|Director: James Cameron|
|Screenplay: James Cameron|
|Stars: Sigourney Weaver (Ellen Ripley), Carrie Henn (Rebecca "Newt" Jorden), Michael Biehn (Corporal Dwayne Hicks), Paul Reiser (Carter Burke), Lance Henriksen (Bishop), Bill Paxton (Private Hudson), William Hope (Lieutenant Gorman), Al Matthews (Sergeant Apone)|
|MPAA Rating: R|
|Year of Release: 1986|
|Note: This review includes references to scenes available only in the special Director's Cut, available on laser disc and DVD. As with so many other films, I feel this Director's Cut is the superior version to that which was released in theaters because it adheres more closely to the artist's vision. Although the 20 additional minutes of footage in James Cameron's cut of Aliens" are not as important as the footage restored to another of his films, The Abyss, they still add depth and complexity to the story and the characters, especially the maternal bond between Ripley and Newt.|
Aliens is a film that gets under your skin while blowing you out of your seat. Writer/director James Cameron crafted what is perhaps the ultimate science fiction war epic and gave it a twist by putting a tough heroine in the center of the action and using motherhood as a replacement for male aggression to guide the action. When the heroine and her nemesis finally square off one on one at the end of the film, it's more than just flexing muscles—it's flexing maternal instinct.
The story picks up right where Ridley Scott's 1979 Alien left off. Lt. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the only survivor of the crew of the Nostromo, a spaceship that had a nasty run-in with the drooling, acid-bleeding zenomorph of the title, is discovered by a deep salvage team after floating in space for 57 years in deep hypersleep (therefore she hasn't aged a day). The all-powerful "Company," a giant futuristic corporation that seems to own everything including the spaceship Ripley destroyed in the first film, takes away her flight license because the board of directors doesn't buy her story about the derelict aliens on planet LB-426. Why? Colonists have been living there for more than 20 years trying to make the planet livable.
But, not so fast. A few weeks later, the Company loses contact with the colonists, and they fear Ripley's story might be true after all. Because Ripley is still haunted by nightmares of the alien, she agrees to go with slimy corporate mogul Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) and a squad of heavily armed space-age Marines to LB-426 to find out what's going on.
She is told,"You're just going as an advisor. Your safety can be guaranteed."
In films like Aliens, it's quickly apparent that no one's safety is guaranteed. Once Ripley and the Marines arrive, it doesn't take them long to figure out that the aliens have returned and wiped out the entire colony, save an 11-year old girl named Newt (Carrie Henn). Ripley immediately responds to Newt, because earlier we learned that her 11-year old daughter had died of old age while Ripley was in hypersleep. So Ripley, having just lost a daughter, and Newt, having just lost a mother, quickly bond together, filling the empty spaces in each other's hearts
Aliens resonates more profoundly than most action epics because Cameron takes the time to develop real characters. His squad of Marines is a diverse group of believable humans, not just nameless grunts who exist merely to become victims of the hissing alien army. Notables include Michael Biehn as a soft-spoken but effective leader, Lance Henriksen as a sympathetic android, and Al Matthews as cigar-chomping Sgt. Apone, who bellows things like "A day in the Corps is like a day on the farm—every meal is a banquet, every paycheck a fortune, every formation a parade. I love the Corps!" Probably the most memorable is Bill Paxton as Private Hudson, a tough-talking wise ass who turns into one of the biggest and most entertaining cowards in film history ("That's it, man, game over," he cries after finding out they're stranded on the planet).
But always at the core of the film is Ripley. While Alien made her out as merely a survivor—a variation of the "last girl" found in so many horror movies—Aliens expands on her character, making her into a fully rounded human being. Sigourney Weaver inhabits the role as naturally as any she's played, and I have the feeling that when she's gone, her role as Ripley will be her most remembered. She's capable of handling big guns like Arnold Schwarzenegger, but she also has a tender side that comes out in her exchanges with Newt. When Newt asks why adults always tell kids there aren't any real monsters when there really are, Ripley replies simply, "Because most of the time it's true." And when she tells Newt that she will never leave her, she means it.
The last third of the film involves the Marines' last stand against the aliens, and Ripley's return to the battlefield afterwards to save Newt. Cameron is a master of action, and although most of the film is dark, rainy, and filled with a smoky haze, he keeps all the battles coherent and heart-pounding. The aliens are formidable soldiers whose main strength seems to be their sheer numbers and unwillingness to retreat.
Near the end of the film, Cameron gives us the Queen Alien, who becomes a natural nemesis for the maternal Ripley. The aliens are the Queen's children, and Ripley threatens them just like the aliens have been threatening Newt. This gives the final battle a maternal subtext that makes the battle really worth something.
Aliens is a great film, one of the best of the 1980s. Like in all his other films, Cameron managed to fuse action and emotion, creating real characters out of intense situations. The film is bolstered by superior visual effects, sharp editing by Ray Lovejoy (The Shining), expansive production design by Peter Lamont (a veteran of James Bond movies), and a pulse-pounding score by James Horner that has become a staple of action movie previews. Watching Aliens is a jolt of pure energy. It shouldn't be missed.
Copyright © 1997 James Kendrick