Sigourney Weaver and Carrie Henn in Aliens.
A question often tossed around among movie buffs is whether or not any sequel has ever been an improvement over the original. Scream 2 has fun with the question in one scene set inside a film class. One of the sequels they mention as being better is Aliens. Since both the original Alien and this one are so well made--but so different in style from each other--which one is the superior film overall is tough to call, but for sheer popcorn munching entertainment, I have to hand it to Cameron's Aliens.
The plot picks up right where the first film ends, with Ripley and Jonesy the cat drifting through space in suspended animation. When she wakes up she discovers that 57 years have passed while she's slept. To her horror she learns that the planet where the alien was discovered in the first film has been inhabited during that time. And when contact is lost with colonists on that planet, a troop of marines is sent to investigate with Ripley tagging along as a consultant.
Like the first film, this one takes a little while to get going, particularly if you watch the extended director's cut. One immediately noticeable thing if you watch the two movies back-to-back is that the gritty realistic look of the first movie is gone and is replaced by slightly more generic Sci-Fi sets. This is particularly noticeable if you watch the movies in high-def. Where in Alien, the ship looks like it's made of metal, here it's plain to see where the set is made of wood or plastic. The dialogue is likewise less full of human drama and more of a comic book style, particularly amongst the marines as highlighted by Bill Paxton's character.
However, once the Marines arrive on the planet and begin facing off with the Aliens, this movie is kicked into another gear and then another and then another. Where Alien was the crew of a merchant ship facing off against one Alien, this is a troop of Marines armed to the teeth facing off against wave after wave of Aliens. There's enough action here for two movies.
While all the noise and excitement is entertaining, the reason we care about any of it is because of Sigourney Weaver as Ripley. She is terrific here and let's not forget that she was nominated for an Academy Award for this part, a very rare acting nomination for a Science Fiction film and it was well deserved. In the original film the part of Ripley is fairly androgynous and was indeed written so that it could be played by either a man or a woman. This time though the script makes a point of Ripley being a woman and not by making her weaker, but by making her stronger. Her maternal instinct to protect Newt (after learning of the death of her own daughter while she was lost in space if you watch the extended version) and the final face-off against the Alien Queen just wouldn't be as powerful if Ripley were a man. There's a reason the American Film institute named her the 8th greatest hero in American Cinema History. And of course who could ever forget her classic line, "Get away from her you bitch!"
The supporting cast is alright with most of them being there just to be Alien fodder and all of them take a back seat to Weaver. Michael Biehn is good as Hicks, once again falling in love with a strong willed woman in a James Cameron movie. Carrie Henn as Newt isn't the greatest child actress, but she screams well and has a great chemistry with Sigourney. This would be her only film. Paul Reiser is appropriately slimy as the Corporate stooge and Bill Paxton is there to provide comic relief.
It's a shame that two such great movies were followed by such shit sequels. I like to pretend that the other Alien movies were just a dream Ripley had while in suspended animation. You could argue back and forth which of the first two is the better movie. They both have their merits. One is rich in atmosphere while the other is loaded with action, but both of them feature the greatest action heroine ever put on screen. So I say, screw which one is better, just enjoy them both.
The queen alien is one mad bitch in Aliens.
I agree Scott, Aliens is a great sequel and is more action driven than the original movie. Although the Special Edition runs over 2½ hours I recommend watching this version over the original theatrical one. It gives you a bit more back story on Ripley’s life on Earth, as well as the colonists living in blissful ignorance right next door to the nest of deadly aliens. Sure it takes more than an hour of the movie before the first fully grown aliens show up, but once they do it turns into a heart thumping, sci-fi/horror flick. The final 30 minutes remain some of the most intense and scary scenes in any movie.
Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley really hit her stride as an action star with this installment in the franchise. She kicks some serious ass! When she ventures back into the nest of aliens to save Newt she demonstrates more raw guts than most male action heroes ever get the chance to do. Her final battle with the queen alien is classic.
Like Alien, this movie includes a synthetic life form (Bishop) as one of the pivotal characters. This time around his identity isn’t kept hidden. Apparently sometime during the 57 years that Ripley was floating around in space the term “robot” was replaced with “android”, although Bishop prefers the more PC “Artificial Person”. Whereas in the first movie the robot is evil, this time around he’s a good guy, changing Ripley’s suspicions into trust with his heroic actions at the movie’s climax.
The acting by the supporting cast is less consistently good than in Alien. Bill Paxton is guilty of his usual over-acting, “Oh dear Lord Jesus, this ain't happening, man... This can't be happening, man! This isn't happening!” and Jenette Goldstein as the mannish Pvt. Vasquez gives some amateurish line readings. The marines do bring a bit of levity to the intense proceedings. Paul Reiser, as Scott wrote, is perfect as backstabbing company man Burke.
The quality of special effects technology had improved in the seven years since the first Alien movie. This is most apparent in the actual space monsters themselves. We see more of them and they move around much more realistically. The final confrontation holds up quite well.
Like Scott, I’m hard pressed to choose the better movie between the singular and plural versions. It’s a bit like choosing between The Godfather’s part I and II. One thing’s for sure, the 3rd installment in both franchises was a long step down.
William Hope as Lt Gorman in Aliens
No matter how many times I watch Aliens, I always come away from it impressed by the tense scenes and action sequences. This time around, after reading my brothers reviews, I took note of the supporting cast. They both mentioned Bill Paxton's antics while I was struck by William Hope as Lt. Gorman.
Gorman is a young officer with very little experience. He has a hard time making decisions. The marines do not look up to him by any means. It does not help that he has not taken the time to learn their names. He is a very real character. You can see fear and frustration on his face, even when he is not in a dangerous situation. He is a good guy but lacks the ability to do his job well. Ripley on the other hand, is a natural born leader. As Scott wrote, "...the script makes a point of Ripley being a woman and not by making her weaker, but by making her stronger." Aliens is that rare film that showcases a heroine without emasculating any man.
The most telling scene is when the marines first discover the cocooned population inside the compound, while Ripley and Gorman watch them through cameras. Ripley points out, "So, if they fire their weapons in there, won't they rupture the cooling system?" Gorman then has to tell the marines not to fire their weapons. A bit later, the aliens attack and Gorman becomes a deer caught in headlights, not knowing what to do. This forces Ripley to take charge and assume her natural position in life.
Although he continues to work in the business, William Hope's acting career never struck it big. He has appeared in some other films but has mostly done work on television. He has also done some voice work, including a return to the world of Aliens by lending his voice to several Aliens video games.
Photos © Copyright 20th Century Fox (1986)