Feb 16, 2015

Review: Aliens (1986)

Ridley Scott's Alien vs. James Cameron's Aliens has long been a debate over the decades. Slow, cynical and atmospheric vs. bloody-thirsty and action-packed. For me personally, Alien is my movie of choice. I love its subtlety and as a horror movie it works unbelievably well. It's really scary and it owes a lot of that to Ridley Scott's patience as well as his attention to detail in creating a great atmosphere. I suppose I'm also just very attached to it since it's the movie that got me into horror movies in the first place.

That's not to say that I dislike Aliens. Trust me, I absolutely love it and there's no denying that it is one of the greatest action/horror movies ever made. It's also one of the greatest sequels ever made, period. Although I miss the slow-building horror elements of Alien, James Cameron made the right decision in changing the tone of this sequel to be more action-oriented. Trying to go toe-to-toe with Alien probably wouldn't have worked.

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Genre: action, adventure, sci-fi
Directed by: James Cameron
Produced by: Gale Anne Hurd, Gordon Carroll, David Giler, etc.
Written by: James Cameron
Music by: James Horner
Running time: 137 minutes
Production company: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Brandywine Productions, SLM Production Group
Distributed by: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Fox Film, 20th Century Fox, etc.
Country: United States, United Kingdom
Language: English
Budget: $18,000,000
Box office: $131,060,248 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Jenette Goldstein, Lance Henriksen, Carrie Henn, Bill Paxton, William Hope, Ricco Ross, Al Matthews, Mark Rolston, Ricco Ross, Colette Hiller, Daniel Kash, Cynthia Dale Scott, Tip Tipping, Trevor Steedman, Paul Maxwell

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Synopsis


After drifting through space for 57 years in stasis, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is found by a salvage team and returns to Earth. The Weyland-Yutani Corporation isn't pleased that Ripley blew up the Nostromo and they remain skeptical about her story regarding a foreign alien species on LV-426 since a terraforming colony has been there for quite some time. However, when Weyland-Yutani loses contact with said colony, Ripley is asked to act as a consultant for a party of Colonial Marines sent to investigate.

Review


Besides making Aliens more of an action movie compared to Alien, James Cameron dedicates quite a bit of time to developing Ellen Ripley as a character. We can really sense her confusion and distraught over losing 57 years of time by just drifting aimlessly through space. (Spoilers) The loss of her daughter Amanda is clearly painful as Ripley had promised to be back for her eleventh birthday. However, this loss is later used to forge the mother-daughter relationship that forms between Ripley and Newt. (End Spoilers)

Ripley is also haunted by past events and has nightmares every night. Her hesitation to join the Marines in their trip to LV-426 is completely understandable and why should she help a company that has continually mistreated her again and again anyway? Not even the promise of being reinstated as a flight officer is enough. After considering the whole thing though, she just can't put up with her nightmares anymore. By facing her fear, hopefully she can put this whole affair to rest and move on with her life. She's not in it to help Weyland-Yutani in the least. This is for her and for those potentially in danger.

Some of the cynicism of Alien lives on in Aliens and a lot of it has to do with Weyland-Yutani which is no longer as faceless as it once was. Besides some uncaring suits that Ripley has to deal with, Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) is that face and boy is he slimy. The Marines themselves are an interesting group as well. Full of macho bravado, they're intended to be a commentary on US soldiers in Vietnam. Cocky and unafraid, that quickly changes when their skills and tools appear to be useless for the war they have on their hands.

It's clear that James Cameron has gone out of his way to make Aliens multi-layered and accessible to all. Action is a big focus as I've said and it all works very well. Extremely well actually and there's no question that Aliens deserves its place among the finest in the genre. Fights against xenomorphs are exciting to watch, but I also want to add that Cameron builds these scenes up so nicely. Tension is sky-high multiple times, enough to probably give some people PTSD. By far that's one of the best aspects of Aliens.

Horror is still present and quite effective too. The last thing anyone should do is underestimate Aliens even if James Cameron tones down the horror. Despite knowing what was coming, Aliens made me jump a few times anyway. There's a facehugger scene in particular that always gets my blood pressure up and those who have seen the movie already probably know exactly which one I mean.

Sigourney Weaver's performance was good enough to net her a Best Actress nomination at the Academy Awards. It was well-deserved as Weaver was able to be that strong and vulnerable character Ellen Ripley needed to be. She's also just completely badass without inducing any kind of eye rolling whatsoever. Bill Paxton is also hilarious as Private Hudson and I can never get enough of him every time I watch Aliens

I do have a few reservations with Newt (Carrie Henn) though since it's almost too easy to see her as nothing more than a stakes raising tool. Newt screams a lot and she does indeed cause some trouble for Ripley, but overall it's still a successful tactic. This is how we get to see another side to Ripley besides just being a cat lover and her close bond with Newt is totally believable anyway. If this were any other director/writer besides James Cameron, the experiment probably wouldn't have worked.

While Alien may be my favourite of the entire series, Aliens is no pushover. Just with these two movies alone, every Alien fan should feel spoiled. Few entertainment properties have been as influential as these two movies have been in literature, cinema and even video games. Although that's nice, I hope to one day have a true sequel to Aliens that is somewhere close to on par. A man can dream right?

Rating


8/10

Related Reviews:


Alien (1979) 
Alien³ [Alien 3] (1992)
Alien: Resurrection ( 1997) 

AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004)
AVPR: Aliens vs Predator - Requiem (2007) 

Prometheus (2012)