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In Aliens, the marines have fortified a position and are preparing for a last stand when the power suddenly goes out. Hudson appropriately asks, "How can they cut the power, man? They're animals!"

Later, we see that

the xenomorphs have crawled through the drop-ceiling.

Did the xenomorphs intentionally cut the power as a combat tactic, or did they

just kick something when crawling around?

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  • 2
    I would suspect that, if done by intent, it would probably fit best in Cameron's vision to say that the Alien Queen directed them to do so. It's always struck me that Cameron's alien warriors are a bit more "all teeth, no brains" than as the xenomorph was envisioned in the original film. Just speculation and observation on my part, of course.
    – Helbent IV
    Apr 16, 2018 at 21:36
  • 1
    If the aliens intentionally cut the power on the marines, why not cut the power a few weeks earlier when the colonists were there? I don't think it was intentional.
    – RichS
    Apr 19, 2018 at 23:29

8 Answers 8

55

Much as I hate the horrible pink slimebaby it's worth mentioning Alien:Resurrection. When the

captured xenomorphs kill one of their number in order to use its corrosive blood to escape the cell. I'd argue that this shows they are capable of advanced tactics and understand their environment and its weaknesses.

I'm willing to concede that it's no guarantee that they understand the concept of electricity... but I think we can safely say over the series that the xenomorphs are not animals as Hudson would mean it, as they possess cunning and intelligence. That they'd understand that destroying cables means the lights go out, it's not that far fetched.

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  • 21
    And they know how to press buttons and they know what happens when they do.
    – Bent
    Apr 16, 2018 at 10:32
  • 3
    Those aren’t pure xenomorphs though, as they were laid by a Ripley-infused queen clone. They might be putting that human DNA to use and using some problem solving skills.
    – n_b
    Apr 17, 2018 at 7:15
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    @n_b Valid point. However... as I remember xenomorph lore we have never seen a "pure" xenomorph. They always take on some aspect of the host. (As evidenced by Alien 3 where the xenomorph took on some aspects of it's dog host, and the alien vs predator videogame franchise where there is the "predalien".) So the xenomorphs in Aliens were already infused with settler DNA.
    – Doomfrost
    Apr 17, 2018 at 7:24
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    An octopus once discovered that it can turn out the annoying lights (with a fun "pop") by opening its tank and squirting water at the bulbs, so it's not a unique human (or primate) trait.
    – forest
    Apr 18, 2018 at 7:19
  • 2
    Our cats routinely chew on electrical wires - in particular USB charging cables. If you think of the xenomorphs as particularly large, slimy cats then their behavior seems pretty reasonable. Apr 18, 2018 at 15:28
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Ordinary xenomorph drones are shown to have a basic understanding of cause-and-effect that allows them to learn quickly via observation, as demonstrated in Alien: Resurrection when first they turn the liquid nitrogen that's been used to control them against their captors (cause: button pushed, effect: LN2 dispensed).1

However I do not believe that understanding extends to lights and electrical wires, because the drones have not demonstrated such an understanding at any other time in the series, even at times when it would have been extremely useful/advantageous (in terms of plot) for them to have such an ability. While they can connect that pressing a switch results in a light turning on or off, they do not appear capable of conceptualising that there is some sort of connection between the two that can be interfered with.

It is true that the drones on LV-426 have, at the time of Aliens, been alive for far longer than most xenomorphs in the series, and as such they could quite conceivably have observed humans performing maintenance-related work involving wiring, thus allowing them to determine that there is a "something" between a light and a switch and that "something" is a potential point of vulnerability.

In Resurrection it is possible drones could have been exposed to an experiment that e.g. put two simple circuits next to each other, then broke the wire of one to demonstrate that the light goes out - but of course that occurs after the events of Aliens.

In my opinion, the lights going out on the Marines is due to one of two things:

  • Hadley's Hope was already pretty smashed up from the desperate battle between the colonists and xenomorphs. Any and all redundancy in the power grid was likely gone by the time the Marines arrived; the drones could've inadvertently destroyed the last link when moving to make their attack on the Marine position.
  • Interference (directly or indirectly) by the xenomorph queen. Queens have consistently been demonstrated to be far more intelligent than their drones (for example the queen from Aliens was able to control the elevator and stow away on the dropship), so it's no long stretch to consider that the queen either directly sabotaged the power herself at the most opportune time, or simply instructed one of her drones to do so.

The second feels like the most likely explanation, and the unofficial wiki seems to agree with this assessment.

So yes, the xenomorphs did intentionally cut the power, but it was most likely the queen and not the drones ultimately responsible for doing so.

1 The fact that the experimented-on xenomorphs in Resurrection know their blood is highly corrosive and used that fact to escape their containment, points to some sort of intrinsic (genetic?) memory inherent to the species (referred to as "hive memory" by some sources). The Ripley-clone's memories of her past, "original" self are likely due to this same ability that she was granted as an inadvertent side-effect of splicing her genes with the xenomorphs' to recreate a Queen.

3
  • I like the idea of the queen being the one responsible for the plan Apr 16, 2018 at 16:58
  • By the way, if so much electricity was going through a thin thread of wire the thread would melt. I was going to call you out on this... but perhaps that's why it would've broken after a delay from the major damage.
    – wizzwizz4
    Apr 17, 2018 at 17:17
  • 2
    It doesn't look like she's in reach of the main breaker panel while she lays eggs...
    – Mazura
    Apr 18, 2018 at 3:04
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In the Alien vs Predator (1999) video game, many of the Alien levels had you intentionally and methodically sabotage things to disable power or get access to targets. If that is considered canonical I would say it shows they do.

1
  • The games also suggested that Xenomorph vision is partly electrical (with humans showing up due to bioelectricity), which would give with them being aware of electrical lines enough to realize "claw this up and the prey is easier to hunt".
    – FuzzyBoots
    Apr 19, 2018 at 16:17
2

Also remember that the main reactor in the Terraforming plant was about to blow. Was this the main power for the whole planet? Unknown, but it was connected to the base for monitoring. Perhaps a huge surge from the plant caused the base breakers to blow. In the final scenes, the entire facility is throwing all sorts of electrical emissions as the reactor goes critical. That kind of activity could produce an EMP large enough to knock out a building.

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No, they did not do it deliberately.

The xenomorphs do not attack for about three minutes after the power goes down, and only attack after being discovered and shot at. Any element of surprise they might have been hoping for is completely squandered by taking so long. They would have done better if the power had not been cut at all.

However, it is likely that they cut the power accidentally, rather than the power station failing, as the loss of power seems to be local. The backup lighting is red, which for some reason exists even in the air ducts(?). When Ripley & Co move on the lighting in the rest of the facility is much the same as before the power cut, with white lights everywhere. The xenomorphs were in the overhead spaces, which is a logical place to put power cables and a logical place for xenomorphs to trip over them.

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This question appears to have been necro'd, so I am going to post an answer:

The "theme" of the conflict between the marines and the xenomorphs in Aliens is that the marines repeatedly overestimate themselves and underestimate the "bugs".

That is shown in the establishing scenes that introduce us to the marines - their bravado is played to the hilt, as is their disdain for "bug hunts". And they are repeatedly undone when they stroll into situations that negate their technological advantages, due to an almost absurd overconfidence.

It's in that context that we have to look at Hudson's line:

Private Hudson : What do you mean they cut the power? How could they cut the power, man? They're animals!

This scene appears to be telling us that, by our standards, they are not just animals. They have abilities we can't anticipate, and if we make our plans based on the assumption that they're just animals, we will lose. Hudson assumes that he can rely on the power, because humans are smart and xenomorphs are dumb. That assumption is proven wrong, as are all the assumptions that the marines make throughout the film.

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  • Can you offer any proof that they cut the power intentionally, though?
    – Valorum
    Nov 2, 2022 at 13:46
  • It's an out of universe answer relying on the way that screenplays are constructed. I also think it's heavily implied that the xenomorphs somehow knew where to hide where the marines couldn't easily use their heavy weapons without endangering themselves - in the early scene where the marines have to switch to flame-only. Every time the xenomorphs need to "make a decision" that counters human technological advantage, they "somehow" make it. That could just be plot armor, but for the insertion of Hudson's line, which by convention is there to let the audience know that Hudson is wrong.
    – tbrookside
    Nov 2, 2022 at 14:38
  • I also think that Newt's famous line, when Ripley tells her that the soldiers know what they're doing, that "It won't make any difference..." is intended (again by convention) to be the "wise innocent" informing the audience that all plans humans have made against xenomorphs to that point have failed. Newt would have watched the colonists "know" what "animals" could do, over and over, until everyone but her was dead.
    – tbrookside
    Nov 2, 2022 at 14:44
  • Sure, but it could just as easily be that they nested under the reactor because it's warm and cut the power because the cables were in their way
    – Valorum
    Nov 2, 2022 at 16:26
  • 1
    Right, but then that makes the story into "a series of unfortunate and unlikely coincidences and accidents dooms a squad of marines" instead of "human greed and hubris is fatally exposed when confronted by the vastness of the universe and the abyss of the unknown".
    – tbrookside
    Nov 2, 2022 at 16:58
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It can have a very easy explanation that is somewhat relatable to the real world: beasts simply attack everything that vibrates or emits warmth. This behavior sometimes feels as if it is devilishly intentional, and this can be confirmed by any farmer who had to deal with mice in his shed. But it is just a coincidence: all animals seek warmth, and predator animals seek sources of sound, while our technology tends to emit most of those at its weak points.

The only intelligent thing I can remember is their tendency to hide in escape vehicles right before they launch, and not to attack crew until they land.

In the trash comedy "Tremors" this behavior is displayed in detail: monsters leave a town without communication and vehicles because they stupidly attack everything that is warm or vibrates.

0

I figure deliberately. If I am going to design a living weapon like the aliens, smarts would be a key ingredient. The eggs were located in a spaceship and it would be prudent to have the spawn understand the concept and running of the ship. Like the other poster said, a better example is the queen making the conscious effort to follow Ridley into space without revealing her presence in order to survive. It she was just trying to get revenge, she would have attacked the shuttle immediately. The same in Alien.

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  • There's some more conversation about this in an earlier response that's quite interesting: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/148523/…
    – wcullen
    Apr 16, 2018 at 22:10
  • 1/2: Admittedly this is speculation, but given that O'Bannon and others involved in the xenomorph story creation have stated that the xenomorph is based upon parasitoid wasps and that parasitoid insect have demonstrated swarm/collective intelligence and learning, I think it is reasonable to assume that the xenomorph's intelligence could have evolved into a so-called higher-order of thinking.
    – wcullen
    Apr 16, 2018 at 22:28
  • 2/2: I believe the xenomorphs acquire aspects of the DNA from the creatures they appear to morph with (consider the size of their heads as potentially representative of brain size--again, speculation) as demonstrated throughout the franchise. Therefore, isn't it reasonable to assume that what we're seeing throughout the franchise are instances of developing and advancing intelligence? (e.g. their hive-minded until more individual traits appear in sequels). So, even though individualism appears later than the first film, isn't it possible such intelligence is burgeoning in some..?
    – wcullen
    Apr 16, 2018 at 22:28

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