Xeno-Phobia Part 2: Aliens
The second installment of Xeno-Phobia has arrived.
The genesis of Aliens starts in earnest with Director, James Cameron in 1983. A fan of Alien he began to write a sequel to the film and pitch it to Fox. They liked what they saw, but weren’t impressed with the box office performance of the original. They cut Cameron a deal which basically came down to the success level of the film he was working on at the time, The Terminator. If it made them a truckload of cash he could make Alien II. So in 1986, 7 years after the original we were given Aliens, a sequel I’m sure that movie going audiences never dreamed was coming.
This would start the almost serialized nature of installments with the franchise that would come full circle when Ridley Scott returned to the director’s chair in the series fifth movie. The idea of having different directors for each sequel really gives the series a comic book feel rather than a strong unified vision since each successive director is choosing their vision of what would happen next.
The title screen fade in mirrors Alien but with a little more bombast, which is how we could look at this movie as a whole. 57 years after the events depicted in Alien, Ripley’s (in stasis sleep) spaceship is intercepted. The discovery entrance into her ship deliberately mirrors the scene from the first movie when the Nostromo crew is visiting the alien’s crashed spaceship. We find out we don’t have to fear the people who rescued her (or do we?). It’s actually her employers the Weyland-Yutani Corporation. Ripley recounts her story (to catch the viewer up to speed) to a board of people who dismiss it and immediately strip her of her title.
She’s horrified to find out that the planet from the first movie (LV-426) is now hosting colonies of people who are working in conjunction with Weyland-Yutani Corporation are terraforming the planet to make its atmosphere more hospitable and Earth like. Now right around here there are two important scenes that were cut out and restored in the director’s cut. One is Ripley finding out that her daughter (who was 66) has died in the time since she’s been frozen which really hammers home her maternal relationship with the character Newt. Another involves Newt’s family on LV-426 finding the crashed derelict spaceship from Alien and returning with a facehugger.
A short time later the Weyland-Yutani Corporation loses contact with the colony on the planet. They gather up a team of Space Marines to go investigate. Ripley is included in the crew as a consultant with her title now restored. She suddenly doesn’t seem so crazy, now does she? Well that’s what you’d think at least, but as she meets the team of Marines she’s accompanying, almost all the males are condescending to both her and the other female Vasquez. What the hell happened in the last 57 years? Have all the men become complete and utter assholes (or at least more so)? I know it’s a way to further solidify a strong female lead for the movie, but still…
The team touches down on the planet and begins to investigate the seemingly abandoned colony providing one of the best scenes from the movie as the deafening sound of the planet’s surface drops out once they are inside and it becomes deadly silent as they explore the recent ruins. You can begin to feel your fear ratcheting up. They discover a little girl named Newt, who Ripley takes under her wing. This relationship goes on to form the emotional center of this movie. All Hell is about to break loose…
It should be noted that James Cameron was working on the script that would become Rambo: First Blood Part II around the same time he was writing this movie. He must have a fascination with Vietnam because I had read that for this movie he wanted all the military weapons and vehicles to have subtle and subliminal Vietnam imagery as well as incorporate its slang into the movie. Basically, what you’re getting in the 2nd half of Aliens is an American styled war movie in outer space. It’s intense and heavy on the action. It’s a straight Xenomorph infestation and you see them killed in array of ways that almost cheapens how deadly and scary the creature was in Alien. You see them run over and crushed by vehicles and shot to death countless times. There’s even a scene where Vasquez basically curb stomps one and offs it with a gun to its head, gangbanger style. It’s certainly cool, but it feels a bit off. It seems like Cameron wanted to make up for the lack of screen time the Xenomorph had in the first movie by oversaturating this one. (The alien is what everybody wants right? RIGHT?)
I love the idea of killing a big chunk of people up front in a movie, especially ones that you came to know well. It lets you know that all bets are off, no one is safe. The only thing is, I wish Hudson was in that first crew. I know that I’ll get some flack and some controversy for that comment, but I had to say it. Hudson is played by Bill Paxton and my god is he fucking annoying. He pretty much exists to complain and whine in his high pitched shrill meets California stoner voice and end each sentence with the word “man”. There was humor in Alien, but it wasn’t overt and it felt organic. In Aliens it seems juvenile and put in solely as some relief for the tension.
I do however think this movie is more important as far as the franchise’s pop culture cementing. Had the sequels never been made, Alien would have gone down as a cult sci-fi film just bubbling under the radar. Aliens brought the Xenomorph into mainstream America and firmly rooted it there. It also came out when a lot of people in my generation were young and have a palpable connection with it.
This was the second time I’ve seen it. The first I was extremely let down, this time not as much since I knew what I was getting into. I had high expectations the first time since it’s regarded as one of the greatest sequels ever (both Alien and Aliens as of the writing of this review have an IMDB score of 8.5). I wasn’t expecting a full on action movie. Which isn’t the fault of the film, especially since I’ll be the first to tell you I’m not an action movie guy, hell I don’t even like most super hero flicks (don’t tell the other Evil Geeks!) but I felt like this could have been any other 80’s action movie, it just happened to have Xenomorphs. Change one or two things and it’s a standalone 80’s sci-fi war movie.
Now I firmly believe you’re either an Alien or Aliens person. You might like both but you probably gravitate towards one or the other. It’s obvious that I fall into the Alien camp, but Aliens does still have a lot to offer. It brought certain important aspects to the series. The first and probably most important is naming the type of alien as a Xenomorph. We are also introduced to the idea of them having a Queen. The Weyland-Yutani Corporation really gets fleshed out more and this is essential. They are the human face of this franchise and the driving force behind the scenes. We also learn more about their true motives. I’d also like to single our Paul Reiser’s character as the sleazy company liaison, he’s perfect. There’s a few scenes too that stand on par with the original. The one mentioned earlier where the crew first enters the colony is bated breath awesomeness. Ripley and Newt’s claustrophobic encounter with the facehuggers in the medical facility as well as their first battle with the Queen are both pure Alien franchise moments.
While Cameron clearly is a capable director, he isn’t able to construct the same strange but horrifying atmosphere as Ridley Scott and H.R. Giger achieved. Things never felt other worldly, just quasi futuristic. How about the Weyland company’s suits? Paul Reiser rocks one and they don’t have collars. Really? That’s nitpicking I know, but I couldn’t resist. I must say the Xenomorphs lair do look pretty cool in Aliens. It’s less darkly menacing and more horror movie scary. Oh and I’m pretty sure Transformers: The Movie (the animated 1986 one) ripped off the Power Loader as Spike/Daniel’s Exo suit, but whatever.
While still a bit of a disappointment for me, I understand Aliens significance to the series. I’m awarding it 3 out 5 Vinomorphs. It just seemed a little boring to me, which to some of you I know that will seem like an insane thing to say especially since that’s the complaint people level against Alien. It’s two and half hour running time didn’t help, but perhaps I’d feel differently had I had a chance to see it in a theatre.
We’re moving into uncharted territory next with Alien3.
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