There's always pressure in a sequel, but James Cameron rose to the challenge, as you can read in the "Aliens" script PDF. Let's talk about how he revolutionized action writing for the modern generation!
Aliens is one of my favorite movies of all time. The original Alien was a massive hit. People everywhere were nervous about how they could recapture the magic. And suddenly James Cameron walked into a room and told them to change the genre. It's a genius maneuver for a sequel and delivered us an instant classic.
Today we're going to go over the Aliens script and talk about how the words on the page influenced the next generations of screenwriters and catapulted James Cameron's career.
Let's get started, you bitch!
The Aliens script pdf opening scene
We talk a lot about opening with a bang when we look at screenplays on this blog. Aliens knows what the people want; Ripley. It delivers right away and straps you in for another ride. We also are delivered chills. Who are these figures coming into Ripley's life? Why are they shrouded in shadows?
What's cool is that while paying homage to the original horror genre, Aliens is actually structured like a war movie. It's about heroes behind enemy lines trying to save a planet full of people that have been decimated down to one survivor. The opening scene alludes to the "men on a mission" aspect here.
We may not know who these figures are, but we can tell they've been searching space.
The Aliens screenplay action writing
We look at screenplays from every decade on No Film School. It's important to check out both the past and the future when you're working to inspire your projects because you can get lessons from any era. Still, when you're working on your own writing, style, and voice, you want to stay modern.
The script for Aliens was written in the mid-80s, but the action writing inspired generations of filmmakers to follow.
Take a look at the final scene with Ripley versus the Queen and let's talk after the jump.
As you can see, the action here is sparse. Sure, some of the paragraphs run on, and in today's world they'd be broken into smaller bites, but the main thing I want to focus on is Cameron's ability to give you just enough. Just enough action to see it in your mind, just enough emotion to connect with you, just enough on the page to make you eager to read more.
When you're writing action, you can get stuck describing every blow.
Cameron gets into specifics but also just tells us they trade death blows. He's more interested in the drama of the scene.
We get the push and pull of the action and we always know who is winning.
Take a look at the verbs and adverbs he uses. It's all calculated and adds something extra to the description. They keep emotion and excitement at the forefront. Again, it's not a beat by beat but more of a roller coaster of things happening.
James Cameron on writing and directing the Aliens script
Cameron got the job writing Aliens based on writing a film treatment for the movie. The crazy part was, he didn't think he would get it. So Cameron had also agreed to write a few other projects. Entertainment Weekly ran this article where Cameron explained how he wrote the Aliens script while actually writing on Rambo II as well!
"So I wound up getting two writing gigs the same day. One was Rambo: First Blood Part II and the other one was Alien 2. Like I'd gone in on the meetings and I wound up getting the phone calls the same morning. So I took both jobs and I had a three month period to write Rambo and what became Aliens. So what I did was I got a desk for each script. I put one in the bedroom and one in the living room. That way when I moved from one desk to the other, all the notes and papers and everything were right where they were supposed to be."
Cameron didn't have the time to be verbose and flowery. He was bouncing back and forth between desks.
Instead, he delivered a punchy script that became the standard.
But what about directing it?
Cameron had to prove himself over and over again. At 31, producers and Ridley Scott thought he might be too young. Cameron showed themTerminator and they came around. But things didn't get easier. Aliens was made at Pinewood Studios on a budget of $18M.
Legend has it that Cameron and DP Dick Bush clashed all the time. Cameron wanted a dark and brooding movie that would really capture the horror and fear of being alone in space. Producer Gale Anne Hurd had to fire Bush, the entire crew walked out, and then she and Cameron replaced him with Adrian Biddle.
The crew was coaxed back and eventually, things smoothed out as they continued to shoot.
The movie was released to massive success, earning $131,060,248 worldwide.
The movie was nominated for SEVEN Academy Awards!
Academy Awards Nominations:
- Actress: Sigourney Weaver
- Art Direction
- Visual Effect (Win)
- Sound Editing (Win)
- Original Score: James Horner
What's next? Read the script for Pulp Fiction!
'Pulp Fiction' was Quentin Tarantino's coming out party in 1994. Now, 25 years later, we look back on its classic script.
Click the link to learn more!