Release Date: July 18th, 1986 MPAA Rating: R
Director: James Cameron Actors: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, William Hope
iraculously being discovered alive after traveling in hypersleep for 57 years on her jettisoned escape pod, Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is recruited by Weyland-Yutani company man Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) to advise a squadron of marines on how to handle the alien species she fought aboard the Nostromo starship decades before. The original planet (called LV-426), where Ripley’s crew discovered the xenomorph that wiped them out, has since become a terraforming colony – and all communications with the 60-70 uninformed families living there are abruptly cut off. Ripley reluctantly agrees to accompany the cocky soldiers in what quickly becomes a harrowing rescue and escape from the most frightening monsters in cinema.
While “Alien” focused mainly on creepiness, isolation, claustrophobia, and the dread of being hunted down one by one, “Aliens” additionally adds intense action by introducing the hardened, heavily armed Colonial Marines, who engage in chaotic firefights against merciless waves of the biomechanical creatures – in some of the most suspenseful sequences ever devised. Also upping the ante are carefully orchestrated scenes involving a motion tracker with an ominous beep, out-of-control armored vehicles and explosive collisions, doors and elevators that malfunction at the most inopportune times, and camaraderie coupled with sacrifice and split-second decisions (and drum rolls). Perhaps most amusing of all is that no one falls down or trips while fleeing – there’s no need for contrived teen-horror pitfalls in this sustained aura of adult terror. Credit must also be given to James Horner’s sensationally thundering score, which twins aptly with the nerve-wracking foreshadowing. The entire package is a spectacular blockbuster recipe.
This Academy Award-winning film also proves that showing less is truly more: static-filled video readouts, plenty of foggy humidity, and blackened locales allow the aliens to camouflage themselves for exhilarating ambushes. The monsters are rarely seen in their entirety, but the environments are creatively embellished with all manner of visible repellants. A disquieting medical lab with eerily preserved specimens, restrained colonists hanging from glutinous cocoons, and shadowy sublevels with dimly pulsing lights are but a few of the morbid sets serving as host to the labyrinthine hive. Slimy walls, thick steam, and gushing blood flood these locales for a perfectly forbidding evil extraterrestrial atmosphere. This meticulous attention to detail spans from intricately modeled ships and mechanical structures, to extra details of the alien anatomy, to personalized armor and complex weaponry on each of the marines (nicely adding to individuality and backstories within the fictional universe).
Both the acting and character designs are phenomenal – notably even more impressive when considering the typically weak efforts exhibited in sci-fi and horror productions. Weaver is once again a tough-as-nails combatant, splendidly building upon the already recognizable, independent, commanding woman of action. Michael Biehn plays Corporal Hicks, an instantly likeable and logical grunt, 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 too, but with quirky personalities that evoke recognition and uniqueness for each persona: Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) is the tomboyish, overconfident female warrior; Gorman (William Hope) is the inexperienced and apprehensive superior officer; Bishop (Lance Henriksen) is the requisite emotionless android; and Hudson (Bill Paxton) is the panicky, foul-mouthed wisecrack that adds comic relief, aggravation, or tension at all the right moments.
The genius behind the parasitic spider and ant-like alien designs is famous Swiss surrealist H.R. Giger (who picked up an Oscar for the first film). However, Cameron’s team (including the legendary Stan Winston) decided to one-up the singular concoctions by devising the Alien Queen, which completes the previously fragmentary lifecycle of egg, facehugger, chestburster, and drone. A marvel of animatronics and large-scale modeling, the towering 15-foot “puppet” is one of the most memorable of all onscreen villains. The result of such an imaginative collaboration is perhaps the greatest exemplar of science-fiction, action, and horror faultlessly blended together into one film. It seamlessly expands upon the original Ridley Scott masterpiece and, in many viewers’ opinions, bests it.
– Mike Massie