“Movie of the Month” may have started as just a way for me to talk about random movies, but it’s more or less became a collection of my favourite films. There are exceptions, but almost every time I come here it’s about a film I love. While I do vow to eventually talk about films I don’t love, this month is not where I break that trend. This month I talk about the James Cameron action classic, Aliens.
Running time: 137 minutes
Written by: James Cameron, David Giler, and Walter Hill
Directed by: James Cameron
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn, Lance Henriksen, William Hope, and Bill Paxton
Like a lot of people, the trailer for Prometheus really had me thinking about the Alien films. I had never seen them, and realized I should see (at least the first two) before Prometheus came out. But I wasn’t the only one. Friend and colleague Fogs, in a series he runs, called Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Alien a “Movie That Everyone Should See”. Since I didn’t wanna copy Fogs, I decided to tackle the (in my opinion) superior sequel, Aliens.
57 years after the first Alien, and Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is still in space, cryogenically frozen. Her ship is stumbled upon by a group of humans who thaw her. Most don’t believe her story and inform her that settlers are now on the planet where Ripley and her crew first encountered the alien. After communication with the planet is lost, a team of marines is sent to investigate. Ripley’s asked to join, and eventually agrees in order to overcome her fear of the aliens.
I won’t beat around the bush, Aliens is easily one of the most awesome things I’ve ever seen in my life. This is a movie that will thoroughly kick your ass, and you’ll enjoy every second of it. The action scenes are pretty awesome. They really rev up the suspense for these scenes so when the action scenes finally hit it really means something. These scenes are executed brilliantly. The first encounter with the xenomorphs, the defense hold up, Ripley storming the alien hive, the final fight with the queen, they’re all great, and they never over stay their welcome.
The special effects are also incredible. Cameron has a reputation for mind blowing effects, and they apply to Aliens. The sets and miniatures used to create the planet and colony are incredible and not once do you think you’re looking at a set. It feels like a real place. The aliens themselves are equally impressive. With only a few suits, Cameron and crew managed to make the impression an army of aliens. Finally, and most impressively, there’s the alien queen. The alien queen was brought to life by a life-sized mock made by Stan Winston. Puppeteers, cranes, cables, and hydraulics were used to make this monumental effect. It’s one of the greatest special effects I’ve ever seen.
The marine crew that goes is a big reason why Aliens works so well. These are really fun, really colourful characters. They’re all archetypes. Jennete Goldstein is Vasquez, the badass female, Paul Resier is Burke, the corporate slime, Bill Paxton is Hudson, the cocky soldier, Lance Henrikson is Bishop, the suspicious robot, and Michael Biehn is Hicks, the confident leader. There are others, but these guys are my favourite. The world also owes Hudson for one of pop culture’s greatest lines, “Game over man, GAME OVER!” These marines are all awesome though, and you actually care when some of these guys get picked off. Plus, as a fan of Michael Biehn, it’s nice to see the guy when he was still in his prime.
All these things make the movie awesome, but I have yet to talk about what makes Aliens a classic; Ripley and the great performance from Sigourney Weaver. Ripley goes through an actual story arc. When the movie begins, she’s being tormented by memories of the alien from the first film. She’s shaken up and it’s ruining her life. On top of that, being gone over fifty years, she finds out her daughter is dead. When she first meets the marines, they don’t take her seriously and mock her beind her back. But once they encounter the aliens, she becomes a hero as no one else is better experienced to deal with them than she is. So she’s already a very strong character, but as I said, she goes through an arc. As the film progresses, we see Ripley face her demons. I also mentioned how Ripley lost her daughter, but over the course of the film, she develops a strong paternal relationship with the orphan Newt. And not only is Ripley a deep character, but also a badass, tough as nails action hero. Sigourney Weaver received an Oscar nomination for this role (a breakthrough for women, science fiction films, and action films) and it was well-deserved. Ripley stands alongside the Sarah Connor’s (Terminator series) and Brides (Kill Bill) of the world.
Aliens even serves as an interesting metaphor for the Vietnam war. We have a team of marines backed with a lot of high tech equipment dealing with a low-tech indigenous population. For all the marines technological advances, they find themselves unable to effectively deal with their enemy. These marines also aren’t really sure why they’ve been sent, but later find there was some potentially corrupt motivation. Even Ripley’s nightmares from the Nostromo can be compared to post-war effects on Vietnam veterans. This subtext isn’t preached and you could completely ignore it if you want, but it’s there for those looking for it.
Aliens goes far beyond just being a great action film, and enters the realms of being a great film, period. Smart, funny, dramatic, deep, Aliens has everything. The special effects are some of the best I’ve ever scene, and the action scenes kick glorious amounts of ass. For me, it’s the characters that propel Aliens to new heights. I love the marines, I love Newt, I love Bishop, and I especially love Ripley. Aliens is right up there with Terminator 2 as one of the greatest action films of all time. Bravo Mr. Cameron.
PG’s Great Movies:
Aliens (added January 27th, 2012)
A Clockwork Orange (added December 19th, 2011)
Collateral (added September 29th, 2011)
In The Loop (added November 26th, 2011)