Aliens (1986) Review

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In Space no one can hear More Dakka.

Aliens (1986): 10 out of 10: Aliens is the sequel to 1979s Alien helmed by Terminator director James Cameron. It finds USCSS Nostromo survivor Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) rescued by a salvage ship 57 years later. Recovering from her experience and finding herself blamed for the loss of her ship and crew, Ripley and Jonesy, her cat, settle into a life working the docks as a cargo-loader.

However, the Weyland-Yutani Corporation has lost touch with the planet where Ripley’s ship encountered the alien and she is asked to return there with some space marines to check it out. She leaves the cat at home this time.

How is Aliens different from Alien?

Aliens is one of the greatest science fiction action movies ever made. What makes it different from Alien which is one of the greatest science fiction horror films ever made? Despite taking place in the same universe with the same lead character and the same antagonists as well as being a direct sequel, the films are surprisingly different.

Alien has a very slow buildup. Nothing much happens for the first hour. It is the equivalent of being in a haunted house where you know something is supposed to happen and the tension is even worse than the payoff. Aliens is a roller coaster. It is an intense ride where the stakes and action keep increasing.

The themes of the movies are different as well. The theme of Alien was rape. Alright, put down the pitchforks and hear me out. I am not saying that Alien is like Straw Dogs or I Spit on your Grave. But think about it. What are the face huggers? What is the goal of the alien in Alien? To forcefully copulate with whether life forms it encounters eventually destroying them in the process. Ripleys standoff with the Xenomorph is to prevent herself from being impregnated by the alien. To avoid rape. Her nightmares that start Aliens are of being pregnant with the alien baby. Through in the sheer volume of sexual imagery (The very phallic Chest burster, the vagina themed crashed spaceship and note that it is a male orally impregnated by the alien at first.) and the theme comes clear.

Aliens is more wholesome in this regard. Its principal theme is motherhood. Sigourney Weaver rescues Newt (Carrie Henn) a young girl and the only survivor of LV-426 and becomes her mother and protector. Our primary bad guy alien is also a mother (queen) protecting her eggs and brood. This conflict is the primary climax of the film.

The Directors Cut

There is one other difference I would like to highlight between the two films. Both films had directors cut come out. Let me quote the great director Ridley Scott from the liner notes of the expanded edition of the original Alien.

In 1979, when Alien was originally released, I felt that the theatrical cut of the film was the best I could possibly make it. I was very pleased with its pace and structure, and although there were several scenes left on the cutting room floor, I didn’t miss any of them. For all intents and purposes, I felt that the original cut of Alien was perfect.

I still feel that way.

The traditional definition of the term “Director’s Cut” suggests the restoration of a director’s original vision, free of any creative limitations. It suggests that the filmmaker has finally overcome the interference of heavy-handed studio executives, and that the film has been restored to its original, untampered form. Such is not the case with Alien: Director’s Cut. It’s a completely different beast.

When Twentieth Century Fox approached me to digitally restore the original 1979 cut of the film, they also suggested fully restoring many of the film’s deleted scenes to be reincorporated into a proposed expanded DVD version of the film.

Following an exhaustive year-long restoration process, Fox then decided to re-release Alien theatrically. It was their hope that I would see fit to include several of the deleted scenes we had restored in order to give moviegoers additional incentive to see the film in theaters.

Upon viewing the proposed expanded version of the film, I felt that cut was simply too long and the pacing completely thrown off. After all, I cut those extra scenes out for a reason back in 1979. However, in the interest of giving the fans a new experience with Alien, I figured there had to be an appropriate middle ground. I chose to go in and recut that proposed long version into a more streamlined and polished alternate version of the film. For marketing purposes, this version is being called “The Director’s Cut”.

To film purists everywhere, rest easy. The original 1979 theatrical version isn’t going anywhere. It remains my version of choice and is presented fully restored and remastered under my personal supervision alongside the new Director’s Cut in this DVD set.

See which version you like best.

Ridley Scott.

Ridley Scott is, of course, correct. The extra scenes in the directors cut add nothing and make the already a touch slow film downright boring for stretches. He got it perfect the first time. This is simply a marketing scheme to sell more Blu-rays.

But here is where our story changes. Aliens also got a director’s cut. And while again there is a bit of pacing issues involved (It starts slower) it is fantastic. We get to see Newts’ family and the colony of LV-426. We get to see the discovery of the Xenomorph hive by the colonists (which is simply a memo from Burke (Paul Riser) in the theatrical cut.).

In addition, we learn Ripley had a daughter, Amanda, who died of cancer while Ripley was in hyper-sleep. (Though in my playthrough of Alien: Isolation, it definitely was not cancer which kept killing her.) This adds motivation and gravitas to her fight for Newt as she abandoned one daughter. She will not abandon another. Plus, there is a great action scene with sentry guns I still cannot believe they cut. So bottom line it is an even better version of a brilliant film.

The Influence of Aliens

Did you know the patent for bubble wrap is dated July 28, 1964? I can’t imagine a world without bubble wrap. How would you send packages? Yet I know intellectually it had to be invented at some point and since it was plastic, probably after World War II. But it is much newer than I thought. Sigourney Weaver was listening to a Beatles album when that patent was filed.

I bring this up because a popular trope in films is the well-armed military being taken apart one by one by a monster they underestimate. Though many see this as a clear parallel to Vietnam. (It is no accident that Hicks’ (Michael Biehn) heirloom weapon is an Ithaca Model 37 Shotgun first used by his family in Vietnam per the novelization.) What about all the movies who used this trope before Aliens?

Yea, I am drawing a blank as well. After Aliens we have everything from Bats (Where the army is wiped out by… wait for it… genetically modified bats), Dog Soldiers (Werewolves) and dozens of others. Like bubble wrap, this trope is a lot newer than I originally thought.

Have you ever watched an episode of Star Trek The Original Series and say to yourself Hey that is just like an old-fashioned cellphone? Or is Kirk using an iPad? Well, that is the beauty of science fiction. People watch something and then think that is a good idea, and it becomes part of our real life. After all, using electricity to raise the dead in Frankenstein is not that much different from doing so with a defibrillator.

In Aliens Lieutenant Gorman sits in the armored armoured personnel carrier watching screens that have all his troops’ vitals and the view from thier helmet cameras. This may not seem all that unusual today. But in 1986, this was straightforward science fiction. The military looked at Aliens and thought to themselves hey that is not a bad idea. Director James Cameron has become famous for pushing tech to its limits (The CGI in Terminator 2 was groundbreaking) and here is a case where he influenced the real world. It isn’t as amazing a leap as Kirks IPad or that smart home in 1977’s Demon Seed, but still impressive.

What we talk about in the screenshots below.

In the screen shots I finally go into a diatribe against the ridiculous amount of smoking in the first two Alien films, point out that casting Jenette Goldstein as Private Vasquez would raise more than a few eyebrows nowadays, and praise the underrated Paul Riser.

Final Thoughts

Aliens is a fantastic film whether you see the theatrical realise or the expanded addition. Great practical effects, excellent acting across the board and fantastic direction. A perfect action film.

Jeanette Goldstein, who grew up in the slums of Beverly Hills and was doing theater in England, got the role of Vasquez. She is great in the film and a standout character. She has some South American heritage (Brazilian) but in real life looks like a stacked Lilith Sternin.

So she had to wear brownface, which doesn’t get the same stick as yellowface or blackface. Part of the reason is that Aliens was filmed in England and so the production was forced to use a certain percentage of locals. And since Jeanette was an established actor there and there is a lack of Hispanics in London film and theater… well.

Since then various people have done the yeah old “Well you know she is actually Hispanics.” defense which is fair to a point (I am not sure Brazilians, speaking Portuguese, are actually Hispanic) and ignoring the fact that, of course, many Hispanics are very white. I mean, after all, both Cameron Diaz and Jessica Chastain are Hispanic and both would have to wear brownface to play Vazquez as written.

Muddying the waters even further, there seems to be an effort to declare Vasquez a member of the LBGTQ community because she is butch. The film gives no reason she would be. She has a clear affection for Drake. Woman have fought so hard to allow themselves to be anything they want to be and here we have well meaning “allies” trying to pigeonhole them if they do not fit into the feminine ideal.

Both Alien and Aliens have a ridiculous amount of smoking for films that take place in 2122 and 2179, respectively. What is more bizarre is this obvious product placement of cigarettes, complete with a magazine ad for Kool. Here we are in 2022 and we barely have cigarettes or magazines.

There is an episode from the first season of Mad About You that has my favorite Easter Egg. (Ep 21 The Painter)

Dr. Mark Devanow: Did you see that movie Alien?

Paul Buchman: Only the first one.

Paul Reiser is the unsung hero in Aliens. Playing an eighties yuppie (think of almost everyone at OCP in RoboCop) most actors would have leaned into the slimy interpretation. But Riser holds back. He comes across believably as Ripley’s friend and advocate. His heel turn is quite dramatic, but it is the actions of a man trapped. (Ripleys accusation that he purposely sacrificed the colony to find the aliens is certainly open to debate. She herself asked Reiser to check her story out. How else would he do that then send some colonists over to the coordinates that were provided?)

In the hands of another actor, Burke may very well have been a caricature. Instead of a somewhat amoral member of middle management who find himself in a shitstorm.

All right, sweethearts, what are you waiting for? Breakfast in bed? Another glorious day in the Corps! A day in the Marine Corps is like a day on the farm. Every meal’s a banquet! Every paycheck a fortune! Every formation a parade! I *love* the Corps!

While on combat duty during the Vietnam War, Actor Al Matthews above became the first black Marine to be meritoriously promoted to the rank of Sergeant (E-5).

Yes, the marines ignore Ripley’s warning. But it really was a somewhat unconvincing and rambling speech. Plus thier landing craft is called Bug Stomper. They will be fine.
Narrator. They were not fine.

You know there is an argument to be made that the Space Marines were written as incompetent. They had a green 2nd lieutenant. They were undisciplined, not following orders. They failed to either leave someone on the Sulaco, nor did they have anyone guarding the landing craft. And when they realised they could not use live ammo in thier encounter, the 2nd lieutenant did not inform the sergeant of the why and Lord knows one of them should have suggested coming back and rearming with something they can use.

This is on point for the universe and mission. It is not a criticism of the film. What amazes me though as incompetent as they were, they basically invented the visual language of Space Marines for film (Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is the novel that basically solidified the concept before the film. To the point that the cast was asked to read it before filming.) We wouldn’t have my beloved space marines if it wasn’t for yahoos like Hicks.

Are we sure Ripley didn’t bring Jonesy? Because this looks like the actions of a cat.
Stop your grinnin’ and drop your linen! (I know this is not where this quote goes but this scene gets worse… much worse.)
Much worse
Kudos to the Xenomorphs for using the ceiling supports and not putting weight on the false ceiling. Nice form.
I am not one to nick pick, but if the reactor is going to blow in four hours, it really isn’t nap time.
The same technique used in every bar in America where helpful men teach woman how to play pool.
Once again, fantastic miniatures and practical effects are on board.
First Oscar nominated performance featuring a flamethrower
As in Vietnam all the actors were encouraged to decorate thier armor. Michael Biehn’s painted heart with a padlock is a standout.
Such technology doesn’t cause a second glance today.
But in 1986 it was truly the future. Aliens didn’t get everything right of course. The marines certainly could have used some drones.
Not since the Landmaster from Damnation Alley (Which I made my poor recently widowed dad take me to at the age of nine and subsequently had nightmares about flesh-eating cockroaches) have I wanted a movie vehicle this bad.
Yeah, I checked the basement out. Lots of moisture. I think you got mold. Will have to get it tested, of course. Make sure it is not black mold. Also found these giant eggs all over the place. But I only do environmental testing. You are going to need to get an exterminator to look into that.
Tonight on Hoarders.
The cyborg always likes the facehugger. Perfect biological weapon, they always say. Looks to me like something from a Korean seafood place.
This is not a good sign.
This is also not a good sign.
Signs keep getting worse.
I love the smile on Michael Biehn in this scene.
I like the way the U.S.S. Sulaco looks like an assault rifle. It is strange thought that the Sulaco gets its own Wikipedia page but the commercial space tug Nostromo (Which had a much bigger part in the first film) does not.
You know it is a shame that sexy Colette Hiller (Corporal Ferro) doesn’t get the same level of lesbian erotic fan fiction as larger breasted tan co-star.
Say hello to my little friend.
The mother of all showdowns.
Great acting by the cat.
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