How convenient that a sci-fi horror should fall on Halloween! Just as James Cameron turned his unnerving The Terminator into a slam-bang actioner, he traded the ominous chills of Ridley Scott’s Alien for all-out combat (and added an s) for its sequel. In doing so, he created one of the best of all three genres: action, horror, and science fiction. Aliens has reckless gun fights, punk Marines, and giant explosions, coupled with claustrophobic interiors, spidery stalkers, and a terrifying addition to the lineup of giant movie monsters. All of it combines to keep hearts racing in every scene (and perhaps a little the following night as well).
In films like this, most of the characters are mere afterthoughts meant to be exterminated, but Cameron succeeds in creating memorable individuals amid all the hysteria. Bill Paxton’s panicky Hudson, Paul Reiser’s weasely Burke, Jenette Goldstein’s brawny Vasquez, and Michael Biehn’s level-headed Hicks feel like real characters amid all the action, even though they lack the mundane setup of the first film’s victims. Lance Henriksen’s Bishop tows the line between creepy and reliable, thankfully offering the opposite of the original’s Ash. Above all, Sigourney Weaver continues her compelling role of Ripley and gets an opportunity to display motherly tenacity as she bonds with the traumatized Newt. Her fierce performance even gained her an unforeseen Oscar nomination.
For still being a fairly new director at the time, James Cameron brilliantly recaptures the mood of the original while intensifying it in some ways. How do you enhance a creature feature? Answer: by turning one monstrosity into hundreds. What’s more affecting for an audience than a cat in danger? Answer: a child in danger. Although it’s much more fast-paced than the original, there’s still plenty of nightmare fodder, particularly some now iconic scenes, like the aliens crawling through the ceiling or one rising up behind Newt.
Aliens also stands in my memory as the first film in which I heard the F-word. That could have been cause for me to dislike it, but ignoring the profanity, the chest-bursting, and the character being torn in half, the movie’s thrilling entertainment value makes up for these negative aspects and leaves the first film in the dust. My VC also loves the film, even though she had to check under her bed after first viewing it. This was the Alien franchise’s high point (don’t bother with the other sequels) and a high point in multiple genres.
Best line: (Hudson) “That’s it, man. Game over, man! Game over!”Rank: 54 out of 60
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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