Overall Impression – An incredible action-horror classic that deserves a place on your DVD shelf.


Who’s your main character? – Ripley.

What’s she trying to accomplish? –Professional: wipe out the aliens for good.  Personal: forge new relationships with Newt and Hicks.  Private: get over her fear of the aliens.

Professional: wipe out the aliens for good.
Personal: make new human connections with Newt and Hicks.
Private: get over her fear of the aliens.

Who’s trying to stop her? – The aliens, Burk.

What happens if she fails? – They’re all gonna die, man!


Orphan – Ripley is found marooned in space, the only survivor of her massacred crew.  She has outlived everybody she knew, including her daughter.  She’s totally alone.

Wanderer – Ripley meets the marines, including Hicks and Bishop.  They prepare for war and investigate a colony believed to be harboring aliens.  They investigate, discovering clues that indicate an alien attack, and find Newt, a young girl who managed to survive.  Ripley negotiates her feelings for her lost daughter as she befriends the helpless Newt, and they soon learn that aliens have nested in the colony.

Warrior – Ripley takes command of the marines as they try to fend off the aliens long enough to escape the planet.  When she loses Newt, Ripley must venture back into the alien nest to rescue her.

Martyr – Ripley faces the alien queen one on one, and is willing to die to blast it out of an airlock and destroy the aliens forever.


Definitely one of my top 10 favorites.  It’s got it all: a great antagonist, a unique and driven heroine, and marines splattering aliens with giant guns. ALIENS is also great to study because it’s so well structured.

One element I’ll draw attention to is ALIENS’ solid ending.  When Ripley blasts the alien queen out of the air lock, she simultaneously destroys the aliens for good (PROFESSIONAL), saves Newt (PERSONAL), and overcomes her ultimate fear (PRIVATE). By definitively answering the PROFESSIONAL, PERSONAL, and PRIVATE components of the Central Question as closely together as possible, ALIENS delivers a satisfying ending that’s on the mark, clean, and has impact.

Another example, STAR WARS: when Luke fires the final proton torpedo, he simultaneously destroys the Death Star (PROFESSIONAL), saves Princess Leia (PERSONAL) and gives himself over to The Force to become a Jedi like his father (PRIVATE).  A third example, SPIDERMAN: Peter Parker simultaneously defeats the Green Goblin and saves New York (PROFESSIONAL), saves MJ (PERSONAL) and accepts his responsibility as a superhero (PRIVATE).

Paying attention to when the Central Question is answered also helps you avoid structuring a movie that keeps going… and going… and going.  With this approach, you’ll know when the movie should end, because after the Central Question is answered, there isn’t much more to say!

On a random note, I’ve always thought that puppets beat CG when it comes to believing that characters and creatures are real, my logic being that puppets are made of something tangible, whereas CG just objects just aren’t really there.  IMO, The aliens in ALIENS are infinitely more believable that anything that could be created with CG, even today.  I’d be interested in hearing some opinions on this.  When it comes to creating something filmic… puppetry or CG?

– Dan Pilditch

7 Responses to “ALIENS”

  1. David Goulet September 25, 2009 at 2:40 pm #

    Aliens is one of those films I can watch a zillions times (and have). Great set-ups and pay-offs. Did you know Cameron had the basic story already written as a spec that had no connection to the original Alien. When he was asked to pitch an idea for the sequel, he slyly adapted the existing script and the rest is box office history.

    I also agree that puppets/animatronics blow CGI off the screen. But they do need to be done by competent people. Nothing worse than badly made and operated puppets. I also believe animatronics provide the actors with more to work from.

    Ask Sigourney Weaver if having a ‘real’ alien hissing at you doesn’t provide better ‘motivation’ than a grip holding a marker that will later be a CGI alien.

    Where the Wild Things Are should be a good test of your theory.

  2. Dave Candage September 25, 2009 at 5:10 pm #

    Somehow, I don’t think Dragonheart would have looked as good with a puppet.

  3. totallywrite September 25, 2009 at 5:26 pm #

    The dragon in “Dragonslayer” looked pretty good and that was a combo puppet and stop motion.

  4. danpilditch September 25, 2009 at 5:28 pm #

    How about this: puppet Yoda from “Empire Strikes Back”/”ROTJ”, or CG yoda from “Revenge Of The Sith”?

  5. David Goulet September 26, 2009 at 8:51 am #

    Imagine The Muppets Take Manhatten in CGI!

    Question, was The Dark Crystal the first movie to have an entire puppet cast?

    Dave makes a good point though. CGI obviously has opened the doors to filming stories in live action that once were only feasible in fanimation. No need to make this an either/or debate.

    Perhaps it’s nostalgia, but I do feel Hollywood’s CGI Godzilla couldn’t hold a torch to TOHO’s boys in rubber suits.

  6. Patrick Fallon May 26, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

    I wonder how Alien fits the structure template in Contour because I’ve had some problems with my scripts that have used Aliens’ plot structure. My problem with Aliens is that it seems to have two endings just for the sake of having two endings. I never had a problem with that until I started writing scripts myself.

    My problem with the plot comes around the point where they’ve destroyed the nest, nuked the planet… and then Cameron tacks a second ending on where Ripley has to destroy the queen again. All well and good, but whenever I’ve had a plot where most of the bad guys have been killed, but the bad guy gets away in an organic way that flows with the story, the studio and prodco readers who read it told me that it was just me trying to add more pages to a short script. So is Cameron doing the same thing, and he can get away with it because he’s a Name?

  7. David Barnes June 5, 2014 at 5:17 pm #

    This response is quite a few years later than the rest. CGI vs Puppets – whatever’s best for the job is my opinion. A lot comes down to time vs money. There’s really great examples of both. The T-Rex in Jurassic Park is still amazing today! The CG is still created by artists and not computers. Sure there’s bad examples out there but it’s not because they’re made using computers… that’s purely down to execution, budget and time. The advantage puppets have is that producers and directors can’t tweak them afterwards so they tend to be ready before filming! They sure are great in Aliens and the story is amazing too. I saw it on film at the cinema recently, a really battered old copy too. The cinema was packed, everyone knew the lines, one of the best cinema experiences I’ve ever had! Thanks for your review and breakdown!

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