By contributor Patrick Zabriskie
Summary: ‘Alien’ is a popular film that I have issues with, ‘Aliens’ is a popular film that I have no issues with.
Review: I disliked ‘Alien’ because, despite great design and an interesting story, it was ultimately underwhelming. It was a box office hit, though, and in 1986 20th Century Fox released a sequel, directed by then-newcomer James Cameron. Cameron had already proven his worth on the 1984 hit ‘The Terminator’, a surprisingly powerful film that paired heart and depth with adrenaline fueled action. Cameron would use this same approach to ‘Aliens’, and so it fixes everything wrong with the original ‘Alien’, salvaging and improving the sense of atmosphere, isolation, and terror that people enjoyed from it. The result is one of the best action, science fiction, and horror movies ever made.
Though this is a three-genre movie, Cameron thankfully avoided the clichés and the tropes of each. Unlike most space pictures, the future presented here isn’t particularly happy or hopeful. It has neither the mysticism of ‘Star Wars’ nor the optimism of ‘Star Trek’. Rather, it goes for that gritty ‘Blade Runner’ feel. The world is still corporate and capitalist, we still have soldiers and fight wars, and space seems cold and ugly. It’s a fresher, albeit darker, take on our view of outer space.
Unlike many action films (and, in my opinion, the first ‘Alien’), the characters in ‘Aliens’ are not two-dimensional or stock. Ellen Ripley, the central character, is one of the best and most complex heroines of recent years. She is strong, formidable, brave, fierce, and mother-like at the same time. Most importantly, she seems human and, therefore, relatable. The intimacy of her character is what draws us into the story and makes it compelling. The other characters in the film are just as fleshed out, and so it is becomes easier to care about them and feel fear for them.
This does wonders for the sense of horror and terror in the film, as does its pacing and design. Where as ‘Alien’ was very slow and, at times, even boring, ‘Aliens’ makes effective use of suspense. People wander into rooms where we know great monsters are hiding, but Cameron allows for time to pass, and thus, for tension to build up before an attack or chase is on. He doesn’t go for low blow shock-value, such as sudden kills from creatures out-of-nowhere, but rather for legitimate, well-timed terror.
Cameron and co also out-did themselves when it came to design on this picture. They take the atmosphere from the original film and greatly expound upon it. The aliens’ look is wonderfully frightening, especially the Alien Queen; the sets are intricate; and the models used are so detailed that it’s impossible to recognize them as such. Despite being nearly 25 years old, modern CGI would not improve the look or believability of the effects, it’s that good. James Horner also delivers an electrifying score that has proven so popular that it is still used in movie-trailers to this day.
The filmmakers really pulled out all the stops on ‘Aliens’. It is an intelligent, suspenseful, and very enjoyable film. It is the best of the ‘Alien’ franchise as well as a high point in Cameron’s career. For a well-made and involving picture, check this one out.