Save The Cat! Video Tribute 3: Aliens

(( CLICK HERE TO WATCH IT! ))

Like most people I’m a product of my generation.  I was born in 1977 and had the privilege of experiencing the “blockbusters and sequels revolution” of the 1980’s, Aliens being at the top of that list. Of my list of 10 best movies we are breaking down using Blake Snyder’s beat sheet method, I realize that only 3 of them are not from the 1980’s.  All that to say, I’m now aware of how easily and subconsciously I am drawn to movies between 1979 and 1994. Funny how that just “happens”. It also occurred to me that the 1980’s and early nineties are a great period of films to use the Save The Cat! method on because most of them are very well structured.

OK, on to this week’s film, Aliens.  1st of all, let me say that I LOVE Ridley Scott’s Alien but I think most people would agree that James Cameron’s Aliens is a somewhat superior film in structure, payoff and overall appeal.  But Ridely Scott did a terrific job (along with HR Giger) in establishing the world of the Alien in the 1st movie which allowed for less composition and setup in the 2nd film.  After beating out Aliens with the BS2, the most notable beats to me were the Opening Image and the Final Image, which perfectly reflect Blake Snyder’s beat sheet definition, i.e. they very often are a “mirror” of one another.

I have always admired the structure in James Cameron’s movies. I know that’s not the most popular thing among film critics or independent filmmakers, but that’s why I think Blake’s approach to screenwriting and the movie industry in general strongly appeals to me. It is a business and there are not many “breakout” art-house films. Its just reality.  What I noticed when breaking down this movie was the strength of the beats and how organized and methodical they were, in a good way. Each one dovetails into the next like clockwork.  Also, notice that the “Save The Cat!” moment is Ripley actually holding and comforting a cat. Great stuff and a real wink from the director to fellow screenwriters (or it was in my opinion.)

What makes Aliens “work” so well as a movie and why it pays off so strongly is because of the “Theme Stated” beat and how it is tied so directly to the plot and the main character’s emotional arc in this movie.  Not all movies do it this way or this well.  Not even ten minutes in and Ripley’s lost her only daughter and now doesn’t have the purpose of a mother like she once had, UNTIL she meets Newt, a lost little girl who has been living alone in the sub-levels of the Alien ravaged teraforming colony, desperately in need of a mother figure (whether she knows it or not, WE the audience know it and we root for their relationship.) Also, notice how the “B Story” (Newt) pays off the “Theme Stated” (Ripley losing her only daughter) and how.

Finally, notice how in almost all of James Cameron’s films the “Setup” and the “Fun & Games” are very similar.  The world we are inhabiting (whether Aliens, Terminator or The Abyss) is defined without question and the characters we are taking this journey with are introduced with boldness and style. Some people call it cliche’d exposition, but I appreciate a movie where I can sit back and be entertained and the story is told to me with little required on my part.

Am I saying I don’t enjoy things being left to my imaginationin in movies?  Not at all, I just know that when I want a great “popcorn” movie done with quality and style and that I could take my girlfriend, mother or grandmother to and they would understand it, I go to James Cameron 7 times out of 10.  The other 3 times I hit up Spielberg’s 80’s movies or Star Wars.  They never disappoint.  It will be interesting to see this tribute video in contrast to our 6th tribute video, The Shawshank Redemption, which is nothing like Aliens in structure, style or story.  Stay tuned for that one and hopefully this tribute video has served to inspire and equip any aspiring (or existing) screenwriters out there!

(( CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE ‘ALIENS’ TRIBUTE VIDEO! ))

All the best,

Jeremy

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One Response to “Save The Cat! Video Tribute 3: Aliens”

  1. lipplog Says:

    I watched ALIENS countless times on VHS, years before the DVD releases the “Director’s Cut”. Maybe it’s because the theatrical version is the one I remember, but I still prefer it to the Director’s cut. The main difference being the theatrical version left several “expositional” scenes on the cutting room floor… Specifically, the scene where we learn Ripley had a daughter, and all colony scenes before Ripley and team get there. In other words, two of the biggest beats in Act I (Theme Stated and Catalyst) are absent from the original film. That being said, I’d be curious to see the beats applied to the original theatrical version, which I would argue based on the massive theatrical success of the movie, was just as good.

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