Aliens (1986)

Written & Directed by James Cameron

When I set out to discover the Alien franchise I really didn’t know entirely what to expect. I knew that each installment was directed by a different reputable director and that the first two were especially held in fairly high regard. After loving Alien because of the style of filmmaking and the storytelling I sat down to its sequel, Aliens, directed by James Cameron, with sort of mixed feelings. I was unsure whether Cameron, known for his big epics like Titanic and Avatar, could handle the subtle style Ridley Scott used. And after seeing the film I can say that he couldn’t handle it, but he knew he couldn’t handle it. So what Cameron did was create his own style of film based on his talents and instead of taking a great film and doing more of the same, he built on the greatness of Alien by doing something different, which is what more sequels could benefit from, otherwise the unexpected simply becomes expected. The Hangover Part II is a great example of that.

Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the hero and lone survivor of the Nostromos, a ship which encountered an unknown and deadly alien, is awoken from a 57 year sleep after being found by salvage vessel. She is approached by Carter Burke (Paul Reiser), who informs her that the planet on which her ship crashed has now been colonized, but they have lost contact with the operation there. He recruits her services under the promises that the aliens will be exterminated. Joined by a crew of Marines, Ripley experiences the same mishaps as before, but this time with more firepower to fight back, more allies (Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen) and a sweet little girl (Carrie Henn), who somehow survived the alien takeover, to protect.

My first reaction to the film was deja vu. It reminded me so much of another James Cameron that I saw recently: the massively successful and popular Avatar. Someone is recruited specifically for their services to go to a planet to take care of an alien population along with a gung ho class of marines. And the man behind it all has a sinister and selfish plot behind his motivations. Oh, it has Sigourney Weaver, and it also has those robot driven things too, if you’ve seen the films you know what I’m talking about. And in that regard it definitely felt like a James Cameron film. He loves the cheesy gung ho banter of a marine corps team and the bang bang opportunity of a plot like this. But I mean these things as compliments believe it or not.

Cameron changed the game which is the single thing that makes this sequel work. Instead of slow and moody we get fast and action packed, and the action is great. Cameron is able to create the same entertainment value that Scott did, but with the threatening nature of the creatures even against military firepower instead of the haunted house, hopelessly claustrophobic Alien. The characters are a bit more ridiculous, Ripley included, but it fits with the film. I was somewhat appalled by Bill Paxton’s caricature performance as a marine, but he is counter balanced by the much more grounded Michael Biehn. Weaver was actually nominated for an Academy Award for her performance, which I found surprising, though she certainly unleashes the inner badass this go around, which I can only assume grows and grows as the series continues.

The film gets lost sometimes and, as I have noticed somewhat with James Cameron’s other works, there is too much superfluous dialogue, like the military banter, and the film becomes somewhat bloated by what Cameron decides to indulge in, the final scene being a perfect example. It was still a film I enjoyed a great deal and one that I appreciated for its ingenuity in approaching the series from a completely different perspective without compromising what makes the idea of the film effective: the threat of a deadly, unknown alien. Cameron’s style is unique and I like it a great deal and Aliens I think showcases it brilliantly. Now I wonder what David Fincher will make of it in the third installment.


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