Sigourney Weaver and Carrie Henn (Photo: Everett)
Aliens, James Cameron’s 1986 follow-up to Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror saga, was released in theaters 30 years ago on July 18, and the cast will be reuniting this coming week at San Diego’s Comic-Con to celebrate that milestone anniversary. In advance of their get-together, Entertainment Weekly got a chance to sit down with some of the film’s most illustrious players to discuss the scene that, three decades later, remains one of science fiction’s most thrilling: the final showdown between Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley and the Alien Queen.
Watch the scene:
In a just-published oral history piece by Anthony Breznican, Weaver, director Cameron, and producer Gale Ann Hurd reminisce about the difficulties of pulling off that climactic battle, which pits the gigantic Xenomorph against Ripley, who’s strapped into a formidable yellow power-loader device. The logistics of pulling off such a fight, as it turns out, were numerous, in large part because, in this pre-CGI age, the alien had to be constructed as a human-operated puppet – and, according to Cameron, it wasn’t initially clear that such a plan was viable.
I did the initial drawings. I presented them to [legendary effects artist] Stan Winston, and then the next thing was, all right, now how are we going to do this damn thing? Because you got to remember, there was no CG back then. So, you know, we’re talking about big puppets, miniature puppets, and maybe some guys inside it, and I said, ‘Well, I think you can put guys inside this thing. I think you can put two people inside it.’ He thought I was nuts. So we did a test where we built a frame that could hold two people.
As for Weaver, she made sure to avoid thinking too much about the artificial nature of her adversary, the better to make their battle believable.
Of course, I don’t think of her as a puppet [laugh], even today. I made sure that I didn’t know all that. I felt I needed to not get too involved in the mechanics so that I could just experience it on the fly. I sort of stayed in my own world. But I know that it must have been crazy inside the Queen, you know?
According to the filmmaker, it was his lead actress’ commitment that really sold the scene, since Weaver’s performance helped convince audiences that the alien queen was, in fact, a living, breathing entity capable of unbelievable harm.
I’ve always said that Sigourney Weaver made the Alien Queen alive because you believed that she believed it was there, you know? A lot of times, she’s reacting to nothing. Other times, she was reacting to the full-size puppet, that was actually there. But it was her investment as an actor that made you believe the Alien Queen I think, as well as all of our tricks with lighting, and slime, and backlight, and smoke, and mist, and steam, and every other damn thing we could throw at it to kind of hide it and make it mysterious.
Of course, Ripley’s immortal opening line probably didn’t hurt either:
You can read the entire oral history at EW.com, and keep an eye out for coverage of Aliens’ 30th Anniversary Comic-Con reunion here at Yahoo Movies.
Watch the creepy ‘Aliens’ trailer: