Firearm Safety: Colorado Student Invents Smart Gun

smartgun1In the course of considering the rash of gun violence and mass shootings that have swept the US in recent years, a great deal of attention has become focused on “smart guns”. Incorporating the latest in biometrics, fingerprinting and wireless connectivity, these weapons are designed to only be usable by their rightful (and presumably, legal) owners. One such concept comes from Colorado – which has a history of gun violence – and from a high school student, no less.

His name is Kai Kloepfer, a 17 year-old a high school student from Boulder who just won the $50,000 Smart Tech for Firearms Challenge for his smart gun prototype. Inspired by the recent school shooting in Connecticut and undeterred by the lack of legislative change in Washington DC, the Smart Tech Foundation believes that ingenuity, technology and the invisible hand of the free market will persevere where the federal government has failed.

smartgun_markAngel investor and gun reform advocate Ron Conway became the main backer of the $1 million Smart Tech prize to spur gun safety solutions earlier this year. As he said to the SF Examiner in January of this year, he hopes people will “use innovation to bring about gun safety. Let’s not rely on Washington”. According to the Smart Tech Foundation, a total of 15 innovators will receive a part of that million dollar prize.

Kloepfer is the first to get the award. His gun design works by creating a user ID and locking in the fingerprint of each user allowed to use the gun. The gun will only unlock with the unique fingerprint of those who have already permission to access the weapon. According to Kloepfer, all user data is kept on the gun and nothing is uploaded anywhere else, so it would be very difficult to hack. This potentially makes it ideal for military use as well.

smartgunKloepfer came up with the idea two years ago when he needed something for his high school science project. The Aurora, Colorado shooting had recently happened just an hour’s drive on his home, and was on everyone’s mind at the time. Kloepfer’s parents helped him in monetary increments to get the parts needed for each improvement. It would eventually cost $3000 for the whole thing to come together, maturing from phase to phase with each science fair.

As he explains the inspiration and development process:

The idea came to me right as I was falling asleep. It was kinda in the back of my mind because of the shooting. I scribbled it down before I went to bed and fell asleep and then in the morning I began my research… At first it was just a concept on paper. Right now it’s a prototype on a plastic model. Its not entirely there but it works.

kai-kloepfer-smart-tech-13Some of the $50,000 has already been used to purchase a 3D printer to create new parts for his prototype. Kloepfer, who will graduate from Fairview High School this year, plans to use the rest of it toward the integration of a fingerprint scanner. Ultimately, he hopes his and other designs like it will make a dent in the problem of gun violence and help to reduce the needless deaths caused by it:

Every 30 minutes in the U.S. a kid dies from a gun. I want my gun to help reduce accidental deaths and injuries, and to prevent tragedies.

His intentions are certainly well-placed. According to the Center for Injury and Research Policy, 1500 kids die from a gun and many more are seriously injured every year. And according to the Smart Tech Challenges Foundations own website, 2 million children live in a home with a firearm that is both loaded and unlocked. So beyond gun violence, gun safety advocates are sure to see the value in developing the technology.

smartgun_lockKloepfer also spoke about his biometric smart gun tech this past week at the TEDx Mile High: CONVERGENCE in Denver, Colorado. Stay tuned, for I plan to post the video of his talk as soon it becomes available! And in the meantime, be sure to check out the Smart Tech Challenge Foundation’s website for more information on the winners of the challenge.

Source: techcrunch.com, sfexaminer.com, smarttechfoundation

The Future is Here: Smart Guns

smart gun 2010 internet 0009Not long ago, designer Ernst Mauch unveiled a revolutionary new handgun that grew out of a desire to merge digital technology with firearm safety. Known as the “smart gun” – or Armatix iP1 – this pistol comes with a safety feature designed to ensure that only the guns owner may fire it. Basically, the gun comes with a watch (the iW1) that it is synchronized to, and the weapon will only fire if it is within ten inches of it. So unless you’re wearing the iW1, the weapon will not fire in your hands.

The weapon is in part the result of attempts to find intelligent solutions to gun safety and gun violence. And Mauch’s design is one of several proposed innovations to use digital/smart technology for just such a purpose. Back in January, the Smart Tech Challenges Foundation launched the first of four $1 million challenges aimed at inspiring the kinds of innovation that could help lead to safer guns – and a reduction in the number of tragic deaths and injuries that make the headlines nearly every day.

Armatix-Smart-SystemGiven the recent failures to reach a legislative solution to the ongoing problem of gun-violence, these efforts should come as no surprise. And Mauch, the lead designer of the iP1, claimed in a recent op-ed piece with the Washington Post that the number of gun enthusiasts will rise as the result of its enhanced safety. As a designer who’s patents include the USP family of pistols, the HK416 assault rifle, G36 assault rifle and XM25 grenade machine gun – he is a strong advocate of a market-based solution.

The gun has already sparked a great deal of controversy amongst gun advocates and the National Rifle Association. Apparently, they worry that legislation will be passed so that only smart guns can be sold in gun stores. This is largely in response to a 2002 New Jersey law that stipulated that once the technology was available, that smart guns be sold exclusively in the state. As a result, the NRA has been quite vocal about its opposition to smart guns, despite offers made to repeal the law in exchange for them easing their position.

gun-lock-inlineAs already noted, the iP1 is not the only smart technology being applied to firearms. Sentini, a Detroit-based startup founded by Omer Kiyani, is designing a biometric gun lock called Identilock. Attaching to a gun’s trigger, it unlocks only when the owner applies a fingerprint. As an engineer, a gun owner, a father, and the victim of gun violence (he was shot in the mouth at 16), he too is committed to using digital technology and biometrics to make firearms safer.

An engineer by training, Kiyani spent years working as a software developer building next-generation airbag systems. He worked on calibrating the systems to minimize the chance of injury in the event of an accident, and eventually, he realized he could apply the same basic concepts to guns. As he put it:

The idea of an airbag is so simple. You inflate it and can save a life. I made the connection. I have something in my house that’s very dangerous. There’s got to be a simple way to protect it.

biometric_gunlockInitially, Kiyani considered technology that would require installing electronic locking equipment into the guns themselves, similar to what the iP1 employs. But as an engineer, he understood the inherent complications of designing electronics that could withstand tremendous shock and high temperatures, not to mention the fact it would be incredibly difficult to convince gun manufacturers to work with him on the project.

As a result, he began to work on something that anyone could add to a gun. Ultimately, his creation is different in three ways: it’s optional, it’s detachable, and it’s quick. Unlike biometric gun safes and other locking mechanisms, the Identilock makes it as easy to access a firearm as it is to unlock an iPhone. He pitched hundreds of gun owners a variety of ideas over the course of his research, but it was the biometric lock they inevitably latched onto

gun-lock-inline1The Identilock is also designed using entirely off-the-shelf components that have been proven effective in other industries. The biometric sensor, for example, has been used in other security applications and is approved by the FBI. Cobbling the sensor together from existing technologies was both a cost-saving endeavor and a strategic way to prove the product’s effectiveness more quickly. Currently, the project is still in the prototype phase, but it may prove to be the breakout product that brings biometrics and safety together in recent years.

And last, but certainly not least, there is the biometric option that comes from PositiveID, the makers of the only FDA-approved implantable biochip – which is known as the Verichip. In the past, the company has marketed similar identity-confirming microchips for security and medical purposes. But this past April, the company announced a partnership with Belgium-based gun maker FN Manufacturing to produce smart weapons.

VERICHIPThe technology is being marketed to law enforcement agencies as a means of ensuring that police firearms can never be used by criminals or third parties. The tiny chip would be implanted in a police officer’s hand and would match up with a scanning device inside a handgun. If the officer and gun match, a digital signal unlocks the trigger so it can be fired. Verichip president Keith Bolton said the technology could also improve safety for the military and individual gun owners, and it could be available as early as next year.

Similar developments are under way at other gun manufacturers and research firms. The New Jersey Institute of Technology and Australian gun maker Metal Storm Ltd. are working on a prototype smart gun that would recognize its owner’s individual grip. Donald Sebastian, NJIT vice president for research and development and director of the project, claims that the technology could eventually have an even bigger impact on the illegal gun trade.eri

An employee of Armatix poses for photographers as he presents the ÒSmartGun Concept".Regardless of the solutions being proposed and the progress being made, opposition to these and other measures does not appear to be letting up easily. New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg recently announced that she would introduce a bill to reverse the 2002 New Jersey “smart gun” law if the National Rifle Association would agree not to stand in the way of smart gun technology. The NRA, however, has not relented in its stance.

In addition, biochips and RFID implants have a way of making people nervous. Whenever and wherever they are proposed, accusations of “branding” and “Big Brother” monitoring quickly follow. And above all, any and all attempts to introduce gun safety are met with cries of opposition by those who claim it infringes on citizen’s 2nd Amendment rights. But given the ongoing problem of gun violence, school shootings, and the amount of violence perpetrated with stolen weapon, it is clear that something needs to change.

guns1In 2011 in the United States, roughly 3.6 people per 100,000 were killed with a firearm – which amounts to 32,163 people. In addition, of the 15,953 homicides committed that year, 11,101 were committed using a gun; almost 70% of the total. And not surprisingly, of those 11,101 gun-related homicides, more than half (An6,371) were committed using a handgun. And though exact figures are not exactly available, a general estimates indicates that some 90% percent of murders are committed with stolen guns.

As a result, it is likely just a matter of time before citizens see the value in biometric and smart gun technology. Anything that can ensure that only an owner can use a firearm will go a long way to curbing crime, accidents, and acts of senseless and unmitigated violence.

Sources: cnet.com, theverge.com, (2), wired.com, (2), msnbc.com, gunpolicy.com

Cool Cars

Just yesterday I was busy hearing about the new Zombie Car, an invention which is going to be unveiled at the next Comic Con. A collaboration between The Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman and Hyundai, the car will essentially incorporate all the zombie-fighting features that a post-apocalyptic vehicle needs.

As it happens, one of my followers mentioned how this vehicle reminded her of the Batmobile and other cool cars. Between that and the allusions to Mad Max that the Zombie Car inevitably inspires, I got to thinking that this site is in need of a list of Cool Cars! And here it is, all the cool vehicles that have appeared in pop culture over the years, more often than not, as part of a science fiction franchise.

M577 APC:
Not so much a car as a tank, but she drives on four wheels and is VERY cool. So I don’t see why the M577 from the Aliens franchise shouldn’t be included on this list. Much like all APC’s, the purpose of this low-sitting but heavy hitting vehicle was to act as a battle taxi, deploying a squad of Marines to the field and then pulling them out in a hurry if things got harry. Designed to fit aboard a Cheyenne Dropship, it was part of the Colonial Marines quick deployment strategy.

As Hudson so righteously bragged in the movie, the M577 is decked out with some pretty impressive weaponry. For instance, the foldable turret mounted on the top carries a twin 20mW Boyars PARS-150 phased plasma cannon which is capable of making 1000 discharges. At the front end of the vehicle, a dual set of RE700 20mm Gatling cannons is built on a small swivel turret. In addition, it also carries plenty of small arms and munitions for its Marine compliments, consisting of pulse rifles, smart guns, flame units, grenades, rockets and even canisters of nerve gas.

Batmobile:
Now here’s a popular vehicle, so popular that’s gone through several variations over the years. From the campy 60’s version of the original Adam West series to the sculpted Burton remake to the Tumbler of the Nolan series, the Batmobile is a nostalgic icon which is constantly being reinvented. But all versions have two things in common. One, they’re crime-fighting specials, which means they have all kinds of gadgets and features. Two, they’re none to shabby to look at and probably a hell of a lot of fun to drive!

In the earliest Batman comics, the Batmobile was simply a sedan that served as Batman’s car. As time went on, it began to reflect Batman’s motif, including wing-shaped tailfins, dark colors, and even armor. Additional customizations, like crime-fighting gadgets also found their way into the design, and soon, a classic was born!

By the time of the original series, the Batmobile was based around the chassis of a Lincoln Futura and featured fully-functioning gadgets. These included a gas turbine, a Cable Cutter Blade, the Bat Ray Projector, a Batscope, Bat Eye Switch, Antenna Activator, Police Band Cut-In Switch, Automatic Tire Inflation Device, the Remote Batcomputer, the Batphone, Emergency Bat Turn Lever, Anti-Fire Activator, Bat Smoke, Bat Photoscope, and two rear-mounted ten-foot Deist parachutes.

Updated for the relaunch, Burton’s Batmobile built around the original concept but recieved a does of his characteristic grit and Gothic nature. As such, the new Batmobile’s aesthetics and gadgets were updated for the modern era and included a sleeker design, a more comprehensive turbine system, a sliding canopy, and of course retractable body armor! It also retained the idea of a 180 degree “Bat turn”, which this time around was made possible from lateral harpoons, and two .30 cal machineguns.

As the second movie demonstrated, the vehicle was also capable of shedding much of its body and collapsing into a narrow version of itself in case it needed to fit through tight spots. By the third movie, the design concept had changed considerably to feature bright sections beneath its segmented chassis. Over the top and impractical, this design was in keeping with Schumacher’s vision of a Batman where everything glittered and was campy, like the original series.

And last, the Nolan version. Here, the Batmobile was apparently inspired by Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, where it was depicted as a tank rather than a car, and the Spinners of the Blade Runner movie. In the first film, it is indicated that the design came from a military vehicle known as “The Tumbler”, which Bruce Wayne then modified for his personal use.

It’s features included a propane fueled jet engine, front-firing rockets, autocannons, caltrops, rear airbrakes, and a stealth mode. In the Dark Knight, it was also shown that in emergency situations, the front wheels can deploy to form the Batpod. Rumors also abound that the new version featured in The Dark Knight Rises will be capable of flight as well. Oooooh, five more days!

Delorean:
This time-traveling vehicle has placed this short-lived 80’s experiment permanently on people’s radar. Were it not for Back to the Future and it’s unapologetically 80’s feel, the Delorean would probably have faded into obscurity a long time ago. Much like the Futura, it was a short-lived concept that caught on because of its appearance on screen.

But of course, were it not for its unusual design features, such as the gull-wing doors, stainless steel paneling and fiberglass underbody, it would never have made its cinematic appearances in the first place. The set designers were looking for something futuristic-looking to fashion a time-machine out of, and this is what they found!

It’s futuristic features are quite straightforward: A flux capacitor which allows for time travel, a plutonium engine that fuels it, a series of internal controls to set and monitor the time computations, and some rear facing exhaust fans to give it that ultra-futuristic look! Only three remain in existence once filming of the three movies was finished. Two are the property of Universal Studios and are display items, the third is owned by a private collector who assembled and restored the original model.

Ecto-1:
I shall not be making a “Who you gonna call?” reference here! Too obvious! Instead, let me just say that this car ought to be instantly familiar to anyone who grew up in the 80’s. If not, I’d be forced to wonder if you spent the entire decade in a cave or a cell somewhere, in which case, my sincere condolences!

Moving on, the Ecto-1 was the primary means of transport for the Ghostbusters. The car was built around the chassis of a 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor, which had been converted to act as an ambulance car. This is apparent from the realoader trunk and the car’s siren, which was retained by the Ghostbusters so they could make sure people stayed out of their way, and also to announce their arrival!

Additional features including a a special pull-out rack in the rear containing the staff’s proton packs, which facilitates a quick retrieval without the complication of having to reach into the vehicle’s rear. There are also various gadgets mounted on the top, whose function is never revealed in the movies. However, in the course of the cartoon adaptation, it is said that the vehicle carries a “proton cannon” on its roof, and has a vertical jump system built into the bottom. These allow the Ghostbusters to take on ghost with some heavy artillery, as well as clearing fences and other obstacles that lie between them and their deployment.

KITT:
Also known as Knight Industries Two Thousand, this talking car was featured in the popular 80’s show Knight Rider. In addition to being the “vehicle” (ha!) that launched Hasselhoff’s career, this car is one of the earliest instances where an AI was merged with a high-performance car.

Built around the chassis of a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am, the car was souped up with a number of features to give it that AI look and feel. These included the red-laser scanner bar at the front – which like the Cylons’, allowed KITT to “see” – a turbo boost that allowed him to make big jumps, an “alpha circuit” which allows KITT to drive himself, a Tri-Helical Plasteel 1000 MBS (molecular bonded shell) plating, a flame thrower, tear gas launcher, and even a laser.

Inspiring several TV movies and a 2008 relaunch, the vehicle has gone through several redesigns and upgrades. In the updated series, the Trans Am chassis was traded in for a Mustang GT500KR and the molecular armor was traded in for nanotech polymer skin which is not only impregnable, but also capable of regeneration. Much of the other features, including the AI, scanners and defensive systems remained very much the same. However, the show only lasted single season, a possible indication that not all things 80’s are an instant success anymore.

Pursuit Special:
With all this talk about Mad Max, it was only a matter of time before this one crept into the list! Making multiple appearances in the franchise, the first car to hold this name was a modified Holden Monaro that was stolen and used by the “Night Rider” (not to be confused with Haffelhoff’s character). However, the more famous model was a modified 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT.

It was this car that Mad Max was offered as an incentive to stay with the force as their top pursuit man. Thought he initially refused it, he later used this same vehicle as his personal revenge weapon when evil men murdered his wife and child and had to be dealt with!

In terms of features, the main modifications on this car were the front nosecone, the eight individual exhaust side pipes, and a supercharger protruding through the bonnet. All of these alluded to the fact that the Pursuit Special was the fastest car in the force, capable of chasing down any road warriors that happened to be barreling down the highway.

In the sequel, the car was modified even further thanks to the success of the first film and a correspondingly larger budget. The new features included large petrol tanks fitted in the back to show that just how important a steady supply of petrol was to this car, not to mention within the context of the post-apocalyptic setting of Mad Max. The front end was also modified by removing the bottom section, which was in keeping with the design concept of making the car look more used and stressed.

Spinner:
So… it’s the 21st century, and yet there aren’t any flying cars. Screw hybrids and electrics, I was promised FLYING CARS! Well, according to the movie Blade Runner, we still have seven years before they are supposed to be a regular feature, at least as far as police cars go. And that’s the concept of a Spinner, in a nutshell –  a flying car used by the police of the future noire city of LA.

In addition to being able to drive as a ground car, the Spinner is also capable of vertical takeoff and landings and hovering at relatively high altitudes. Conceived by Syd Mead, the same man who designed concepts for Tron and Aliens, the vehicle was originally described as an “aerodyne” – a vehicle which directs air downward to create lift, though press kits for the film stated that the spinner was propelled by three engines: “conventional internal combustion, jet, and anti-gravity”.

I hope for their sake, they exaggerate! It’s going to be hard to come up with anti-gravity engines in just seven years time! In any case, the concept designs were built by Gene Winfield, the man who brought concepts to life for Batman, The Last Starfighter and Robocop as well as this. No indication was given as to what they used for a chassis, so I can only assume they built it up from spare parts and a classic was born!

So… seven years before these cars are supposed to be available, right? Ford, Toyota, GM, Hyundai, Subaru; all of you guys, get on it! Don’t make me come down there!

XXX GTO:
Last, but not least, we have the super-charge spy car on steroids from the movie XXX. As anyone who has seen this movie knows, Mr Vin Diesel, once undercover amongst a bunch of Russian mafia scumbags, decided he needed to have a classic muscle car. This he found in a 1967 Pontiac GTO hardtop. When circumstances demanded he start kicking some ass, he demanded that his spy buddies take all their precious gear and put it into the car.

Yes, that’s exactly how it happened. A table of guns, harpoons launchers, and assorted high tech gear lay in front of them. Behind the wheel, Diesel said “I want all of that… in here!” Within a few days, he got his wish. Featuring a folding seat which turns over to reveal a weapons rack, missiles mounted behind the lights, a flame thrower, and built-in machineguns.

And of course, all of this equipment had corresponding controls in the interior. These were to be found in a confusing array of millions of buttons and switches, along with an on-board GPS system built into the dashboard. Unfortunate that the car made only a brief appearance as part of the final chase scene.

Well that’s I got for this first installment in the series. I imagine people might have suggestions so please send them my way. Between ships, robots, guns, and now cars, I think we can just pay homage to just about every cool thing that’s ever come out of the realm of sci-fi and pop culture!

… and Aliens

Hello, and welcome back to talk about all things Alien! As I talked about, at length, in my last post, Alien is a sci-fi classic that was both novel and original, not to mention faithful in it’s execution. Then, years later, the studio that brought us the original came back, this time with a bigger budget and a new director, a man who would make his name directing big-budget action flicks and blockbusters. I am of course referring to James Cameron. And with the added s in the title, we were given a preview of what was to come. Maybe not specifics, but anyone looking at the titles could probably tell that in the second, the ante was being upped! And it certainly was. In this movie, as was hoped, we got a dose of action, plenty of awesome sets and characters, and of course, some much needed explanations about the alien species.

(Background—>)
According to many sources, Cameron was the one who approached 20th Century Fox and producer David Giller and asked if he could direct a sequel to the movie. In addition, it was while working on The Terminator that he hammered out the initial script to the movie, and impressed the studio to the point that they willing to foot the bill. Choosing not to follow the lead of the first, he decided that the sequel would be a combat action film that focused “more on terror, less on horror”. In other words, this movie would have more shooting, more explosions, all the fear and suspense, but less gore. And of course, it would also have to illustrate the relationship between the two alien species, the spidery-parasite on the one hand and the hunter-seeker on the other! Strong hints were dropped in the first movie as to how these creatures bred and propagated. Remember the fields of eggs? Yeah, well… something was going to have to be done about that, and I think we all knew that it wouldn’t be pretty. It might be fair to say that the original trailer said it best: “Aliens. This time… it’s war!”

(Content—>)
Picking up where the first left off, the movie opens with Ripley’s ship coming back to Earth after being adrift for over fifty years. The opening sequence, where not a line of dialogue is spoken for several minutes, sets the tone of the movie quite well. Its eery, cold, and kind of suspenseful. There’s also the opening nightmare sequence to remind everyone of what happened last time, and illustrates how Ripley is haunted by the memory of it. Anyway, once she’s up and around, she learns that much has changed since her departure. The big, bad folks at Weyland-Yutani – the ones who screwed her over before, remember? – are still in charge. And now that she’s awake, they’re looking for answers! For example, why did she blow up their multimillion dollar ship, what happened to her crew, and whats all this business about an alien? As their is no physical evidence to corroborate her story, and no recorded instance of this alien being encountered anywhere else, they aren’t inclined to believe her. But in the midst of this strained testimony, she tries to warn them, especially since the derelict ship her crew encountered was full of eggs and the planet they set down has now been colonized! If just one of those things gets loose, she warns, it’ll make what happened to her crew look like a Sunday picnic!

But of course, they don’t listen, she is blackballed and spends the next little while languishing as she tries to find a new job and continues to have nightmares of her encounter. But then, wouldn’t you know it, the company comes calling! Enter their douchey, but seemingly nice corporate laison officer, named Burke (played by Paul Reiser), and the prickish Colonial Marine, Lt. Goreman. Contact with the colony has been lost, and wouldn’t you know it, the company higher-ups think it might have something to do with that alien ship she mentioned. And since she had first-hand experience dealing with the things, the company has decided to let her ride shotgun and offered to reinstate her. She initially refuses, but after another sleepless night of nightmares, she begins to think Burke might be right, that she should go back and face her demon. She agrees, but only on the condition that they are going back to kill it, not capture it for research. The cat, however, is staying behind (no really, what was the purpose of that cat?)

Cut to the Marine vessel establishing orbit around the planet. Ripley and her Marine cohorts are waking up, as is the douchey Burke, and Bishop, the ship’s android (played by Lance Henriksen). After discovering he’s an android, Ripley flips out just a little, since the last time she had a run in with an “artificial human”, it tried to kill her. She then attends the Marine briefing and gives them the low down on everything she knows, but the salty Marines don’t seem too shaken, especially the bad-ass Latina named Vazquez (Jenette Goldstein). Now already this movie has dropped a few hints as to whats to come. We’re pretty sure Burke is going to screw her over, that the aliens are likely to kick their asses, that Hudson (Bill Paxton) is going to be a whiny little bitch, and that Bishop is going to save her (or something) and gain her trust. Yes, unlike Scott, Cameron was a bit conventional. But the funny thing is, back then (as opposed to with Titanic and everything after) it worked for him. He knew how to appeal to an audience without going for the cheap payout. And besides, the movie’s given us plenty to be excited about up until this point, and even a few really kick-ass lines. “Is this going to be a standup fight, sir, or another bug hunt?” “I only wanna know one thing. Where-they-are!” “We’re on an express elevator to hell; going down!” Cue drop sequence!

The scenes that follow are infinitely re-watchable. The Marines drop into the colony, take to the main building and begin sweeping it from room to room. They find no one, but there are obvious signs of a fight. The tension is palatable as they stalk the corridors with their cool weapons and kit, their motion detectors making that eerie beeping noise. Everyone’s literally on the edge of their seat waiting to see what jumps out at them. However, what they find instead is a survivor – a little girl no less – named Newt (Carrie Henn). Apparently, she’s the only one who made it through the alien onslaught, and when she gets to talking, she’s got some cryptic words for them. “These people are here to protect you. They’re soldiers,” says Ripley. “It won’t make any difference,” replies the freaked out Newt. Then, by the one hour mark, we get our first combat scene! After finding the colonists by homing in on their beacons, the Marines go to their location in the neighboring atmospheric generator (Apparently, everybody in the company has these things implanted in them. A bit Big Brothery, you might say, but they sure are handy in the event of an alien abduction!)

As for the action sequence itself, I can honestly that it – and everything leading up to it – is timelessly awesome, made especially so by a number of factors. For one, it takes advantage of all the tension the movie has built up until this point. Second, the scene when the Marines catch a first glimpse of the remodeling the aliens have done. Wow! I mean, the way it was shot, how we see it from the point of view of Ripley and the others who are watching via remote camera, and then from up close, the scary music cutting in for the first time! Not to mention the dialogue that manages to punctuate the moment perfectly. “What is that?” asks the Lt. “You tell me man, I just work here!” says Hudson. Then we get an up close look at the nightmarish, twisted decorations they’ve lined the walls with. Holy Lovecraft, Batman! And last, but not least, there’s the added worry when they realize that they cannot fire their heavy weapons inside the place because they are right beneath the buildings thermonuclear reactor. If they fire, they risk rupturing the cooling tanks, yadda yadda yadda, big explosion! You might think this is a bit contrived, but whatever man, it works! Put it all together, and you got one scary, nerve-wracking scene. And I don’t think there was anyone who didn’t jump out of their seats when that woman hanging from the wall suddenly opened her eyes!

Okay, so then comes the intense fight scene where most of the Marines get killed, they pull back and Ripley finds herself saving the day. After returning to their base to discuss options, they decide to lift off and nuke the facility from orbit. Here we get two previews of whats to come, the first being that Ripley will slay her demons and kiss some ass, and that Burke will betray them. It seems obvious at this point that he wants to bring some of these creatures back, considering the way he’s changed his tune. At the beginning he was giving his word they’d wiped out, now he’s saying that no one has the right to arbitrarily exterminate them. Yeah, way to feign humanitarian concern, asshole! “Watch us,” is about all the Marines have to say in response. But of course, the plan fails when the dropship crashes and goes down in a fiery ball. Seems the little buggers found it while the Marines were out getting their butts kicked and got on board. With their dust-off ship destroyed – cue Hudson’s whiney one-liner (“Game over man!”) – they have no choice but to go to ground and wait for a rescue. And as Newt points out, they better do it soon, because as we see on the far horizon, the sun is setting. And as she says: “They mostly come at night. Mostly…” Woooooo! And so they seal themselves in to their HQ, cover the approaches with remote guns, and wait…

I should make a quick mention of the additional scene that’s included in the Director’s Cut. When I saw the movie on TV as a child, the scene with the remote guns and the aliens trying to find their way in was included. But on video, it was nowhere to be found. Luckily, this scene made it into the Director’s Cut, and its definitely worth while. However, if you’re not watching the DC, this scene doesn’t happen and instead we’ve got the scenes of Ripley, Bishop, Newt and Burke held up in the main building and fortifying their position. Though I prefer the version where the added action sequence made it in, I should say that the movie is still well paced without it, mixing expository dialogue with a lot of strung out talk about how they are going to survive for the night. You can feel the anxiety and desperation, but also the resolve, Ripley having come into her own at this point, her frostiness and fear turned to gridiron, ass-kicking determination. It also becomes pretty clear that she’s formed an attachment to Newt and doesn’t want anything to happen to her. In the DC, there’s a scene that helps explain this at the beginning, how she had a daughter who died while she was adrift in space. Call it transference, but it works! Her attachment, like her resolve, seems downright genuine.

Speaking of exposition, we then get to the part where Burke’s betrayal manifests. Basically, he attempts to infect Ripley and Newt while they are sleeping by letting two of the parasite specimens loose in their room. We already know Burke is a liar and a cheat, thanks not only to his “we don’t want to wipe these creatures out scene”, but also because prior to this, Bishop admits that Burke ordered him to pack some specimens up for transport (seems the colonists took some of the spider’s intact, one that was still alive even). After looking into this, Ripley discovers that Burke was the one who gave the order to send the colonists out to investigate the derelict alien craft. Again, there’s a scene in the DC showing this early on in the movie. But in the original, it is established through dialogue alone (I think I prefer the latter in this case. Sometimes, less is more, even though it means you don’t get to see the alien ship in the second movie). So basically, we are told that Burke is responsible for the situation in the colony. He then tries to buy Ripley’s silence by promising her a share of the money he’s going to make by bringing them back alive, but she tells him to sit on it and rotate! The betrayal seems inevitable at this point, but alas, it fails as both Ripley’s quick thinking and the timely intervention of the Marines sends the parasites to hell! Afterwards, they are deciding what to with Burke, when wham! Darkness! The creatures are coming, and they cut the power…

Bring on action sequence number two! The aliens have managed to bypass their defenses this time and are coming straight for the HQ! Get to the chopper! Hehe, always wanted to say that. So they’ve managed to get a dropship to come down on remote at this point, thanks to Bishop, but in the course of the action, Newt is taken alive! Ripley and Hudson are the only others to survive the attack, the other Marines having died selflessly and Burke dying like the pig he is! Unfortunately, Hudson was seriously burned in the last encounter, leaving Ripley alone to do what she’s gotta do! Namely, go rescue Newt. Strapping into a shitload of artillery, a moment has that lived on in cinematic history as pure gold, Ripley heads straight into the den of the beast. Finding her just in time before a parasite could infect her, we get to the movie’s climax. While holding Newt in her arms, one gun aimed forward, Ripley comes face to face with a field of eggs… She then looks up, and sees the Queen. Her existence is already hinted at during an earlier expository scene, the one that precedes Ripley confronting Burke. But now, we see her up close for the first time! What a perfect metaphor huh? One mother confronting another, the one rescuing her young, the other standing guard over her eggs. The latter is even willing to let Ripley live in order to keep her from blasting them, but wouldn’t you know it, Ripley does it anyway! Screw you, aliens! After blasting the whole field with her flamethrower, she fires several grenades and then hightails it out. And the mother alien, wounded but pissed, breaks free and follows her. It also seems this mother is a lot smarter than her children, for she manages to work the same elevator Ripley used to escape and follow her to the roof. Cornered, Ripley grabs hold of Newt and prepares to die at the Queen’s hands, but she narrowly gets out when Bishop comes to their rescue! Thus we see the android confounding her expectations and proving his worth! Echoes of Blade Runner here…

But wouldn’t you know it, there’s a final action scene, drawing its inspiration from the first movie where the alien snuck aboard Ripley’s escape craft and had to be blasted out the airlock. Ripley does the same here, but not before getting into a mechanized cargo loader and fighting the Queen in hand to hand combat! Sheerly awesome, if just a little bit cheesy! I tell ya, final fight scenes can easily go wrong, but this movie made it work (unlike Lucas who forced us to endure that lightsaber fight between Yoda and Dooku!) The whole thing is punctuated perfectly by one line: “Get away from her, you BITCH!” The whole dueling mothers thing is elevated to true visual art here. The movie then ends with Bishop, eviscerated but alive, telling Ripley she did good, and with Ripley telling Newt they’ll sleep all the way home. And were it not for one inadvisable sequel, they would have done just that! But more on that later…

(Synopsis—>)
You know, looking back on this review, I realize one thing about this movie. It’s got a LOT going on. Many a time I tried to skim past things, but couldn’t because they were just too relevant. And even then, I find that I minimized some things or left them out entirely. Bishop’s performance, for example, which contrasts starkly with Ash’s from the first movie. Whereas the former tried to kill Ripley and was an unfeeling automaton, the latter was genuinely empathic and saved her life (the incorporation of Asimov’s “first rules of robotics” was also a nice touch!). The mention of the name Hyderdine Systems (the androids’ manufacturer) was clearly a shout out to Cameron’s recently-released movie, The Terminator, where Cyberdine Systems was the company responsible for manufacturing the Terminator robots. And then there was the quasi-romance that took place between Hicks (Michael Beihn, also from Terminator fame) had with Ripley. Though nothing romantic ever materializes, you get the feeling that their relationship served as a sort of redemption, not between man and machine, but between men and women. All throughout the movie, Ripley is ignored and dismissed by male colleagues, but this one man listens to her and swears he will protect her. She, in turn, saves his bacon and goes on without him when it comes time for her to save Newt (her surrogate daughter) and confronting the Queen (the enemy’s mother).

Yep, this movie has lots going on, far more than just some kick-ass action sequences. But the funny thing is, you don’t realize it. The plot, pacing and tone wrap all the content up quite succinctly; at no point do you feel bored or overwhelmed. If I were reaching for something bad to say about it, I might try the flip-flop that happens with Burke. Initially, he seems like a nice guy, gives Ripley his word that the company doesn’t have ulterior motives, and then pulls the double-cross. But then again, that’s what you’d expect from the guy, isn’t it? From the beginning he’s oozing an evil sort of charm, you expect him to lie! And then there was the bit about them realizing, 11th hour like, that they can’t use their guns in the aliens lair. You might think they would have thought of that sooner, but then again, it really does seem like something that wouldn’t occur to them in the thick of their pursuit. The way they figure it out before any firing actually takes place actually seemed timely and believable to me. And yes, the somewhat predictable elements I mentioned. Are they predictable because they’re obvious, or because they work? I’d be inclined to go with the latter.

And of course, there was all the stuff it did deliver on. Awesome action sequences, lots of cool gear and sets, Ripley coming full circle, and of course, the full nature of the alien species being divulged. And let’s not forget about the theme of dueling mothers! This movie was downright original in that respect, its action sequences becoming staples of the industry that have often been imitated. Sigourney Weaver herself become an icon thanks to this movie, her gun-toting, mec fighting scenes something that have been imitated many times over! And once again, literary critics and philosophers found lots to praise, all those maternal themes and the conflict between machines and human and men and women mentioned earlier. Overall, the movie was not original in quite the same way that the first movie was. But still, it captures the same key themes and expanded on them quite well. The hostile species, the terror, the evil corporation that wants to possess it, all the while adding in original ideas of its own. Different but comparable, seeking what the original sought without following in quite the same footsteps. Aliens: damn good movie, awesome sequel!

Aliens:
Entertainment Value: 9/10 Hoora!
Plot: 9/10
Direction: 9/10
Total: 9/10 (Pained as I am that this movie has gotten higher marks than the original, the numbers just add that way! Fans of the original, please don’t hate me!)