Is there a more satisfying sequel than Aliens? Scratch that rhetorical question for a minute and let me fire off another. Is there a more satisfying MOVIE than Aliens?
So often referred to as Alien’s flawless sequel, the true beauty of James Cameron’s third movie (even though no one brings up Piranha 2 anymore) is how well it truly stands on it’s own two feet as a stand alone experience.
The reason for this is that Cameron was unafraid to retro-fit the details and rules of Alien for his own ends, adapting and making Ridley Scott’s vision utterly his own. Take Sigourney Weaver’s iconic Ripley for example: accidentally stuck in hyper sleep for 57 years between movies, her character has gone from cold survivor to out-of-time loner with a maximum smoothness and by the end of the film, an honest to God warrior mother. Cameron, in a magnificent act in brazen confidence has changed the genre too, with Scott’s gothic; psycho-sexual horror show now a full blown war film, dripping with a different kind of symbolism as the hapless, overconfident grunts and their horribly unprepared superiors find themselves facing an indigenous enemy they simply can’t hope to defeat despite their far superior firepower (read: Vietnam). Even the xenomorph has changed from the single, sensual, unknowable assassin into a more identifiable, animalistic danger. Now given a far more familiar insectoid life cycle with the introduction of the truly impressive Alien Queen, the titular creature may now be canon fodder but also has overwhelming numbers on it’s side. Whether the changes Cameron has made are better or worse than Scott’s original has always been a matter of debate, but to do so is merely comparing excellence with another kind of excellence. Cameron’s alterations work because that’s the story he wishes to tell, but the basics stay the same: blue collar victims (space truckers/space marines) fall prey to a perfectly evolved organism in an unbearably tense face off light years from home.
Cameron, like Scott, creates an incredibly detailed world, from the surroundings and tech, to the characters who are all insanely memorable. The stoic yet sensitive Hicks (Michael Biehn building on his fine work in The Terminator), the panicky Hudson (a never better Bill Paxton), the gentle android Bishop (a career making turn by Lance Henricksen), the supernaturally tough Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein living the role), they all hit the bullseye and make the experience far more harrowing as you know they can’t all make it.
In fact, the most important addition to the cast is Carrie Hicks’ feral orphan Newt. Thankfully unirritating and firing off mothering instincts in Ripley and causing Weaver to fire on all cylinders and earn herself an Oscar nomination, her presence creates possibly one of the greatest showdowns in cinema history as she straps herself into a powerloader and faces down the towering, crested Queen in a battle of the mothers for the survival of their “children”.
It’s heady stuff and yet it never let’s the symbolism get in the way of what’s occurring on-screen and it’s excellence stretches across the board with virtually everyone putting in career best work. James Horner’s score: career best. Stan Winston’s effects work: career best. All the actors, set designers, sound engineers, cinematography: career best work. I can’t vouch for the catering on set but judging by the examples I just laid out it must have been fucking superlative.
A truly amazing experience that never dulls with nearly 35 years worth of repeated viewing, simply put Aliens is quite possibly the greatest movie of it’s kind and if anyone tells you different?
Well then, get away from them, you bitch.