Posts Tagged ‘Aliens’

From the Hootoo archive. Originally published February 28th 2002:

[Originally following a review of Godzilla vs The Smog Monster.]

Well, what are the odds? You wait weeks without a single monster movie getting a mention and then suddenly two come along at once. Yup, let’s look at James Cameron’s 1986 classic, Aliens.

Looking back at Cameron’s filmography as a director, it’s clear that originality is not the man’s strong point. It’s a collection of reworkings of other people’s material (The Terminator, True Lies) and sequels (Piranha 2: Flying Killers, Terminator 2, the film in question) and, of course, based-on-fact disaster movies. The sole exception to this is The Abyss, which I’ve always found to be his weakest movie for a major studio. [Anyone heading for the comments section framing a remark featuring the word Avatar, don’t bother. – A]

But anything he lacks in terms of inventiveness he makes up for in his ability to deliver a high-octane head-banging action movie, and that’s exactly what Aliens is. 57 years after the events of the original film, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and her cat Jones (a cat) are rescued from their deep-space deep-freeze. Her employers refuse to believe her story concerning the fate of the Nostromo… until contact is lost with an outpost on the planet they originally found the alien creature. Along with an amoral company executive (Paul Reiser) and a squad of marines (Cameron regulars Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Michael Biehn and Jenette Goldstein amongst them), Ripley sets out for the remote colony, where nastiness inevitably ensues…

I think Aliens is a better film than its predecessor for one simple reason – James Cameron may not have Ridley Scott’s unique visual flair, but he has an instinctive grasp of storytelling, and he knows that a great action film is all about tension, characterisation, and ultimately delivering the thrills. There are no pointless 2001 homages in Aliens (well, maybe there’s one right at the start), nary a wasted shot or redundant line. There’s suspense in bucketloads (largely achieved by simply not featuring the monsters until nearly halfway through the film), and a small cast of readily identifiable, if not always likeable, characters (with the exception of Reiser’s wretched yuppie-scum). And of course, the climax of the film has the remarkable, iconic Alien Queen as its killer punch – though this isn’t to dismiss the other superb set-pieces (my favourite is the escape through the ducting culminating in Vasquez and Gorman’s trick with the grenades).

Cameron knows how to make a great sequel, too: virtually all the elements of the original film reappear, but his approach to them is sufficiently different to keep them fresh and engaging. The one real change is quite subtle – where Alien was on a deep level a psychological horror story about rape, Aliens – for all its testosterone-fuelled frenzy – is about the alarming power of the maternal instinct. But it still manages to make the original film look like nothing more than a low-key prologue, and at the same time sets an impossibly high standard for the subsequent films in the series.

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