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“You Secure That Shit, Hudson!”

James Cameron was approached by 20th Century Fox to write an Alien sequel. But the outline he came up with for Alien II got a lukewarm reaction at Fox, and the idea was put on hold for the time being. Then, as luck would have it, the start date for The Terminator was pushed back nine months so that Conan The Barbarian actor Arnold Schwarzenegger could make the sequel, Conan The Destroyer.

This extra three-quarters of a year gave Cameron time to write three-quarters of a full screenplay for Alien II, not just an outline (He also co-wrote Rambo: First Blood Part II during this time.)

The Fox bosses liked what they read. Cameron was told that if The Terminator proved successful, he could write and direct the Alien sequel.

Talk of a sequel began shortly after the original Alien (1979) became a hit, but it was delayed because of a dispute between the film’s producers and 20th Century Fox over the distribution of the original movie’s profits. Fox, reluctant to make a sequel because it would be expensive, finally agreed to it as a way of settling the beef with the producers

The same producers plus Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd sued Fox again after Aliens, claiming the studio had used “creative accounting” techniques to avoid paying them.

Cameron and Hurd initially refused to make the film without Weaver, and also refused to keep it a secret that she was the only person in consideration for the lead role. Fox didn’t like that second point, as it put Weaver’s agent in a very strong bargaining position. Weaver got $1 million and a percentage of the profits. And it got better for Weaver as the franchise went on, with $4 million for Alien 3 and $11 million for Alien: Resurrection.

Weaver had initially been very hesitant to reprise her role as Ripley and had rejected numerous previous offers from Fox regarding a slew of sequels, citing fears that her character would be poorly written, and a sub-standard sequel could potentially damage the legacy of the original movie.

However, she was so impressed by the top-tier quality of Cameron’s script, and the precision with which Cameron wrote her character, she finally agreed to do the film.

James Remar was originally cast as Colonial Marine Corporal Hicks on a recommendation by director Walter Hill, who received a “story by” credit on Aliens. Hill previously directed Remar in The Warriors and 48 Hrs. Remar lasted onset a week before Cameron canned him.

While the official reason given for his departure was “artistic reasons,” Remar finally admitted on a 2010 episode of a podcast called Sidebar the real reason he was shown the door.

“I had a terrible drug problem, but I got through it,”

“I had a great career and personal life and messed it up with a terrible drug habit. I was fired after a couple of weeks of filming because I got busted for possession of drugs, and Michael Biehn replaced me,”

“[Walter] didn’t hire me again for 12 years. And I know why — because I made him look bad. You know, it was fucked up.”

Biehn, who appeared as future warfighter Kyle Reese in Cameron’s The Terminator, filled in for the rest of the shoot while Remar’s one-week contributions merely live on in production photos.

Carrie Henn, who played Newt, was nine years old and living with her family at a U.S. Air Force base in England when casting agents found her. She loved the experience, but never acted again. Instead, she became a schoolteacher.

“Game Over, Man! Game Over!”

The film was shot at Pinewood Studios, which provided its unionised crew members for productions using the facilities. Some of these workers resented the 14-hour days and, having no idea who Cameron was (The Terminator hadn’t opened yet), they thought he was in over his head. In particular, the first director of photography, Dick Bush thought he should be directing Aliens.

He mocked Cameron, called him “guv’nor,” rolled his eyes at him, and duly got himself fired for insubordination. After Bush was fired, the crew walked out. Hurd managed to coax the team back to work, and Adrian Biddle was hired as Bush’s replacement.

All scenes involving the Alien Queen were the most difficult to film. A life-sized mockup was created by Stan Winston’s company in the United States to see how it would operate. Once the testing was complete, the crew working on the queen flew to England and began work creating the final version.

Standing at 14 feet tall, it was operated using a mixture of puppeteers, control rods, hydraulics, cables, and a crane above to support it. Two puppeteers were inside the suit operating its arms, and 16 were required to move it.

All sequences involving the full-size queen were filmed in-camera with no post-production manipulation. Additionally, a miniature alien queen was used for certain shots.

Bishop’s knife trick was also previously seen in John Carpenter’s Dark Star (1974). Like Bishop, Boiler misses too. Bill Paxton (Hudson) was the last one to know that his hand was going under the knife.

The pulse rifles that the Marines use are made from a Thomson M1A1 machine gun with a Remington 870 shotgun, shortened to 15 inches and covered by the also-cut-down shroud and foregrip from a Franchi SPAS 12 shotgun underneath. The Marines helmets are modified M-1 ballistic helmets.

The mechanism used to make the face-hugger thrash about in the stasis tubes in the science lab came from one of the “flying piranhas” from Cameron’s earlier movie, Piranha Part Two: The Spawning. It took nine people to make the face-hugger work with one person for each leg and one for the tail.

In the original script, when Ripley is rescuing Newt, she encounters a cocooned Burke in the power plant. He tells her he can feel the chestburster inside him and asks her for help. Ripley hands him a live grenade and continues to walk past him. This scene was filmed and the only proof it existed was a single still image from a magazine. The scene was finally made available in full on the film’s Blu-Ray release.

Lance Henrikson caught a dose of food poisoning from the milk and yoghurt combination that he had to spew up when his chest is pierced by the Alien Queen’s tail.

The combination of these dairy products lying for a long period under the hot studio lighting created a bacterial breeding ground.

“Get Away From Her, You Bitch”

Over a few weeks, the actors who played the Colonial Marines were put through the paces by military advisors. They went through drills and manoeuvres, assaulted stairwells around the studio, learned to salute, wear their uniforms properly, and handle their weapons appropriately. Weaver and Paul Reiser didn’t join them because of other commitments, but their characters weren’t supposed to be trained soldiers anyway.

The set for the location of the Alien nest later appeared in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) as Axis Chemicals, where Jack Napier falls into some acid and becomes Joker. Parts of the Alien hive were still there when Burton and his crew came in to start shooting.

Joan Lambert, the only other female crewmember on the spaceship Nostromo besides Ripley in Alien is revealed to be transgender. During Ripley’s meeting with The Company where she is being interrogated about events that transpired on LV-426, In the background, we see crew dossiers for each of the deceased, including Lambert’s.

While only shown for a moment, it reveals –

“Subject is Despin Convert at birth (male to female). So far no indication of suppressed traumas related to gender alteration.”

Part of the reason Aliens action sequences are so tight is that Cameron used working on The Terminator as practice.

He told the Los Angeles Times –

“I was thinking of Terminator as a movie no one would see, so I could work on some of the things that I would use on Aliens,”

“I remember when I was shooting a scene where [the heroine] crawls through all this machinery, I thought, ‘This will make a good dry run … I’ll get some of this stuff worked out so I’ll know how to do it.'”

Weaver doesn’t like guns and she lobbied Cameron to let Ripley go the entire film without using one. Cameron talked her into it after taking her to a shooting range and showing her how fun it could be. “Another liberal bites the dust,” he jokes on the DVD commentary.

Jenette Goldstein, the actress who played Vasquez, didn’t have any firearms training. She couldn’t hold a gun properly, which was noticeable when seen in close-ups, so producer Hurd served as her hand double.

Composer James Horner thought he’d have six weeks to write the musical score. Instead, he had three weeks and had to write some parts overnight. The movie was behind schedule, not even finished being filmed (let alone edited) when Horner arrived in England. The recording studio he’d been provided with was outmoded, not equipped to handle the synthesizers he wanted to use.

Horner called the experience a “nightmare,” and ended up writing the climactic musical cue overnight. Coming away with the impression that a Cameron film was too stressful and rushed, he figured he’d never work with the director again. And he didn’t until Cameron approached him for Titanic.

Weaver was nominated for her first Best Actress Academy Award for her role as Lieutenant Ellen Ripley in Aliens. Regardless of her losing out, it is the only Best Actress nomination in history for a role in a science-fiction film.

The movie did win twice though, an Oscar for Best Special Effects and one for Best Visual Effects.

The shoes that both Ripley and Bishop wear in the film are called the “Aliens Fighter” shoe, which was made especially for the film. First marketed as a shoe “that you won’t see for 150 years”.

Reebok later released the shoes (as Bishop’s mid-top model opposed to Ripley’s super-high top version) to the public for a limited time during 1987, which later became re-released back in 2003, this time as the “Alien Stompers”. For Alien Day this year, Reebok has released a “Bug Stomper’ sneaker that is decked out in camouflage and colours worn by the Colonial Marines.

Michael Biehn’s (Hicks) shotgun is the same weapon he previously kept handy in The Terminator, in which he played Kyle Reese.

The ‘F’ word was used 25 times and 18 of them were delivered by Paxton.

Aliens was released on July 18th, 1986, and grossed $180 million worldwide. Empire magazine voted it the “Greatest Film Sequel of All Time”. Aliens was the seventh-highest-grossing film of 1986 in North America.

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