August 5, 2014

Review: Aliens (1986)

“They're coming outta the walls. They're coming outta the goddamn walls!” – Private Hudson (Bill Paxton)

Director: James Cameron

Writers: Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett (Characters), David Giler and Walter Hill (Story), James Cameron (Story and Screenplay)

Producer: Gale Ann Hurd

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Major Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, Paul Reiser, Bill Paxton

James Cameron can make overblown crap like Titanic and come off like an arrogant jerk, but I’ll always love the guy because he gave us Aliens. It’s one of those films that makes you forgive the foibles and flaws of anything else that director does.

Do I have to go into detail about just why this is one of the best movies ever made, let alone sci-fi movies? Aliens is a perfect blend of suspense, action and horror that locks you in from the start and never gives your attention a chance to wane or your eyes to wander.

For the 14 people who haven’t seen it, Aliens picks up where the original left off, with Ripley (Weaver) floating through space in her lifeboat after destroying the Nostromo and the Alien that had come on board. She is picked up and brought to Gateway Station, orbiting Earth. There she finds out 57 years have passed and her employers (Weyland-Yutani) have lost contact with a colony on the planet LV-426. That is the planet Ripley’s original ship visited 57 years ago and where it picked up the Alien.

From there the film becomes a rescue mission; Ripley is assigned as an adviser to a squad of Marines being sent to LV-426 to find the colonist. Going with them is a Weyland-Yutani rep named Burke (Reiser). They reach the planet and quickly discover everything has gone horribly, horribly wrong. Then things go horribly, horribly wrong for them and the film shifts to a survival story; the rescue group has to get off-planet before the power system for the colony goes critical and kills them all in an explosion.

That’s part of what makes Aliens great; it changes mid-stream into a different story and re-captures your interest. It is just a really satisfying movie. The actions scenes are great. The atmosphere is creepy. The actors do a great job with the story. And it is well-written; with an antagonist like the Alien, it is easy to make them too powerful or to over-compensate and make the heroes too powerful. Cameron did a nice job recognizing that Ripley and the Marines could beat the Aliens, but they’d have to be very resourceful and lucky to do so. It makes the payoff at the end that much more satisfying.

And the tension…One of the smartest things they did in Aliens was use those hand-held movement trackers. There is one scene where they barricade themselves in a room and Private Hudson (Paxton) is tracking the Aliens coming towards their position. He calls the distance as they get closer, but they don’t see or hear the Aliens. Hudson is finally calling a distance that would mean they’re in the room. The tension is absolute at this point; my back still gets tense and I’ve see this film more times than I can count. Everyone looks up at the air vents. Corporal Hicks (Biehn) pokes his head up there to take a peek and...chaos.

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