Bug Hunt: A Practical Example of the Hollywood Method – Part 5

And so we come to the final act of the movie Aliens, where, according to the Hollywood Formula, we’ll see our Protagonist resolve her issues with her Relationship Character and, in doing so, address the movie’s theme, then rise from the ashes of her Low Point to defeat her Antagonist. In previous postings, we’ve identified our Protagonist (Ripley) and seen her make her Fateful Decision, then watched as she began to work toward her goalencountered the Mid-Point Twist and lost almost all hope of success.

But the writers of Aliens has already shown themselves to be tricksy bastards thus far; it’s been hard to tell just who the Antagonist (Burke? The Aliens? Bishop?) and the Relationship Character (Burke? Bishop? Hicks?) are. Heck, one of our candidates – Carter Burke – was slain before Ripley could resolve her issues with or defeat him – before she even hit her Low Point.

So all we have left for Act 3 is Bishop and Hicks… or do we? Maybe our Antagonist is something we haven’t seen yet…

Act 3

Scene 1

No, Bishop, we’re not.

If the earlier gun porn wasn’t bad enough, Ripley tapes a pulse rifle and a flamethrower together! Tech-toy nerds and adrenaline junkies pass out from the rush of blood from the brain to other organs. No wonder Ripley follows Sigourney Weaver wherever the poor woman goes… In contrast, all Hicks can do is hop himself up on pain meds. That alien’s blood must have done a number on him.

Our beleaguered android does his best at trying to talk Ripley out of her mission (which she only has nineteen minutes to complete), yet talk is all he does. He doesn’t fly the dropship straight back to the Sulaco, he flies it into the processor’s upper works. A seeming conflict with his behavioural inhibitor, but then again, he does let a pack of Marines in his charge walk into combat… Regardless, Ripley is so busy loading up with grenades (still your beating hearts, boys) that she doesn’t even look at Bishop. She tells Hicks to make sure the android stays put, but let’s face it, Hicks couldn’t stop a poodle pup pissing on him in his state.

Purpose: Remind us all of how finely Ripley is cutting her rescue mission – and how driven she is to succeed.

Geek Note: Just how did those pesky aliens get Newt all the way back to the bowels of the processor on foot before Ripley could get there in a freaking aircraft? This is the first time I’ve realised how odd that is.

Scene 2

The lift down allows Ripley to finish gearing up, and though she only takes her jumpsuit jacket off, I will give you good odds that cinemagoing fellas are more turned on by her strapping on a grenade-laden combat harness and two big freaking guns than they were with her to-the-underwear strip-down in Alien. This time, the beeping isn’t a motion tracker (the flamethrower clears her path for her) but instead the locator from earlier on. Newt is only fifty metres away.

Even the flamethrower doesn’t make anything inhuman scream or flinch, so she makes her way to Newt’s location in the heart of the hive – except the only thing left of the girl is the wristwatch tracking beacon.

Purpose: Hm. We’re ten minutes past the technical finish of Act 2 and only twenty minutes of the film remain, yet it seems that here’s our real Low Point. All Ripley’s determination and struggle to save Newt have been for naught, and all she has left is tears.

Scene 3

Or does she?

Newt stirs, waking up in a cocoon of alien resin that holds her fast – and her struggles only stir the egg before her, from out of which a parasite starts to crawl. The only thing she can do is scream – which is all she needs to do. Ripley follows her voice, rushes in and terminates the horrible creature with a short burst (see, Hudson? That’s how you do it), then polishes off one, two, three aliens for good measure (hope you were still watching, Hudson). A sudden explosion floods the corridor Ripley came in through with fire, so she and Newt flee the other way –

… and Ripley finally comes face to face (?) with her Antagonist. But then again, maybe she was always there, working against Ripley through her children. Who knows? If she does, the Queen certainly isn’t telling.

What comes next may well be the most awesome non-linguistic negotiation ever put to film. Ripley’s intent is clear: Your children might be able to get me, but not before I torch all your eggs. Let Newt and I leave unharmed and I leave your children-to-be unharmed. The Queen’s agreement is equally clear – at her command, her children stay back and Ripley and Newt walk out.

Yet another egg opens up – and Ripley gives us a perfect “oh, you shouldn’t have done that” tilt to her head, before –

Oh hell yeah. Hudson? THAT’S how you go psycho on the aliens with a firearm, buddy. And the grenades. Oh, and there goes a while bandolier of them! Dude, whatever afterlife you’re in I hope you’e hanging your head in shame: A civvie with some very basic weapon handling skills just kicked your arse at arse-kicking.

The moment can’t last forever, of course – we’re a handful of minutes away from adios, muchahos (we’ll still pay that, Burke) – and Ripley and Newt flee Sublevel Three with the Queen hot on their heels (I want to break free… I want to breeeaaaak freeeeeeeyuh… oOkay, I’ll stop doing that now).

Purpose: The sudden up-swing after what’s (probably) our real Low Point and the revelation of Ripley’s primary Antagonist in one glorious moment.

Geek Note: Looking at it now, through the lens of the Formula, including the scene where Ripley discovers that her daughter, almost eleven when she took the job aboard the Nostromo, died while she drifted in hypersleep for the Special Edition binds the revelation of the Queen as the movie’s true antagonist back to the beginning of the film. Why? Because, like all good Antagonists, the Queen is a mirror of Ripley as a mother. Even Burke, when his looking out for number one attitude clashed with Ripley’s moral certainly, can’t match the primal conflict between Ripley and the Queen. Whose children survive?

I will say this, though: The movie that was released to cinemas was certainly strong enough without that extra scene (and, frankly, most of the others). I do hope that Fox puts the original cinematic release out sometime. Is it part of the Blu-Ray edition?

Scene 4

Why is it that, when all you need in the world is a motherfucking lift, the motherfucking lifts take for-motherfucking-ever? Thankfully, they do arrive, just in time to save Ripley and Newt from death at the claws and teeth (and teeth) of the Queen – but not to save them from discovering that there was a third Antagonist after all. The landing pad is missing Dropship 02, and if realising that Bishop had some hidden programming after all wasn’t bad enough, Ripley makes another unpleasant discovery: The Queen can figure out how to use a lift. While we’re at it, why not go for the trifecta: Ripley’s out of both ten-mil explosive-tip caseless bullets and napalm. Certainly ain’t smelling like victory today.

Wait a second. No ammo, no escape, no hope.  Is this the real Low Point? And just how the hell can Ripley avoid her and Newt’s vicious death other than by taking a long walk off a short platform –

Oh. Right. No, he didn’t.

Ripley and Newt clamber aboard Dropship 02, and yes, it is Bishop at the controls; Hicks didn’t overpower him and bring the bird back for the woman he’s keen on (can Hicks pilot a dropship anyway?). There’s a brief moment where an explosion sends the dropship into the structure near the lifts, but the hardy shuttle can take it, and once Ripley and Newt are secure behind the cockpit, the android attempts to set a new surface-to-orbit speed record. I don’t know if he does it, but he still outruns the atmosphere processor’s nuclear detonation, and that’ll certainly do for Ripley, Newt and Hicks, the latter of whom spent this very dramatic extraction just as he spent the drop – fast asleep.

Purpose: Well, that’s about it. Escape accomplished, heroes safe. All that’s left is the denoument.

Scene 5

Our heroes exit the dropship in the Sulaco’s hangar bay, and Bishop apologises – apolo-freaking-gising for saving their lives, Bishop? That’s taking the self-effacing gig a bit too far, brother – to Ripley; he wasn’t there because, what with the atmosphere processor under going nuclear meltdown, the landing platform was too unstable; he was circling in the hope of picking them up.

But Ripley cuts him off – by reassuring him that he “did okay.” Okay? O-FUCKING-KAY?! He just – well, Ripley’s smiling at Bishop, which after everything Ash tried to do to her on the Nostromo is one hell of an achievement. Looks like she’s over judging every android by that sad yardstick.

Hmm. You know, this looks suspiciously like the conversation slash resolution the Protagonist is meant to have with the Relationship Character right before the final showdown with the Antagonist. But Burke’s dead and the aliens are dead, so… I dunno. Maybe it’s just Giler, Hill and Cameorn playing with the Formula again oh, wait, is that acid HOLY FUCK! NO! Not Bishop! Bishop is freaking cool (in a kind of geeky, self-effacing way)! You don’t do that to wait, what are you oh don’t, don’t you dare OOOOOHHHHHH! OOOWWWWWW! Oh, you did, you did it, but look, he’s still kind of alive –

And so’s she. Right. There’s the Formula in action, straight up. Relationship Character issue resolved (notice how Ripley’s first instinct was to grab onto Bishop, not jerk back from him, when he convulsed?), now it’s time for the Protagonist to take the Antagonist down.

Hey, that makes sense. I mean, while Ripley went bonkers with her combo-gun, she wasn’t really trying to take the Queen down, just get her and her kids out of the way so Ripley could escape with Newt. Now, though, there really is nowhere else to run. Sure, Ripley starts running, but she’s not fleeing (well, maybe not quite, but you try staying cool with THAT chasing you), she’s drawing the Queen away from Newt so the girl has the chance to do what she does best – hide in the crawlspaces (now somebody figures it out). And sure, Ripley locks the door on the Queen, but only because she needs maybe thirty seconds tops.

Purpose: As mentioned earlier, resolve the Protagonist’s issue with the Relationship Character and the theme and set up the final encounter with the Antagonist.

Scene 6

So Newt is doing a bang-up of keeping the Queen off her tail but we know it can’t last forever. But as I wrote just now, it only needed to last for a minute, and just as the Queen reaches for Newt, the storage bay hatch opens again and –

Okay, let’s cut the bull. I’ve seen this. You’ve seen this. You know what comes next. Everyone: Say it with me!

Feels good, don’t it?

Ever think Aliens got gypped in that 20 To 1 show Channel Nine did a while back? Episode about Best Movie Lines and not only does Hudson’s “express elevator” line not get a mention, but neither does that one. And that’s just criminal.

I think there’s an abject lesson in filmmaking here, and it’s one that a lot of other films get right too: If you really want your protagonist and antagonist to fight it out, they have to go toe-to-toe. Gunfights don’t work unless they’re part of a hand to hand context (see The Matrix and Equilibrium) because it’s harder to get both characters doing something meaningful (combat-wise, anyway) in anything closer than a full shot. This is one of the meta-reasons why Ripley goes for the powerloader instead of another gun – thankfully, though, the drop of acid a minute ago reminded the audience that shooting the Queen could well put a huge hole in the Sulaco’s hull, so there’s a perfectly logical justification within the context of the movie too.

But you know what? Screw it. She’s taking on a sixteen-foot monster that’d give a tyrannosuar pause using industrial equipment. Screw your noisy phallic substitutes, boys. This is how a woman gets the job done.

I can’t help but think about the last time Ripley had to eliminate an alien on board a starship. Then, she was terrified, locked into her shuttle’s chair and hoping she could get the alien out of its nook and by the shuttle’s hatch before it killed her. She may be scared this time, but now she’s a warrior, laying into the Queen with the loader’s claws, meeting every lunge with a parry and knocking the monster about the hangar bay. “Come on! COME ON!

Ripley’s luck runs out when she tries to ditch the bitch into another airlock; the Queen grabs hold of the loader’s roll cage and pulls Ripley down with her. The monster is pinned under the loader, but Ripley can’t get away that easily; the Queen grabs her leg as she tries to climb up the airlock’s ladder. In desperation, Ripley manually overrides the outer door, blowing the Queen into space and only just avoiding the same fate herself.

And Bishop? Torn in half and he still manages to save Newt from death by spacing. No wonder he says to Ripley, “Not bad, for a human!” Sure, we know the big wuss is only joking, but if Humanity wipes itself out in the end, I can only hope it’s the Bishops who inherit the Earth.

(That line should have made it into 20 to 1 as well!)

Purpose: Having overcome her fear of androids and accepted Bishop, Ripley now overcomes her fear of the aliens and takes the fight to the Queen – and wins.

Scene 7

Finally, we get to the denoument. Ripley puts Bishop and Hicks into hypersleep – the “fifth wheel” who ends up taking care of everyone else. Then sleep for her and Newt, as the Sulaco takes them home.

Anyone else think it’s cute that Newt winds up keeping a little of Hudson alive?

Purpose: Tie Ripley’s story off so well that any attempt to extend it could only fuck up.

Analysis

And there’s our film. Well, the writers definitely kept us guessing about who was doing what right up until the end, and while it meant the Formula got messed with a lot, you can’t argue the results.

Anyway, tune back in next week for some thoughts on how the film worked overall, and how its example could be applied to your own work!

Questions

What’re your favourite moments from Act Three?

What’s the most memorable post-Low Point turnabout you’ve seen in a film?

What’s your favourite line from a film?

NOTE: All images from Aliens are copyright Twentieth Century Fox and therefore outside this site’s Creative Commons license. Used without permission. The author intends the to be illustrative and not an infringement of Twentieth Century Fox’s intellectual property rights.

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