Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Movie Index

ALIENS

Directed by 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

 

 

3 stars

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 the middle.

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 things.

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 captured.

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 performance.

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.
 
   

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