The Special Edition of Aliens is an extended version of the 1986 film, first released on the Aliens: Special Collector's Edition LaserDisc in 1991. It adds several new scenes to the film, including glimpses of life at the Hadley's Hope colony before it is overrun by the Xenomorphs, expanding the run time by around 17 minutes. Its creation was overseen by Aliens director James Cameron.
Unlike the other alternate versions of the films in the Alien franchise, the Special Edition of Aliens was not created for the Alien Quadrilogy DVD box set in 2003 but actually evolved over a period of several years in the late 1980s/early 1990s.
The extended cut originated with the film's broadcast television debut on CBS in 1989, which included several deleted scenes that were reinstated to extend the movie's run time. The added scenes represented around half of the additional footage now found in the Special Edition, and included Ripley learning that her daughter has passed away while she was drifting in space as well as all scenes involving the Marines' use of automated sentry guns. However, while the CBS broadcast contained this then-exclusive footage, the film was also heavily censored for violence and profanity to meet network guidelines.
The remaining additions were not made until the release of the Aliens: Special Collector's Edition LaserDisc in 1991, for which James Cameron oversaw the creation of a definitive extended cut of the movie, now known as the Special Edition. Notably, two of the largest additions in the extended cut — scenes set on LV-426 before the Xenomorph outbreak begins — had not had their special effects finished during the film's production and thus remained incomplete. For the LasrDisc release, Cameron returned to visual effects artists Robert and Dennis Skotak and had them finish the sequences so that they could be included in the extended cut of the movie.
Cameron had originally intended for the footage added to the Special Edition to be included in the film's theatrical release. However, 20th Century Fox representatives thought the film was showing "too much nothing" and spent an unnecessary amount of time building suspense. Conscious that a film over two and a half hours in length would allow for fewer screenings per day (and therefore reduced profits), Fox had Cameron cut the run time by over 15 minutes during the editing process. Due to the lateness of the changes, virtually all of the additional sequences were retained in the novelization of the film by Alan Dean Foster. Since its release, Cameron has described the Special Edition as his preferred cut of the movie and the version he always intended people to see.
Release and legacy
Initially, the Special Edition of Aliens was said to be a strictly time-limited release that would only be on sale for a period of 100 days, after which it would never been seen again, but this later proved not to be the case and it has been included in virtually all home video releases of Aliens since. It is not clear if this was a reversal on Fox's part resulting from the unexpected success of the alternate cut — the Special Edition VHS sold over 170,000 units in the first five weeks of release in the United Kingdom alone, on top of some 270,000 units of the original theatrical cut that had already been sold — or whether the situation was simply a sly marketing ploy from the studio to push initial sales.
The Aliens Special Edition was one of the first "Director's Cuts" to gain widespread attention and a home video release (along with the Director's Cut of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner) and can therefore be seen as the beginning of the now common trend of releasing extended/alternate cuts of movies on home video and, in some cases, theatrically.
Here follows a complete rundown of the differences between the theatrical release of Aliens and the extended Special Edition. The scenes that were included in the 1989 CBS broadcast are additionally noted.
- Before the film begins, there is a brief introduction to the alternate cut by James Cameron.
- After Ripley's nightmare in the medical center aboard Gateway Station, a new scene is added where Ripley is seen relaxing on a bench in some woodland. However, the trees at which she is looking are revealed to be an image on a giant television screen, which she switches off — in reality, she is in a small anteroom on Gateway. Burke enters, apologizing for being late, and Ripley asks if he has any news about her daughter. He tries to get her to focus on the impending hearing, but when she persists he asks her to sit down. He then reveals that Ripley's daughter, Amanda Ripley-McClaren, died two years previous. He hands Ripley a photograph of her 66 year-old daughter and she mournfully tells him she had promised Amanda she would be home in time for her 11th birthday. She starts to cry as she clutches the photograph to her. This scene was included in the original 1989 CBS broadcast.
- The hearing on Gateway is slightly extended. After Ripley snaps and throws the documents across the table, Van Leuwen stares back at her, clearly unimpressed. He goes on to read out the court of inquiry's ruling, stating that Ripley acted with "questionable judgement" during the Nostromo incident. Her commercial flight license is suspended indefinitely and she is subjected to ongoing psychiatric tests, but she is spared criminal charges. During this added footage, we see Ripley's Nostromo crew file on the screen in the background. Van Leuwen states that the proceedings are closed and only now does "FILE STATUS: CLOSED" appear on the screen as in the theatrical version.
- In the theatrical version, the final closeup of Ripley in the inquest scene crossfades to her sitting in her apartment holding an unsmoked cigarette, but in the Special Edition there is instead a hard cut to the windswept surface of LV-426, where two substantial new scenes take place. The camera pans to reveal a sign reading "HADLEYS HOPE POP. 158", and beyond this the colony comes into view. A tractor rolls past and through the main gate into the complex, after which we see several exterior shots of life at the colony, including vehicles moving around and people trying to cover equipment against the harsh winds. The scene then moves inside, where the operations center is a hive of activity. Administrator Al Simpson is walking through the room and is joined by a man called Lydecker. As they head into the corridor outside, Lydecker tells him about a prospecting team that has been dispatched to survey a specific sector of the moon on orders from Weyland-Yutani; the prospectors want to know if they will get salvage rights on anything they find as they are acting on company orders. Simpson responds that he never bothers to ask questions about the orders that come down from the company "because it takes two weeks to get an answer out here and the answer is always, 'Don't ask'". Finally, he tells Lydecker that, as far as he is concerned, the prospectors have a claim to anything they find. Lydecker then has to deal with a group of children trespassing in the operations area, and we see a crate bearing Weyland-Yutani's logo and slogan.
- The scene above then cuts to the prospectors' tractor, driving across the surface of LV-426. Inside are Russ and Anne Jorden, with their children Timmy and Newt. It soon becomes clear what they have been sent out to search for — Russ gets Anne's attention as the derelict ship appears out of the gloom. Russ suggests to his wife they go inside and look around; when she asks if they should call the find in first, he tells her, "Let's wait until we know what to call it in as." They pull up alongside and Russ and Anne head inside through a crack in the ship's hull to investigate, leaving Newt and Timmy in the tractor. Time passes and night falls, then Anne suddenly bursts back into the tractor and begins frantically calling for help on the radio. Newt sees her father lying outside, a Facehugger wrapped around his head, and starts screaming.
- The scene where Burke and Gorman come to see Ripley in her apartment is slightly extended. After Burke tells Ripley that he simply wants her to join the mission as an adviser, she asks him why he is going along, and he tells her that Weyland-Yutani co-financed the colony. He mentions Weyland-Yutani's slogan, "building better worlds", causing Ripley to somewhat humorously quip, "Yeah, I've seen the commercials." Immediately after this, an alternate take of Ripley telling the two men that she has to get to work is used.
- In the theatrical cut, the establishing shot of the Sulaco moving through space crossfades to the Colonial Marines in their cryotubes, but the Special Edition again features a hard cut to a new sequence, this time consisting of several long tracking shots that show the deserted interior of the ship, similar to the opening shots of the Nostromo interior in Alien (James Horner's score during this added footage even reuses one of Jerry Goldsmith's motif's from the first film).
- After Drake "fixes" his head camera during the drop sequence, Apone telling the men to gear up is cut. Instead, Hudson gets up from his seat and begins bragging, calling himself "state-of-the-badass-art". When he sees how nervous Ripley is he begins taunting her, telling her, "Me and my squad of ultimate badasses will protect you!" He goes on to reel off a list of the advanced weaponry and superior firepower the unit possesses, mocking her obvious unease, before Apone makes him stop. After this, the shot of Apone telling the men to gear up, cut a little earlier, is seen.
- After the Marines split into pairs during the initial sweep of the colony, a shot of Hudson and Vasquez is extended to show Hudson picking up movement on his motion tracker. The two storm a small room to investigate, but discover the signal is merely a pet hamster moving about inside its cage.
- After the sweep, we see the APC drive up to the colony's south lock and Ripley, Gorman, Burke and Bishop disembark. Hudson reports over the radio that he has the colony's main computer online. The men head inside but Ripley stops outside the entrance, standing in the pouring rain, hesitant to enter the complex. Hicks comes over and asks if she is OK. She replies (half-heartedly) that she is and they go inside.
- Another major addition to the film comes in the form of several separate sequences involving the survivors' use of automated robot sentry guns to defend the colony from the Xenomorphs. The first of these additions comes when Hicks is listing the Marines' surviving weaponry after the dropship crash; after covering the small arms situation, he goes on to point out they have four intact robot sentries, which he claims "really kick ass" as he shows Ripley one of the guns in its storage case. This and all the subsequent added scenes concerning the sentry guns were included in the original 1989 CBS broadcast.
- Following on from the above addition, the scene where Ripley and the Marines plan their defense of the colony on the electronic blueprints has been extended and also features alternate takes and dialogue. Firstly, Ripley suggests placing sentry guns in the service tunnel beneath the complex as well as sealing the pressure door. Then, when she talks about welding the air ducts closed, her line, "That should seal off med lab and operations..." has been removed; instead, she points out the Aliens will only be able to attack them from two specific corridors, and Hicks suggests they place the remaining sentries there to cover them.
- Immediately after the planning scene, we see the Marines setting up the robot sentries. Hicks prepares the control laptops in the operations center while Hudson and Vasquez assemble two of the guns in the service tunnel. Once the weapons are ready, Hicks arms them and Hudson and Vasquez test them by hurling a metal canister down range, causing the guns to shred it. Hudson then seals the pressure door, which is seen in an alternate take compared to the theatrical cut.
- A shot of two of the sentry guns scanning the corridors of Hadley's Hope is added before Ripley takes Newt to sleep in the med lab.
- The scene where Ripley puts Newt to bed features some additional dialogue. After telling Ripley how her mother used to say there were no real monsters, Newt asks if a Xenomorph grew inside her mother; Ripley answers honestly and says she doesn't know. Newt points out that the same thing happens with "people babies", but Ripley responds that that is very different. Newt asks if Ripley has any children, and she responds that she had daughter, but that she's "gone". Newt then corrects her, saying, "You mean dead."
- After Bishop talks about "something we haven't seen yet" laying the Eggs used to impregnate all the colonists, a brief shot of Hudson thinking the issue over is replaced with a shot of him suggesting, "Hey, maybe it's like an ant hive." Vasquez corrects him, pointing out that bees have hives, but Hudson goes on to state ants have "one female that runs the whole show". Bishop concurs, and Hudson points out how much larger an ant queen is compared to regular ants.
- After Ripley confronts Burke about his directive sending the colonists to the derelict, an alarm sounds. She runs to the operations center, where Hicks announces that the Xenomorphs are coming through the tunnel. We hear the sentry guns open fire, and the Marines follow their progress via the readouts on the control laptops. The Xenomorphs simply keep coming and the weapons eventually run out of ammunition. The creatures are then heard pounding against the pressure door that Hudson sealed earlier. Finally, Bishop calls in over the radio to report some bad news (revealed in the next scene to be the Atmosphere Processor overheating).
- After Bishop has begun crawling to the uplink array, the Xenomorphs assault the second sentry gun position, this time just down the corridor from the operations center. The survivors watch the readouts desperately as the guns burn through their ammunition and the Xenomorphs still keep swarming forwards. One of the guns runs dry and Hicks grabs his Pulse Rifle, expecting a fight, but Ripley stops him, pointing out that the Xenomorphs have suddenly retreated. They look at the control consoles and see that the last gun has just 10 rounds left in its magazine. Hicks grimly concludes that there will be nothing to stop the creatures next time, but Ripley suggests the Xenomorphs don't know the guns are empty and will probably start searching for another way in. Hicks then tells Hudson and Vasquez to begin patrolling the perimeter, as seen in the theatrical cut, but additionally snaps, "Move!" when they initially fail to act.
- Before Ripley heads into the Hive to rescue Newt, she pauses aboard the dropship and tells Hicks that she will see him soon. They subsequently reveal their first names to each other, and Hicks tells Ripley not to take too long, hinting that he has a romantic interest in her. This scene was included in the original 1989 CBS broadcast.
- The film's end credits are edited to include several additional cast members featured in the new pre-infestation colony scenes. At the same time, the credits run fractionally faster, so that there is no overall change in time.
- The extended cut of Aliens is officially titled the "Special Edition", not the Director's Cut; this seems somewhat odd, as James Cameron has stated numerous times that the longer version of the film is his preferred cut and the version he originally wanted to release in theaters (i.e. his "director's cut"). The official title is doubly strange when compared with the Director's Cut of Alien, which is referred to as such even though director Ridley Scott has said numerous times that the original theatrical version is in fact his preferred "director's cut". Throughout his career, Cameron has repeatedly used the term "Special Edition" to refer to the longer alternate versions of his films (examples include The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgement Day and Avatar), even though in most of these cases, the longer versions are in fact his original, preferred "director's cut".
- Sigourney Weaver was furious when she discovered the subplot involving her deceased daughter had been removed from the theatrical release of the film, as she considered it to be crucial to her character's development in the movie.
- The Aliens Special Edition is by far the oldest and best-known of the extended/alternate versions from the Alien series, having been created more than a decade before the alternative cuts of the other three films. Furthermore, several home video releases of Aliens have included the extended version in place of the original theatrical cut, such as the 1999 Aliens: Special Edition DVD. In fact, the original theatrical version of the film was not available on DVD at all until the Alien Quadrilogy box set was released in 2003. Subsequent home video releases have tended to include both cuts of the film. The extended cut (with the digital corrections of the 2010 Blu-ray release) was also shown at the Aliens Live event and is the version typically shown on UK television.
- Notably, the Special Edition of Aliens has been confirmed as the canon version of the movie, the only one of the alternate versions from the franchise to be verified as such; the video game Aliens: Colonial Marines (which is also confirmed as canon by 20th Century Fox) uses elements only included in the Special Edition in its plot, most notably the added sentry gun scenes.
- The added scene featuring Simpson and Lydecker is almost identical to a scene in James Cameron's later film Terminator 2: Judgement Day: an employee flags down a supervisor in a busy office and they walk together, discussing the behavior of their employer — Weyland-Yutani in Aliens, CyberDyne Systems in Terminator 2 — before the more senior man ends their conversation with a line about their employer always responding to sensitive questions with the phrase "don't ask".
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 "LaserDisc Database - Aliens: Special Widescreen Collector's Edition". Retrieved on 2018-03-01.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Weyland-Yutani Archives - Aliens 1989 CBS Special Edition Broadcast". Retrieved on 2014-11-17.
- ↑ Dave Hughes, Michael Matessino, David C. Fein, James Cameron. Alien Trilogy booklet, p. 18 (1992), 20th Century Fox.
- ↑ Aliens film commentary, Alien Quadrilogy box set
- ↑ James Cameron (writer and director). Aliens Special Edition (1992), 20th Century Fox [DVD].
- ↑ Dave Hughes, Lee Brimmicombe-Wood. Aliens, Vol. 1 #17, p. 48 (1992), Dark Horse International.
- ↑ Dave Hughes, Lee Brimmicombe-Wood. Aliens, Vol. 2 #2, p. 21 (1992), Dark Horse International.
- ↑ John Hurt, Dan O'Bannon, Ronald Shusett, David Giler, Sigourney Weaver. The Alien Saga (2002), Prometheus Entertainment [DVD].