A series of film reviews and opinion pieces from a film student and all round movie lover! Happy reading!
The baton has been passed. Ridley Scott’s superb 1979 vision has been handed over to continue on in the hands of James Cameron. With a new director at the helm, will the sequel be a radical departure from the original? Will it sabotage everything Scott created? Will it surpass the original?
The simple answer is that “Aliens” is more or less it’s predecessor but with more, more, more! With more action, more characters and more runtime, “Aliens” fails to fall into the category of poor sequels that bite off more than they can chew. “Aliens” is regarded to some as one of the best sequels ever made, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s simplistic in its intentions and proceeds on what worked so well in the original.
Like “The Dark Knight” to “Batman Begins”, “Toy Story 2” to “Toy Story”, “The Wog Boy 2: Kings of Mykonos” to “The Wog Boy” (just kidding), “Aliens” has taken the chaos and excitement of the original film to a whole new level and earned it’s title of a successful sequel.
The plot once again focuses on Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), however after the horrific experience of battling the fearsome Xenomorph that murdered her fellow crew members, she is constantly haunted by an inescapable flooding of memories. Ripley begins the film in a weakened state; vulnerable and frightened.
After attempting to convince others of what she saw, another crew is assembled and return to the previous planet which has now been colonised.
The threat of extra terrestrial beasts is alive and well, however after discovering a frightened little girl, Ripley and her crew grow to learn that there are methods of avoiding the Xenomorphs, as well as advanced machinery that can be used to obliterate them.
What occurs is very similar to the original, however “Aliens” is on from the word go. Unlike the slow buildup of “Alien”, James Cameron’s take on the story is action-heavy and unrelenting throughout.
Something I noticed from not only the film, but the posters, titles and other associated media is the overlaying blue tinge to almost everything within the film. This is a fantastic subtle indicator of tone and atmosphere. The off-putting blue isn’t soothing in the slightest, rather, it creates a cold and mysterious atmosphere that adds to the impending sense of doom cast upon our heroes.
Contrasted with the menacing blacks of the shadows, the harsh greys of the ominous cloud and of course the slimy shell of the Xenomorphs themselves, the blue colour tone works so well with the overall pallet and achieves something “Alien” wasn’t quite able to.
The horror tropes are back, and this time it’s the characters that provide most of them. With large groups of humans facing the forthcoming wrath of a mysterious foreboding killer, tropes and cliches are inevitably going to make themselves present.
Amid the squadron of armed warriors, theres almost every stereotype in the book. It works as it creates diversity amongst a group of new characters, but it’s since been done to death and sadly, from the perspective of someone who has seen it over and over again, there was a real transparency to the cast in “Aliens”. I didn’t care for them as much as I did in “Alien”, but I guess the first film had a structure that welcomed character development more than its sequel did.
“Aliens” is very much Ripley’s story, and the focus is very much on her. She certainly grows in the film and it’s marvellous to watch. Her maturity is apparent through past experience, a new degree of control and the task of being a mother-figure to poor young Rebecca ‘Newt’ Jorden (Carrie Henn).
A character I enjoyed very much was Paul Reiser’s Cater Burke. Burke is a fascinating character with a lot of depth and a significant part to play. Having seen him recently in “Whiplash”, it was interesting to see him in his most well-known role, once again giving a sensational performance.
Now, the monsters. “Aliens”, with its more, more, more- approach includes armies of the Xenomorph monsters which is a huge positive. The original established their place in the universe and the level of danger associated with them, but now it is being cast upon the new crew with full effect. Not only are the animatronics excellently utilised once again, the set design is at another level.
There is a unrelenting feeling of isolation and claustrophobia that accompanies the story of “Aliens”, and it really defines what the horror genre is all about. “Aliens” works so well to include well known conventions of horror and use them to their full potential. What worked the best in my opinion was the films ability to play with the notion of ‘The Grotesque’.
An essential element of the horror genre is focusing on the threat of ‘The Unknown’, but what “Alien” and “Aliens” must focus on is deeper than that. ‘The Unknown’ is played upon in the original, but after the threat is established, ‘The Grotesque’ is worked in so well, that the menacing threat of the beasts is escalated tenfold.
Whether it be the chests busting open for a second time, the never ending trails of slime, the acidic blood or the various creatures picking off crew members in disgusting ways, “Aliens” certainly has ways of making it’s audience high uncomfortable.
In summary, “Aliens” is a sequel that I would say surpasses the original, but only just. With different directors at the helm, there are many ways to compare the two films with each other, however both are unique in their own right. I enjoyed the tonal shift in “Aliens” and the fact that it remained true to the original whilst confidently standing out.
Sigourney Weaver is effortlessly brilliant as Ripley which goes without saying, whilst although her supporting crew weren’t as interesting as the original, there were a few things to like about them. Being exposed to more threats on a grander scale only worked in the favour of “Aliens” and it was a thoroughly enjoyable ride.
Lastly, the mecha-armour, the Queen Xenomorph and Ripley’s line of “Get away from her, you bitch!” should be enough to grasp your interest!