Friday, October 22, 2010

It's Best to Sit Alone if You Watch James Cameron's "Aliens"

It is definitely best to sit alone in a chair when you watch this fast-paced, action packed sci-fi horror thriller. If you sit on a sofa beside other people, it is likely you will hit them swinging your arms, scare them by jumping out of your seat, or scream things like “no,” “look out,” “shoot it,” and “get out of there,” throughout the entire movie. The tagline of the movie is: “This time there’s more.” That means you will feel ten times the tension you did when you watched Alien!

Ellen Ripley, (Sigourney Weaver) the only survivor on the ship, Nostromo, is found floating in space by a salvage ship. Ripley has been in a cryogenic sleep for fifty-seven years. She wakes up to find herself in a hospital recovering. She soon learns that she is required to go before a panel of executives from her employer, the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, to explain her reason for blowing up their space ship, Nostromo. The panel doesn’t believe her story about an Alien who sneaked aboard the Nostromo and killed every crew member on board but her. They tell her they don’t believe it because a colony of terraforming scientists has been living on the planet LV-426 for thirty years without seeing any Alien or Alien ship. She loses her space flight license and is offered a lowly job of running loaders and forklifts.

Ripley is plagued with nightmares about what happened on the Nostromo. Then, one day, Carter Burke (Paul Reiser), a Corporation lawyer, and Marine Lieutenant Gorman (William Hope) inform her that all contact with the colony on LV-426 has been lost. They want her to join a Marine unit and explain what happened in detail on the Nostromo to help prepare them for what they will be facing LV-426. Ripley refuses to go because she is still recovering from the traumatic experience fifty-seven years ago. However, from Ripley’s point of view, it just happened last week. Realizing that she will never conquer the fears in her nightmares, she reluctantly agrees to go. Now the action begins so hold onto your seat!!!

Ripley meets the Marines on the warship, Sulaco. She is pleasant to all of them but Bishop (Lance Hendrickson) who is an android. Ripley is not fond of androids since an android tried to kill her on the Nostromo. She explains to them how only one alien killed the entire crew on the Nostromo. However, the Marines are rather boastful and think they are more than qualified to eliminate any aliens on the planet. Ripley isn’t happy about how lightly they listened to her story. She helps them load their supplies with a forklifter which foreshadows one of the best fighting scenes in the movie.

The Marines, Ripley, and Burke arrive on the LV-426, led by the young Lieutenant Gorman. The only colonist they find is a young girl who has been hiding from the Aliens by herself. Her name is Newt (Carrie Henn) and she tells them everyone else is dead. Soon they discover all the colonists are in one place. The young inexperienced Gorman sends his unit to locate the colonists and check for survivors. Gorman, Burke, Newt, and Ripley stay in the vehicle watching the progress of the Marines. They enter the building and are attacked by a slew of Aliens. Gorman, who panics and cannot decide what to do, is knocked unconscious when Ripley starts driving the vehicle into the building to save the Marines. She saves Private Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein), Private Hudson (Bill Paxton), and Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn). The rest of the Marines are dead or taken by the Aliens to be cocooned. The rest of the plot is about how the Marines, Ripley, Newt, Burke, and Bishop try to survive.

Ripley’s relationship with Newt is one of the key ele-ments in the plot. The young girl has lost her family and is alone. Ripley becomes attached to Newt in a motherly way. It is her love for the child that makes Ripley the strong willed character she becomes in the movie. I own the uncut DVD of Aliens and there is a scene I wished had not been left out in the original version. Burke comes to see Ripley shortly after she has been found by the salvage ship. She has asked him to find her only child, a daughter, for her. Burke shows her the information and photo of her daughter who grew up and died of cancer. I think this scene was important to show why Ripley cares so much about Newt.

The plot progresses quickly and there are several twists and turns along the way. The ending is awesome. Ripley has a scene in the end that makes her one of the most famous kick-butt women characters in movie history. She says a line that has become a famous movie quote too. It is my favorite line in a science fiction horror movie.

James Cameron was told he could do a sequel to Alien only if his movie, The Terminator did well. Needless to say, it was quite a hit! Aliens was a huge hit not only in the United States but other countries too. It was the number one movie in the United States for four consecutive weeks. The movie totaled $131 internationally. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Actress for Weaver although she didn’t win. Aliens did earn two Academy Awards for Sound Effects and Editing and for Visual Effects.

The movie was filmed over a period of ten months at Pinewood Studios in England. The terraforming colony scenes were filmed in a decommissioned power plant in London. Cameron thought finding the right cast was the hardest thing. Sigourney Weaver wasn’t sure she wanted to play Ellen Ripley again. It is a good thing she did because she was paid $1 million for her performance! Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, and Bill Paxton had all worked with Cameron on The Terminator. The casting of Newt was the biggest challenge. Approximately five hundred children tried out for the part, but Carrie Henn whose father was in the military was chosen.

James Horner, one of my favorite composers, wrote the music for Aliens. Horner said that Cameron gave him very little time to write the music. He thought he would never work for him again. However, Cameron liked Horner’s score in Braveheart (1995) and hired him to do the score for Titanic (1997) which is one of the most popular scores in movie history. As it turned out, Cameron also asked Horner to do the score for his successful movie Avatar (2009). Horner also did the score for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) which is one of my favorites, and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984). I own all five of these movie soundtracks. I love to listen to them and yes, they are on my iPod. I look forward to hearing more of James Horner’s music in the future.

Michael Biehn replaced the actor, James Remar, who was to play Hicks just a few weeks before filming. There is one scene in the movie where we see the back of Remar playing Hicks, but no one can tell the difference between Biehn and Remar. All of the actors except for Biehn were trained by the S.A.S, the British Special Air Service, an elite unit. Cameron had only written about 90 pages of the script, but 20th Century Fox liked it and told him he could make the movie. The Alien nest set was used in the movie Batman (1989). The tiny bathroom in Ripley’s apartment was actually a British Airways toilet. The Alien Queen required 14-16 operators to move her. Lance Henriksen wanted to wear special contact lenses to make Bishop a really creepy android. However, Cameron said he didn’t have to wear them because his acting made Bishop creepy enough.

Alien and Aliens are my two favorite sci-fi movies. I vary from day to day which one I like the best. I do think the atmosphere in Alien is a little creepier. However, the action and excitement in Aliens couldn’t be better. It is such a fast-paced movie that once the characters land on LV-426, the ending seems like the next scene. The shadows and use of dark lighting, off whites, and grays make the setting seem so chilling. The aliens were hidden so well in the darkness that when they jumped out at Ripley, I found myself jumping out of my theater seat. The scene when the Marines are first attacked by the aliens, my husband told me that I squeezed his hand too hard. Afterwards, I put my hands on my lap and squeezed them.

My son and I have watched Aliens many times together. He loves the film as much as I do. I never watch my DVD without thinking of all those times we saw it together. He bought me the uncut video and then the uncut DVD. I read in Entertainment Weekly in the 20th Anniversary Double issue recently that the Alien Anthology is on a Blu-ray disc set containing Alien, Aliens, Alien3, and Alien Ressurection with five hours of new interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. Son, if you read this I want you to know that I would love this Blu-ray set. It sure would make a nice Christmas present this year.


  1. Superb and very interesting write-up, Aki! Although Ridley Scott's ALIEN is still my favorite of the series, Cameron's sequel is one of the very best sequels I've ever seen. Sigourney Weaver excels both in terms of drama and total alien annihilation. The supporting cast is terrific. Cameron's former spouse, Kathryn Bigelow, made NEAR DARK the next year, and it also starred Henriksen, Paxton and Goldstein.

    Thanks for a wonderful read, Aki. I hope your son gets you the ALIEN Blu-ray set. And he should probably throw in the ALIEN vs. PREDATOR films on BR because technically those are part of the ALIEN series, too.

  2. Aki, this may be my favorite of all your reviews. I agree that, for once, the extended version of a movie actually add to the film’s depth. Personally, I think ALIENS is far superior to the original. The mother-daughter theme that you describe (which also applies to the Alien “mother” trying to protect her offspring) makes it a richer film than ALIEN. The characters are better developed, too…less black & white than in ALIEN. This and Cameron’s two TERMINATOR films are his best work in my opinion. Hope you get the ALIEN ANTHOLOGY on Blu-ray. Pretty clever to use the Café to lobby for Christmas presents…I should of thought of that!

  3. I too feel that Aliens is a better movie in many ways than Alien. It is one of my very favorite Cameron movies. I agree that the mother-daughter relationship that develops between Ripley and Newt definitely adds to the film, but I think that the reason I like it so much is that, in this one, Ripley is going into the situation with her eyes open. She KNOWS what may be waiting for them on LV-426. But she faces her fears, and overcomes them, especially in the scenes where she confronts the aliens (and their queen). Ripley matures into a much more interesting and complex character than she was in the original Alien.

    Thanks for the great write-up, Aki!

  4. Aki, that was a great review of the one of the best and scariest sci-fi films ever made. It is hard to think when a film's sequel equal or ever bettered the original, but this film is in that unique category. Your trivia adds a lot to the write-up and shows a great deal of research done on your part. Reading this makes me want to have an Alien marathon.

  5. Aki, really superb review here. Regarding overall film production, Cameron's Aliens is superior. To me it is a toss up to which is creepier. I think there's always something about the original (if it was good, LOL) that you remember as being eerie and hair-raising. But you are right about the characters being more developed in the 2nd film. I think it really says something about Weaver's performance that she was nominated for an Academy Award--not all suspense/action/sci-fi films garner a lot of acclaim for their stars.

  6. Aki, this is a really good article about a movie I just love. I agree with most of the other comments that this is one sequel that was just as good as the original. I do find it difficult to say which is better, though. The original was such a ground-breaker -- the now-famous scene at the dinner table with the alien's "birth" was incredibly shocking and frightening at that time. Nothing like that had been done before, and no one was expecting it. I remember two people, one being my sister, jumping up and running out of the theatre in horror.

    To me, the original was like a symphony that begins slowly, dreamily, and builds up to an incredible ending. I felt like I had run a marathon by the movie's end. But the sequel was an entirely different type of movie. It was more character-driven, as you said, and the excitement was there from beginning to end. I really loved those Marines, and watching their fate was so difficult because of the fondness I felt for them.

    I can't say either one was better. Both were incredible movies, and I can't help but watch them whenever they are on. They just pull me in and won't let go! Thanks for such a well-done piece of writing!

  7. Just to add a little support for Ridley Scott's original: While I agree that the mother-daughter relationship is a superb addition in ALIENS, I don't believe the characters are more fully developed. The smaller crew in ALIEN allows for more dynamic characters. Watching them sit around the table and talk and complain about their new assignment is like watching an actual group of friends and co-workers. Most of the soldiers in ALIENS are one dimensional; as funny as Paxton is, for instance, he's only there for comic relief.

    And Ripley, even without being a motherly figure, is incredible in ALIEN. They don't really have any weapons in the original. She ends up fighting an alien by herself with nothing but her wits. What a woman!

    Again, no complaints against ALIENS. Cameron took the original story and expanded upon it. He enriched the drama with Newt, Ripley's pseudo-daughter, and created some massively enjoyable action sequences. But Scott set the stage.

  8. Awesome review Aki. Aliens is one of my favorites.

  9. Sark, I would say that Cameron took the original premise (sorta borrowed by IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE) to a new level. The mother-child motif applies to the Alien mother, who is protecting her offspring in her home. The humans are the intruders-which is very different from the first film. I think ALIENS humanizes the Alien mother to some extent and that makes the film much more interesting.

  10. Thanks everyone for the nice comments. Like I said I vary from day to day about which movie I like the best. I guess I just love both of them. I just got a blu-ray several months ago. I don't own many blu-rays yet, but I hope my son read this review because his mother really wants this blu-ray set of the Alien movies!!