Blog 05/01/2024 - Space Marines in "Aliens"

“Aliens” is a perfect movie for Marines. James V. Forrestal as Under Secretary of the Navy, later Secretary of the Navy & post-war served as the 1st Secretary of Defense (1947) was in the Pacific Theater to witness the Battle of Iwo Jima. After five days of pitched battle, a detachment of Marines hoisted the American flag on the 545-foot summit of Mount Suribachi on 23 February 1945.

When Forrestal witnessed the sight of the Stars & Stripes atop Mount Suribachi, he turned to Lieutenant General Holland Smith, USMC Commanding General Fleet Marine Force, Pacific & said, "the raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next 500 years."

The movie’s United States Colonial Marine Corps (USCM), commonly known as just the Colonial Marines, is the future United Americas' primary "force-in-readiness", that specializes in force projection, being able to operate independently in environments far from Earth for extended periods thanks to their technological prowess & large space fleet wings. The Colonial Marines are the successor to the United States Marine Corps & remain ready for immediate deployment across human-controlled space without any additional reinforcement, training or logistics support for amphibious, aerospace or interstellar expeditionary warfare. Their primary duties are to maintain security for all extraterrestrial colonies that fall under the United America's control, & serve as the vanguard of over a dozen major combat operations across the universe.

The movie shows the now Colonial Marines in 2179 making it 234 years since they fought on the Black Sands. I’m not sure when President Theodore Roosevelt said in 1906 “We will send ships & Marines as soon as possible for the protection of American life and property” that he would also mean space ships & interstellar Marines decades later. However, this is the plot as communication with Hadley’s Hopes a research & mining colony on Acheron (LV-426) has been lost. The Weyland-Yutani Corporation who had financed what a Company Executive  called, "It's what we call a 'shake and bake' colony." It was manned by 158 colonists to maintain the corporation’s atmosphere processor capable of "converting" an unbreathable atmosphere into one suitable for human habitation. So, the “Company” politics for the USS Sulaco a Conestoga-class frigate that serves as a Light Assault Starship to investigate with a unit of Colonial Marines.

The Crew of the USS Sulaco included: A USCM Section (half a platoon of the 2nd Battalion Bravo Team): Lieutenant Gorman, Master Sergeant (MSGT) Apone, Cheyenne Drop Ship Crew: Corporal (CPL) Ferro (Pilot) & Private First Class (PFC) Spunkmeyer (Crew Chief), 2nd Squad: CPL Hicks (Squad Leader (Sqd Ldr)), PFC Drake (M56 Smart Weapon), PFC Frost, CPL Dietrich (Corpsman); 1st Sqd: PFC Hudson (Sqd Ldr), Private (PVT) Vasquez (M56 Smart Weapon), PVT Weirzbowski, PVT Crowe. Bishop (synthetic-“artificial person”) Executive & Science Officer - Extrasolar Colonization Administrator issued to the USCM as the combat unit's technician. Meet the crew:

Weyland-Yutani employees; Ripley (former Warrant Officer of the commercial freighter USCSS Nostromo when it encountered a single Xenomorph (alien lifeform) unintentionally collected from the moon Acheron (LV-426.) The event led to the death of the rest of Nostromo's crew & the ships destruction. Ripley's encounter with the Xenomorph would fundamentally alter the course of her life (see movie “Alien.”) Promoted to Lieutenant First Class & attached to the USCM (on USS Sulaco) as a civilian adviser. Burke is a junior executive for the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, serving as Special Projects Director for the “Company’s” (Space) Corp's Special Services Division. Burke convinces Ripley to go back to Acheron (LV-426) "These Colonial Marines are very tough hombres. They're packing state-of-the-art firepower, there's nothing they can't handle."

1st Squad: Clearing the Operations Center; PFC Hudson; PVT Vasquez; Pvt PVT Weirzbowski; & PVT Crowe.

2nd Squad: CPL Hicks; the squad protects Ripley; CPL Dietrich; PVT Frost; Frost’s T-Shirt; PFC Drake with smartgun.

The actors playing the Colonial Marines in “Aliens” were required to read Robert A. Heinlein’s classic science fiction novel “Starship Troopers” as part of their preparations prior to filming. They also were run  through a military style boot camp run by the British Special Air Service, the UK's elite special forces regiment, to help them effectively portray military combat personnel on screen. MSGT Apone actor, Al Matthews was a real-life U.S. Marine before becoming an actor. He served during the Vietnam War, receiving 13 combat awards & decorations including two Purple Hearts. When hired for “Aliens”, he used his own personal military experience to shape the Apone Character plus help coach the other actors in portraying believable Marines. 

Mattews like R. Lee Ermey in “Full Metal Jacket” puts his experience to use that you can recognize every Marine “Gunny” you have ever served with & are two of  the most memorable Gunnery Sergeants on TV or in film! The Gunnys (Clockwise from Top left):
Gunnery Sergeant (GySgt) Vince Carter (Frank Sutton in TV’s “Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C.” ): Pyle. My old grandmother could do better than that. Gomer Pyle : Well, bless her heart.
GySgt Hartman (R. Lee Ermey in “Full Metal Jacket”): "I am Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, your Senior Drill Instructor. From now on you will speak only when spoken to, and the first and last words out of your filthy sewers will be 'Sir.' Do you maggots understand that?"
GySgt Tom Highway (Clint Eastwood in “Heartbreak Ridge”): It means: Be advised. I'm mean, nasty and tired. I eat concertina wire and piss napalm and I can put a round in a flea's ass at 200 meters. So why don't you go hump somebody else's leg, mutt face, before I push yours in.
GySgt Leroy Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) in CBS TV series NCIS (21 Seasons)"This is my rifle. There are many like it. This one's mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. My rifle, without me, is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true."
GySgt Sam Cash in “Jack Reacher” (Tom Cruise with Robert Duvall holding a Springfield M1A with Sadlak Industries Steel scope mount – ammo 7.62x51mm NATO) Jack Reacher: Be that as it may, I'm the only one who's bothered to track him this far. You help me out and I'll be in your debt. GySgt Cash : And if I don't? Reacher : [heading towards the door] Maybe you can coach soccer. Cash: You put three in the center and maybe we'll talk. Reacher : Can I have a few to warm up? [in addition to the three bullets he's already placed on the target, Cash adds one more bullet - Reacher's sole mulligan]
GySgt Al Apone (Al Matthew's Facebook notes he served with the 1st Marine Division in Vietnam. He has the classic line as the unit of Colonial Marines comes out of Stasis (space hibernation): “All right sweethearts, what are you waiting for, breakfast in bed? Another glorious day in the Corps. A day in the Marine Corps is like a day on the farm. Every meal is a banquet. Every paycheck a fortune. Every formation a parade. I love the Corps!”
GySgt Emil Foley (Louis Gossett Jr. in “An Officer & a Gentleman”) “In every class, there's always one joker who thinks that he's smarter than me. In this class, that happens to be you. Isn't it, Mayonnaise?” 
[Center] GySgt Bob Lee Swagger (Mark Wahlberg in “Sniper”): "I don't think you understand. These boys killed my dog."

If you have been on a Navy ship (here a spaceship with stasis hibernation pods rather than ships compartments) Marines at meals are all the same with grousing about the food, funny insults, trying to find out the scuttlebutt & tall & often lewd tales of liberty escapades: 
Hudson: "Hey, Vasquez. Have you ever been mistaken for a man?"
Vasquez: "No. Have you?"

She slaps Drake's open palm and it clenches into a high-five which is part contest.  It gets rougher. Until she cuffs him hard & they break with vicious laughter. They operate the formidable "SMART-GUNS."
Hudson: Hey, Top, (It is reported that Apone is not a gunny but a Master Sergeant is his correct rank, and that the GySgt insignia he wears in the film is a goof.) what's the op?"
Apone: "It's a rescue mission. You'll love it. There’re some juicy colonists' daughters we have to rescue from their virginity!
Frost (wearing the “Peace Through Superior Firepower” T-shirt): "Hey, sure wouldn't mind getting some more of that Arcturian poontang. Remember that time?!"
Spunkmeyer: "Yeah, Frost. Except the one that you had was male!"
Frost: "Doesn't matter when it's Arcturian, baby!"
Hudson: “Bishop do the thing with the knife?”
Hudson goads Bishop to use his vastly superior android reflexes to perform the knife trick of stabbing in between his fingers at incredible speed. He initially refused, but relents when Drake sneaks up behind Hudson & volunteers his hand to be part of the game, and with his own hand placed over the captive Hudson's, Bishop performed the trick at superhuman speed, much to Hudson's horror.
At 12.75 inches (32.39 cm) long it has a 6.5 inch (16.5 cm) 420 HC stainless-steel double-edged spear-point wasp-waisted blade, that weighs 8 ounces, and has a die cast aluminum handle. It has a distinctive look similar to that of the Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife developed during World War II for the British Commandos. The Mark II was commonly carried by troops for the United States in the Vietnam War, and was second only to the USMC Combat Ka-Bar knife in fame.

The Marine team is briefed on the Xenomorph alien by Ripley. The Xenomorph life cycle is a complex process comprising several distinct stages. The creature begins its life as an Ovomorph, or Egg, laid by a Queen, which hatches a parasitoid larval form known as a Facehugger, which in turn "impregnates" a living human host with an embryo known as a Chestburster. After a gestation period of several hours, the Chestburster erupts violently from the host's chest, resulting in the death of the host. The Chestburster rapidly matures to an adult phase, shedding its skin as it grows and replacing its cells with polarized silicon. Having never encountered anything as deadly, the Marines are flippant as CPL Hicks calls the operation a “bug hunt.”

The movement from orbit in the Sulaco to the moon’s surface is via the Cheyenne UD-4L Dropship. The Cheyenne has a crew of two, comprising a pilot and a Crew Chief/Weapons Officer. The definitive production variant of the Cheyenne, the UD-4L was capable of carrying the M577 Armored Personnel Carrier (APC.) The ship's sensors & avionics were extensively upgraded, while secondary missile bays & a nose cannon were now fitted.
As a terraforming colony, the settlement's main function was ensuring the continued operation and maintenance of the nearby Atmosphere Processing Plant. Hadley's Hope was a human terraforming, research and mining colony that was established on LV-426 in 2157. The settlement was co-financed by the Extrasolar Colonization Administration & the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, and by 2179 maintained a constant population of 158 colonists. Unknown to the crew of the it was subject to a major Xenomorph infestation that ultimately all but destroyed the complex.

The dropship “Bug Stomper” was utilized by the Marines during the initial combat stages of the mission, and it was used to deploy the Marine ground forces to the Hadley's Hope colony below. It is piloted by CPL Ferro, with PFC Spunkmeyer as her Crew Chief. She has the “Fly the Friendly Skies”  on her helmet & talks with the classic “Chuck Yeager” cool. Bug Stomper's logo was a screaming eagle in combat boots firing an assault rifle, with the slogan, "We Endanger Species." Ferro carried a Heckler & Koch VP70, a German semi-automatic/burst fire pistol. The VP stands for Volkspistole ("People's Pistol", a designation that would similarly be used for the later Heckler & Koch VP9) and the 70 refers to its year of introduction, 1970. The VP70 has the distinction of being the world's first polymer-framed production handgun, beating out the much more well-known Glock pistol series by 12 years. The dropship was ultimately destroyed in a crash landing into the Atmosphere Processing Plant when its crew was slaughtered in flight by a Xenomorph Warrior who snuck aboard.

Ferro (in her best Top Gun voice): "We're in the pipe, five by five."; "Hang on, we're in for some chop."
Hudson (motivating the Marines): "We're on an express elevator to hell... goin' down!"
Bug Stomper was used for the initial drop onto the surface of LV-426, deploying a detachment of Marines under Lieutenant Scott Gorman's command. As per typical rapid deployment doctrine, the dropship released the M577 Armored Personnel Carrier it was carrying on the moon's surface and then immediately moved into an overhead support pattern, providing aerial surveillance of the Hadley's Hope colony and its surroundings as the Marines advanced.

The M577 Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) is a type of light armored tactical response vehicle employed by the United States Colonial Marine Corps. It is a lightweight troop transport designed to operate as a multi-role vehicle and capable of being dropped into combat situations by a UD-4L dropship. The actual vehicle was a modified airline mover that had to be lightened to not crush the sound-stage floor that was used as the hanger deck.

Aside from its principal insertion/transport role, the M577 is also equipped with sufficient weaponry to serve in an infantry support role on the ground with missiles & cannons. A forward cupola mounted on the starboard side of the vehicle contains a pair of synchronized 20mm rotary cannon. These are fed by a 1,700-round multi-feed ammunition dispenser offering a selection of High Explosive Armor Piercing (HEAP) or "Beehive"-type Anti-Personnel Flechette (APF) rounds (A flechette is a pointed, fin-stabilized steel projectile like a dart) at the flick of a switch & is capable of tracking targets automatically.

Clockwise: Exiting the M577; Using the flame thrower as a chest buster emerges from a colonists; Two shots of Dietrich being captured; Vasquez opening fire with her Smartgun inside the Atmosphere Processor.

They quickly found the Xenomorph Hive, but when Ripley pointed out that the armor-piercing ammunition used by the Marines' weapons would likely cause significant damage to the Atmosphere Processor, Burke concurred, explaining that the station was a large fusion reactor & any damage to the coolant systems could trigger a thermonuclear explosion. Burke's insistence eventually led Gorman ordering his Marines to hand over their pulse rifle ammunition & deactivate their Smartguns to prevent gunfire causing damage to the coolant systems, leaving them with only M240 flamethrowers & sidearms to defend themselves. However, after handing over their battery units to GySgt Apone, Vasquez handed Drake one of the two backup batteries she had secretly hidden in her harness to reactivated their guns. She had a long history with fellow M56 Smartgun operator PVT Drake, & the two shared a close, possibly romantic relationship. After discovering the remains of the Hadley's Hope colonists, who had been used as hosts for Xenomorphs, the section was ambushed by a horde of Warriors. Dietrich was ambushed from behind and dragged away. Alerted by her screams, Frost raised his sidearm to try and kill the creature responsible, but before he could fire a single shot Dietrich accidentally ignited him with her M240 Incinerator. Completely aflame and in a blind panic, Frost's flailing caused him to tumble over a railing, plummeting to his death several floors below. The bag containing the confiscated Pulse Rifle magazines was dropped in the chaos & subsequently exploded after it too was set aflame, the blast killing PVT Crowe & seriously injuring PVT Wierzbowski. When Gunny Apone was taken their lack of appropriate weaponry was to blame for the majority of them being killed or captured & only the Smartgun fire as the Marines fought their way out kept them all from being overwhelmed.
As Vasquez & Drake provided heavy covering fire with their Smartguns, the survivors hastily retreated to the APC that Ripley had commandeered & smashed into the hive. Vasquez spotted a Drone attempting to sneak up on Drake, who was preoccupied with covering the team's rear. Although she blasted the creature with her Smartgun, it exploded and showered Drake with its acid blood, killing him. Hicks pushes her in the APC doorway & refused to let her go back out into the alien horde.
Hicks: "He's gone!"
Vasquez: "Drake! No, he's not!"
Hicks "Forget him! He's gone!"

At the start of filming, Hicks was not played by Michael Biehn but by actor James Remar. However, Remar was caught in possession of illegal substances & fired from the production after just two weeks of shooting. The part of Hicks was hastily recast with Biehn, whom director James Cameron knew from his previous film “The Terminator,” in which he starred in the role of Kyle Reese. According to Biehn, he received a phone call on a Friday evening from a producer & the following Monday he was on set getting ready for filming. He has since pointed out that the manner in which he came to the role was perfect for him, as he had the chance to appear in this epic film without having to go through the two weeks of rigorous boot camp training the other Marine actors had to endure.
Hicks: "I like to keep this handy, for close encounters." It was an Ithaca Model 37 - 12 gauge Manually operated, pump action shotgun. A militarized version of the Model 37 "Stakeout" was issued in 1942 named the M37A2 Pump Shotgun. In the spring of 1942, the government placed orders for 1,420 Model 37 trench guns designated in Ithaca factory records as “Model #37, 12/20"- Riot Type Shotguns with Bayonet Attachments.” While the term “trench gun” was never official government nomenclature, it is useful terminology to differentiate the models fitted with bayonet adapters from the plain-barrel police “riot” guns. Shown here are World War II Model 37 trench gun martial markings commonly found on the barrel and receiver. The “R.L.B.” represents Col. Roy L. Bowlin, head of Ithaca’s Ordnance District. The per-unit cost to the government was $33.60. Biehn also used a full-size Model 37 throughout “The Terminator” film.

After the Hive battle the eight survivors defended the Operation’s Center & find out that Burke isn’t interested in the human lives but only in capturing a xenomorph for “The Company” to develop a biological weapon. His death is one of few happy events" “A bad call? These people are dead, Burke!" ― Ripley to Burke, after learning of his role in the colony's destruction & 162 people killed.

Hudson despite his shaky confidence goes down fighting & despite his  lack of decisive & correct leadership in the Battle of the Hive Lt. Gorman makes the decision to not allow the Xenomorphs to capture he & PFC Vasquez & impregnate them with a “Facehugger.”

“Smart Ass” was a UD-4L "Cheyenne" Dropship aboard the USS Sulaco, designated CPL Ferro's backup craft. Its logo was a chicken holding a large smoking rifle, with the smoke forming a pair of large donkey "ears" around the chicken's head. Underneath was the slogan, "We aim by P.F.M.", PFM being a military acronym for "Pure Freakin' Magic". Bishop remotely flew “Smart Ass” from the Sulaco to rescue the survivors of the Hadley's Hope Xenomorph infestation.

Newt, the last living colonist is captured by an alien. Once “Smart Ass” was on the ground, Bishop took to the controls loading the injured Hicks while Ripley enters the colony's Atmosphere Processing Plant, setting down on a landing platform & waiting for her to return. However, the rapidly overloading reactor from “Bug Stomper’s” crash soon led the processor to begin exploding all around him, and as the platform became unstable, Bishop was forced to take off. He returned just in time to pick up Ripley & Newt, saving them from the vengeful Xenomorph Queen, and despite a collapsing landing pad he managed to escape the structure & reach orbit outside the blast radius as the Atmosphere Processor thermo-nuclear explosion.

I won’t give away this great film’s ending but here is some trivia: Director Ridley Scott wanted an early warning system around the Alien Egg field that would signal to the eggs of the approach of a possible host organism. This effect was achieved through the use of a blue scanning laser projected through smoke. The laser used was loaned to Scott by the rock group, The Who, who were testing out various lasers for use in their upcoming tour in the soundstage next door to where “Aliens” was being filmed.

My favorite scene is GySgt Apone as a perfect fit & him yelling to get everyone ready for the assault & every Marine unit has the guy who can sleep through everything: “ Awright! Gear up, Let's move.  Two minutes. Somebody wake up Hicks.