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James Cameron referred to Aliens as forty miles of bad road in the intro to the DVD Special Edition:

"What you're about to watch is the Special Edition of ALIENS. I actually preferred this version to the Release version because I think, as it's been best described by one of my friends, 'it's 40 miles of bad road.' And, I think it's a longer, more intense, and more suspenseful version of the film. The conventional wisdom at the time was: don't make the film too long, but at 2 hours and 37 minutes, this is the ride that we intended you to take."

What does this expression mean, and how does it relate to the film?

Has Cameron ever said that he felt the film was bumpy, disjointed, uncomfortable? Images the phrase '40 miles of bad road' evoke?

The only thing I have been able to find is a song from the 50s and I am sure this isn't related. Is there any further information given by James Cameron on this quote?

  • Probably better asked over on english.stackexchange.com – Seeds Jan 26 '17 at 16:48
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    @Seeds - I disagree. It's on-topic on both there and here – Valorum Jan 26 '17 at 16:56
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    Thanks @Valorum for the edit, making it a bit clearer as to what i was asking. Yes I'm asking more as why did he say it about the film, not what it means in English. Didn't know if it was a put down or what, as 40 miles of bad road sounds like a put down to me. – Cearon O'Flynn Jan 26 '17 at 16:57
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    @Alistair86 I didn't know his friends had said that. The edit has kind of in a way answered it... – Cearon O'Flynn Jan 26 '17 at 17:07
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    I would interpret the comment as the directors cut showing more stress and despair FOR THE MARINES as well as a longer, more stressful experience for the AUDIENCE, given that the DC puts the marine characters through more suffering and torment and is a pretty lengthy (for the 80's) film experience. I don't think he was referring to the quality of the film, the pacing, or anything like that. – Jason K Jan 26 '17 at 17:46
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The expression, as near as I can figure, is probably based on the meaning of the song you mentioned, so it is related in that way. Perhaps the expression existed before the song, but like you, I'm having trouble finding an etymology that predates the song.

Basically, it just means "you're in for a long, rough ride." The experience will be gruelling, tense or frightful. In most contexts, this would of course be a bad thing (TM). However, since Aliens is a horror movie, it's being presented as a good thing, because people who watch horror movies are generally expecting a tense and horrifying experience.

In the specific case of Aliens, there are a few aspects that could be considered "rocky." The action scenes involving the lander crashing into things. The final battle between the Queen and Ripley in the exoskeleton. Also tense scenes like the ambush where the aliens were crawling through the vents could be considered "bad road" - at least for the characters. In making this comparison, Cameron is saying the new special edition of the film is longer, harsher and (ostensibly) scarier than the theatrical release.

Content Warning: language!

("That's it man! Game over, man! Game over!")


Asides

Also note that the expression is commonly applied to a person's appearance, in which case it generally suggests that the person is ugly. This usage is probably more common.

The value of "40" is not hard-coded either. You could say "100 miles of bad road" or "10 miles of bad road." No matter how many miles of bad road you reference, the idea is that the person you're speaking to is in for a rough ride.

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Adding to Steve-O's answer, I think it's entirely possibly that he was indeed using the "ugly" aspect of the phrase, but it was in reference to the "Release" version, which was probably subject to editors from the studio who cut the film in ways he didn't like. So, in comparison to his preferred "Special Edition", the "Release" version is the proverbially ugly "X miles of bad road".

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It's an expression relating to poor quality

I believe this is used in a negative way, to refer to something as poor quality or unappealing.

Urban Dictionary lists a similar phrase relating the a person's appearance.

*When a man or woman's face is extremely ugly!!!

person 1: Man, she looks good!

person 2: Her face looks like 100 miles of bad road!

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    I'm reasonably sure that no friend of James Cameron would refer to his magnum opus as being of poor quality. – Valorum Jan 26 '17 at 17:48
  • @Valorum Quite possibly! On reflection I suspect that the context of the expression was more about the narrative-journey, than the physical journey of the viewer, if that makes sense? – Longshanks Jan 26 '17 at 17:51
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    That's undoubtedly what he meant, that the characters (and the audience) were in for a 3 hours grind where one dreadful thing after another happens. – Valorum Jan 26 '17 at 18:04

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