Aliens (1986) dir. James Cameron
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn, Bill Paxton, Paul Reiser
By Alan Bacchus
One of the consistencies of all four Alien films is the launching pad of the four directors who helmed each of the films. For Scott and Cameron, it wasn’t their first films, and for Cameron specifically, he was already shit hot after The Terminator. For David Fincher it was his first film, and though Alien 3 wasn’t a hit, his career has grown substantially. For Jean-Pierre Jeunet, it was his first American film, and like Alien 3, it’s not his best work, but influential on his career nonetheless.
As scripted by Cameron, the sequel finds Ripley floating in space in the module which blasted away from the Nostromo at the end of the first film. When she's picked up she discovers decades have passed, her family long since dead, and now her skills and life obsolete. Except for her experience with the mysterious Alien which the people at the nefarious 'company' want to research, capture and exploit. When Ripley finds out that the planet where that ominous alien spaceship had crashed onto was now occupied by innocent planet colonizers (terraformers), she decides to face her demons and return to find survivors.
Ripley tags along with a very masculine and chauvinistic platoon of gung ho space marines. Once on the planet, their high tech weaponry is employed but against the steath manoeuvring of the aliens, their acid blood and those nasty piercing jaws the marines are no match and Ripley finds herself taking control again of the situation. Stakes are raised for Ripley when she discovers a little girl Newt is the only survivor of the bunch, a child who reignites Ripley's latent motherly instincts.
Aliens is James Cameron at his most brawny and muscular, a film from which would further his mostly consistent visual design aesthetic seen throughout his later pictures - his proficiency for blue, grey and sliver tinted colour schemes, his penchant for big heavy machinery designed to be as functional and practical as looking cool on screen, and his love of big heavy guns.
Great characters realized in the military crew include the heroic Hicks and the whiney Hudson, the oily company man Burke and the butch dyke ass kicker Vasquez. In fact the treatment of the military is a clever mixture of the literature of sci-fi novelist Robert A. Heinlein and timely metaphors of the bombastic approach of the technically superior American troops vs. the low rent guerrila tactics of the Vietcong in the Vietnam War.
It's fantastic authoritative but warm performance from Weaver, who takes command of the platoon, a transition which happens quick in the narrative but feels completely natural and believable. Miraculously Cameron even finds time to adds a quiet romance between Ripley and Hicks in a matter of a few scenes, something which took him 3 hours to do in Titanic.
The organic model work, matte photography and rear projection doesn’t hold up as well, but it’s a product of its time, and the texture inherent in these real world accessories adds to the realism of the film - something gravely missing from say, Avatar.
On Blu-Ray the grain of the original film stock which persisted in the DVD and Laserdisc versions has been mostly removed in here. James Cameron’s 2003 commentary even mentions why the grain is so visible.
The original cut differs greatly from the director’s cut. Both are fantastic films, but there’s no doubt the added scenes in the director’s cut adds much more depth. Specifically Ripley’s character whom we learn had a child of her own but died during her 57 year trip back home. This knowledge adds another layer to her protective relationship with Newt, not to mention another reason why she decides to go back to the colony in the first place.
There’s also a couple of fantastic individual sequences including the opening tease showing the first impregnation of the terraformers, Newt’s father. On the other hand, there’s also value in the increasing pacing of the 137mins version. The point of view is more consistent in the theatrical version, not having any knowledge of the terraformers.
And then there's the aggressive James Horner score which is now iconic, having been used in hundreds of trailers after then.
Sadly the heroic escape of Ripley, Hicks and Newt at the end is negated when the David Fincher version had all but Ripley unceremoniously killed off while floating in hypersleep before the start of the next film, Alien 3.
'Aliens' is available in Blu-Ray in the lovely Alien Legacy Box Set from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment