Film Discussion

Aliens – Life as a Fan

Something that always seems to raise eyebrows with people when I tell them a bit about my love for the 1986 sci-fi horror blockbuster Aliens, is that it’s one of the first things that I can ever remember watching. Thanks to a childhood with some very laid back uncles who never really cared what videos I ended up borrowing from their rooms whenever I was around my nan’s house growing up, I ended up watching some stuff on TV that was way above my age range. My mother likes to remind me of how I wouldn’t go near windows after the sun went down for months when I was three because ‘Freddy Monster’ (Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street) was going to get me. But that’s a film my young mind successfully removed from my memories. One that never went, however, was Aliens.

I don’t know what it was about that film that grabbed me the way it did, whether it was the story, the craftsmanship of the movie, or simply the Xenomorph itself, but there was something that prevented my young mind – way too young for a film such as that – from putting it into the same secure lock-box as Freddy. As such, when I remember my childhood viewing habits whenever I stayed around my nan’s on a Saturday morning it’d be watching cartoons like 90’s Spider-Man and X-Men, followed by watching Aliens again. I knew that this wasn’t something that ‘normal’ kids were doing, that no one else my age I knew was watching Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the Colonial Marines every week, but it was something that, for some reason, meant a lot to me.

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Luckily, my parents not only allowed this, but were fine with it, and it soon just became my thing. Not only that, but this began to expand out into other areas, and I was soon watching Predator with a regularity too, and I remember the joy when I’d come down for breakfast one morning and my mum would tell me that Predator 2, or Alien 3 had been on the night before, and that she’d taped them for me, expanding my love for both franchises. My nan came home from the charity shop one day and presented me with an old Alien Queen figure – complete with tail whipping action, and a thing you could squeeze under her carapace to make her inner mouth shoot out – with a huge sense of achievement because she knew I’d love it; and I did, and still own it to this day. I remember when we were round the house of a family friend and some movie show on TV was going behind the scenes of the upcoming Alien Resurrection and the other adults in the room were shocked to see this ten-year-old get super excited for it.

Alas, ten was far too young to convince my parents to sneak me into a showing of Alien Resurrection, so it was another film that I had to wait for a parent to record off television for me. As the years went by and I grew, up my love for the franchise, and the second film in particular, only grew. Even when I finally got to watch the original film, the last of the four main entries I saw, it failed to unseat Aliens as my favourite. The film would also go on to inspire a love of both science fiction and horror throughout my young life, and they became two genres that would go on to mean a lot to me. I would absorb anything I could get my hands on, and ended watching a lot of geeky TV because of it. It’s not hard to trace so many of the things I love now to that one film, and the effect that it had on me.

© 1986 Twentieth Century Fox.

Despite being a very gifted reader as an adult, both my reading and writing skills into my early teens were not great, and I would have a lot of extra help in that regards as I fell behind my peers in relation to reading and writing ability. One of the things that’s hard about needing that extra help at that age is that you don’t want to be seen as needing it. It’s hard to hide the fact that you’re being taken out of class for what were labelled as ‘Special Needs’ lessons, but you could try and play it down by not reading books designed for primary school kids in order to practice your reading skills.

The peer pressure around fitting in, and the desire not to become a target for bullies mean you can often neglect the best things to do to help you. So, I didn’t want to read the ‘kids books’ my teachers were advising. But then I discovered something that would help my reading: graphic novels. My small town didn’t have a lot of variety in its shops, but there was this fantastic discount book shop that used to be there that had some amazing graphic novels in it. The ones that, of course, took my eye, were the Aliens ones being published by Dark Horse. I bought whatever I could from there, even getting in trouble for spending my money a time or two, and would go over those books again and again. And reading those comics helped; it helped my reading skills, and it helped spark a love of reading that would never leave me. I was ready to give up, to consign myself to never being able to read and write properly, but the Aliens comics helped to change my life.

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Over the years my love of Aliens would continue, and I’d snap up the new releases as they came out. I remember when the four films were collected together onto DVD for the Alien Quadrilogy box set, which came with alternate versions of each film, and around three to five hours of extra features each. This box set was a blessing because it not only helped to stop the VHS copy of Aliens from wearing out to nothing, but it allowed me to delve into the making of the film.

I would watch those behind the scenes interviews and features more times than some other movies I owned, and I loved hearing the stories about the production, and seeing how they brought the film to life. Not only was I now able to recite every line of the movie, but I cold tell you stories about what was used to make the sets, how the props people came up with the vehicles and guns, and stories about things that the actors did on set. I absorbed it all in a way that I was never able to with other films.

© 1986 Twentieth Century Fox.

Despite all of this, despite watching the film hundreds of times (not an exaggeration), watching the behind the scenes stuff, playing the video games, reading the comics, reading the novels, owning the toys, there was one thing that I’d never done which was always hanging in the back of my mind; I’d never seen the film in the cinema. There were times that I’d see it playing in small, independent cinemas, but these showings would often be on the other side of the country, in the middle of a large city late a night, and getting to them was always impossible. It felt like something that would just never happen. But then it was announced that it would be releasing for this year’s Alien Day, and I thought I finally had my chance. Then I saw that the times didn’t line up well for my partners’ schedules, and I was going to miss out again. Then they added a second day’s showing.

And this is the entire point of this article, the thing I’ve been building towards, me finally getting to watch my favourite film, a movie I’ve been watching over and over my entire life, in the cinema for the first time. We booked the tickets for the Saturday night following Alien Day, and I began counting down the days. A nervous excitement began to build inside me, and on the day I found myself clock watching more than once. When the time arrived I sat down in the seat, and had to fight back some tears as the film opened. I don’t know why it felt so emotional to me, but it felt like this was the ultimate end goal for this film for me, that I’d achieved something I’d become resigned to never happening. And it stirred emotions in me.

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Having watched the film so many times I was expecting to get something of the same experience watching it on the big screen, but it made the entire thing feel like a fresh experience. I was picking out details that would have either been too small on TV screens to be noticed, or that had just blurred into the background for me because I’d not watched the movie with such focus in years. But it was the sound that got me too. The music had never sounded better, the chime of the motion tracker was never as sharp and scary, and I could feel the rumble of the gunfire and explosions for the first time. I’ve heard film fans say that certain films are made for the big screen, and have never really understood it until now. Aliens was meant to be seen in the cinema, and after more than thirty years of watching it in the wrong way, I finally got to see it done right. Despite coming out of the film at midnight, and having sat in a small, uncomfortable chair for so long my disabled body felt it was breaking, I was more awake and more happy than I’d been in a long time.

I have spent so many hours of my life absorbed in this franchise, and this one film in particular, that it feels like there are huge parts of my life and personality that are tied to it. I don’t know if I’d have fallen in love with the things I have if it weren’t for this movie, if my tastes would have been completely different without it. I don’t know if I’d have become the reader I am today, nor the writer I am, if it hadn’t have helped me through those challenges. Aliens isn’t just a film to me, it’s a part of my life, and it’s a part of my life that I got to experience in a whole new, wonderful way by seeing it in the cinema. It’s easy to scoff at people who talk about film as an experience, as something more than just entertainment, but something that matters; but I think we’ve all got that one film that means something special to us, that’s more than just a movie.

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