War on aliens
Aliens is the 1986 sequel to the 1979 original sci-fi horror classic, Alien. This one is directed by James Cameron, and stars Sigourney Weaver, reprising her role as Ellen Ripley. Aliens also stars Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, and Bill Paxton (rest in peace). Weaver was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress, an incredible accomplishment at a time when science fiction films were basically an afterthought to the Academy.
After the events of Alien, Ripley remains in stasis, and her ship wanders through outer space for a whopping 57 years. Her ship is eventually recovered by the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, and Ripley finds that civilization has significantly advanced in the time that she was gone. She learns that her daughter passed away, and that the moon planet, where the Nostromo crew discovered the alien eggs, is now being colonized. When contact with the colony is lost, a group of Marines are sent to go and investigate. Ripley is approached to serve as an adviser, but she refuses. She changes her mind, though, after experiencing recurring nightmares of her previous alien encounter. The marines are ready for battle, fully loaded with plenty of advanced weapons,. Problem is, the alien threat has grown substantially...
I think we can all agree that watching movies is not meant to be a physically strenuous activity. We go to the gym or play a sport if physical exercise is what we want. Movies are a mental, thinking affair. They might play heads games with us, if the subject material is disturbing enough. They might also make us cry tears of joy, if it's, say, a moving romance film, or maybe they make us cry tears of boredom, if it's a dull drama.
I could not believe how I was feeling after I finished watching Aliens. I turned off my TV and went to bed, and as I was falling asleep, I felt physical exhaustion. The film had worn me down, both mentally and physically. James Cameron has a special technique when approaching his big budget action spectacles. He treats the movie like it's an event. It's not a movie that you can just grab off the shelf one rainy afternoon and decide, "I'm bored, so I think I'll watch this." It's a movie event that you have to plan beforehand, not only because it has a lengthy running time, but also because of the giant spectacle action sequences that don't feel wholly satisfying if you just watch them on Youtube without watching everything that precedes them first. Without the build-up of Jack and Rose's romance, could the Titanic sinking feel as emotional and impactful? How invested could we get in the fight between the T1000 and the Arnold Terminator if we don't initially see how Arnold develops into a guardian father figure for the young John Connor?
The use of this build-up is what makes James Cameron's action films (okay, Titanic is not a straight-up action film, but it has an exciting second half) stand out from mindless popcorn flicks. Cameron's films can be viewed as popcorn flicks, but they aren't totally mindless. Aliens has the benefit of being the first major example of what I like to call one of Cameron's "event films", and the fact that it so strongly follows up on a previous cinematic milestone, Ridley Scott's 1979 Alien, further bolsters its resolve and its contribution to the science fiction and action genres. The way that Alien ended created the perfect sequel set-up for someone like Cameron to jump on.
- Sigourney Weaver. Never mind all of the action details for a moment. However good that Weaver was as Ripley in the first film, she magnifies the role ten-fold in this film. Ripley is required to play a multitude of roles: adviser to the marines, soldier on the battlefield, and mother to the little girl Newt that is found lost and alone on the planet. Weaver expertly goes back and forth between these roles when need be, all the while avoiding over-the-top freak-outs that would diminish her presence. Isn't it interesting how James Cameron seems to know how to develop powerful female leads in blockbuster flicks like this one and Terminator?
- James Cameron's use of build-up is usually effective, but it might be just a slight drawback in Aliens. Some of Cameron's other large-scale action films, primarily Terminator 2, feature brief action sequences to keep our brains nourished and entertained enough until the main action sequences come around. The first hour of Aliens strictly involves getting ready for all of the alien carnage that goes down in the film's second half, and while it's certainly not boring, it does leaves us slightly impatient. Thankfully, Cameron rewards our patience with enough bullets and alien guts to make any action junkie satisfied.
Like most of Cameron's other mainstream films, Aliens feels like an event, rather than some typical movie that you can just halfheartedly pop into your Blu-Ray/DVD player on a Wednesday night. It wears you down with mental and physical exhaustion, and provides a stand-out performance from Sigourney Weaver to boot. The action, when it finally kicks into gear, is high-octane and relentless. Examples of sequels matching, or sometimes exceeding, its predecessor are few and far in between. Aliens, though, is one of those rare examples.
Recommend? Yes! Watch Alien first though
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: