Aliens has hit the big 3-0 this year, but one thing most people could agree upon is that it doesn’t really look like it. James Cameron’s movies age very well, look at Terminator 2: Judgement Day for example. Maybe one of the reasons Aliens ages so well is that it borrows from Star Wars‘ ‘used future’ palette, i.e. nothing in the future is going to be thoroughly pristine. There’s also a certain minimalism involved in Aliens, and the military itself simply doesn’t do fashion… camo and body armour rarely changes.
Some things from this movie however are really ahead of their time. Let’s take a look at five of them, as well as two additional things that simply don’t make sense.
Today, no first-world military is worth its salt unless it has actively adopted drone warfare. Even third world militias are getting in on the action. The technology has advanced so that it can be used for anything from surveillance to putting a missile down someone’s chimney, to actually piloting attack aircraft without a man on board. Last year, Russia unveiled the world’s most advanced battle tank and has shown that, if necessary, the crew can exit the vehicle and send it into a town remotely.
Of course, this type of stuff was a big deal in Aliens. In the director’s cut, Cpl. Hicks defends his team using sentry drone weapons. And more importantly, Bishop takes control of the second drop ship remotely.
Facetime (Okay, sort of)
Back when I was watching this movie in the 1990s, I thought that the videophone conversation between Ripley and Burke was somewhat stupid. How could this even work, I asked myself. Well, dumbass, it’s just another thing we take for granted now. It may have been a bit boxier, but the idea was more or less on the money in Aliens.
Nowadays, ‘Facetime’ is a regular feature on phones and even taken for granted. Pesky at times too, if you don’t want someone knowing where you really are. Skype is another thing. But what we really want is for someone to make a Skype machine replica of the phones we seen in Aliens. I’d buy that for a dollar!
I’m writing this article right now on a laptop. But few (if anyone) considered putting a portable folding computer as thick as a book in their movies in the 1980s. It was in Aliens though, used by Cpl. Hicks to operate sentry guns. I don’t know, but that’s just cool as fuck.
I mean they may have been a bit MSDOS-ish, but they still had the right idea. I wonder if these props still exist, because if they did then I would say that they could be worth some money. And I wonder what kind of real technology was used to actually create the effect.
Heads Up Movement
Everything today is called ‘smart’, smart this and smart that. For example smart phones and smart TVs. Of course, Aliens had a smart gun. But there was more in it than just a name. The gun used in Aliens was operated by a type of heads up tracking TAS (target acquisition system). The gun is attached to a rotating belt around the body, the head moves and the gun follows. Is there also a fire and forget system with this weapon?
Nowadays this is used in attack helicopters, where the pilot moves his head and the chain gun below the cockpit automatically follows. Advanced systems will have the pilot pick his targets ahead of the gun, so that no time is wasted, with the weapon following up in due course.
In Aliens the Colonial Marines had their very own head cameras. Each Marine would have a live feed directed by to Battalion Commander Gorman in the command vehicle. Obviously, horrific 1980s feed notwithstanding, this offers advanced SITREPs in the field. That may have seen like futuristic fantasy back in the day, or even stupid, but it’s a growing thing these days.
Soldiers at war use these things with increasing frequency. Intelligence can be gathered from playback, not least for use in courts, where soldiers have been exonerated on the basis of evidence used. They’re also used for propaganda, for better or worse, in the age of internet streaming.
As good as Aliens is at shooting way out in front, we can add here two glaring failures in the movie, things at which it isn’t so successful. The most obvious to me is the armoured personnel carrier seen in the movie. If you haven’t noticed, this thing would be the stuff of nightmares for mechanized infantry. The main problem is the ground clearance.
The APC in Aliens hugs the ground like an F1 car. Gun toting gangsters who lower their cars must look on in envy at the ground clearance. But the problem with this is that in real life you’d probably drive the APC about four feet before it becomes stuck. A minor pothole ought to do it and you and your whole troop are sitting ducks. Worse, Aliens is set on a small pock-marked planet. So we can safely say that, barring some hidden suspension system, someone’s head should have rolled for sending Marines to LV4-26 on that thing.
So while it looks iconic and looks cool, in reality, Hudson should’ve been whining about it! It’s kind of like Keaton’s Batmobile with it’s shockingly cool but shockingly impractical ride height. Any criminal with his ducks in a row will just lure Keaton up some shitty road, then laugh back as Keaton spins his wheels.
Like the APC, the Pulse Rifle is cool as all fuck. Check out the scene where Lt. Ripley is going full auto with that thing, you can see a snazzy screen that shows the operator how many bullets are left in the magazine. That’s a cool feature for a movie.
But not in real life!
The first thing that would happen with these weapons in a real war? Duct tape over that glowing ammo count. The only thing it’s going to do is give your position away in the dark, and even do your enemy the courtesy of letting him know when you’re out of ammo.
But it’s all good because ‘the things’ in the movies can’t count anyway.