last seventeen minutes with those things out there!”
Poor Bill Paxton! Many of his memorable roles (like the car salesman in True Lies) require him to be a despicable coward and/or whiner. But he’s soo good at it! But I digress.
Ripley and Hicks look at the schematics of the building (Figure 1) and decide where to put the robot sentry guns, and which pressure doors to seal to keep out the aliens; Hudson and Vasquez go patrol the corridors. The group tries to decide where all the aliens are coming from; and Ripley says “If each one of these things [facehuggers] comes from an egg, who’s laying these eggs?” Hudson says, “Maybe it’s like an ant [hill], where there’s a queen, a female in charge.” Ripley puts Newt down on a cot in the med lab for a nap. Bishop shows the group that there’s emergency venting in the cooling tower, and the crash of the lander damaged the control components, so it can’t be shut down. Essentially, they’re sitting on a nuclear bomb about to go off, and when it does, everything within 30 kilometers (about 18.5 miles radius) will be obliterated. The satellite antenna controls have also been damaged, and someone will have to crawl down a very long tunnel to access the remote array and bring down the second lander remotely from the Sulaco, if they have any chance to escape.
Which brings us to where we left off. As Hicks shoots out the “unbreakable” window and bursts into the med lab, they find Newt holding a table against one facehugger’s tail and the wall; Hudson pulls her away and sprays a burst of pulse shots at it; Hicks and a revived Gorman finally manage to pull the other’s tail free of Ripley’s throat, and Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) eliminates that one with a pulse rifle burst. “Burke,” Ripley gasps, “it was Burke.”
”I say we grease this rat-f*** sonofabitch right now,” Hudson says, pointing a pulse rifle at Burke (Paul Reiser), who’s sweating buckets. “Listen to yourselves,” Burke says. “This is paranoid delusion!” (Figure 3) “No,” Ripley says, “it’s the only way to get these things back to Earth, if embryos were implanted in me and Newt. With us frozen for the trip home, there’d be no way to tell. And with certain freezers sabotaged on the way home—yours [she says to the rest of them]—and then jettisoned, he could tell any story and there’d be no one to contradict him.”
They are on the point of killing Burke, when all the lights go out, and the emergency lighting comes on. “They’re animals!” cries Hudson. “How could they cut the power?” Hicks tells Hudson and Vasquez to grab motion trackers and watch the corridors, and it’s immediately clear that the group is surrounded. They’re inside the perimeter. “They’re right on top of us, man!” Hudson shouts. “Where are they?” The group looks frantically around until Ripley looks upward at the suspended ceiling. Hicks jumps on a desk and raises a panel to have a look—there are many of the aliens crawling above the suspended ceiling.
They burst through the ceiling in many spots and while firing madly (“Remember,” Hicks told them, “controlled bursts.” It’s obvious that controlled bursts are the last thing on everyone’s minds.) they all retreat from room to room. “Medical,” Ripley shouts, “Get to medical!” She and Newt run to the door to Medical, only to see Burke shut it before they get there. He locks it, and backs away, while Ripley’s banging on it and shouting. Hudson, who’s finally found some form of backbone, is firing “short bursts” at the aliens. “C’mon, you mother…,” he yells, shooting. “You too! You want some of this?” He keeps this up until one of the aliens bursts through the floorboards, dragging him down. He goes down firing.
Vasquez runs out of pulse ammo and switches to grenades, until they finally get that door open and go through. Hicks shouts at her to seal the door, while he’s trying to burn through the next lock. Behind that door, unbeknownst to the group, Burke is running to the next door. Cowardice has its consequences; Burke opens that one and finds himself face-to-face with an alien, who doesn’t appear to care that Burke had been taking his part against the humans.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the previous door, Hicks and Vasquez are attempting to burn through the lock, while Newt is yelling at Ripley to “come on’ (follow her). She takes down a ventilation grate and the group realizes they’re glad that this building, à la Die Hard, has vents large enough to damn near stand up in! (Personally, I’ve never worked in a building with those big vents. But I digress. Again. A lot.)
The group is trapped between locked doors, and the aliens are pounding on—and bending alarmingly—the door they just came through, when Ripley shouts “Hicks!” and after looking inside the vent, pulls Newt behind her, and they all follow, Vasquez last, just before the door gives way.
Newt, who’s spent weeks in these vents avoiding the aliens, guides Ripley through the maze: “This way! To the end, then right!” Hicks calls Bishop on the comms, and Bishop tells him “The ship is on its way; ETA 16 minutes!” Vasquez is coming along backwards, firing her pulse rifle at aliens who are following, until it’s empty. She drops the rifle and pulls her automatic, probably a 9mm. She shoots at one alien and traps it against the wall of the vent with her boot, then shoots it in the head again, causing a flood of acid blood to hit her leg. She tries to reload her pistol, but she’s in agony and drops the clip. Gorman tells Hicks to go on ahead; he’s carrying a bandolier of M-40 grenades and a pistol. Gorman goes back to Vasquez, just in time for them to be trapped between aliens. Gorman shoots, then drops his empty pistol and takes an M-40, pressing the button. Vasquez tells him, “You always were an a**hole, Gorman,” then presses her hand over his.
The resulting explosion sets off the rest of the bandolier and the shockwave travels through the vent corridors, causing Newt to fall into a spinning ventilator. She vanishes, though Ripley tries to grab her. Hicks tells Ripley they can track her with the wrist gadget. Hicks and Ripley run through the corridors with the tracker until they see and hear her under the metal floor gratings; Ripley tells Newt to wait there and they’ll cut through the flooring with Hicks’ pocket welder. But as they’re cutting, something rises from the water, behind Newt, and by the time they break through, she’s gone.
”She’s alive!” Ripley screams, and Hicks says he believes her, but the sonic tracker’s showing multiple aliens closing in on them, and they have to go. They make it to an elevator, but as the door is closing, an alien grabs the door. Hicks shoots it point-blank, causing an acid spray that burns his face and his armour, and under his armour, his shoulder. Ripley helps him out of the door and the complex. Bishop, meanwhile, has guided the other lander down remotely, and the two meet him at the remote control site. “How much time?” Ripley asks Bishop, and he replies “Plenty… 26 minutes.” “We’re not leaving,” she tells him, and they take Hicks on board the lander, where he gives himself a pain shot. Bishop pilots the lander into the cooling tower, which is full of heat gusts and lightning preparatory to blowing everything to hell; Ripley quickly duct tapes a pulse rifle and a flamethrower together, prepping for her expedition to find Newt. She hopes to get to her before an egg flings a facehugger into her face. She tapes the tracker to the barrel of the rifle and grabs a handful of flares and a bandolier of M-40 grenades.
“In 19 minutes this area’s gonna be a cloud of vapour the size of Nebraska,” Bishop tells her, but she’s adamant. “Don’t let him leave, Hicks,” she says, maternal instincts running rampant. “He’s not going anywhere,” Hicks says. They exchange first names, and Ripley heads for the elevator down from the landing to where they’d first seen the colonists cocooned. She gets on at Level 38 and pushes “down” just as the PA is intoning “You now have 15 minutes to reach minimum safe distance.” (Don’t you just love it that SF computers can calculate exact explosion times on stuff like this?) At the bottom, the computer says she now has 14 minutes to reach minimum safe distance. She has used the elevator time to prime the flamethrower, take off her jacket and put on an M-40 grenade bandolier, fill the pulse rifle’s grenades, and just generally look like a real badass.
She follows the tracker down a couple of stairs, firing the flamethrower to ensure a clear passage (if it disturbs any aliens, she’s got the pulse rifle, with a full magazine, and its grenades). She drops flares to mark her route out; the alien “deposits” getting stronger and weirder. But at 0 meters, according to the tracker, she finds Newt’s tracking bracelet, abandoned on the floor. Despairing, she’s frozen for a moment, until, nearby, she hears a familiar high-pitched scream—Newt, partially cocooned in alien resin, has awakened to find an egg on the floor in front of her, opening slowly, and the skeletal “fingers” of a facehugger beginning to emerge. Newt uses her only weapon, that nearly glass-shattering scream that all young girls can muster, and Ripley has heard it.
Firing her pulse rifle as she comes, Ripley blasts the egg and its contents, as well as a couple of full-grown aliens who’ve come to investigate the shots; she quickly breaks Newt free from the resin and lifts her out. Meanwhile, the disintegration of the cooling tower continues, with blasts of flame and lightning strikes here and there. Ripley’s way out is blocked by a wall of flame, and she has to find an alternate route, which leads to a room full of eggs! And she turns to see an ovipositor dropping an egg, which leads to Ripley and Newt coming face-to-face with what Hudson had theorized: an alien queen, a giant black figure with long spindly arms and legs and an elaborate carapace!
Now, as you know if you’re a regular reader of this column, I like to leave a little something for the reader to discover; i.e., I don’t tell every little bit of a movie, like the end. So I will end my review here.* There is very little in this movie that could be improved on, in my opinion. Yes, time has made a mockery of some of the technology: CRT monitors, and most of the people are wearing wristwatches (looking pretty current for today, even), but those are minor things. The writing, and the non-CGI graphics, are excellent. In the theatre, the cooling towers and the admin building, the landers, all that looked large-scale. (There are one or two small scenes where the blue- or green-screening was evident, but not many.) That sort of scale is very hard to achieve with models. The many Japanese kaiju movies of the ‘50s and ‘60s had extremely detailed models, but we enjoyed them precisely because they looked like very well-done models, not because we believed the scale. In this movie, we believe very much. And the acting was, in my opinion, stellar. Every character, even the very minor ones like Drake (Mark Rollston) and Spunkmeyer (Daniel Kash), had a solidity and firmness you seldom see in an SF movie. This is indeed a near-perfect movie!**
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*Footnote: Okay, if you really must know the ending, here it is: The Blue Fairy, piloting a World War II bomber, swooped down and got Ripley, Bishop, Hicks, and Newt off LV-426! No, wait, that’s the Steven Spielberg ending!
**Here’s the real one: The alien queen makes a move towards Newt and Ripley, but Ripley shoots a jet of flame over some eggs, making it clear what would happen if the queen or the aliens that were gathering attacked them, counting on her maternal instinct. The queen screams and immediately backs off; and Ripley, toting Newt on her shoulder, leaves by an exit that was not close to where the queen was depositing her eggs. In a final “F-U” gesture, Ripley turns and sprays flame over all the eggs she could hit, shooting the adult aliens with the pulse rifle and shooting grenades into the queen’s ovipositor, dumping eggs and fluid all over, then runs to the elevator. The last thing she does is to throw the bandolier of M-40 grenades into the room. The queen, as the room explodes, tears herself free of the damaged ovipositor and, as Ripley and Newt get away in the elevator with only a few minutes to spare, calls the other elevator, thus proving her intelligence.
There are some tense moments on the landing, as it appears to Ripley that Bishop has fled with the lander, but he soon appears, letting Newt and Ripley on. The lander is caught, with one landing skid under some wires and debris, but they soon make their escape just before the facility erupts in a giant mushroom cloud, as the lander heads to the Sulaco. On board the Sulaco, as they exit the lander, Ripley tells Bishop he did okay. “I did?” he asks, just as—in a scene reminiscent of Kane’s (John Hurt) chestburster in the first Alien, the alien queen’s spiky tail erupts from Bishop’s chest.
While the lander was caught by the wires and debris at the landing, she had arrived unseen on the elevator, and hidden in the landing gear well of the lander. Now, coming out to get her revenge, she grasps Bishop in her giant hands and literally tears him in half; his upper half, spewing that white liquid that androids—“Artificial People”—use for blood, lands near a loading hatch in the floor. The queen confronts Ripley and Newt, and Ripley yells at Newt to run; she does, and, like she did on LV-426, Newt hides under some floor grates, while Ripley shouts and waves her arms to distract the giant alien. It doesn’t work; the queen pursues Newt, ignoring Ripley.
Because Ripley had taken temporary work on the space station back in Earth orbit, running a loader on the docks, she had demonstrated to Sgt. Apone and Lt. Gorman that she could help load the Sulaco with ammunition and supplies. That experience helps her now, as she quickly buckles herself into the insect-like augmented exoskeleton that is the modern loader, making her the equal of the queen in strength, if not quite in size. Ripley and the queen spar, and Ripley manages to grab the queen’s arms and open the loading hatch in the floor; the two, entwined, tumble into the hatch. Ripley unbuckles herself from the loader and climbs—while the queen is trapped under it—up to the lever that will open the outside hatch to space; she manages to open it and clasp her arms through the ladder to avoid being thrown into space with the queen and the loader. Bishop’s upper half, holding onto a floor grate with one hand, grabs Newt with the other, keeping her from exiting the Sulaco unwillingly. As the loader and queen, and everything else loose exits into space, Ripley manages to close the hatch.
She puts the injured Hicks, bandaged on head and shoulder, Bishop’s surviving half, and Newt into freezers for the journey home. “Can I dream?” Newt asks Ripley, just before her freezer is closed. “I think we all can,” Ripley says.