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Aliens: How The Ship's Name Is A Clever Alien Easter Egg

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The USS Sulaco, the ship's name in James Cameron's Aliens, is a clever Easter egg for fans of the original Alien, and of its director Ridley Scott. The Sulaco Easter egg references the name of the starship in Scott's Alien, the USCSS Nostromo, which itself is a reference and Easter egg for fans of novelist Joseph Conrad. Both of these Easter eggs are names that come from Conrad's novel, Nostromo. While Cameron's Sulaco Easter egg in Alien is most likely a simple reference to Scott's movie, Scott's Easter egg in Alien is clearly more than just a nod to the director's being a fan of Conrad's work.

Joseph Conrad, who wrote tragic, politically charged tales around the turn of the 20th century, has influenced many modern-day movies, including Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, which is loosely based on Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Ridley Scott is undoubtedly a fan of Conrad's work, evidenced by the fact that his debut film, The Duellists, was based on a Conrad short story. Scott clearly chose the name Nostromo for the ship in Alien as an Easter egg and reference to the book, which itself is named after its main character, an Italian sailor nicknamed Nostromo. Perhaps not incidentally, Nostromo means "shipmate" in Italian, which Scott may have used as a double meaning, referring to the Nostromo's Xenomorph stowaway (arguably a kind of intruding "shipmate"). Compare this possibility to 2020's Russian sci-fi horror movie Sputnik, whose title means "companion" and is the name given to the stowaway alien creature in that movie.

Although the Nostromo Easter egg seems like a simple nod to one of Scott's favorite authors, it is possibly much more than that. It seems that Scott, as a fan of Conrad's work, used more than the novel Nostromo's name for the starship in Alien. One can argue that Scott also used the novel's basic story for his movie. Nostromo is the tragic story of Nostromo, a sailor who is used as an expendable tool by a powerful mining company in the fictional town of Sulaco. Similarly, Alien is the tragic story of Ripley, an astronaut who is used as an expendable tool by the powerful mining company the Weyland-Yutani Corporation. The crews of both the USS Sulaco in Aliens and the USCSS Nostromo in Alien are pawns of powerful companies, as is the sailor Nostromo in Conrad's novel.

It also seems that Scott's Alien is influenced by other examples of Conrad's work in addition to the novel Nostromo. In Alien, the Nostromo's escape pod is named Narcissus, which is an Easter egg and reference to a Conrad novel, published in the United States as The Children of the Sea, in which a mate of the ship Narcissus brings an infectious disease aboard, much like Kane (John Hurt) in Alien.

With the naming of the USS Sulaco, Cameron's Sulaco Easter egg in Aliens essentially continues something of a franchise tradition started by Scott: naming elements of each movie after elements from Conrad's works. The ship Sulaco is named after the town of Sulaco in the fictional South American nation of Costaguana, the main setting of the novel Nostromo. Subsequent entries in the Alien franchise have also continued the tradition, including in Alien 3, in which the USCSS Patna is named after the ship in Conrad's novel Lord Jim.

While the Sulaco Easter egg in Aliens is definitely a reference to Alien, the connections to Joseph Conrad's work seem to be limited to the original movie. This is because while Joseph Conrad's influence has left a clear mark on Ridley Scott's Alien, the same isn't necessarily true of James Cameron's Aliens. In Aliens, it's not clear that Cameron's Sulaco Easter egg is intended to reference Conrad other than via the themes already introduced by Scott in Alien. To complicate matters, while Scott is often credited with naming the Nostromo starship in Alien, others have also been given credit for its naming, including Alien producer Walter Hill. Nevertheless, this Alien Easter egg now belongs unquestionably to the franchise, regardless of its originator or the intention behind the reference.
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