Aliens: Writing the script

leading from
Making Aliens

a) Mother

In 1980 or 1981, Jim wrote notes and an initial treatment for a science fiction story that he initially called "E.T." meaning extraterrestrials. As he was writing, he found out that Steven Spielberg was making a film called  “E.T. The Extraterrestrial,” so he promptly changed the title of my story. He used “Protein” as an interim working title, but then switched the title to “Mother,” because the story concerned a female genetically engineered creature attempting to ensure the survival of its young. 

In Mother, humans have plundered Earth and look to exploit another planet. He wrote in his treatment “It was a ... plan, born of desperation. For Earth was becoming hell too, crushed beneath a sea of homo sapiens, and they needed new territory. Not simply a new continent: an entire world was required. And so they came.” This effort is spearheaded by an international and interplanetary consortium called Triworld Development Corporation, or “the Company,” which sets up mines on another planet, possibly Venus or an extrasolar planet or moon such as Titan. I Due to the planet’s extremely high temperatures and a toxic atmosphere of carbon dioxide at high pressure, humans cannot survive there without environment suits. But that does not stop the Company. 

In addition to mines on this planet, the Company sets up stations devoted to research and development. Because the planet’s environment is dangerous to humans, a “xenomorph,” which was Jim Cameron's term for a genetically engineered alien creature, is created based on a local life form in order to serve the needs of the Company. He conceived the idea that these genetically engineered aliens could be used as workers in the mines. These xenomorphs are controlled via a “psychic link with an ‘adept’" or an “electronic link with a trained controller”, one of whom is disabled and is used to highlight,  the significance of the experience provided by this mental/technological link,” a theme he also pursued through Jake in Avatar

One of the Company’s research and development stations is run by a female senior operator, who was the controller of the xenomorph prototype. She is employed by the Company and has a lab staff., and  according to Cameron, this character would  eventually become a direct predecessor of Grace in  his later film Avatar.

In the final confrontation in Mother, a human in a “power suit” (a utility exoskeleton that is a sort of cross between a fork-lift and a robot) fights the alien creature that Jim Cameron called the “Skraath” or “Skraith,” a black six-limbed panther with long tendrils either side of its head that he had previously created for another project called Labyrinth

 That creature would be the basis for the black six-limbed panther in a later firo Avatar, called a “Thanator” in the film and a “Manticore” in his script/treatment.  

Since the creature is involved in fighting a human suit in an exoskeleton, that it's a six limbed creature with a long neck, we might ask if this image as seen from the side influenced the design of the alien queen from Aliens in some way, as if the tendrils would become the crest shell on the head and the extra row of forelegs would become the miniature for arms of the alien queen, or perhaps it all comes out of his ability to draw as if he were generally likely to draw the same thing over and over again
  
It went that Mother was not produced, although Cameron incorporated many elements of the story into subsequent films.


“Skraath” or “Skraith" from Mother.

  1. James Cameron: In 1980 or 1981, I wrote notes and an initial treatment for a science fiction story that I initially called “E.T.” meaning extraterrestrial, a commonly used term in science fiction literature. As I was writing it, I found out that Steven Spielberg was making a film called “E.T. The Extraterrestrial” so I promptly changed the title of my story. I used “Protein” as an interim working title, but then switched the title to “Mother” because the story concerned a female genetically engineered creature attempting to ensure the survival of its young.(Declaration of Jim Cameron, 2012 )
  2. In Mother, humans have plundered Earth and look to exploit another planet. As I wrote in 1980-81: “It was a ... plan, born of desperation. For Earth was becoming hell too, crushed beneath a sea of homo sapiens, and they needed new territory. Not simply a new continent: an entire world was required. And so they came.” Exhibit 18 at LIGHTS003197. This effort is spearheaded by an international and interplanetary consortium called Triworld Development Corporation, or “the Company,” which sets up mines on another planet, possibly Venus or an extrasolar planet or moon such as Titan. Id. at LIGHTS003199, 3192. Due to the planet’s extremely high temperatures and a toxic atmosphere of carbon dioxide at high pressure, humans cannot survive there without environment suits. Id. at LIGHTS003196, 3198. But that does not stop the Company. .(Declaration of Jim Cameron, 2012 )
  3. James Cameron: In Mother, in addition to mines on this planet, the Company sets up stations devoted to research and development. Because the planet’s environment is dangerous to humans, a “xenomorph,” my term for a genetically engineered alien creature, is created based on a local life form in order to serve the needs of the Company. As my notes for Mother show, I conceived the idea that these genetically engineered aliens could be used as workers in the mines. .(Declaration of Jim Cameron, 2012 )
  4. James Cameron:As stated in my notes for Mother, these xenomorphs are controlled via a “psychic link w/ an ‘adept’ or an “electronic link w/ a trained controller.” .(Declaration of Jim Cameron, 2012 )
  5. James Cameron: In Mother, humans plunder Earth and seek to exploit another planet.53 A corporation, known as the Triworld Development Corporation, establishes mines on the other planet; humans cannot survive there unless they wear protective environmental suits.54 In addition to the mines, the corporation establishes research stations. These stations created “xenomorphs,” genetically engineered alien creatures based on the planet’s local life form.56 Trained controllers, one of whom is disabled, controlled the xenomorphs via “psychic link.”57 Cameron asserts that he developed the disabled character to “illustrate and highlight the significance of the experience provided by this mental/technological link,” a theme he also pursued through Jake in Avatar. One of the research stations in Mother was run by a female scientist who was the controller of the xenomorph prototype; according to Cameron, this character is a direct predecessor of Grace in Avatar. (www.entlawdigest.com/2013/02/07/Avatar%20Ruling.pdf) 
  6. James Cameron: In Mother, one of the Company’s research and development stations is run by a female senior operator, who was the controller of the xenomorph prototype. She is employed by the Company and has a lab staff. .(Declaration of Jim Cameron, 2012 )
  7. James Cameron: In the final confrontation in Mother, a human in a “power suit” (a utility exoskeleton that is a sort of cross between a fork-lift and a robot) fights the alien creature that I called the “Skraath” or “Skraith,” a black six-limbed panther that I had previously created for another project called Labyrinth. Exhibit 18 at LIGHTS003206, 3192, 3195 (showing my sketch of the Skraath). That creature was the basis for the black six-limbed panther in Avatar, called a “Thanator” in the film and a “Manticore” in my scriptment. .(Declaration of Jim Cameron, 2012 )
  8.  James Cameron: Mother was not produced, although I incorporated many elements of it into subsequent films, including Avatar. .(Declaration of Jim Cameron, 2012 )
 

b) 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.

  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: 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)
  3. 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)

c) 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.

  1. 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)
d) 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.

  1. 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)
  2. 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) 
  3. 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)

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.

  1. 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) 
  2. 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)  

f) 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.

He thought about these Colonial Marines having training and technology inappropriate for the specifics, and they could be seen as analogous to the inability of the superior American firepower to conquet the unseen enemy of Vietnam, with a lot of firepower and very little reason, thus their efforts wouldn't work. As with the script for Rambo 2 which he was writing at the same time as Aliens, and later the film Avatar which he would later make, there was this theme of less sophisticated warriors defeating a technologically superior military is a central storyline.

He had also conducted extensive research into Russian military aircraft and the US army in the Vietnam War in the drafting this script, which he would also draw upon in the writing of Alien

However the character Ripley would come 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.

  1. Jim Cameron: Although technologically superior, the Colonial Marines in Aliens find that the aliens are not easy to conquer. I drew inspiration for the Aliens story from the Vietnam War. I was quoted in a 1986 Time article, a true and correct copy of which is attached as Exhibit 19, as stating about the Colonial Marines: “Their training and technology are inappropriate for the specifics, and that can be seen as analogous to the inability of superior American firepower to conquer the unseen enemy in Vietnam: a lot of firepower and very little wisdom, and it didn’t work. .(Declaration of Jim Cameron, 2012 )
  2. James Cameron: I conducted extensive research into Russian military aircraft and the U.S. army in the Vietnam War in drafting this script, which I also drew upon in writing the script for Aliens, and later, Avatar. (Starlog September 1986, p10)
  3. 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)
  4. Gale Anne Hurd: (Ripley) is accompanied by 11 marines and two others. (Starlog June 1986,p10) 
  5. 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)
  6. James Cameron: Again, the theme of less sophisticated warriors defeating a technologically superior military is a central storyline in all three of these films, culminating in Avatar..(Declaration of Jim Cameron, 2012 )
g) 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.
  1. 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)
h) 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"

  1. 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)

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