THIS TIME IT’S WAR.
When I first heard about this film, I was 11 or 12 years old and pretty much a novice when it came to movies. Judging from what some of my classmates were talking about, I understood that Aliens was a dark, scary and very exciting film, a special experience indeed. When I finally got to see it a few years later, it blew my mind. It is still one of the greatest action/science fiction movies the 1980s produced.
Forging horror with Terminator technology
This is of course the sequel to Alien (1979), Ridley Scott’s landmark horror movie, and it took some time before someone was able to develop a script that didn’t suck and find a director who could do it justice. That turned out to be James Cameron, the man behind another landmark film in the sci-fi genre, The Terminator (1984). He quickly took charge of Aliens, knew how to forge the horrors of Scott’s original with the dynamics and technology of his own Terminator, and also how to turn the character of Ellen Ripley into a truly compelling and believable lead. Sigourney Weaver, who previously had had her doubts, became impressed with Cameron and the script and agreed to do the film.
It begins in outer space where a reconnaissance team chances upon the escape pod where Ripley is hibernating after getting away from the Nostromo and the deadly alien. 57 years have passed and Ripley is shocked to learn that people are not willing to believe her – and that 70 families have colonized the planet where the Nostromo crew found the alien. Soon the first distress call comes from the planet and a group of marines is assembled to go there and see what’s wrong; Ripley reluctantly agrees to join the expedition as an advisor. On the planet, the marines learn that Ripley was right. The place is teeming with oversized bugs and the marines try to do it to the aliens before the aliens do it to them.
An emotional core to the film
The expedition eventually comes across a little girl, Newt (Carrie Henn), who Ripley befriends. She’s the planet’s sole survivor and this part of the film, with her and Ripley developing a mother-daughter relationship, gives it an emotional core. So does Weaver’s character; she gives an excellent performance as a woman who learned the skill of survival on her previous journey and now gets a chance to hone it. She’s a tough warrior, particularly in the final showdown where she embraces her maternal feelings and fights for Newt’s life against another mother – the alien queen (and she’s a real bitch). There is tenderness in contrast to all the hardware on display.
It’s also easy to sympathize with the gung ho marines who initially underestimate the aliens and end up sacrificing their lives one by one; Lance Henriksen is memorable as Bishop the android and so is comedian Paul Reiser as a treacherous corporate rep. The visual effects are exhilarating, the dark, rainy, industrial and confined environs frightening, and James Horner’s music perfect for the occasion (even though he has admitted having to cannibalize his previous scores in order to meet the time limit).
The film is tense as hell. Director Cameron takes his time building tension before reintroducing the aliens to us; they look terrific, and from that sequence on the film becomes reminiscent of Night of the Living Dead (1968), with the ferocious creatures never giving up in their attempts to reach the barricaded soldiers.
Aliens is perfectly structured, never makes any false moves, a fact that makes us accept clichéd characters among the marines and the lack of deeper content. It’s an unmatched thrillride, pure and simple.
Aliens 1986-U.S. 137 min. Color. Produced by Gale Anne Hurd. Directed by James Cameron. Screenplay: James Cameron, Walter Hill, David Giler. Music: James Horner. Visual Effects: Stan Winston, and others. Cast: Sigourney Weaver (Ellen Ripley), Carrie Henn (Newt Jorden), Michael Biehn (Dwayne Hicks), Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton.
Trivia: A scene where Ripley’s aging daughter appears (played by Weaver’s mother) was deleted in this version. That scene is included in the alternate version, which runs approx. 155 minutes. Followed by Alien³ (1992).
Oscars: Best Visual Effects, Sound Effects Editing. BAFTA: Best Special Visual Effects.
Quote: “Get away from her, you bitch!” (Weaver defending Henn from the alien queen)
Last word: “I was asked to write a story based on Ripley. Later on it turned out that everybody but us thought that the film could be made without Sigourney Weaver, which completely blew my mind, and was absolutely out of the question for us. So, as far as we were concerned, we started with Ripley from the end of the last film, and it was her story. We, fortunately, were able to overcome these obstacles in the minds of the other people involved. We had to fight very hard for Sigourney to be in the picture, which to me was crazy…” (Cameron, Lofficier.com)