Arts & Entertainment

ALIENS Newt Introduction Scene Breakdown

James Cameron

Lesson time 11:45 min

With Newt’s introduction scene in Aliens, James breaks down how he elicits different physiological responses from audiences, switching from suspense to curiosity.

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Topics include: Turning Suspense Into Curiosity


NARRATOR: So here's a scene from "Aliens." And they've gone into the colony base that's on the planet where we know from the first film that the aliens have existed. And they've already seen face huggers in jars. So Ripley is already very nervous. And they've gone in, the whole base seems to be deserted. There's evidence of violence, evidence of weapons being used, but there are no people. We've been in a kind of anxious, suspenseful state. We've come in, we've been very subjective, we've searched the place. We keep expecting something to jump out, keep expecting something to jump out but it doesn't. And now we're going to win things a little tighter. And this is a long game. We've been building and building and building for a long time here. So how do we signal to the audience that there is an escalation or there's a swerve, something new is happening? Our character gets a signal. They've got these trackers. They've been walking around the base with these trackers. Nothing's shown up. All of a sudden there's movement. - We got something here. - He says we got something, something moving. Where is it? - Behind us. - One of us? MAN: Hey . Where are your people? - You're 20 minutes into a long game kind of suspenseful sequence at this point. And now it's going to come to a head. MAN (ON RADIO): Uh, that's a negative. We're rolling operations. It's all up to me, Frosty. Just keep moving, baby. NARRATOR: He moves forward with his gun, which is basically just a steadicam on. But I made the assumption at the time, and this was in 1985, that the steadicam was a tool that we used behind the scenes. But it wasn't well known. So we just basically took a steadicam and dressed it up with a big machine gun sitting on it. And it was Hell to operate because it was really heavy. But the two actors that had carry it did a great job. Okay, so we're in a tracking shot. The lighting is very low key. We've got some sense of source lighting here. And we've got source lighting coming from their lights. So it feels very, very dim and dark and suspenseful. These are just basic ways of selling that you're in sort of a haunted house, the spooky environment, as opposed to the brightly lit kind of sterile lab that it could have been. I mean, it's a lab. It's a medical space, could have been brightly lit. But it isn't. So the power is failing. There is the suggestion that violence has happened and could happen again in a split second. Now we don't know how jumpy Ripley is, so I did a little thing here where he brushes the microscope arm, or whatever it is, and there was this carefully balanced flask sitting here. And Sigourney jumps. And it puts you subjectively in her character for a moment. It's not meant to make the audience jump, because they see it in progress. It's different than a jump scare. In a jump scare the audience doesn't know what's going to happen next. And something move...

About the Instructor

From The Terminator and Titanic to Avatar, James Cameron has directed some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters. Now, for the first time in his 40-year career, he opens up about his process. Through behind-the-scenes breakdowns, James shares his approach to developing ideas, storylines, and characters; harnessing technology; and worldbuilding on any budget. Explore the innovation and imagination behind epic moviemaking.

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James Cameron

Academy Award–winning director James Cameron teaches you the tricks of the trade and shares his approach to epic moviemaking on any budget.

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