Aliens (Review)

Aliens is as good a film as there has been over the last 30 years, better than almost everything that preceded it and 99.99% of what has come since. Even with all the advances in technology and filmmaking techniques James Cameron’s own opus Avatar is a couple rungs lower than both this and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, the only action/sci-fi films that I deem this near to cinematic perfection.

Aliens again alongside T2, proves that some sequels can actually be superior to the original works, and that sci-fi films when seriously handled can be both credible and immensely entertaining.

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After the shambles that occurred aboard the space vessel Nostromo in the original Alien film, the only survivor Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and her cat floated aimlessly for many years in the escape pod until they were found. 57 years in fact. This meant that Ripley had actually outlived her daughter and all known relatives, so she was handed back to her employer as the nearest thing to next of kin. After some initial questioning the company decide to pin the disaster on Ripley, conveniently ignoring all references to a 9 foot tall drooling creature with acid blood as the fanciful ramblings of a lunatic.

(There is no reference to whether the cat was charged also.)

Not long after her return to the real world, Ripley’s former employer sends a representative Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) to ask for help. It turns out that the deserted planet on which the alien life form was found had been colonized, and until recently regular contact was made with the 70 families entrusted with trying to make the planet more inhabitable based on the planet. But recently all contact was lost…

Dun-Dun-DUNNNNNNNN!!!

After much soul searching Ripley agrees to go on the search mission, as long as the one priority is to wipe out any non-human located. She joins a bunch of bonehead soldiers, along with Burke, and soon finds that one of the crew is an “artificial person” named Bishop (good old robotic Lance Henricksen). Ripley, remembering the fun aboard the Nostromo, is none too pleased.

Ripley & Co.

The soldiers are not actually the normal faceless mob who happen to be wearing the same colour, but rather than describe them all the ones that live longest are:

  • Corporal Hicks (Michael Beihn) – Level headed by the book career soldier.
  • Private Hudson (Bill Paxton) – Stereotype meathead, all bluster and brag… initially.
  • Private Vasquez – To call her a tomboy would be a disservice to most guys, a butch tough talking he-woman.

These guys and I think about half a dozen more are all lead by Sergeant Apone, a cigar chomping black guy with a booming voice who leads by example. Once on the planet surface the “ferry” ship maintains safe distance and the ground crew proceed in a massive armoured troop transport vehicle, initially everything goes smoothly. There are signs of struggle, no evidence though of survivors, and everyone performs in a militaristic (natch) and precise manner. After being deemed “safe” Ripley, Burke, Bishop and the mission’s inexperienced overseeing Lieutenant head in.

Out of the blue contact is made, though not deliberately. A young girl, perhaps 9 or 10 is located on surveillance equipment, after a brief chase Ripley grabs the girl. It appears that she has been surviving on solely her wits for many weeks by darting in and out of nooks and tunnels to escape notice. Her name is Newt, and she and Ripley immediately bond under pressure in a sort of proxy Mother/Daughter relationship.

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It was about this time that James Cameron decided to ratchet things up. The team proceed on foot, forging deeper into the facility to search for survivors or… other… Contact! Unseen and largely untraceable, the Aliens set upon the soldiers, taking out over half of them in quick time, including Apone. Ripley, again aboard the troop carrier decides to step up as the Lieutenant proves useless. She saves the day (for some) and from here on in it is basically “Ripley & Co”.

Kickin’ Ass & takin’ names.

Safe for now, the survivors formulate what seems a simple plan. Of course this is almost immediately compromised and the remainder of the film has them warding off the Aliens, and internal forces at times while they attempt to desperately get themselves off the planet safely.

There are simply too many classic things to mention here but the frantic pace steps up yet again once they discover that automatic emergency measures have triggered the self destruct sequence and the whole facility is primed to blow… soon. From here the last 40 minutes runs in practically real time, with an automated warning system calmly counting down till things go boom-boom. Ripley simply starts kickin’ ass and taking names, and the final battle ends with a massive showdown that has become very well known for the 2 gangly female protagonists, one impossibly tall, gaunt and ferocious, the other an Alien-Queen.

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The Aliens are far better realized this time round, meaning that they can be shown in full and don’t come off like a skinny guy in a suit. The mechanics that run the head SFX are especially realistic, meaning there are some great lingering shots with Aliens and prey face to face, or at least in close proximity. As they appear for the first time they are obviously more fluid and flexible, moving with disturbing ease and grace before unwinding to attack in savage fashion. They are single minded, vicious and as it turns out, smart, they stop at nothing to locate the survivors so that they can basically “use” them as cocoons to build more drooling acid-bleeders; and what might you think is responsible for the eggs?

The film is especially quotable even 20+ years on:

“They mostly come out at night… Mostly.”

“That’s it! Game over man!”

“Get away from her you BITCH!”

And it also features some great character performances, Beihn is strong in his role as the determined soldier (even though he doesn’t have to do much but clench his jaw and look serious). Reiser is especially weasely and unlikable as Burke, and Newt does the job, that being simply to not be an annoying and distracting “cutesie” kid. But it is Paxton who steals the show as Hudson, the first half of his performance is all bravado and cockiness, but after he sees what they are up against he turns into the funniest whiner in a looong time.

“Got a band-aid?”

The miniature work that is used to show the spacecraft, explosions and terrain is all first rate, CGI is all well and good but I’ll take this stuff any day of the week (even when you can clearly see Bishop’s (supposedly) severed legs near the end). The movie is 2 ½ hours long but nothing is wasted or dull, in fact the final scene comes to an end and the credits start rolling almost immediately (as it should be).

Aliens was ahead of its time in 1986, and I would argue that it still is, as even with all the CGI and high budget stuff being churned out these days nothing comes close to having the visual (and visceral) impact that Aliens still pulls off.

Final Rating – 9.5 / 10. Set’s the bar for all other sci-fi actioners to aim for. So far aside from T2 they are more limbo stars than high achievers.

About OGR

While I try to throw a joke or two into proceedings when I can all of the opinions presented in my reviews are genuine. I don't expect that all will agree with my thoughts at all times nor would it be any fun if you did, so don't be shy in telling me where you think I went wrong... and hopefully if you think I got it right for once. Don't be shy, half the fun is in the conversation after the movie.
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