Product Review: Master Replicas Motion Tracker
AT A GLANCE:
Aliens: Motion Tracker, Limited Edition
Manufacturer: Master Replicas
Release: September 2004
MASTER REPLICAS PROP REPLICAS:
In 2001, Master Replicas exploded onto into the collector's consciousness with their superior,
museum quality officially licensed movie prop replicas for several film franchises including
Star Wars and Star Trek. Among enthusiasts and collectors alike, the items they have made are
considered some of the best in the industry. This alienscollection.com review will focus on Master
Replicas first "Aliens" offering to the general public: the "Motion Tracker" as used by the United
States Colonial Marines on their ill-fated mission to the planetoid, LV-426.
Looking to expand their offerings, especially with the upcoming release of long awaited Alien vs.
Predator film, Master Replicas has chosen to delve into the rich mythos of the Aliens & Predator
universes to produce collectibles from both of Twentieth Century Fox's smash science-fiction
With the release of Aliens in 1986, the roller coaster follow-up to Alien, many collectors have
sought accurate replica props and costume items, particularly those of the United States Colonial
Marines: their legendary "standard issue" M-41A Pulse Rifle, M3 Body Armor and of course, the
Part of the appeal of Aliens for many fans was, and still is, the fact that the hardware, weapons,
even the Alien universe itself has an incredible lived-in, real-world sense of verisimilitude - a
design aesthetic carried over into every aspect of the film: from the largest sets, to the tiniest
prop. Everything in these films was designed with one purpose in mind: to sell the audience that
this universe was real.
The Motion Tracker used by the Colonial Marines takes its origins from an amazingly tense and
thrilling scene in the first Alien film. In Alien, director Ridley Scott along with writers Dan
O'Bannon & Ronald Shussett conceptualized a brilliant way to engage their audience; by spending an
extraordinary amount of time in introducing the characters and human element first, and holding off
on the Alien until later, well after the film has started, the audience is given time to know and
care about the characters.
In Alien, the original large and cumbersome "leafblower" tracker device was an extremely clever
tool for the writers and director to use, as it enabled them to clue the audience in that the unseen
Alien threat lurking in the shadows was closing the distance and moving closer and closer. The prop
allowed the filmmakers to build up an incredible amount of suspense and terror, all without ever
actually having to tip their hat and expose the Alien creature - for the simple reason that when it
DID come time to reveal the monster, it would scare the hell out of you.
And scare it did. Who can
forget one of the most famous fright shots of all time; that 1/2 second glimpse of the Alien warrior
throwing out his arms and grabbing the doomed captain of the Nostromo.
This device was smartly redesigned and reinvented and put to even more suspenseful use in the film's
highly successful sequel, Aliens. Given no formal name and only referred to as a "Motion Tracker"
in James Cameron's script, the handheld device was one of the most unique props created for the film.
In what was one of the most memorable sequences in the film, the film's heroes are barricaded inside
the colony's Operations center as a phalanx of Aliens close in on their position. Who can forget
Private Hudson crying out over the pinging sonar, "6 meters... 5 meters... they're inside the room!"
All while letting Ripley, Newt, Hicks, and the other Marines (and us) know the menacing Alien horde
was rapidly closing the distance.
Nothing is as scary and exhilarating as what one can conjure in one's imagination. In this sense,
the Motion Tracker prop became an essential part of the storytelling experience; building suspense,
terror and fear from the unseen.
REAL WORLD PARTS:
In order to produce a quality replica to Master Replica's stringent requirements, key research was
needed to bring the project to fruition. The original Motion Tracker prop as constructed for the film
by prop master Terry Reed was made from a power tool casing, a drill to be exact, dressed with mainly
photographic accessories and additional component parts.
Proving that in a hurry nothing is wasted when putting together a prop, the small box on the left
hand side of the Tracker was a mystery until it was realized that it was actually the small
storage box for another component, the "self timer" unit that's attached to the Tracker's underside.
Another example of this time and cost-saving ideology is that both the meter and panel which are
attached to the "slide viewer" are from the same flashgun, discovered to come from an old Vivitar
model. The Jobo darkroom lamp on the front of the tracker, the self timer, and cable release button
were easier to find. The item onto which that the keypad is placed was discovered to be a casing for
a transformer which powered a child's toy.
The drill casing itself, a Kango 426, was discovered by a group of collectors after years of trawling
through internet auction sites and scouring the world for sellers of power tools that dated back to
the late 1980's. The swiveling "box" like unit that affixed to the main casing was made from a Hama
slide viewer; this component houses the readout screen and electronics.
Master Replicas "tracked" down several German photographic retailers while the kit was being researched,
and was able to locate nearly all the components Terry Reed himself used, resulting in a replica
constructed at a level of accuracy even the most scrutinous collector can admire. The only component Master
Replicas was unable to locate was the pump housing, so the product engineers designed that from scratch in
Pro-E and it appears to be indistinguishable from the original.
So enough with the history... lets get to the review. I will be ranking this product on a scale of 5
stars, 5 being the highest.
FIRST IMPRESSION: (5)
Oh. My. God. "We got multiple signals!" It just "looks" to be dead on accurate to the what I recall in
the film, and the enthusiastic crowd around me only served to confirm this. As I'm about to describe, the
feel, the color & paint, the construction and the function of the Tracker far exceeded my expectations.
PACKAGING & UNPACKING: (unavailable)
Unavailable at press time.
The body and details were all done in injection ABS plastic (with some metal parts) and it was very
solid and sturdy. They also apparently added steel weights in strategic locations to give it some
heft and balance. I liked that... made it seem more "real." There will also be a strap on the final
production units, and while this one didn't have one, I can't wait to see it.
The Motion Tracker is powered by three AA batteries in the Hama viewer housing. The battery door is
hidden under that camera plate part on the bottom.
The operation of this collectible could not be easier. There is a trigger switch located under the handle.
The switch matches the black color of the original hammer drill and functions as an on/off trigger for the
electronics housed in the Hama viewer.
The electronics were the "cherry-on-top" for me. Once the unit is switched on, the fun really starts: the
sequence and the sonar rings immediately start popping out from the center. After 5 or 10 seconds, Aliens
start coming in at you. Unfortunately, the range numbers don't count down (something about the organic LED
sheet that they used doesn't do that...I forget). The sound FX are also very loud and clear. (And they
should be, as the original sound effects were supplied by Fox) and they sounded perfect to me: Pop...pop...pop...
PING! PING! PING!
There are seven pre-programmed sequences (some have one pulsing alien, others have the entire hive coming
at you; and sometimes they hop back and forth a bit before they actually reach you). Coolness.
After it plays through 3 or 4 of these scenes, it just goes to "tracking nothing" mode for 30 seconds and
then automatically shuts off. I think the whole thing takes 2 or 3 minutes.
When shooting the Sonar Rings in 1986, technology didn't exist that allowed for a compact video monitor to
fit inside the slide viewer, so the filmmakers affixed small monitors to the side of the Motion Tracker prop.
The trouble was that because it was a CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) the screen was much deeper than the slide viewer,
so the "functioning" screen could only be shot from certain angles. If the monitor wasn't held exactly flat on to the
lens the bottom of the tube would become visible, like this:
The playback was via a VTR off stage. Interesting point is that the guy who made the 'Soundfire' system for Alien War was the guy who designed and operated the Motion Tracker insert video clips. Also included are the two red and green lights which pulse under the Slide viewer when it's turned on. It's these little details that really had our jaw on the floor.
Easily earning 5 stars here, the shell and paintjob looks to be dead on the nut. The pigment has been
replicated perfectly by the Master Replicas design team and product engineers.
Due to the subdued color palette, "poor" lighting, grainy film stock and the military theme of Aliens, many replica makers
have erroneously painted their Colonial Marine gear an olive drab. Careful and extensive research of
the original filming props, including Motion Trackers, Smart Gun headsets, the 20th Century Fox
photographic archive, and more, have all revealed the color to be Humbrol "Brown Bess."
Of interest, director James Cameron had this to say on the film's color in a recent online article:
"It's a grainy film. It was shot on 5294, which was Kodak's high speed stock in their transition from 5293,
which was not a T-grain emulsion, to 5296, which is their new high speed emulsion, which is a T- grain emulsion.
5294 didn't have the bugs worked out of it, it's a grainier movie than T2.
Aliens was also transferred in a not
super state-of-the-art transfer facility, like they have now. They have some gadgets now that can play around
with the black pedestal, get the blacks sharp without the shots going grainy. I supervised the transfer, I did
the color corrections from shot to shot. It was the best it could look. The other thing is that when you're
transferring a film, the way the particular colorist sets his monitor at the beginning of the transfer,
determines a lot about what the transfer's going to look like."
You can read the full interview here.
Master Replicas has outdone themselves in not only getting the exact filming color right, but the paint
job itself is as real as one would imagine a real world military item to be.
THE SONAR RINGS: (5)
We are really excited about what Master Replicas has accomplished with the organic LED and Fox supplied
sound effects: radiating sonar rings, pulsing incoming aliens, multiple modes... simply jaw dropping!
In research and development for over a year, Master Replicas invented a wholy unique approach to
authentically replicate the glowing sonar rings that ping out as the Motion Tracker is switched on.
Drawing from their experience with their highly successful Star Wars Force FX lightsabers, this new
organic LED technology has allowed Master Replicas to cost effectively produce an authentic, functional
prop replica at a price point affordable to most collectors.
When you activate the trigger, the sonar rings pulse to life... As the Alien menace moves in, the unit
pings louder and louder, culminating in a loud crescendo that had us reaching for our Pulse Rifles and
The overall effect is simply perfect. As with their recent Lord of the Rings: Sting Sword, the rings really
do glow. While we're amazed at the SPFX wizrdry involved, Master Replicas has definitely pulled off some
Motion Tracker Prototype Video(mpg)
Motion Tracker Prototype Video(mov)
(Huge thanks Jesse for his work on the above!)
Not only do the sonar pings authentically replicate the sounds heard on screen, but we were especially
impressed with just how loud the unit actually was. When a display sample was turned on at the recent
Comic-Con in San Diego, it attracted people from several booths away -- all asking, "Is that Motion Tracker?"
as they enthusiastically approached. The Tracker was certainly loud enough for their attention, and it certainly
held ours in awe.
The noise for this audio comes out through a top notch speaker positioned in a hidden area in the main body.
We couldn't help ourselves, activating the unit and whirling around the room as if an Alien menace was right
quickly moving in on our position.
The two samples Master Replicas sent to Comi-Con had an older chip in them that wasn't compatible with the
speaker, so the sound was slightley over-driven and therefore sounded "scratchy." But we've been told the final
production units are absolutely clear and will address minor timing corrections bewteen the giger "blip" and the
Alien contact "ping."
Of curious note is the the rising tone "scale." The problem stems back to the film itself: careful viewers note that we never
see one Tracker go through the entire "tracking" sequence. Since the aliens themsleves rarely come at the characters
in one straight line, the result is a rising sound "scale" that may sound different from memory. Upon several repeated viewings
by the Master Replicas design team, it was decided the trackers DID in-fact go through a scale, the viewers just never notice it
in one-continuous-shot (like the replica plays through). The sound played for the unit is tone-matched to the starting and
ending notes, and divided the difference into seven equal pitches, hence the "scale" do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do.
The tracker starting tone is different in various scenes due to the fact when the Marines first "read" an incoming alien,
they are at different distances from the Tracker user, thus the different pitches. It makes sense that the pitch tones
themselves are apparently linked to a distance, therefore, if an alien is close, the tracker in the film starts on the
note "fa" instead of "do" for example. Obviously, Master Replicas would have gone crazy trying to replicate this, and thus
again...the ascending "scale."
DISPLAY CASE & PLAQUE: (4)
The unit comes with a full sized plexi display case similar to those constructed for their Star Wars and
Star Trek replicas. A plastic placeholder affixed to the base holds the unit securely in place in the
center of the display.
Master Replicas was vehement in their dedication in replicating the original drill casing as per the
original model. And in keeping consistent with their high standards, the injection molded cast pieces
are of the highest quality, drawing from the company's experience in creating replicas from both the
Star Wars and Star Trek universes.
nearly all the components are first generation casts off the very same real world items the Aliens
prop masters used, Master Replicas has produced a replica prop to such an incredible level of detail,
function and accuracy, that even the most scrutinous collector can admire "its purity."
You get the tracker, a strap, a complete display case with acrylic lid, and a numbered plaque for $399.
A great price for what you get. This is lightyears ahead of anything else that we have had before
(especially at this price). Could they have made a real CRT screen and had the display spin and count
down? Yes, but it would never have come out at this price and quantity. I think this is amazing for
$400 and I personally think it was a smart move to not get too fancy. Very few people would have bought
a $1000 Motion Tracker. This is a GREAT balance between function and affordability.
It goes without saying that the Aliens Motion Tracker: LE is something that all fans will want to own.
It is a very well made and designed item, and worth every penny of the price tag.
We here at alienscollection.com hope you enjoy your Master Replicas Motion Tracker replica as much as
we have had reviewing it. This mindblowing replica is sure to guarantee a wow factor with it's
construction, and although you may have many hours of fun posing in front of the mirror pretending that
you've got 'multiple signals', just remember, it's only a movie!
If you would like to place your pre-order for the Motion Tracker, or any of the other items they will
be releasing this year, check out the Master Replicas Website.
Recently displayed at the San Diego Comic Con, the world's largest pop-culture convention, thunderstruck
fans and Aliens enthusiasts alike had this to say:
"It took less than a minute for me to be sold on the unit, once I had it in hand and "played" with it.
It has fantastic sound and visual effects; as realistic as one could imagine. It's the real deal.
Don't know what else one might expect it to have. When turned on and played about, it drew folks in
to have a better look. I saw lots of happy and amazed looking faces. It's a crowd pleaser for sure.
The MR unit, I can say for certain, impressed everyone that I showed it too. It's even lighter than
my static replica. Think about it; the unit is actually what the film creators would have wanted to
have at the time. In that sense the unit has surpassed what was originally created for the film. The
interactive feature is sweet icing on the cake too. It just doesn't get any better than that. I'll be
buying one for sure. All things considered the price tag is just right.".
See Chris all geared up here!
Vision Forge's Images from San Diego Comic-Con
Comic-Con Photo 1
Comic-Con Photo 2
Comic-Con Photo 3
Comic-Con Photo 4
Figures.com Master Replicas coverage
MOTION TRACKER TRIVIA & FACTOIDS:
It is curious to note that James Cameron just might have named the planetoid in Aliens LV-426 because
he saw the original Kango hammer drill casing and liked the sequence of numbers on its side, model
Terry Reed of Otter Effects at Pinewood Studios in the United Kingdom constructed several Motion
Trackers for the film.
The playback for the screens was through a VCR off stage. The video playback operator who made the
'Soundfire' system for Alien War was the same guy who designed and operated the MT insert video clips.
Aliens actors Michael Biehn ("Hicks") and Bill Paxton ("Hudson") have shared screen time in five films:
Tombstone, The Terminator, Navy Seals, The Lords of Discipline, and of course, Aliens.
The Smartgunner team of Mark Rolston ("Drake") Jenette Goldstein ("Vasquez") have shared time in six
Hollywood projects, "Lethal Weapon 2," "Star Trek: The Next Generation," "24," "Alias," "E.R.,"
The role of Lt. Ellen Ripley was originally planned for Meryl Streep.
The mechanism used to make the face-huggers scuttle about in the Med lab came from one of the "flying
piranhas" in one of Cameron's earlier movies, Piranha II: The Spawning (1981). It took nine people on
Stan Winston's team to make the facehugger work: one person for each leg, and one for the tail.
One of the Facehugger builders on Aliens was Stephen Norrington, who went to direct "Blade" and "The
League of Extraordinary Gentleman."
In Aliens, Michael Biehn's character Hicks gets bitten on the hand by Newt (Carrie Henn). This happens
to him in every James Cameron movie he's in: The Abyss, and The Terminator.
Both the Nostromo and the Sulaco have perpetual motion devices on the tables of their cafeterias.
The names Gorman, Hudson, Hicks and Frost were taken from the book, "A Bridge Too Far" by Cornelius Ryan
(he also wrote "The Longest Day").
Aliens gave the planetoid from the first film a more formal nomenclature, "LV-426," and its name,
"Acheron." In Greek mythology, Acheron is the river of woe and pain, in the underworld land of the damned.
Alien director Ridley Scott's original casting choice for the actor to play Captain Dallas was Harrison
Ford, who had just finished playing Han Solo in Star Wars. Although Ford was not cast, he went on to star
in Scott's next film, Blade Runner.
Thanks to Harry Harris (harryharris.com) and Jesse DeGraff for their guidance and assistance with this review.