by KE Monahan Huntley

Aliens is the second installment in what is, at this time, a four part "Slimy monster from Outerspace" (Videohound, 1998, p. 49) story. Written and directed by James Cameron, it is an award winning spectacle with a fairly solid underlying story structure. The objective and main character throughlines are advanced; less attention is given to the throughlines for the subjective story and obstacle character. As in Star Wars, characters are simple--emphasis is placed on the special effects. Unlike the archetypal characters in the galaxy far, far away, however, the action and decision motivation elements are sometimes switched or shared--which at times feels strange. Ripley contains the protagonist decision element of consider, and the antagonist action element of avoid/prevent. The Company shares the protagonist action element of pursue with the aliens; the aliens alone best represent the antagonist element of reconsider.

Ripley is the main character who has inadvertently been discovered drifting through the core systems in a state of hypersleep (57 years). Her deposition of what had happened in Alien--destroying a pricey starfighter, etc.--to the administrative powers that be is not well received, nor, in respect to the alien itself, believed. Outraged, Ripley exclaims she doesn't understand the suits' resistance to her story--the first indication of the story goal--understanding the aliens and the implications thereof. Her attempt to get them to conceptualize(consequence) what will happen if her warning (unique ability of prediction) about the aliens is ignored is met with cold stares: "If one of those things gets down here, then that will be all. Then all this, this bullshit, that you think is so important, you can just kiss all that goodbye." What Ripley is unaware of is the Company's hidden agenda (overall story inhibitor of circumstances) to profit (overall story problem of desire) from the aliens. She is divested of her commercial flight officer status for an indeterminate amount of time, a situation (main character domain of universe) she finds untenable (main character symptom of inequity).

An opportunity for reinstatement as an officer (main character response of equity) is presented when contact from LB426 is lost (story driver--action) and she is enlisted as an advisor as part of the investigation/rescue mission (overall story domain of physics). Burke astutely identifies Ripley's problem of desire: "I think personally for you it would be the best thing in the world to get out there and face this thing, get back on the horse . . ." Ripley's nightmares and Burke's reassurances that the effort will be for alien extermination--not exploitation--convinces her to go.

In recounting what she knows to the soldiers, Ripley reveals her concern of the past: "Just one of those things managed to wipe out my entire crew in less than 24 hours. And if the colonists have found that ship, then there's no telling how many of them have been exposed. Do you understand?" They don't appreciate Ripley's past experience, and again the problem of desire is illustrated in the mucho macho Marines who, clueless to the aliens' power and desiring the combat they are conditioned for, disdain the mission, making such derisive comments as: "Is this going to be a stand-up fight or another bug hunt?" "How do I get out of this chicken shit outfit?"

Baby aliens under glass are discovered, as well as Newt, a seven-year-old little girl in hiding. Newt's concern is memory--she is traumatized by the memories of her dead family and suspicious (influence character thematic issue) of the soldiers who demand her recollections. Newt's domain is mind. She represents the fixed attitude that it's dangerous to forget the aliens. She has stayed alive (influence character unique ability of evidence), using her knowledge (influence character response) of the tunnel system, and her instinct for survival--a thematic issue shared by the objective characters, including the aliens.

Apart from the unrelenting intensity of the objective story, the relationship between Ripley and Newt develops--accelerated by the situation they are in (relationship story catalyst). The Aliens director's cut provides information, edited out of the 1986 release version, vital to this throughline. Ripley had had a daughter, who died of old age while Ripley played sleeping beauty. Ripley feels she had abandoned the eleven-year-old, motivating her to make certain this will not happen to Newt.

The overall story thematic conflict of instinct vs. conditioning is explored in the soldiers' interactions with their inexperienced lieutenant, for example, when the lieutenant joins them in their sweep of the colonists' station the soldiers sarcastically comment: "He's coming in. I feel safer already . . . jerkoff." The team investigates further as Ripley, Burke, and the lieutenant observe. Ripley points out to the lieutenant what will happen if the soldiers fire their weapons--thermonuclear explosion (linear problem-solving style -- causes and effect). Without offering an explanation to his troops, the lieutenant orders the rifles slung. When the inevitable happens--aliens attack and weapons fire away--the lieutenant proves to be ineffectual and Ripley immediately takes action (approach of do-er).

Newt's confused perception (influence character problem) of what is happening can be attributed, for the most part, to her age and ordeal. The relationship story thematic conflict of state of being vs. sense of self is illustrated when Ripley attempts to make sense of the changing events (relationship story problem) for Newt. The relationship story concern is exemplified by how Newt and Ripley conceptualize turning their nightmares into dreams.

Many overlong action alien packed scenes later, Ripley makes her change. She has no other option for resolving her angst but to strap on a loader and kick alien ass--she is finally able (main character solution) to vanquish (stop) the nightmares. An outcome of success is implied--aside from Ripley--Newt, the android, and Hicks can relay their adventure, compelling others to understand the alien threat. As they prepare to leave, Newt asks Ripley, "Are we going to sleep all the way home . . . can I dream?" (relationship story solution of inertia), to which our heroine replies: "I think we both can" (story judgment good).

About the Author

KE Monahan Huntley is an editor and publisher based in Southern California. As one of the original contributors to Dramatica, she helped edit and analyze many of the examples. In addition, her numerous articles provided an insightful "conversational" approach to the theory. Today she can be found at Write Between the Lines or follow her on Twitter @kemhuntley.

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