The Aliens Cut James Cameron Prefers Over All Others

James Cameron's "Aliens" is one of the greatest movie sequels of all time, but there's another version of the film that is even better, as far as the director himself is concerned. With a running time of 2 hours and 17 minutes, the theatrical cut of "Aliens" is already somewhat long for an action movie, even one that mixes in elements of sci-fi and horror. However, Cameron's preferred cut is the 1990 Special Edition, which clocks in even longer at 2 hours and 34 minutes.

Cameron explained his preference for the Special Edition via a video introduction in the "Alien Quadrilogy" box set, which housed nine DVDs in a package that might be taller than you if unfolded it to its full length and laid down on the floor next to it. (Some of us may or may not have tried that, back in the day.)

As the hostile, acid-blooded Xenomorphs pick them off one-by-one, "Aliens" puts its characters on "the express elevator to hell," as Private First Class Hudson (Bill Paxton) terms it. Yet Cameron rationalized that extending their journey to "40 miles of bad road" makes it even worse for them and more of an intense experience for the audience. His full introduction to the Special Edition is as follows:

"This is James Cameron. What you're about to watch is the Special Edition of Aliens. I actually prefer this version to the released version, because, as it's been best described by one of my friends, it's 40 miles of bad road. I think it's a longer, more intense and more suspenseful version of the film. The conventional wisdom then was: don't make the film too long. But at 2 hours and [34] minutes, this is the ride that we intended you to take. So, enjoy it."

Getting to Know Those Doomed Colonists

Much of the additional footage in the "Aliens" Special Edition relates to Hadley's Hope, the space colony on the planet LV-426. This is the same planet where Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the crew of the Nostromo touched down in the first movie, "Alien," and where the derelict ship filled with Xenomorph eggs and the remains of the so-called "Space Jockey" pilot are located.

In the Special Edition, we meet Newt (Carrie Henn) much earlier and also meet her parents, her brother, and other members of the bustling space colony, who are hunkering down under the planet's gale-force winds. Newt's family visits the derelict in a tractor, where a Facehugger attaches itself to her father's face.

Whether or not any of this really makes the movie better is debatable, since it's arguably creepier when Ripley, Hudson, and the other Colonial Marines arrive at Hadley's Hope and find it already overrun by Xenomorph damage, with no sign of the colonists until their heat signatures suddenly show up all in one place in the colony's processing plant.

"Any Word About My Daughter?"

What arguably does make the special edition "Aliens" better, or at least deeper in terms of characterization, is a vital bit of backstory that the theatrical cut eliminated involving Ripley's biological daughter. The Special Edition has an added scene at the beginning of the movie — after the big fake-out where the Chestburster bulging through Ripley's hospital gown is revealed to be a nightmare image — in which she's sitting on a park bench, with trees all around her and birds chirping. This turns out to be a simulation, as Ripley is soon joined by Burke (Paul Reiser), who wants to get her ready for her inquest with representatives of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation.

Ripley's first question to Burke is, "Is there any word about my daughter?" We learn that she had a 10-year-old girl named Amanda she left behind, but thanks to all the time Ripley spent floating in space in cryogenic sleep, Amanda has already made it to retirement age and died.

This adds to Ripley's motivation when it comes to her surrogate daughter, Newt, and makes it more understandable why she's so hellbent on going back and rescuing her at the end of the movie. Granted, she was equally hellbent on saving the proverbial cat in "Alien," but Cameron didn't write that movie.

Weaver herself was reportedly less than enthused about having parts of Ripley's backstory cut in "Aliens," which is why she was initially hesitant about returning for "Alien 3." When you consider the symmetry that Ripley's lost daughter would have provided to her plot line with Newt, it's really no wonder why Weaver and Cameron might prefer the Special Edition.