It was March 14, 1989 when I first saw Aliens in its broadcast television premiere. (Thanks to Jason McKittrick of Cryptocorium for helping me track down the date.) I must have been seven years old–I would turn eight that October–and it hit me the same way that Star Wars seems to have hit most everyone else.
To this day, I remember the scenes from the CBS Special Movie presentation intro, which included my first glimpse of the famous xenomorph design, and I also remember being confused by my later viewings of the theatrical cut, which was missing several scenes that were added back into the television version, notably the moment when Ripley learns about her daughter. It led to one of those bizarre situations that sometimes happened in the days before DVDs and special editions, where I knew something about a movie that wasn’t included in any cut of the movie that I could conveniently find, and so I wondered if I had perhaps made it up.
I had seen other horror movies before, of course. I grew up watching stuff like Squirm and C.H.U.D., The Food of the Gods and countless Godzilla flicks. I think that I had even seen bits and pieces of Predator when my brother rented it on video. I remember watching Cronenberg’s The Fly on network TV while eating a hamburger, and my mom coming into the living room during some particularly gross scene, and asking how I could eat while watching that. I don’t know if that was before or after I saw Aliens. (I wonder now how heavily edited The Fly must have been to even show up on TV in those days.)
But when I first saw Aliens, it was like nothing else I had ever seen. It felt more complex and more ambitious than I was used to my monster movies being, and I was struck by the design–and, of course, the life cycle–of the eponymous creatures. The alien queen might have been my first introduction to the idea of the boss monster in cinema, and the battle between the queen and Ripley in the cargo-loader exosuit, with its callback to the great stop-motion monster battles of King Kong and Ray Harryhausen, and the rubber suit wrestling matches of the Godzilla films, had an enormous impact on my young imagination.
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t in love with movies, but seeing Aliens was, without a doubt, a turning point in that fascination. The Alien franchise became my first fandom, for lack of a better word, a fact that was only reinforced by the gradual revelation that the Alien and Predator films might take place in the same universe–another concept that, while not actually original, was new to me at the time.
When I saw Aliens for the first time, I had no idea that it was a sequel to anything, and the opening minutes of the movie felt so amazingly ground-breaking to me. Here was this character we met in media res, having survived some strange off-screen ordeal that primed her for the one that was coming. It’s an oddly inaccurate experience, but one that has remained lodged in my consciousness ever since, one that I come back to again and again.
I don’t remember when I first saw Alien, but I saw Alien 3 and Resurrection in the theatre. I bought piles of the Aliens and Predator toys that Kenner brought out in the 90s, with their various animal-themed xenomorphs. I even got the cloaked (ie, cast in clear plastic) “Ambush Predator” figure that you had to send away for.
Through it all, Aliens remained my favorite movie in either franchise, and something very close to my favorite movie period (a slot it probably had to share with Monster Squad). And while today other films have usurped that favorite spot, and my affection for the Alien and Predator flicks are as much nostalgia as not, both franchises are ones I own on Blu-ray and revisit regularly. (Less so the unfortunate crossover films, though I’ve seen both of them more times than they probably deserve.)
Their influence was so formative that I can’t really identify all the ways that the Alien films made inroads into my creative output. Besides obvious places like the near-closing line of “Painted Monsters,” that big, haunting, H.R. Giger-designed ship with its ancient astronaut and its payload of mysterious eggs, the grotesque and bizarre life-cycle of the aliens themselves, that line from the CBS intro, “so who’s laying these eggs,” that shot of the xenomorph rising up out of the water behind Newt, the alien queen, the enormous ships that were like floating industrial blocks, all of it feels like my gateway to so many of my later obsessions, from the grim future of Warhammer 40k to weird fiction.
To this day, the films hold a special place in my pantheon, and they remain one of a handful of franchises for which I would love to one day write licensed fiction. So in honor of “Alien Day” (4/26, get it?) , I figured it was high time to do something to pay tribute to one of the most important cinematic experiences of my life. So here’s to you, Aliens CBS Special Movie Presentation. You may not have started it all, but you sure as hell started a lot.