Monday, May 15, 2017

Alien Week: Colonial Marine Tech

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 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 are 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 Sulaco bay: the drop ship, for "flying the friendly skies." Not.

1 comment:

  1. ALIEN3 fails simply because in the opening scene the director kills off both Hicks and Newt. If they had survived to be killed off in the second or third act of the film, then Alien3 would have had a more positive reception. Even James Cameron thought it was a bad move to kill them off so early in the film, simply because he knew it would anger the audience. It was as foolish as if in ALIENS Cameron had killed off Ripley in the opening scene and made the film about the Colonial Marines. I can not defend Alien3 because of the throw away deaths of both Hicks and Newt. This is something done if in real life the actor is dead or unavailable.