Perhaps the greatest archetype of science fiction, action and horror faultlessly blended together in one film, James Cameron’s Aliens seamlessly expands upon the original Ridley Scott masterpiece. Thrilling ambushes, ruthless predatory battles, and alien mire galore derive some of the most exciting and nerve-wracking scenes ever put to celluloid. While few sequels are ever as good as the original, the memorable, quotable and nightmare-inducing Aliens easily rivals its predecessor and for some, surpasses it.
Miraculously being discovered alive after traveling in hypersleep for 57 years on her jettisoned escape pod, Lt. Ellen Ripley is recruited to advise a squadron of marines on how to handle the alien species she fought in the first film. The same planet that originally hosted the devilish xenomorphs has since become a terraforming colony and all communications with the uninformed families is abruptly cut off. Ripley reluctantly agrees to accompany the cocky marines in what is to become a harrowing rescue and escape from the most frightening monsters in cinema.
While Alien focused mainly on creepiness, scares, and the dread of being hunted down one by one, Aliens introduces the hardened Colonial Marines who engage in acid-spurting firefights with merciless waves of the biomechanical creatures. Suspense is redefined through the use of carefully coordinated scenes involving a motion tracker with an ominous beep, and a little girl who steals Ripley’s heart and attention. This Academy Award winning film proves that showing less is truly more; blackened locales allow the aliens to camouflage themselves on the slimy walls and ribbed ceilings. A sinister medical lab and shadowy sublevels are but a few of the morbid sets serving as host to the labyrinthine and claustrophobic hive. Oozing walls, acidic blood, and gushing fluids flood these sets, but non-gratuitously and with foreboding appropriateness. Although there are scenes of violence and gore, they too are expertly used for suspense and shock. Meticulous attention to details is impressively used throughout the film, from intricately modeled ships, to personalized armor on each of the marines, adding to the sense that each character has a back-story within the Alien universe.
Both the acting and character design is phenomenal: Sigourney Weaver is once again a tough-as-nails fighter, splendidly building upon the already recognizable independent woman of action. Michael Biehn plays Corporal Hicks, an instantly likeable and logical soldier, and Carrie Henn is Newt, the little girl who manages to survive alone and unarmed for weeks before the rescue attempt is helmed. Almost every stereotypical role is present, but with a quirky originality, uniqueness, and personality that evokes caring and appreciation for each persona. Vasquez is the tomboyish, overconfident female warrior, Gorman is the inexperienced and poor-decision-making superior officer, and Hudson is the panicky, foul-mouthed wisecrack that adds comic relief or tension at all the right moments.
The genius behind the parasitic ant-like aliens is none other than the Swiss surrealist artist H.R. Giger. However, Cameron’s team (including the legendary Stan Winston) decided to one-up the master of macabre dementia by devising the Alien Queen, who completes the previously unknown, bloodthirsty cycle of egg, facehugger and chestburster. A marvel of animatronics and large-scale modeling, the towering 15 foot “puppet” is one of the most memorable movie villains ever.
Spanning over two decades, the Alien franchise is one of the most successful and lucrative of all time. With four sequels including a crossover into the world of Predators, graphic novels, books, video games and more, the impact and entertainment value of this notorious deadly species is unequalled. To say that this film is an essential part of every movie-lovers’ repertoire is a gross understatement.