- "The longest 20 minutes of your life."
- ―Alien War tagline
Alien War, known as Alien Wars during the 2008 and 2012 reopenings, was an immersive "total reality" attraction in the United Kingdom themed around the Alien film series, chiefly the 1986 film Aliens. A variation of the popular "haunted maze" attraction, it allowed visitors to enter a heavily-themed set where they and a group of Colonial Marines would be stalked by Xenomorphs, the latter of which were both played by a cast of actors.
Created by John Gorman and Gary Gillies, the attraction originally opened at The Arches venue in Glasgow in April 1992, before having a short run as a mobile event at various exhibition centres around the UK (including The Bournemouth International Centre and the Aberdeen Conference Centre). On October 16, 1993, it moved to a permanent home in the basement of the London Trocadero, where it was opened by Sigourney Weaver.
The London attraction closed after a flood in August 1996 and was never reopened. However, Alien War made a short return between December 1999 and January 2000 at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow, in a modified form.
John Gorman and Gary Gillies came up with the concept of Alien War while displaying several screen-used Aliens props that Gorman had collected at an Alien and Aliens double-bill showing at a small theater in Glasgow. Public reception to the display was good, and Gorman and Gillies conceived of the attraction as a way to put fans "in an Alien movie". The aptly-named Gorman realised the attraction would allow him to share his collection with fans in a more exciting way, recalling, "I thought to myself, instead of people just looking at the props, they could have these things around them in an Alien environment." Gorman did not want to copy the then-popular laser-tag format, instead opting for a live-action interactive adventure, a cross between roleplaying and a fairground house of horror, that relied heavily on shock value, much like the films on which it was based.
Gillies contacted 20th Century Fox, first at the studio's London office and then direct in the United States, to seek permission to get the project up and running. By complete coincidence, he was put through to the then-president of Fox, and as a result of his interest the necessary contracts were drawn up very quickly.
Glasgow and national tour
During its six-month run at The Arches in Glasgow, the event attracted 117,000 visitors. Major news outlets such as CNN and TIME magazine ran reports on the new attraction, and public reception was very favorable. Following this success, the show began a nationwide tour, starting in Aberdeen over the winter and then moving to The Bournemouth International Centre, where it ran from July 17-September 7 1993. At the same time, Gillies and Gorman struck a deal with Fox with the intention of taking the attraction worldwide, with venues in the United States, France and Tokyo planned. There were also plans for similar Predator and Terminator-themed attractions. However, other than the London venue, these plans ultimately did not materialize.
The permanent Alien War: London attraction was located in the basement of the London Trocadero center. The attraction itself was located within a specially-themed, futuristic street setting incorporating a cafe and a gift shop, which opened on September 4, 1993, just over a month before the attraction itself. Among notable crew who helped to design and construct the set for the attraction were prolific Alien collector Harry Harris, programmer John Fisher, who created the Marine ECG readouts seen aboard the APC in Aliens, and lighting engineer Del Bennett, who likewise worked on Aliens. Much of the vac-formed plastic set dressing used in the construction of the set was created using original molds made for Alien and Aliens, while some were actually pieces that had been used to build sets in Aliens, acquired from a skip at Pinewood Studios. Keeping with something of a tradition of the Alien franchise, some of the set dressing consisted of recycled aircraft parts — several seats from Concorde were used in the set, now adorned with the Weyland-Yutani logo. Other film props incorporated into the set included a screen-used cryotube. The set took around two to three months to build. The adult Xenomorphs were realised by performers in suits while the Facehuggers were animatronic effects.
The attraction itself held its "world gala premiere" on Friday October 14, attended by Sigourney Weaver (specially flown in on Concorde for the event), Lance Henriksen, Danny Webb, Ralph Brown, Brian Glover and Ricco Ross, along with creators Gillies and Gorman. The opening was followed by a celebrity after party held at the Planet Hollywood restaurant in Leicester Square. Although they did not attend, both John Hurt and H. R. Giger sent their regards and best wishes to the production team. Rather than simply cutting a traditional ribbon to open the event, Weaver fired an Aliens flamethrower loaded with carbon dioxide at the entrance to the attraction; originally, Gillies and Gorman had wanted her to fire a Pulse Rifle loaded with blanks, but the London Metropolitan Police vetoed the idea.
The experience opened to the general public on October 16; tickets cost £6.95 for adults and £4.95 for children. Also opened at this time was the accompanying museum containing screen-used props and costumes from the movies of the Alien franchise. Alien War: London was around six times larger than the original event in Glasgow, which Gorman and Gillies described as a pilot to "test the water". It also included more original props and scenery from the films.
Alien War: London was hugely successful — it was voted London's number one attraction at the time, and also attracted celebrity guests, partly as a result of its close proximity to Planet Hollywood. Special tours would sometimes be organized just for celebrity groups.
The London set was heavily damaged when water pipes burst and flooded the basement of the Trocadero where the attraction was located, and it was closed down as a result. Prior to the incident, there had been plans to expand Alien War with new med lab and Egg chamber areas, as well as to incorporate a replica of the APC from Aliens, but as a result of the damage these never materialized. After sitting idle for a year, the company that now owned the site contacted the insurance company to claim on the damage and loss of earnings. Unfortunately, just days before rebuilding was due to begin, the insurance company announced they had gone bankrupt. As a result, Alien War never reopened.
The Attraction (Alien War: London)
Participants were escorted through the ride on foot in groups of around 10 people by an actor portraying an armed Colonial Marines. The ride began with the Marine welcoming participants to their tour of a Weyland-Yutnai research facility in which several Xenomorph subjects are being held in suspended animation in order to study their life cycle. Shortly after beginning the tour, an alarm would sound indicating a serious problem. The Marine in charge would then tell the group to line up against the wall, insisting the participants get as close to the wall as possible. The alarm would die down and a long silence would follow, after which a sudden, loud burst of steam (CO2) would blow from the wall behind the participants, causing a scare.
Then the participants would be huddled into the back of a corridor. The Marine would stand in front of the participants. All the lights would go out in the corridor. They would flicker on, at which moment a Xenomorph could be seen at the end of the corridor. They would then extinguish, and by the time they flickered on again it was seen to be much closer. The Marine would begin firing at it. It would be seen to be getting closer and closer at every flickering on of the lights, which were switched off for most of the time.
The participants would be hurried through the complex being herded by the Xenomorph, who would randomly grab participants but not catch them. The participants would eventually be forced through an Egg chamber where the Queen was visible.
Then a sequence followed where everyone was sat in rows of seats in what represented some sort of drop ship waiting area, the Marine would defend one door for a short time before herding participants in an elevator. Again the lights would flicker and the doors would open slightly allowing the Alien to attack. Here somebody in front of the door would be taken by the Alien. This was in reality an actor made to look like a participant, who had gone unnoticed.
The lift doors would then close again with the group inside, and some clunks and clicks would be heard as it started to move. Then drips of some sort of liquid would be felt coming from above, and as the participants looked up, they would see the alien on top of the lift through a flickering light.
This would cause the Marine to start yelling and pushing the participants out of the lift, they would run along a corridor and out a door. As all the participants started running and burst out of the door they would realize they ran screaming and laughing out onto the street outside to the surprise of themselves and bystanders.
Weapons and armor
The Marines originally carried blank firing pistols for use in the attraction. However, for Alien War: London, Gorman and Gillies hoped to acquire the blank-firing M41A Pulse Rifles used in the filming of Aliens. To this end they approached Bapty & Co., the armorers who had created the weapons for Aliens, but were quickly told they would not be permitted to use the original props — only one live-firing weapon remained anyway, as the others had been dismantled after filming. Instead, Gorman and Gillies opted for an innovative electronic system called Soundfire, which would allow the Marines in the experience to use replica Pulse Rifles that would sound like those used in Aliens, but would not actually use any kind of physical ammunition. The system consisted of replica Pulse Rifle props, constructed from aluminum by Bapty & Co., that were then fitted with small strobe lights (to simulate muzzle flash) and infrared transmitters. When the trigger was pulled, a signal was transmitted to receivers hidden in the set, and a central computer would then play gunfire sound effects to speakers in the correct area.
Despite being a technically advanced system, from a participants' point of view these effects were not particularly impressive; the method of producing the effect, particularly with regards to the strobe light "muzzle flash", was very obvious, and was entirely different from how the weapons would discharge in reality. The complicated electronics also suffered teething troubles in the first months after opening, meaning that the blank firing pistols had to be used for most early shows. The sound effects system was also used to play other effects, including the noises made by the Xenomorphs.
As well as the replica Pulse Rifles, the Marines in the attraction were also furnished with replica M3 Pattern Personal Armor, constructed from vacformed plastic pieces moulded from the originals used in Aliens. These were cut and assembled by armorer Andrew Fletcher, who actually worked on the weapons in Aliens. The show was seen in various guises and briefly featured an actor dressed as a Predator for a spell prior to it closing in Glasgow.
Original film props
Many props from the films found their way onto the Alien War set. These included instrument/control panels and the two seats from the dropship, the sentry gun boxes and one of the USS Sulaco hypersleep chambers. Also used were original reflective Scotchlite stickers from Hadley's Hope, which had been found at Pinewood Studios. Alien War also had its own in-house workshop, headed by Martin Astles (who has since gone on to work as an effects technician on such films as Event Horizon). The workshop created creature suits, set dressing, marine armour etc. as well as carrying out running repairs of the attraction.
- Narcissus model
- A Hudson costume
- A sentry gun and two remote terminal computers
- Bishop's computer
- Legs from the 'torn apart' Bishop dummy
- Alien Warrior heads
- Facehugger stasis tube
- Pulse Rifle
- 1:6 scale APC
- Ripley's boots
- Smartgun headsets
Several years after the closure of Alien War: London, Gillies attended the Movie Magic props exhibition in Scotland. As part of the show, he oversaw the construction of an Alien corridor that paid tribute to Alien War, including a 'live' Alien in a containment chamber that would break free and lunge at visitors. The small event was again well received, leading Gillies to start work on resurrecting the Alien War experience. The attraction reopened in 1998 at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow and ran for four weeks, again receiving a glowing reception. Gorman was not involved in the management of these later reopenings, Gillies instead working with avid Alien collector Steven Lane and his business partner Graham McGuire, although he still worked on dressing the attraction's sets.
Following the well received test runs, Gillies relaunched the experience as a full national tour. The new venture was not made in association with Fox and as a result Gillies moved to distance the attraction from the official Alien franchise. To this end, the Colonial Marine guides instead became a nameless special forces unit, and the design of the alien creatures that menace visitors was altered. The attraction's name was also changed to Alien Wars.
Among the stops on the national tour were a return to the attraction's original home at The Arches in Glasgow, from December 6, 2008 to August 30, 2009. It also opened at Liverpool at Wirral's Spaceport venue and ran until March 2010.
- Several members of Universal Studios visited Alien War when preparing their own Alien Ride attraction in the United States. Allegedly, the executives had to leave the event early because they were too frightened to see it through to the end of the tour.
- An Alien War "Privilege Card", allowing owners to buy two tickets to the attraction at the London Trocadero for the price of one, was included in the limited edition Alien Trilogy VHS box set in the UK. The pass also allowed owners (and their guests) to jump the queue.
- Several tickets to Alien War were given away as part of a contest run in Aliens magazine, Vol. 2 #13. The magazine also ran a contest offering one lucky reader the chance to become a Marine actor at the attraction; however, as the contest was announced in Vol. 2 #22, the final issue published before the magazine was cancelled, it is unknown if a winner was ultimately chosen.
- Alien: Escape — An immersive experience opened at Madame Tussauds in London in 2017.
- Alien: Descent — An immersive virtual reality experience coming to California.
- Official Alien Wars site
- Alien War story (archived)
- The Harry Harris Aliens Collection & Archive: About Alien War
- Aliens Collection: Alien War coverage
- MySpace page with news of the 2007 Alien War tour
- International Herald Tribune Article about Alien War
- Wired News article about Alien War London
- ↑ The Harry Harris Aliens Collection & Archive: About Alien War
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 Dave Hughes, Lee Brimmicombe-Wood. Aliens, Vol. 2 #19, p. 19 (1994), Dark Horse International.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 Paul Taglianetti, Geoff Topping, Bob Gould. Sci-Fi & Fantasy FX #48, p. 30 (2000), Next Millennium Publishing.
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Dave Hughes, Lee Brimmicombe-Wood. Aliens, Vol. 2 #3, p. 44 (1992), Dark Horse International.
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 5.2 Paul Taglianetti, Geoff Topping, Bob Gould. Sci-Fi & Fantasy FX #48, p. 31 (2000), Next Millennium Publishing.
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Dave Hughes, Lee Brimmicombe-Wood. Aliens, Vol. 2 #15, p. 12 (1993), Dark Horse International.
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 "The Harry Harris Aliens Collection & Archive - Harry Harris Interview". Retrieved on 2015-09-01.
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 8.2 "AvPGalaxy Podcast - Episode #41". Retrieved on 2018-01-03.
- ↑ 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 9.5 9.6 Paul Taglianetti, Geoff Topping, Bob Gould. Sci-Fi & Fantasy FX #48, p. 32 (2000), Next Millennium Publishing.
- ↑ Dave Hughes, Lee Brimmicombe-Wood. Aliens, Vol. 2 #13, p. 29 (1993), Dark Horse International.
- ↑ 11.0 11.1 Paul Taglianetti, Geoff Topping, Bob Gould. Sci-Fi & Fantasy FX #48, p. 34 (2000), Next Millennium Publishing.
- ↑ 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 Paul Taglianetti, Geoff Topping, Bob Gould. Sci-Fi & Fantasy FX #48, p. 41 (2000), Next Millennium Publishing.
- ↑ http://web.archive.org/web/20101123074352/http://harryharris.com/awprops.htm
- ↑ 14.0 14.1 http://web.archive.org/web/20131005090700/http://www.harryharris.com/awmus0.htm
- ↑ Paul Taglianetti, Geoff Topping, Bob Gould. Sci-Fi & Fantasy FX #48, p. 35 (2000), Next Millennium Publishing.
- ↑ Blog entry "Alien Wars is back!" on Alien War Myspace Page (see talk page)
- ↑ Dave Hughes, Lee Brimmicombe-Wood. Aliens, Vol. 2 #18, p. 13 (1993), Dark Horse International.
- ↑ http://www.scaretouruk.com/alien-wars---21-years-of-extraterrestrial-terror.html