28 1/4" LONG BY 10 1/4" HIGH BY 2 3/4" DEEP

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley and Michael Biehn as Corporal Hicks in Aliens (20th Century Fox)
"Hey, I want to introduce you to a personal friend of mine. This is an M41-A pulse rifle, 10 millimeter, with an over-and-under 30 millimeter <cocks weapon> pump action grenade launcher. Feel the weight." — Corporal Dwayne Hicks, United States Colonial Marine Corps

Please forgive me while I proceed to "geek out" for a few minutes. The story behind how I came to acquire this work is a long one.

In no particular order, my favorite movies are Blade Runner, the Matrix series, and the Alien series: Alien, Aliens, Alien³, and Alien: Resurrection. Back in 1980, when I lived in England, I convinced my mother to take me to see Alien at the local movie theatre. (She would say that I conned her into it.) She spent pretty much the entire movie with her hands over her eyes, but I loved the gritty, believable future depicted in the film. When the sequel, Aliens, was announced, I was ecstatic: I saw the movie three times the day it opened in the summer of 1986, and have watched it probably hundreds of times on VHS, laserdisc, and DVD since then. It's arguably one of the few sequels ever to be better than the original.

One of the most memorable things in the movie was the main weapon employed by the Colonial Marines assigned to investigate the situation on planet LV-426: the M41-A pulse rifle. The pulse rifle was originally conceived by director and writer James Cameron, who wanted to arm his Marines with a futuristic, yet still believable weapon. His concept was transformed into reality by Bapty Firearms UK, who used parts from real weapons, as well as some customized components, to create what is probably the most recognized weapon in science fiction aside from lightsabers and phasers. (Both of which are totally unbelievable, in my opinion. On the other hand, a functioning pulse rifle could easily be built using today's technology.) The pulse rifles used in the movie were fully functional... they could fire rounds from both the rifle and the grenade launcher (more on this later).

Because of the extreme "cool factor" of the M41-A (a lot of folks said "I want one!"), a very specialized industry was born: the manufacture of pulse rifle replicas. Some replicators were satisfied with making resin models with no moving parts. Others, however, accepted the challenge of trying to create exact replicas of M41-As as they were seen in the movie. The pulse rifle shown here is functional in every way, with one important exception: It cannot chamber or fire any kind of rounds.

SD Studios (which no longer exists) was an acknowledged leader in the development of movie props. Back in the late 1980s or early 1990s, they began a project to create the ultimate pulse rifle replica. From Bapty Firearms UK, they were able to obtain details of the exact process used to construct the theatrical version of the pulse rifle. They then proceeded through the painstaking process of developing all of the custom components the pulse rifle required (such as the digital counter and the green shroud that covers the weapon) and combining them with real gun parts to build a new pulse rifle. This may sound simple, but it actually required the construction of several prototypes, each closer and closer to the final result, and took ten years to complete. The work you see here is the result of that effort.

The Bapty Firearms UK and SD Studios pulse rifles both use parts from three real weapons:

  • The Thompson M1A1 submachine gun, also known as "the trench-broom" (for its ability to "sweep" out a trench full of enemy soldiers) and the "Chicago typewriter" (since in full automatic mode, it sounds like a typewriter, and it was used by Prohibition-era gangsters). This vintage weapon makes up the bulk of the M41-A, and is the basis for the rifle section of the weapon. The top barrel, main trigger, grip, and magazine are all part of the Thompson. The Thompson's bolt action remains intact... if you pull it back and then pull the trigger, the bolt springs forward with quite a bit of authority. In the film, blanks were used whenever a pulse rifle was shown firing. (A minor bit of movie trivia: Although Lieutenant Gorman states that the M41-A fires "10 millimeter explosive-tip caseless, standard light armor-piercing rounds", you can clearly see spent cases ejecting from pulse rifles when they are fired.)
  • The Italian Franchi SPAS-12 automatic shotgun. The ventilated barrel shroud and pump action grip for the grenade launcher come from this weapon.
  • The Remington 870 Express shotgun. The M41-A's grenade launcher uses parts from an 870; in the film, whenever anyone used the grenade launcher, they were actually firing a shotgun shell from the shotgun. (In reality, no pulse rifle has ever fired an actual grenade.) Grenades are fed into the weapon through the bottom of the launcher. The pump action can be used, but it doesn't actually do anything... it does lend additional realism to the work, however. The 870's trigger would be used to launch grenades, but it (also) doesn't actually do anything.
These three subsystems are ingeniously combined into a single weapon by the green shroud, which keeps all of the components in place. The digital counter, which shows how many rounds remain in the magazine, is powered by a battery concealed in the magazine: when a switch on the magazine is turned on and the magazine is inserted into the rifle, the digital counter counts down from 99 (the theoretical maximum number of rounds the magazine could contain) to 95 (in Aliens lore, using only 95 rounds prevents rounds from jamming in the magazine) and then stops. When the main trigger is pulled, the digital counter counts down. When it reaches 00, the counter stops until the magazine is removed and then reinserted into the weapon. (Of course, there aren't actually any rounds. The rifle just pretends that there are.)

Since it contains actual gun parts and isn't just a piece of plastic, this work is heavy... it weighs about 16 pounds. One result of this weight is that the work feels real... you can almost imagine using it to defend yourself from a pack of alien killing machines. Just about all of the men I've shown this work to have wanted to play with it, even if they don't normally like guns. (On the other hand, women are not into it at all. It's a guy thing, I guess.)

To me, this is a work of art as valid as any painting or any work in glass. Of course, it goes without saying that the process of creating this work was somewhat unusual: Rather than being the result of one artist's vision and labor, the M41-A was a team effort. (For that reason, as well as to protect their privacy, I have not named here any of the people who were involved in its development.) Their combined work has produced something truly awesome, and I'm quite pleased to have this work in my collection.

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