James Cameron (1986, 20th Century Fox)
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, and Bill Paxton
Ripley returns to the alien planet in order to help save some
colonists with whom Earth has lost contact.
View count: Twice
March 7th, 2002 on TV
Surprisingly deep, much better than the first one, with real slimy
characters, strong characters, good direction and a satisfying twist right in
I re-watched the first Alien movie five or six years ago, and thought it was
very silly and, worse than that, boring! It looked like it was trying to rip off
Star Wars, as in the opening scene, we get the underside view of the spacecraft.
But in trying to do things "scientifically proper" by keeping space soundless
and spacecraft slow, all it did was look cheap. And boring. And I don't really
remember much about it other than that. Not very memorable, I suppose.
But this movie is different. There were only a few silly lines. The characters
knew what they were going in to, and behaved accordingly. Sure, they didn't
believe Ripley when she told them about the aliens, but when they found out
about them, they were appropriately frightened, and did what they had to in
order to stay alive. Nobody acted stupid, even when they were doing stupid
By that, I am talking about Burke, and he is also the one who provided the
satisfying twist. I knew right away, when he was talking to Ripley after she
arrived back on Earth, that he was slimy. He was too slick, and the actor did a
really good job at making us feel uneasy about him even as he was trying to help
her. He influenced her nightmares by bringing them up constantly. He very
effectively coerced her into returning to that planet so she could advise the
military on the aliens. When we found out that a colony had been set up on that
planet twenty years ago (Ripley was in cryogenic sleep for over fifty years), I
wondered how they couldn't have come across the aliens. But I suppose the
colonists had enough to worry about with terraforming the planet and keeping the
colony operating, without detailed explorations far from their habitat.
But I was ready to shut off the movie when I learned that suddenly, after Ripley
showed up, the colony went silent, right on schedule, and presumably because of
the aliens. However, I missed a subtle point, part of which I already knew:
Burke is slimy! Halfway through the movie, Ripley confronts Burke and informs
the others that he is to blame for this whole mess. Burke instructed the
colonists to retrieve one of the aliens, knowing from Ripley's data exactly
where to find the derelict ship! I absolutely loved that revelation!
All throughout the movie, Ripley's character develops, much more than it did in
the first one. She is uncertain after returning to Earth, devastated and
unbelieved by anybody (except, obviously, Burke). When she ends up on the
military ship, she is the subject of ridicule, and even goes out of her way to
insult the resident android, one of which apparently went berserk in the first film.
None of her behavior ingratiates her with the crew, and she doesn't really care,
either. As the crew moves to the planet, she waits in the background, still
hoping that the communications problem with the colony is simply an antenna
glitch. But after spending months in cryosleep and still finding no
communications when they arrived, she's probably being naive. When things start
to get desperate, as they find the colony empty and then find the aliens, and
people start dying, she takes command. First she gives firm recommendations,
then, as the chain of command starts to shrink, she gives orders. After what
they see in the reactor, they have no problem taking orders from a civilian. She
was, after all, the only one with previous experience.
They find the aliens, along with all the colonists, all cocooned, all with baby
aliens incubating inside them. Presumably, if any of the colonists died during
the incubation period, the aliens they carried also died. One woman still alive
erupts with an alien, similar to the disgusting "birth" in the first film. If
all the colonists were captured within days (as would seem logical, given the
civilian nature of the colony and the speed with which the alien took over
Ripley's ship in the first movie), then all the aliens would have been born
around the same time, right? It seems that this lady was one of the last people
The firefight that follows is barely visible. The director used (sometimes
effectively, sometimes not) "live" feed from the soldiers' helmets. So it was
grainy, green-and-white (I suppose we were barely in DOS-mode when this movie
came out, so it seemed reasonable to assume that quality wouldn't improve
hundreds of years in the future...), and shook a lot, so we couldn't really see
what was going on. This was effective in that we were not yet ready to see the
aliens, since we were operating mainly from Ripley's point of view. But it was
less effective because I don't like that sort of thing -especially prolonged
exposure, as in this case.
Once people start dying, the movie becomes a shoot-em-up festival. Guns whir
away, mercilessly killing aliens, and they still keep coming. I thought they
might have been testing the guns, letting the bullets waste away, but that would
have put the movie in a category with Deep Blue Sea. I didn't want aliens so
smart that they already knew everything about us.
Finally, we get down to a handful of people. Burke dies a very satisfying death
after trying to kill Ripley. He wanted to bring two alien samples back to Earth,
and couldn't get Ripley to keep her mouth shut. So he put an alien in her room
and locked her inside. She was ingenious to alert the other marines by setting
off the fire alarm, so they would come to her aid! So many people are killed
because the marines couldn't think in three dimensions. Fortunately for us, the
director could. It was really neat to see the reactions when they finally
figured out that the aliens were in the ceiling and floor. And Burke locks
himself in a room only to find an alien there waiting for him... bye-bye!
I don't remember if Ripley mentions having a daughter in the first film, but
here it was used very effectively. We learn that she just missed seeing her
daughter when she arrives back on Earth at the beginning, for the woman died a
couple of years earlier, at the age of 66. So when they find a sole survivor in
the colony, a young girl who goes by the name of Newt, she instantly finds a
surrogate bond. The young girl is a terrific actor. She delivers chilling lines
of dialog (such as "it won't make a difference", and "they mostly come out at
night... mostly"), reacts appropriately (though I thought she screamed a little
too much, but that's probably appropriate, too), and just delivers a stand-out
So when Ripley goes after the aliens to save the captured girl at the end,
nobody objects. Of course, there are only two people left to object... It was a
little gratuitous, and I certainly could have lived without that final cliché,
but the battle that it preceded was worth it. I suppose the two other survivors
were not in any condition to argue, but there was no reason at all to believe
that Newt hadn't been turned into an incubator already. Ripley said as much when
the other marines had been taken, earlier. Still, she had a stronger personality
(and was much more convincing) than any of the other marines.
When they get back to their ship, the mother alien tags along, thus surviving
the nuclear blast. The earlier firefight damaged the cooling controls for the
nuclear reactor (as those who knew such things said it would), and it finally
blows. The countdown was really superfluous, and I don't know why it was there,
or why Ripley had to leave just in the nick of time. Getting away from the
mother alien would have been reason enough. The android is sliced in half, but
is still able to help Newt. Ripley dons a hydraulically assisted suit, and
knocks the alien around, finally blasting it out of an airlock. The battle was
pretty cool to watch, and a good finale to the film.
The characters other than Ripley and Burke were just supporting characters,
alien fodder. But they were still brought to life respectably by the actors.
Bill Paxton did a good job of being scared, and was actually whiny, especially
when compared to young Newt! The others had their own personalities, and were
fun to watch. I liked the sacrifice Vasquez made so the others could escape.
Even though they didn't right away, the sacrifice was not in vein. They made it a lot
farther than if she hadn't blown herself (and many aliens) up. I also liked to
hear the android recite Isaac Asimov's First Law of Robotics, especially since I
am presently reading a robot novel!
So Ripley, Newt, the top half of the android and a malleable lieutenant are
tucked safely into their cryobeds for the journey home. Except that we know they
don't ever make it back to Earth...
The story was fast-paced in the second half, suitably gripping and suspenseful
in the first half. I think it was a good mix. We don't want to start off with
the gun-fighting. It is nice to build up to it, as they become more and more
desperate. The military banter and teasing was great, and there was a lot of
other good dialog. But Ripley stole the show, as she was meant to. This movie
was a lot of fun.