03 June 2013

The Weapons of Sci-Fi: The ALIEN Nostromo EVA Laser Pistol

Some science fiction films/TV shows get lucky, their futuristic weaponry are designed with love and care by a skilled prop-mastery artisan. Films like ALIENS, BLADE RUNNER, and Logan's Run all received interesting sci-fi weapons that have earned cult follows and stand out as prime examples of excellent sci-fi weaponry. Others are not so lucky. Despite, the massive success and talent behind the magnum opus of 1979's ALIEN, the futuristic hand-weapons used by our motley crew of space truckers are a bad joke. I recently bought the 2003 Director's Cut of ALIEN and while admiring the dark beauty of this landmark film, I saw a few quick seconds of the poorly understood Nostromo handgun being pulled by Kan when he was examining the egg. After this brief scene, the handgun was on-scene once more, and not used to hunt down the xenomorph. After googling a few images, I decided to devote a minor blogpost on this oddball sci-fi gun and finally give it some attention.

What is the Nostromo EVA Pistol?
When the Nostromo sets down on LV426 on company orders, Captain Dallas orders the weapons to be broken out of storage for the EVA to the source of the signal. During the walk, we can can see some sort of large framed futuristic pistol on the hips of our space trucker astronauts. No mention is made of what these pistols are or what they fire. At no point in the film, do the characters address these weapons by name or pull them out during the warrior-drone's attack on the crew. In the original release, these bulky futuristic-looking pistols were only seen if one really looked on the hips of the landing party, and in one scene laying on the massive table in the common room.
In the 2003 Director's Cut,  Kane pulls out his pistol has he approaches the eggs in the silo, but the scene only lasts a few heartbeats.The clearest photos of the pistol were seen in promotional stills and on-set photos for magazines of the day, but there is little information on what the EVA pistol was. Several model kits of the gun now exist, and we know that imprinted on the frame of the pistol are the words: NOSTROMO and LIGHT SYNC. DIAL. If Kenner had moved forward with production of the 3 3/4 inches action figures, than the Nostromo EVA handgun would have been packaged with the Dallas figure. The later highly detailed 2008 Kane and Dallas figures from Hot Toys were featured with the pistol and the odd holster. There are some hints about why this pistol looks so funky. From an interview with special effects supervisor Nick Allder that the pistol has fiber-optics for the prop to emit a real laser beam (similar today's laser pointers) from the bottom of the magazine well cylinder most likely. He stated that there was an dial installed to allow for adjustment of the length and time of the laser, which could allow the pistol to still be in operation even if the shooter dropped it. Why was this done? Was Ridley thinking of the crew using their laser guns against the alien? Or could this early movie laser be an aiming device for whatever the pistol fired? Inquiring minds wanna know...

Why Didn't the Crew Uses this Gun Against the Alien?
The short answer? Because it would have ended the movie quicker, and been less excited. The longer answer was original to be in the script, but was never shot, and still exists in the script and the novelization. The EVA Rexim pistols have been refereed to as 'lasers' in a number of sources, and real laser work by drilling holes into their target. If the pistol was used against the adult warrior drone, who contains more acid than the facehugger, the risk to the ship and crew was greater if they drilled a gaping wound in the creature. As Parker said "You don't dare kill it." Also, given that intrepid space truckers were not Colonial Marines, the creature that they saw prior to Brett being kill was small...a little too small for our crew to risk discharging their EVA Rexim pistols at the damned thing and risk damaging the ship.

Why is this Pistol Not in Prometheus or the rest of the ALIENS films?
I actually read a thread on a Prometheus forum that asked why the EVA Rexim pistol is not in any of the other films. The thread attempted to forge some sort of reason why humanity had abandoned DEWs by the time of ALIENS, but the answer is quite simple. In the original cut of the 1979 masterpiece, the gun is nearly never seen, especially with any detail, and that Cameron and others may not have known it even existed when they began their projects. We have to remember that the majority of ALIENS films are not interested in direct combat, but in dark sci-fi horror.
Only two of the five ALIENS films are devoted to combating the xenomorphs with military units and proper military firearms, ALIENS and ALIEN Resurrection. The goal of Ridley Scott was not to make a film about shooting aliens with freakin' laser beams with either ALIEN or Prometheus, and Cameron was making a combat movie with more real-world technology, and not a typical sci-fi film with bright shiny laser beams. The best reason for the lack of the Rexim EVA pistol not appearing in any other ALIENS films is because the gun is fucking ugly, and is so unrealistic, that it does not deserve any real screen time.

The Real-Steel Weapons of the Nostromo Handgun
There is some debate about the real-steel weapons used under the Nostromo Handgun. Some sites contend that the much forgotten 1950's Swiss Rexim-Favor Mk5 9mm submachine gun was chopped and used for two sci-fi weapons, the blaster of Dr.Cornelius Evazan in the Star Wars Cantata scene, and the Nostromo handgun. Other sources are in favor of the Beretta PM12s 9mm SMG, which is also similar, and others says that the WWII M3 'Grease' Submachine gun is the base frame for this sci-fi pistol. The queer little scope-like object on the magazine well of the pistol is a English SinglePoint scope from the 1970's. SinglePoint scopes were mounted to the American Colt M16s during the Son Tay Raid of 1970.
From on-set photos I've seen, it could be that all of the sources are correct. It is true that 20th Century Fox was the company behind both productions, and the Nostromo handgun SE-14C blaster is most likely the daddy to at least one of the prop weapons on ALIEN. However, there were at least one or even two more Nostromo handguns used during filming. It is possible that the crew recycled the chopped Rexim-Favor Mk5 SMG blaster prop, then built several more with real-steel firearm frames that were inhouse, which could be the Beretta or even the M3 under the sci-fi prop work. Of course, there was a second pistol design...

The Other Nostromo Pistol?

There is another pistol from that 1979 film, the 'Webley', and was constructed for a specific purpose: to be in the hands of children. When ALIEN was being filmed, the studio was breathing down Ridley's neck about costs, especially associated with his massive sets. To help cut-down on costs and still maintain his vision, he used his sons, Jake and Luke, along with Cinematographer Derek Vanlint son dressed in spacesuits to communicate the massive scale of the human and alien spacecrafts.
This wasn't without its risks. A rare heat wave in Britain along with poorly designed spacesuits that did not vent the co2, caused the actors to pass out, children and adults. Given Ridley's nature to get things right, he had the prop department construct several handguns on a smaller scale to on the suits, just like the adults' full-sized laser blasters. These smaller framed futuristic pistols utilized the Webley Junior Mk.II air pistol has their base, with added touches from the full-sized EVA pistol to complete the look. This is pretty amazing level of detail devoted to such a small thing, and demonstrates why Scott is a great filmmaker.

What We can Learn from the ALIEN EVA Pistol
As I've said above, ALIEN is one of those game-changing films that finally brought respect to the genre of dark sci-fi/horror sci-fi monster movies, and allowed films like John Carpenter's The Thing to be greenlit. However, it would take the film's successor, ALIENS to bring a revolution in sci-fi weapons. This EVA pistol is somewhat a holdover from the days of the sci-fi looking raygun combined with the trend of the laser blaster...so, the EVA pistol is a mutt bridging the gap between these two eras of sci-fi weapons. From the overall oddball design, it seemed to be designed, on purpose, to be odd and sci-fi-like, not functional or milspec in some fictional sense.

Similar Sci-Fi Weapons

The Black Hole Sentry Laser Blaster (1979)
When Star Wars came out in 1977, and made huge piles of cash, ever one was jumping onboard the sci-fi bandwagon...including Disney. In 1979 space adventure oddity, The Black Hole, the robotic sentry units onboard the  massive research vessel, USS Cygnus use an odd twin-emit laser blaster.

The Neutra-Laser from Bravestarr (1987)
This was another American animation program that attempted to teach lessons about survival and manners via a backdrop of an Space Western and selling some toys along the way. The main character used this oddball H-shaped blaster that was mostly a large-framed stun-gun. The toyline featured a IR-shooting toygun that interacted with the action figures and playsets. I had a friend who had one of these back in the day, and I can recalled the steer size of this thing. Much bigger than the Lazer Tag or Photon.

The Visitors' Laser Blaster from V (1983)

One of my favorite laser blasters from my childhood was the original V TV series Visitors DEW pistol. Much like our EVA pistol, the pistol was large-framed with a bottom piece that made it a difficult prop to form a holster to, and but was big enough to be seen on-screen. I can clearly remember making one of these out of Legos...ah, the 80's.

The Double-Emitter Arturis Pistol from Star Trek: Voyager
There are few good epsiodes of Star Trek's Voyager, but I count 4x26 'Hope and Fear' among them. In this 1998 epsiode, the Voyager crew is fooled by an alien named Arturis in believing that Starfleet has sent an advanced prototype vessel to get the crew home. The ship turned out to be a trap to transport the crew and hand them over to the Borg for revenge. When he was found out, Arturis pulled out this unique double-emitter DE pistol which was a redressed Varon-T disruptor that has been the basis for some many of alien Trek weaponry.

The SE-14 series of Blasters from Star Wars

The SE-14 series of blasters from BlasTech Industries is an interesting weapon, and has been seen in various forms across the saga. The base prop gun is from the Swiss Rexim-Favor Mk5 9mm submachine gun, and fitted with twin scopes. The SE-14C was seen on-screen for a few seconds when Dr.Cornelius Evazan in the Cantata whips it out, and Obi Wan Kenobi cuts him down. While the SE-14R was a backup repeating machine-pistol for Stormtroopers and could be seen in still photos. During the Clone Wars, the SE-14 blaster was in service with the Droid Armies. Some of the original prop from Star Wars: ANH was used to construct the EVA pistol.


  1. Christopher PhoenixJune 7, 2013 at 3:33 PM

    The ALIEN EVA pistol? I never really thought of that pistol as being a laser, we never see it fired and don't really know what it is. I can see that it might be intended to be a laser weapon, though. It kind of mixes the SW "laser blaster" with the old-style ray-gun style. Probably it was influenced by SWs, especially as it is built off of a vintage real-steel firearm.

    If it is a laser, then it begs the question why the crew of the Nostromo use fricken laser beams while the Colonial Marines in the future use plain old bullets!! Part of the answer might lie in the fact that in the original script of ALIENS, the pulse rifles and steadycam guns are plasma rifles described as firing lightning-like streams of energy, thus the rather ray-gun like moniker "pulse rifle". The plasma pulse rifles could be more technologically advanced and destructive than EVA lasers.

    The secret history of ALIEN-'verse energy weapons, I suppose, if things had turned out differently, we might have seen the humans battling the aliens with futuristic lasers and plasma-stream rifles rather than old fashioned bullets. Instead the director chose to base the Colonial Marines tech off ofmodern military technology, inspiring a whole generation to emulate this style.

    Laser and plasma weapons might actually be quite well suited to exterminating xenos, since lasers and plasma scorch everything they touch, and those aliens hate heat and light.

    Really, though, if you say ALIEN and weapon too me, what immediately comes to mind is the flamethrower. I had never seen a flamethrower used on a spaceship before ALIEN. XD

    Ha ha, I kind of like those odd twin-emitter laser (and phaser) pistols, they kind of look neat. And if you carry two, you can fire four beams at once!!

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  3. This is one of those oddball blogposts that I put up on FWS that I've never seen anywhere else...and I didn't know that about the weapons in ALIENS being plasam-based....hmmm. Would have changed the current trend of bullets back in sci-fi by a few years...man, I would have missed the M41a1 if it had never existed! It would have been cool to see a plasma flamethrower though....

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  6. It still bothers me (and always has) that the crew of the Nostromo never even tried to use these weapons against the alien. I understand the logic of not wanting to poke holes in what was essentially an 8 foot tall, walking vat of super-strong acid, but there should have been at least some attempt in the film to make this clear to the audience. The fact that there was not is the one and only plot hole that I have ever found in this movie (in contrast to Prometheus, the entirety of which was pretty much one big plot hole). Not that it really detracts from the greatness of the film in any way, it's just somewhat annoying for those of us who have a tendency toward being detail oriented (aka "anal") about our sci-fi :).

  7. I wanted the same thing when I re-watched the movie for this blogpost. I am grateful that in the sequel, that wasn't the case.

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  9. regarding the reason why the colonial marines use bullets while the nostromo has lasers, I think comes down to practicality.

    the nostromo was a civilian ship, and not expected to need weapons (heck until the dock the crew were intended to be in stasis) so the weapons were for emergency use, and as they were likely to be used in unknown situations by untrained people they needed something that could be easy to use, and aim without having to worry about ballistics and recoil. that could operate in any environment without needing much in the way of general maintenance hence a laser. they may also have the possibility to be used less than lethally (such as pulsed energy projectile)

    now by comparison the colonial mariens know what situation they're going to be operating in (if you look at the weapon racks on the sulaco there are a lot of weapons that don't get used including what appears to be AR-15 rifles) so they choose weapons that are reliable and effective. a 10mm armour piercing high explosive round is going to do a lot of damage, compared to a laser which would need to drill through the target. they are on a planet, with good gravity, they know the atmospheric composition so don't have to worry about flammable gasses, and recoil. and want something that can put down a target fast and hard.
    also in a potential combat zone lasers have too many problems compared to ballistic weapons. dust on laser lenses is going to ruin the lens. a civilian who may only need to shoot the weapon once or twice doesn't have to worry about that, a soldier who's life depends on his weapon not burning it's own lens does. ballistic weapons are also tougher, if they're going to get knocked about, dropped in mud and water, bumped against walls ect, you don't want something that could fail due to a wire working lose or a laser diode becoming misaligned or a battery shorting out.
    then you have atmospheric blooming due to water vapour and dust that reduces the range and power of lasers (lets face it LV426 doesn't have the best sunbathing weather)

    it's the same reason that we don't have soldiers running around with laser weapons despite the fact that you can buy a class 4 cutting laser on ebay that will punch a hole in a steel plate at range.

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