Aliens (1986) Short Review
As with the original, this is one of those films that transcends its genre(s). Here though, director James Cameron takes what was presented in the original and fleshes out the future that the story takes place in, turning the haunted house in space film into an epic sci fi action film. Cameron obviously know how to build tension and the situation grows more and more dire from beginning to end. The story is remarkable in that it explains what’s going on without too much exposition and continues to raise the stakes as the film progresses. For every solution that the characters in the story arrive at, another unseen problem arises out of earlier mistakes. Cameron masterfully sets up each big event/moment/detail of the film with the necessary foreshadowing, but it is done naturally within the context of the film. Sigourney Weaver reprises her role as Ripley the remaining survivor (except for Jones the cat) of the first film. Unlike the continuing sequels she is still completely believable as a working stiff of the future reluctantly forced into action against something that terrifies her. She is found by sheer chance after having floated in space for over 57 years. Reoccurring nightmares of her traumatic experiences with the xenomorph of the first film haunt her dreams as she tries to adjust. In a mission debriefing about the events of the first film, she learns that the planet where they found the abandoned alien spacecraft (that carried the deadly xenomorph cargo) is now inhabited by humans who are using ‘terrafromers’ that are making the air breathable; the terrain inhabitable. When the company loses contact with the colony, Ripley is asked by a company representative to accompany (as an advisor) a team of marines to investigate. At first she refuses, but soon realizes her nightmare will never end until she faces her fear… or maybe sees that the alien creatures are exterminated. When they arrive at the colony’s installation, they find it nearly completely absent of people save for one little girl. Their investigation soon leads them to where the colonists are and that’s when all hell breaks loose. And I’m actually making it far less complicated than it is. The difference here though is that the plot is complicated without being cluttered. Cameron knows how to tell a story. There are a number of memorable characters in the film. The conniving lawyer Burke played by Paul reiser. Bill Paxton in one of his best roles as the loud mouthed Marine Hudson. Lance Henrikson as the android Bishop. His final scene is a especially quite memorable. Jenette Goldstein as the manliest Marine. Michael Biehn as the heroic grunt Hicks. It’s quite a collection of character actors… or actors as they’re referred to in Great Britain. Many of them are Cameron movie regulars. And the film would not be what it is without the genius of Stan Winston and the original design of the xenomorph by creepyman H.R. Giger. Winston teams with Cameron’s big imagination to expand upon what was already there in the original film, to make a film that is bigger in scope, scale and much, much louder. The original film was a cold, quiet slow moving suspenseful sci-fi horror film. This one takes those elements and combines it with a fast moving summer blockbuster and the result is 2+ hours of tense, but fun entertainment. As with all Cameron films, there is a special attention paid to the science. This IS a true science fiction film instead of space opera or fantasy. Cameron knows what’s important, though. It’s not the science fiction backdrop. It’s the people that are most important. he does an incredible job developing characters in a short span of time where some of the characters don’t have a lot of screen time. At the heart of the film is the story of Ripley facing her fears while finding something to fight for in the film. It’s even a bit feminist without being a vomit inducing girl power(!) movie. Aliens is one of those landmark films that don’t come along very often. Everything worked. Great cast. Great story. Memorable lines (“We’re on an express elevator straight to Hell. Going Down!”… “Game over, man! Game over!”… “I’m Hudson, sir. He’s Hicks”… Sorry. Can’t help myself.) Tremendous FX. Great creature designs. Thought provoking science fiction. And just frickin’ brilliant direction by Cameron. A must see for sci fi/action/horror fans and one of my favorite popcorn flicks.