Aliens (1986)

By Steve Biodrowski

After the sleeper success of THE TERMINATOR, writer-director James Cameron received the enviable honor of being hired to sequelize Ridley Scott’s futuristic Gothic chiller ALIEN. He took the project and transformed it from creepy horror into a fast-paced action-adventure. The long gestation period (seven years in between the two films) yields obvious dividends, giving the follow-up room to breath instead of keeping it locked into a straight-jacket established by its predecessors.

The result is that ALIENS, unlike many sequels, is not a disguised remake that rehashes scenes and ideas from the original; instead, it’s like an exorcism, a chance to turn the tables on the fear generated by the first film. Or in other words: that first Alien might have given you nightmares—but now, it’s payback time! Sure, the aliens are still scary, but most of the film seems like an excuse to see countless numbers of them mowed down, smashed and pulverized—all to the whooping delight of the audience.

Cameron’s strength lies in solid storytelling in the muscular fashion that he stages the action, creating exciting thrills and intense suspense without ever descending into the mere mechanical. He treats the genre with respect, milking it for the elements that the audience wants to see, without pandering or dumbing down the material; the result is dramatically involving roller-coaster ride that appeals to a wide audience without skimping on the chills and thrills.

Contrary to a widely held view, ALIENS is not superior to its classic progenitor. Although the sequel gives the original a good run for its money, in the end Cameroon does not quite have Ridley Scott’s eye for the beauty that resides in terror; his camera captures the action but never fascinates and enthralls in the way that ALIEN accomplished. The sheer scale of the production helps overshadow this slight deficiency, but it is apparent, nonetheless, that the first ALIEN had a purity of intention and a mastery of execution, creating an unrelenting sense of tension that far exceeds the follow-up. . After watching ALIENS, you do not leave the theatre, relieved and exhausted, feeling that large sections of the film should be hanging in an art museum. On the other hand, while you are in the theatre, the film will get your heart pumping with adrenalin as you cheer the final battle between Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the Alien Queen — one of the great fight scenes in cinema history.

TRIVIA

For home video, Cameron fashioned a “director’s cut” that includes seventeen minutes of footage missing from the theatrical version. Restored scenes include: a scene establishing that Ripley had a daughter who died from old age while Ripley was in hyper-sleep; a scene of Newt’s family exploring the derelict Alien space craft; a scene of the Earth colony before it was overrun by alieins; a scene where Ripley hesitates before entering the colony after it has been destroyed; a scene wherein Ripley and Newt discuss human babies and Ripley’s dead daughter; a scene of aliens bypasing sentry guns by using a service tunnel; Ripley and Hicks calling each other by first name (Ellen and Dwayne, respectively).

ALIENS(1986). Directed by James Cameraon. Screenplay by Cmaeron, from a story by Cameron and David Giler & Walter Hill, based on characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett. Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, Paul Reiser, Bill Paxton, William Hope, Jenette Goldstein.

About the Author

Steve Biodrowski

Cinefantastique's Los Angeles Correspondent from 1987 to 1993 and West Coast Editor from 1993 to 1999. Currently the webmaster of Cinefantastique Online, I also run a website called Hollywood Gothique that covers Halloween Horror and Sci-Fi Cinema Events in the Los Angeles area.

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