In 1986, director James Cameron released a film that took the country by storm. Aliens was the sequel film to Ridley Scott’s classic 1979 film Alien. While Alien is a slow-burning science fiction horror film, its sequel was a full-out science fiction action film featuring space marines, flamethrowers, and Sigourney Weaver in a badass Power Loader. Needless to say, Aliens is a completely different than Alien in almost every way. Although most people would side with Alien as the best in the franchise, I lean towards James Cameron’s Aliens as the prototype for the modern action film.
Recently unearthed by The Playlist, an epic, three-hour documentary highlighting almost every facet of the making of Aliens is now available to watch on YouTube. “Superior Firepower: The Making of Aliens” was originally the bonus feature that went along with the 2003 release of Aliens on DVD. This in-depth documentary has interviews with cast and crew, and follows the entire process of making Aliens from why it took so long to make a sequel after the release of Alien, to the awards and accolades after its release.
The process began in 1983, before James Cameron made The Terminator. Before that film went into production, Cameron couldn’t use Arnold Schwarzenegger for nine months because the actor was contracted to make Conan the Destroyer at the time. During those nine months, Cameron couldn’t make another film, so he took a writing assignment to pen the screenplay for the Alien sequel.
The Twentieth Century Fox executives were so impressed with the first 90 pages of Aliens that they actually held off making the film until Cameron completed The Terminator. Once he finished that film, he was ready to make Aliens.
It seems the biggest problem Cameron had before making the film was convincing the fans that the sequel to Alien was going to be something worth watching. In fact, star Sigourney Weaver was one of the people who needed convincing from James Cameron that they were making a quality film. Weaver was quite taken with the screenplay because it emphasized her character, Ellen Ripley, and her surrogate family in the form of Newt Carrie Henn) and Corporal Dwayne Hicks (Michael Biehn).
Before the film went into production, Twentieth Century Fox didn’t want to pay Sigourney Weaver’s asking price. The executives asked Cameron to write an alternative script that didn’t feature the Ellen Ripley character, so they could avoid paying her. Could you imagine an Alien movie without Ripley? Fox ended up paying Sigourney Weaver after all, and Aliens was put into production.
This documentary is full of great anecdotes about the making of Aliens. For instance, Lance Henriksen reveals that he got food poisoning when the blood mixture for the android Bishop went bad. The blood mixture that made up the android’s blood was equal parts milk and yogurt.
When the film was released in 1986, it was a smash hit that garnered seven Academy Award nominations for Best Music, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, and Best Actress for Sigourney Weaver. Aliens ended up winning two Academy Awards for Best Sound Effects Editing and Best Visual Effects. Ultimately, Aliens grossed $131 million worldwide, making it a clear critical and commercial hit.
If you have the time to weed through this admittedly really long documentary, it will be completely worth your time, especially if you’re a fan of James Cameron’s Aliens.