Benjamin has been reviewing films for sixteen years and has seen more action movies than he should probably admit to!
What's the big deal?
Aliens is an action sci-fi film released in 1986 and is the sequel to Ridley Scott's 1979 film Alien. This time, the film was both written and directed by James Cameron and sees the survivor from the first film Ripley return to the alien planet with a squad of marines in order to exterminate the alien threat. The film sees Sigourney Weaver return as Ripley and also stars Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Carrie Henn and Bill Paxton. Unusually for a sequel, the film was released to near universal acclaim from critics with many declaring it the greatest sequel ever made. It was also a success at the box office with global takings of $131 million and earned Weaver her first nomination for Best Actress at the Academy Awards, something that was considered a major achievement given the historic lack of recognition for sci-fi and horror films.
What's it about?
Having survived the alien encounter on board the Nostromo, Ellen Ripley is picked up and rescued by representatives of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation after drifting through space in statis for 57 years. Debriefed by her employers, Ripley is distraught that not only is her story not accepted but the location of the alien species, the moon LV-426, has now been colonised. However, when contact with the colony is lost, Ripley is persuaded to accompany a squadron of marines to the surface in order to locate and exterminate the alien threat, if present.
After arriving at LV-426, they discover obvious signs of a struggle as well as several indications that there is an alien presence nearby. After rescuing the sole survivor of the colony, a little girl called Newt, the marines begin their tactical assault on the compound to destroy the creatures once and for all. But it soon emerges that their mission has a deadly ulterior motive, one which places everyone in grave danger.
Corporal Dwayne Hicks
Rebecca "Newt" Jorden
James Cameron *
Release Date (UK)
29th August, 1986
Action, Horror, Sci-Fi
Best Sound Effects Editing, Best Visual Effects
Academy Award Nominations
Best Actress (Weaver), Best Set Direction, Best Sound, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score
What's to like?
I reckon most people I talk to prefer this movie to the original and I understand why. Aliens is a more visceral experience, pitching us headfirst into a full-on military conflict against a mostly hidden and unknown enemy. It feels very different from its predecessor which was a more personal, intimate journey that delivered more shocks and scares than gunfire and explosions. But Cameron is a master story-teller and works hard to keep the film's narrative at the forefront of the picture instead of letting the pyrotechnics take over.
Weaver's character also changes from a traumatised victim to a hard-nosed fighter determined to wreck revenge on those pesky critters. But again, the film doesn't let her humanity go altogether and the scenes between her and Newt are some of the more emotive scenes in the entire franchise. They remind us that Ripley isn't some stereotypical action heroine or military hot-shot like the memorable Vasquez - she's human and still grieving the loss of everything she knew. Away from the narrative, the film's highly competent action sequences make Aliens feel more like a war movie in space than the sci-fi horror classic that inspired it. It's a brave decision to take existing characters from one genre and turn it into something different - nobody is going to have Hannibal Lecter appear in a romantic comedy any time soon - so credit for Cameron for working as hard as he does to make it pay off.
- Henn had no previous acting experience before being cast in the film and she never appeared in another movie afterwards. Declining an acting career, she instead became a teacher based in California. However, she still keeps in contact with Weaver as a pen-pal.
- Al Matthews, who plays a marine, was actually the first black marine promoted to the rank of sergeant during the Vietnam war. He attributes his casting to his military background.
- When the executives at Fox saw an early cut of the film, they complained that it looked like all the money had been spent on sets and not special effects. In fact, most of the sets were actually miniatures or optical effects and the artists were delighted to hear that they had fooled the accountants!
What's not to like?
However, I still maintain that the original Alien is better and here's why. It's a more personal affair - you feel closer to the terror that grips the crew whereas in Aliens, it feels somehow distant and you're more likely to believe a happy ending is due because of the number and skills of the team, not to mention the sheer amount of hardware they bring to the party. This feels like a more evenly-matched battle than Alien, where you know exactly who's is coming out on top.
But really, I think it basically boils down to preference and which film you will have watched first. For me, Alien remains possibly the greatest sci-fi horror of all time but I will admit to being impressed by Aliens. The only other downer I can think of is the appearance of the Alien Queen, which felt underwhelming compared to the very first glimpse of the Xenomorph in the first film. The Queen's reveal felt too theatrical and frankly, not too much of a departure from the design of the original creature. Aside from Cameron copying one or two tricks from the first film such as the tension-mounting use of motion scanners, Aliens is a remarkably solid and enjoyable watch helmed by a quality cast and a talented director.
Should I watch it?
Aliens is one of the best sequels ever made, a pulsating and invigorating war movie that pitches superior firepower and technology against animal instinct and cunning. Easily the best sequel to Alien, the film moves away from the horror element and more into traditional sci-fi action but remains a quality film, especially compared to the other sequels which fell somewhat short.
Great For: fans of the first film, military types, women and mothers especially
Not So Great For: the next two films, anyone looking for a more traditional horror film
What else should I watch?
After this, the series began its inevitable decline although I can't help but feel that David Fincher's Alien 3 has been unfairly judged over the years. Yes, it isn't as good as the first two films but a) consider the standards that have been set and b) it's a decent enough movie in its own right. Maybe Fincher has too high a standard to live up to but I still think it's worth a look. Unlike, say, Alien: Resurrection which feels like a tacked-on entry into the series and has a baby-faced Winona Ryder playing a space pirate. Riiight…
After some ill-judged team-ups with the alien hunter from Predator, the series was placed on hiatus until Ridley Scott returned to the franchise with the prequel Prometheus in 2012. Although not directly dealing with the earlier film, the film takes place in the same shared universe and concerns the efforts of a spaceship's crew attempting to trace the origin of life on Earth and discovering dark secrets instead. Scott followed this with the more divisive Alien: Covenant in 2017 but how much more can be spun from the series remains anyone's guess.
© 2018 Benjamin Cox
Benjamin Cox (author) from Norfolk, UK on May 21, 2018:
It evens the playing field to some extent and for that, I applaud Cameron's efforts. But yeah, I prefer the more horror-tinged original than this sci-fi flavoured war film.
Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on May 20, 2018:
I know a lot of people think Aliens is the best film in this series, but I don't see that any more than you do. Maybe military technology would have able to put up more of a fight after 50-plus years, but I just wonder how anyone would know for sure if they'd never encountered such a being. It's still a worthy sequel.