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Monday, 2 January 2017

Retro Review: Aliens (1986), Film 4

Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton 
Genre: Science Fiction Action Horror
Worldwide Box Office Gross: $180 million 

Plot: 57 years after the original attack, Ripley and a crew of marines return to the planet to kill the remaining aliens that have slaughtered the colonists on the planet

'Behold, A Superlative Sci-Fi Horror Sequel'

The Alien franchise, despite being bigger and more well known than say the Predator series, the films themselves have also gone through a similar spell to the latter, wherein which the earlier film/s are vastly superior to the follow-ups. With particular note towards the 1979 original Alien film and 1986's Aliens and the overly inferior and disappointingly, Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection

I enjoyed the prequel, Alien but I didn't love it as much as I truly wanted to and felt it needed more characters to enhance and galvanize the story and plot and to give more for the film to work with. And that is where Aliens comes in, and it is for that reason that I prefer this film to the first one. With tighter corridors, eerie almost claustrophobic- like atmosphere and opting to go down the route where random or key characters get killed off by the mysterious creature - a plot device that was revisited a year later in Predator- Aliens definitely took on a slightly different approach to the first film that is more on the lines of 'hunter vs hunted'. As predictable as it sounded, for me, it definitely enhanced the viewing experience and made Aliens more suspenseful, tense and nail-biting. 

I also like how they expanded upon the Aliens universe by adding in different themes, ideas, and that though technically the story is still centrally driven by Ellen Ripley, the main character, she isn't the only character that this film focuses on. 

There is that debate about Alien being the better film than Aliens and vice-versa; ultimately, one's preference for either film all boils down to how you feel about each one and what you enjoyed most about that film that the other film doesn't have, or do. 

In many ways, Aliens is the bonafide and almost gold standard in sci-fi R-rated sequels that with the exception of say Terminator 2, other films of this genre have failed to live up to. Starship Troopers is one example where it kind of operated like Aliens through the battle scenes but with massive bugs instead of xenomorphs. But the film itself was more tongue-in-cheek and satirical in tone, as opposed to being serious. 

After being thawed in an opening scene, lone survivor of the first film, Ellen Ripley wakes up after being discovered in a prolonged cryogenic sleep and later on tags along with a squad of colonial marines to help find and kill the Xenomorphs. But as they do, the creatures start to pick out their victims, one by one and with ease. 

Usually, secondary characters in films are rather forgettable -though I'd watch a film with these colonial marines in it. They look like a pretty cool bunch, even if most of them get killed off. Because of their characterisations which are touched upon in this film, we end up caring about the fate of each of them. The three members that stand out are Private Vasquez, Hudson played by Bill Paxton and Corporal Hicks by Michael Biehn, who had previously made his name with 1984's The Terminator. They are not cookie-cutter who have screen time for one minute, then are picked and killed off, two minutes later. Then you also have this child character: an orphan named Newt, whose parents were killed by the xenomorphs. Rounding off the set is the traitor, Burke who at first seems to be an okay kind of guy, but once he turns his back on the team, his true colours are then revealed. It appears that not only is he a murderer but his main interest is money. Thankfully, however, he gets his just desserts later on. 

Arguably Aliens is bigger, well-paced and more accessible as a film. It offered a whole lot more to the package than the first film did, as well as going beyond the horror conventions, it has that additional action element that entices wider audiences to it that horror doesn't do, and so I am glad that it did not go down the same route as Alien and in incorporating the colonial marines. James Cameron expands on the themes and ideas of the first film, whilst adding another set of secondary characters to fight alongside Ripley. 

As Ellen Ripley, Sigourney Weaver's character is a lot more fleshed out this time around; reprising her role from the first film, she builds upon her character's development of the original film and thus, Ripley is more confident, stronger and who has no fear. She is far more imposing here and her feistiness and eagerness to get things done properly often draw similar comparisons to Sarah Connor in Terminator 2. 

The film is also well- written with some memorable lines courtesy of Bill Paxton and Sigourney Weaver as Ripley shouting at the Queen Xenomorph, ''get away from her, you b****!''

Yet as much as I enjoyed Aliens, one or two faults I did have with it is that the first third of the film is exceedingly slow-paced and whilst that is needed to amplify the tension and suspense in the middle of the film, I just felt it took far longer for things to build up. Also but for Ripley, Vasquez, Hudson and Hicks, the remaining characters, including Newt, but for the Xenomorph creatures are forgettable.

If Alien rendered more of a horror film, then Aliens comes across as more of a slasher-type action sci-fi based film that is more action-oriented, as well as operating as a military one. And in a great way too. 

Final Verdict:

Having the Colonial Marines as an extra addition to the Alien film subtext and to the plot not only took it to a new level, it adds another dimension to the film that really makes it more interesting and inviting for the audience. 

The militarised ambience it connotes may have deterred fans of the original offering, but in some ways also, it also heightened and galvanized interest of Aliens and gave the film much more to work with. Which thankfully it did. Aliens is a faithful continuation of the Alien franchise and a follow-up to Alien that insofar as sequels go, it is one of the sheer best examples that so few have matched. 

The last hour or half-hour where the combat element comes into play and there is that battle between the last few surviving marines and the xenomorphs, as well as Ripley's encounter with the Queen, is really where the film ups the ante and becomes more exciting. The action, the suspense, the tension is palpable yet also noticeable at the same time and these are all executed brilliantly. Not only is Ripley fighting to stay alive, but she also has to fight in order to safeguard the child, Newt. 

Bigger, bolder, more elaborate with the tension and action magnified and with more bloody and gruesome deaths, James Cameron's Aliens - even if the series was marred by disappointing follow-ups -, is a glorious, superlative sci-fi action sequel that reaffirms its intentions as being one of the greatest and true films of its genre still, over 30 years on. 


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