Aliens: Writing the script

leading from
Making Aliens

a) Characters that Cameron liked
For Cameron, because Alien happened in space, the characters literally existed in a vacuum, they had no past or life beyond the film.

Ripley was the only survivor because was a very strong female, and so was a character that always fascinated him, in a general sense as a character who had been through a very traumatic experience, and how it affected them and their life.

He was also fascinated by characters who carried great weight with them.

He also thought back to the character Kyle Reese that he created for his movie Terminator, somebody who had a tremendous psychic burden that affected and colored him.

b) Probing further
However he didn't quite know where it was coming from within him because he never had a serious trauma in his life, but still it was something that interested him.

He liked to probe at it, what it would be like, and ask how these individuals put the pieces of their lives back together, and what would they do if they were faced with it again.

Would they be weaker or stronger, would they flee from it, or find the tools to deal with it?

This was really what this is all about for him.

He wanted to take the character further, to know Ripley as a person, to see some depth and emotion.

The movie would be about her, every scene.

It gets inside her mind, takes her back to face her own worst nightmare - and conquer it, so to speak.
In a way, Aliens would be about her revenge.

c) Beyond the trauma
He started a story synopsis that he gave to Fox with the line 'Sometimes, survival isn't enough,'

The idea was that Ripley survived her first encounter with the alien, but this film would take her to the point where she's probably ready to blow her brains out because that's what it can be like.

Here he was thinking about the veterans of the Vietnam, who would return to America and later kill themselves.

All they could think about in Vietnam was surviving and when they got back, too much of their world had been swept away in the process, and their attitudes had changed too much.

e) Expanding Ripley
Cameron had thought about how Ripley's character was so simply sketched, and he wanted to expand her on different levels.

The first thing he did was give Ripley a past, a life back on Earth but there would be resonances throughout the story; she was married, she got divorced because her career took her into space, and she had a daughter, who, in the time that Ripley was on the Nostromo, grew up and died of old age.

So there would be a sense that Ripley survived what happened, but with tremendous loss.

There was none of that in Alien because it wasn't necessary. Cameron thought that one of Alien's greatest strengths was that it was so simple .

But Aliens's story would be more complicated for the audience to follow or convoluted in a perverse sense, but there would be happening, more elements and more involvement.

d) Light at the end of the tunnel
Cameron would set up the first act to show that the first encounter with the alien completely destroyed her life, but with Ripley going it alone and surviving another encounter with these aliens wouldn't have been satisfying enough.

In the story she finds herself waking up to a society where nobody believes her account of the Nostromo's demise, and yet she has to overcome her terror, and reluctantly she agrees to accompany a troop of eleven US Colonial Marines, an android and Weyland-Yutani company representative to investigate the subsequent loss of contact with the colony.

There had to be a sense that, when she comes through the fire this time, it's an end to the cycle. She will have the tools to go on.

Thus the whole idea was that Ripley would find a girl named Newt who would be a daughter for her, and this little girl is a 'light at the end of the tunnel' concept. and this relationship with the little girl, would be absolutely critical.

e) Love Story
The other idea that fascinated Cameron was about whether someone would be willing to go through hell for someone else, and if so who would it be and what would their relationship to them be.

And so for Ripley it was not a love story between a man and a woman, but a woman and a little girl who becomes her surrogate daughter.

He realised that this might seem somewhat sappy but it was only just one of the elements in the movie

f) The title is Aliens
Cameron knew about the story of how O'Bannon had come up with the title Alien because was typing away one night at 4am in the morning and he kept writing something to the extent of "The alien did this, the alien did that" and then he realised that the word "Alien" and for Cameron it was very much the same.

He was typing away words such as "aliens did this and aliens did that" and for him it was the right word to follow, it had al the power of the first title , and it also implied the plurality of the threat.

It also implied that it's a sequel, without having to say "Alien II"

Source Quotes
  1. Prevue: What was your focus in opening up the concept?
    James Cameron: To begin with, Alien happened in space. The characters literally existed in a vacuum - they had no past or life beyond that film. Ripley, of course was the only survivor because she was a very strong female, and that impressed me very much. I wanted to take the character further, to know Ripley as a person, to see some depth and emotion. The movie is about her, every scene. it gets inside her mind, takes her back to face her own worst nightmare - and conquer it, so to speak. In a way, Aliens is about her revenge (Prevue)
  2. James Cameron: Ripley is a type of character which has always fascinated me, in a general sense—someone who has been through a very traumatic experience, and how it affects them, and affects their life. (Starlog September 1986, p10)
  3. James Cameron: I'm fascinated by characters who carry some great weight with them. 1 think you can see it in Terminator's Kyle Reese— somebody who has this tremendous psychic burden and how it affects and colors him.  (Starlog September 1986, p10)
  4. James Cameron: I don't know where this comes from because I've never had a serious trauma in my life, but I think that's maybe why it interests me. I like to probe at it— what would it be like, and how would these individuals put the pieces of their lives back together, and what would they do if they were faced with it again? Would they be weaker or stronger, would they flee from it, or find the tools to deal with it? That's really what this is all about. (Starlog September 1986, p10)
  5. James Cameron: In fact, I started the story synopsis that we gave to Fox with the line, 'Sometimes, survival isn't enough,'  Ripley survived her first encounter with the Alien, but this film takes her to the point where she's probably ready to blow her brains out because that's what it can be like. You know, so many veterans who came back from Vietnam, who killed themselves— all they could think about while they were there was surviving, and then they got back and too much of their world had been swept away in the process, their attitudes had changed too much.  (Starlog September 1986, p10)
  6. Gale Anne Hurd: Nobody believes her horrific account of the Nostromo's demise, yet she overcomes her bad terror, and agrees - very reluctantly - to accompany a troop of US Colonial Marines to investigate the subsequent loss of contact with the colony. (Starlog June 1986,p10)
  7. Gale Anne Hurd: (Ripley) is accompanied by 11 marines and two others. (Starlog June 1986,p10)
  8. James Cameron: The whole idea of the little girl is a 'light at the end of the tunnel' concept. If Ripley was to go into it alone and survive another encounter with these organisms, after I've set up in the first act that the first time completely destroyed her life, then that's not going to be a satisfying ending. There must be a sense that, when she comes through the fire this time, it's an end to the cycle. She will have the tools to go on. So, the relationship with the little girl, Newt, is absolutely critical. (Starlog September 1986, p10)
  9. James Cameron: The other idea that I've always been fascinated by is: would you be willing to go into hell for someone? And if so, who would it be, and what would your relationship to them be? And so, really, it's a love story not between a man and a woman, but between a woman and a little girl, who becomes her surrogate daughter. If this all sounds sappy, I think it's OK because there are many other elements that balance it out. (Starlog September 1986, p10)
  10. Q: Was calling it Aliens your idea?

    Hurd: Absolutely

    Cameron:It's funny. it was very much like... I don't know Dan O'Bannon, but I read an interview with him that said he was typing away one night at four o'clock in the morning, and he was writing , 'the alien did this, the alien did that," and he realised that the word "alien" stood out on the page. it was very much like that for me on this film. I was writing away and it was "aliens this and aliens that" and it was just right. I was succinct. it had all the power of the first title, and it also implied the plurality of the threat. It also implied, of course, that it's a sequel, without having to say "Alien II"... (L'Ecran Fantastique/ Science Fiction Film Making In the 1980s)
  11. James Cameron: Aliens' canvas is so large that it allows us to take Ripley, a simply sketched character, and expand her on different levels. The first thing I did was given Ripley a past, a life back on Earth - it;s just barely sketched, but there are resonances throughout the story; she was married, she got divorced because her career took her into space, and she had a daughter, who, in the time that Ripley was on the Nostromo, grew up and died of old age.(Official Aliens Movie Book) 
  12. James Cameron: So there's a sense that Ripley survived what happened, but there is still tremendous loss - all this was taken from her (Official Aliens Movie Book) 
  13. James Cameron: There was none of that in Alien because it wasn't necessary. One of Alien's greatest strengths was that it was so simple . But Aliens is complicated to follow or convoluted in a perverse sense, but there's more happening, more elements and more involvement. (Official Aliens Movie Book)  
  14. James Cameron: I had gone in on the meetings, and I wound up getting the phone calls the same morning. So, I took both jobs, and I had a three-month period to write Rambo and what became Aliens, So, what I did was I got a desk for each script. I put one in the bedroom and one in the living room, and that way, when I would move from one desk to the other, all the notes and papers and everything were right where they were supposed to be. So if I didn’t know what to do next on Rambo, I’d go over here and work on Aliens for a while. (Geeky Monkey, April 2017)

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