In anticipation of the release of Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant, CineFiles is looking back on the Alien franchise as a whole. Today, we look at James Cameron’s sequel film Aliens, a film that takes the formula of the 1979 original film and spins it in a new direction.
57 years after the events of Ridley Scott’s Alien, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) wakes up from stasis. The only survivor of the Nostromo incident, Ripley accompanies a crew of military to LV-426, the planet where the Nostromo first encountered the eponymous creature.
Like the 1979 original, Aliens begins with characterization by way of politics. The heads of the mission, both military and civilian, sit at a different table at the mess hall while the army grunts act amateurish nearby. The characters adhere more to stereotype than in the first film, which features characters from a hierarchy of social class suffering for the sake of a job that is clearly not worth it. But personalities in Aliens prevail in entertaining ways.
The setup of the film features military personnel ignorant and arrogant about what they are about to encounter, while Ripley looks on perturbed. The introduction to our cast of characters, much larger this time than the last, is efficient and light. Light humor mark a dramatic irony given what is about to transpire.
The success of this introduction rests on the shoulders of the ensemble cast, where the actors all play off of each other really well. The crew of army grunts—Jenette Goldstein, Mark Rolston, Bill Paxton, Michael Biehn—make these early scenes entertaining to watch; this and their interactions with drill sergeant Apone (Al Matthews).
The first scene on the colonist compound on LV-426 is great. Cross-cutting between the grunts on the ground and the others in the ship build tension over what may be hiding in the shadows. This tension is dispelled with the introduction of Newt (Carrie Henn), the child character that gets in the way of the film’s success on multiple occasions. In this instance, her recovery brings the film to a halt while she is used for exposition.
Certain minor issues also hamper the film’s overall effectiveness. Ripley’s character succumbing to flashbacks and chest pains makes some narrative sense, but it is played as if she has survived having alien larvae in her own chest. Not to mention the first half of the film relegates her heroine role to standing behind a military officer in a cockpit. The first film also suppresses her heroine status, but it does so for narrative purposes.
The film also occasionally uses slow motion techniques to highlight the dramatic moments of action sequences. This takes the viewer out of the moment, the film showing its artifice in a film that could use more intimate immersion and claustrophobia.
On the whole, though, director James Cameron uses the Alien franchise platform to craft an exquisite action picture. The film in large part abandons the suspense and horror elements that make the original so tantalizing, but it does so in order to avoid being derivative. Aliens is a new vision for the series, satisfying if not less successful.
R.I.P. Bill Paxton (1955-2017)
Be sure to take a look at my other Alien franchise reviews:
As always, thanks for reading!
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)