Friday, February 10, 2012

Sci-Tech #4: Colonial Marines Edition

Sleek.  Utilitarian.  Streamlined.  And absolutely bad ass.

Those are the words that leap immediately to mind as I describe the technology and hardware  of the Colonial Marines as featured in the 1986 James Cameron film, Aliens. 

As you gaze at some of the images I selected below, you'll detect precisely what I mean. 

Colonial Marine technology is hard-edged, sharp, and blunt, designed for some very "tough hombres."  The technology primarily is colored in shades of gray, blue and black, evoking a very strong "no nonsense" vibe.  This technology isn't about being pretty.  It's about delivering death from above (and anywhere else).

And, of course, this was intentional. 

The Alien (1979) universe showed us civilian space truckers, but Aliens (1986) calls in the cavalry, Earth's greatest military fighting unit, to battle the titular xenomorphs.  At least some of this movie technology has become the stuff of fan obsession in the decades since the film's premiere in the gun-ho age of Reagan and the invasion of Grenada, particularly the impressive M41A pulse rifle, which features a pump-action grenade-launcher on the undercarriage.  I'd love to get my hands on a recreation of this weapon, but they generally cost hundreds of dollars, last time I checked.

The great thing about the Colonial Marine tech of Aliens is that it is both futuristic and recognizable as an extension of today's weaponry and vehicles.  We recognize everything, but it's been tweaked a bit and even improved upon.   From drop ships to pulse rifles, from proximity scanners to remote-control perimeter "sentry" guns, Aliens reveals that man's capacity to wage war remains at the vanguard of his evolution as a species.

But, of course, here -- on LV426 -- man has met his match, and that's a critical part of the film's equation.  The Marines represent America in space: proud, resourceful, and bristling with state-of-the-art military capacity.  But like the soldiers who went into Vietnam and found themselves waging a losing battle against an intractable foe, the Marines here find that even all their weaponry and high tech gear hasn't prepared them to face this particular enemy.

I'm a strong and firm defender of Fincher's Alien 3 (1992), but one reason I suspect it never found the widespread appreciation of Aliens is that it eschewed futuristic technology to such a tremendous degree.  It was a bold idea: land Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in a terrain with no weapons and no ready allies, and then -- when she has nothing else to fall back on but her wits -- examine her courage.  That's an audacious approach, but probably not a crowd-pleasing one.

I think people really missed that pulse rifle...

The Narcissus Sulaco: a transport ship bristling with pointed outcroppings that resemble spears...or turrets.

In the director's cut, these sentry guns blasted aliens by the dozens.

A marine's best friend: the M41A Pulse rifle with pump-action grenade launcher.  Handy for close encounters.

The "freezers." Note how, in contrast to Alien (1979), these cryo-units ae big and bulky, like the soldiers they house.  Also, instead of being set-up  in a blossom formation (around a hearth, as it were), they are constructed a military formation.

In the Narcissus bay: the drop ship, for "flying the friendly skies." Not.


  1. A nit to pick: The Marines; ship is the Sulaco. The Narcissus was the escape ship Ripley used in the first movie to get off the Nostromo.

  2. Hi Pete,

    Thanks for the correction, Pete. I had a mental lapse, apparently...



  3. Anonymous5:35 PM

    I enjoyed both ALIEN(1979)and ALIENS(1986). ALIEN 3(1992)was disappointing for me only because Cpl. Dwayne Hicks(Michael Biehn) and Rebecca 'Newt' Jorden(Carrie Henn)were immediately killed off during the opening credits. I believe on the audio commentary for ALIENS James Cameron said you should not have killed off those characters that early in the film or at all because you alienated the audience(no pun intended). If those characters had been killed off later in the film or not at all, then I would have liked Alien3.


  4. I want one of those pulse rifles, too, but even if I could afford them, I can't get them here in Canada. Pity.

  5. Alien 3 truly is underrated, and keeps with the "tradition" (retrospectively, of course!) of something new being tried with each of the first three films. But I too lamented the loss of Hicks and Newt because they surviving the crash as well could have added another layer of drama to the third movie. Oh well.

  6. Hi everyone,

    SGB: Great point! David Fincher's aesthetic about films has been described with the phrase "movies that scar," and I think you see that in Alien 3, which, to some degree, is rather alienating. I'm of the mind that this was the point. To move away COMPLETELY from Aliens.

    You know: Let's see the autopsy of a child. Let's see Bishop countenance suicide. Let's see Ripley decide that force can't win this time and decide that she wins by losing, by dying. I like Hicks and Newt very much, and miss them, but I also feel that Alien 3 is good because it happens to be so uncompromising. There's no negotiation or bargaining here. I think it's a valid way to do things, but gosh, it is not crowd pleasing, is it?

    Lionel: I want one but won't put up the cash. Too much money...

    Randal: You very much are aligned with my perspective, I see. For me, Alien 3 is just as different from Aliens as Cameron's film was from Scott's, and that makes it great. The third film has its own unique vibe and artistic point to make, so I adore it, even if I hate to see Hicks and Newt die so abruptly.

    Excellent insights!