11 April 2015

The Masterworks: the Best of Military Science Fiction (film): ALIENS (1986)

There are those movies that set themselves apart, becoming the best examples of certain genre or the entire film industry. We are talking about movies like Citizen Kane, Psycho, Jaws, ET, Star Wars, and Gone with the Wind. Along side these classics of cinema belongs another movie, and this became the best example of military science fiction films: ALIENS. In this new FWS serial, we will exploring the best of military science fiction works in their media type. In this opening salvo of The Masterworks: The Best of Military Sci-Fi, we will discussing the very best military science fiction film of all time, 1986's ALIENS.

Why is ALIENS the Best of MSF Cinema?

It is the Progenitor
Given ALIENS success and endurance, ALIENS would become the starting point for many sci-fi creators, giving them inspiration for their own works (including me). It would also popularize and expand some science fiction concepts and terms, like dropship, caseless weaponry, space marines, and general military science fiction. The pattern and themes of ALIENS would be repeated and expanded upon by works within the universe, and others like my favorite arcade game Xenophobe.

It is an Ambassador Work for the Genre

Some science fiction works are just too geeky and too dense to be an attractor for new fans to the genre, but some works serve as an "ambassador" to be an entry point for new fans to the genre. While DUNE is the best sci-fi book ever written, it is not a book you loan a friend to get them into science fiction, but Star Wars attaches new fans into the fold by being easily digestible and it has serves as a way to get new fans into the science fiction world since 1977. The same is true of the Hobbit for fantasy fans. ALIENS is that film for us fans and creators of military science fiction. ALIENS is a film that applies to a wide audience and is considered one of the greatest sequels of all time, this allows it to be an ambassador of military sci-fi. It does not hit you over the head with military themes and technology, it is part of the settings and some characters, not the end-all-be-all, and this allows it be enjoyed by a wide audience.

Realistic Space Military Organization
Military organizations seen in science fiction are nothing new. There was Star Trek's Starfleet, the Galactic Empire of Star Wars, and the Mobile Infantry of SST, but until the Colonial Marine Corps (CMC); there was not an realistic space military organization that was akin to the modern military. James Cameron set out to make his sequel to the iconic ALIEN to be a "combat film" and this mindset helped. The production staff used elements of the US military during the Vietnam War and the 1980's to model the CMC after. This makes the authenticity of the CMC more than most previous fictional military organizations...after all, most Marines I knew, talk & act like the Colonial Marines. It also helped that Cameron was wanting a realistic space marine unit in the film and hired former Vietnam War era Marine Al Matthews to portray Sgt. Apone. It was also helped by the tactics, chain of command, mission, and kit that the CMC wear in the film . All of this added to the realistic nature and the authenticity of the Colonial Marines that has been inspiration for countless space marines.

Using Real-World Military Hardware with a Sci-Fi Twist
In the film, we see the Colonial Marines use an very cool APC that loads into a tactical transports that is armed to the goddamn teeth. Back in the heady days of the 1980's, we had never really seen anything like this on-screen...it was not the machines of Star Trek or Star Wars. Some how, ALIENS got it right where so may get it wrong. Unlike a great deal of science fiction, the hardware in this film is not a center character or the entire reason for the film. It is not the laser sword from Star Wars, or the Enterprise from Star Trek, or the masturbation that Pacific Rim mecha, but the hardware from ALIENS was part of the world and it fit organically into the setting, giving us sci-fi lovers a vision of a realistic space military and their badass machines. The production staff used elements of real-world vehicles, like the Cobra Gunship, to develop some of the iconic hardware that since become the progenitors of sci-fi tactical "dropship" transports, the return of the bullet-firing sci-fi weaponry, APCs, and space marine armor.

Superior Filmmaking
One thing that really helps ALIENS is that is it simple a great fucking movie...bar none. Unlike other films that are either cheesy (Starship Troopers), uneven (Blade Runner), weird (2001: A Space Odyssey) or just bad (Star Wars: Episode I), the talent in front and behind the camera of ALIENS is firing on all cylinders, turning in product that is superior the majority of science fiction cinema. James Cameron and Gale Hurd had a difficult task with the sequel to the beloved 1979 classic that was ALIEN. Instead of rehashing the plot from the 1979, they took a bold step and pushed the universe 57 years in the future and told a different story that was much more centered on the journey of the broken Ripley character. While ALIENS does feature all manner of cool space vehicles, weaponry, and badass space marines, it is the story of Ripley's character that takes center stage...plus Sigourney Weaver performance is one of the finest in any sci-fi film. As I stated above with the "ALIENS has an ambassador film", it helps that the film is so good to all a vast audience to enjoy the breathtaking work.

One Hell of an Enemy

While the protagonists of any story is generally the focus and ALIENS gives one hell of a hero in Ripley and Hicks, there is the Yin to their Yang, the antagonist: the Xenomorphs. Their nature was well established in 1979's ALIEN, but ALIENS add another layer on the cake-o-horrors with dozens of warrior-drones and the new Queen. ALIENS provide the xenomorphs with a fresh playground to unleash in and give us fans some new to scream about. ALIENS would simply not be as good without the xenomorphs. They provide an enemy to test our brave space marines and their fancy tech. This rounds out the experience of why ALIENS is the best military science fiction film, because for most stories, there HAS to be a good enemy for our heroes to shoot at and die from.

What Derek Says...
FWS friend and uber-ALIENS fan Derek Restivo was recently asked by FWS about why he thinks ALIENS is the best military science fiction film of all time:
So it's definitely the best military sci-fi movie. Why? Because it set the blueprint for the look and feel of military sci-fi. Pretty much everything that came afterwards borrowed from it. The gritty marines in space, the smack talk, the assault rifles, the gear, all of it. Maybe most importantly, they basically took US marines and put them in space, which I don't think had been done before, at least not in a big way. I'm sure it wasn't the first, but it was the biggest and most influential start to those tropes. When you think of space marines, you think of the marines from ALIENS I bet that any military sci-fi movie that came out since has some of the tropes that ALIENS created. Video games are even more guilty of borrowing the ideas; HALO steals like 90% of everything the movie. Plus, even aside from how influential the movie is, it's also just an incredible movie on its own merits. I'm sure I don't have to explain why...

I have to be honest, while there will be runner-up to other media types for the Masterworks blog articles, there was none here. I did not even consider any other movie for the title of the best of military science fiction cinema.

Next Time on FWS...
Keeping with the killing creepy aliens theme, we will be discussing another iconic weapons of science fiction. ALIENS has its Pulse Rifle, Deckard has his PKD, and Starship Troopers has its Morita Rifle. It is finally time to discuss one of the most popular sci-fi weapons of all time: the Morita Rifle from the SST universe. We will be picking this weapon apart and examining every little bit of what makes the Morita Rifle one of the greats.


  1. So true, nothing comes close to even touching ALIENS. I would say that it is one of the greatest movies of all time, not just of it own genre; which is, of course, the point you were making. Fingers crossed that this whole 'Blomkamp Alien movie' rumour comes to fruition. It could finally wipe away the memory of Alien3 and (shudder)Prometheus.

  2. This article was a bitch to write. I am not sure why either. ALIENS is just epic and making the point of being so awesome was harder than I expected.
    I hated ALIEN 3 and Prometheus was a mixed bag...but very beautifully done films. Soon, I will post an Broken Promises article on the ALIENS sequels.
    Thanks for the comments and the reading.

  3. Aliens is one of the few Scifi movie sequels that redefined it's entire franchise,
    And it's still relevant today. Ideas and concepts from the Aliens, Colonial Marines Corps were Pretty much made the goals of Land warrior of other real programs because it was very much a grounded yet still futuristic series.

  4. Old Cameron movies were quite good...

  5. And now, new terminator is coming...

  6. I think the new Terminator film is going to make us old-school fans of Terminator more nostalgic for T1 and T2 and even the T:SCC tv show. That new movie is going to be a soiled diaper.

  7. Will you write something about this new trailer? This is Nanobotic Connor, the leader of human resistance! God, why Cameron is making new Smurfs, That smurfs are good too, i like them, but he forgot his own Hollywood origin. And sorry for my english

  8. I really really wish that the new Terminator film was better and dealt more with the War in the Future than another trip to the past. Sigh. What could I expect from Hollywood? The chance to make this film was in the 1990's with Michael Biehn and Arnold, not some random actors. I hate this like I hated Alien: Resurrection. We deserve better.

  9. After masterfull future war scenes in first two terminators i want more than T2 3D but truth is sad...