Tuesday, October 16, 2012
Written and directed by James Cameron from a story by Cameron, David Giler, and Walter Hill, Aliens is the sequel to 1979’s Alien in which Ellen Ripley returns to the planet fifty-seven years after the event where she encountered the alien as she’s joined by Marines and a corporate officer to go after the alien creatures. With Sigourney Weaver reprising her role as Ripley, the film also stars Michael Biehn, Lance Henrikson, Bill Paxton, Carrie Henn, William Hope, Jenette Goldstein, Al Matthews, and Paul Reiser. Aliens is a remarkable yet chilling action-suspense film from James Cameron.
Fifty-seven years after encounter with an alien that left her crew dead, Ellen Ripley wakes up from a cryogenic sleep as she’s been rescued by the Weyland-Yutani Corporation who interrogate her about what happened. After learning that the planet she visited has now become a terraforming colony, Ripley loses her space license as she meets a corporate representative in Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) who offers to get her job back by taking part of a mission to return the planet over the loss contact in that planet. Ripley reluctantly takes part as she and Burke are joined by a group of Marines led by Lieutenant Gorman (William Hope) to see if Ripley’s claims about aliens are true. On board the Sulaco, Ripley meets the team that consists Sergeant Apone (Al Matthews), Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn), Private Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein), Private Hudson (Bill Paxton), and an android named Bishop (Lance Henrikson).
Arriving at the planet where Ripley serves as a consultant, the Marines enter the building where all they could find were two living facehuggers in containment tanks in a lab. Also there is a survivor in a young girl named Newt (Carrie Henn) who has been traumatized by the aliens as the Marines continue to search throughout the locations that included a nuclear-powered processing plant. There, the Marines make a drastic discovery about what they found as they’re suddenly attacked by the aliens leaving many of them dead until Ripley drives the Marine vehicle to save Hicks, Vasquez, and Hudson while Gorman becomes unconscious during the rescue. When their drop ship has been destroyed and unable to have access to the other one, Bishop volunteers to get to the building’s transmitter to get the other drop ship.
After an encounter with the facehuggers where Ripley and Newt are saved by Hicks, the group starts to realize what Burke is up to. With the aliens ready to attack, Ripley and the group struggle to survive as it leads to an all-out battle between the humans and aliens led by their queen.
The film is essentially the story of where Ellen Ripley returns to the planet where her crew discovered an alien life form that would eventually destroy her crew and leaving her as its sole survivor. Upon her return as she accompanies a group of Marines, an android she’s wary about, and a corporate representative. All hell breaks loose when they all had to encounter a group of aliens forcing Ripley to fight back. It’s a very simple premise that has all of the makings of a compelling sci-fi film with elements of suspense, horror, and action. Yet, there’s a lot more to the story in what James Cameron brings that makes the film far much better than it needed to be.
The first is in the way Ripley is portrayed as she returns home after being asleep for fifty-seven years while having nightmares about everything she had encountered in the past. Here’s this woman who had just lost a lot as she’s forced to report to a bunch of corporate honchos who could care less about what happened while caring more about the cargo that was lost. When she’s offered to get her job back by returning the planet, she immediately says no but changes her mind as she just wants to see these aliens dead. Once arriving to the planet where she would find a survivor in a young girl, her maternal instincts come in as she becomes this great protector for this young girl by fighting off the aliens any way she can.
It’s not just Cameron’s approach to the Ripley character that makes the script succeed, he also creates a small group of supporting characters that provide enough substance for the audience to care about. While Hudson may be a loudmouth moron, he is a comic relief who is able to do his job and kick ass while Corporal Hicks becomes the unexpected leader knows about what he should do as a soldier but prefers to ensure the safety of his team and the people he’s protecting. Then there’s the android Bishop who seems like a liability based on Ripley’s own issues with them as he ends up becoming the most helpful person on the team where he would gain the trust of everyone. Finally, there’s the Burke character who is this corporate representative who is just there to oversee things as he becomes the one person everyone else distrust because of his own agenda.
Cameron’s script not only works in creating characters that are interesting but also manages to do a lot with a premise that could’ve failed in terms of the schematics that is expected in a horror film. What Cameron does is create a unique structure to the story where the first half is about Ripley returning to the world and getting ready to take part on this mission. It’s in the second half where the element of suspense and horror comes in where it becomes a film where a group of people struggle to survive and get out of a planet that no one should’ve encountered in the first place.
Cameron’s direction is truly a marvel to watch in terms of the ambition he sets out to make as well as the intimacy that he brings to the film. From the visual-effects driven exterior space shots he creates to the tense meetings that occur between Ripley and the Marines as they all try to figure out how to survive. There’s also a sense of claustrophobia in the direction as the camera is always moving to see these places as a lot of is enclosed and very small. Even in a scene where Bishop goes inside a pipe to get the transmitter, Cameron does manage to find a way to keep things engaging without needing to over-explain things.
Cameron also knows when to give the action a break in order for the characters to figure out what to do or to reveal the motives of a few like Burke. Even as he creates moments such as Ripley’s time with Newt that shows that allows the audience to be intrigued by this relationship that has the audience rooting for Ripley to be this protector. Even in the film’s climatic battle against the Alien Queen where Ripley delivers one of the great lines in film. When it comes time for Ripley and the Marines to kick some ass, Cameron creates some striking compositions to capture the element of suspense and then goes for the kill where invests a lot of time to establish what is going on and what are they trying to kill. Overall, Cameron creates a truly mesmerizing and thrilling film that bends all sorts of genre while giving audiences a film that entertains its audience.
Cinematographer Adrian Biddle does superb work with the photography from the bright look of some scenes in the spaceships to the more brooding look of the scenes in the colony buildings filled with startling lighting schemes and other moments to maintain that sense terror. Editor Ray Lovejoy does brilliant work with the editing to play up the suspense with slow, methodical cuts along with more fast-pace rhythms for the film‘s action scenes. Production designer Peter Lamont, with set decorator Crispian Sallis and supervising art director Terry Ackland-Snow, does great work with the set pieces from the look of the spaceships to the building halls filled with lots of alien material including the queen’s nest.
Costume designer Emma Porteus does nice work with the costumes from the uniforms the Marines wear to the more casual clothing the other characters wear. Visual effects supervisors Robert and Dennis Skotak and Alan G. Markowitz do amazing work with the visual effects for many of the film‘s exterior space ship scenes along with some of design of the scenes involving the aliens. Sound editor Don Sharpe does terrific work with the sound by playing up the suspense in some scenes that leads to the Marines fighting off the aliens as it enhances the atmosphere. The film’s music by James Horner is wonderful for its low-key yet suspenseful-driven score to play up the sense of terror as well as a cadence drum theme for the Marines to arrive and get ready.
The film’s incredible ensemble cast features some notable small performances from Paul Maxwell as corporate head Van Leuwen, Mark Rolston as smart gunner Private Drake, Al Matthews as Sgt. Apone, and Cynthia Dale as Corporal Dietrich. William Hope is very good as the Marines’ commanding officer Lt. Gorman while Jenette Goldstein is excellent as the tough Private Vasquez. Bill Paxton is very funny as the cocky Private Hudson who ends up being scared about what is happening as he has some of the film’s best lines. Lance Henrikson is superb as the android Bishop who helps everyone out while revealing the flaws of being human and being an android.
Paul Reiser is terrific as the slimy Burke who pretends to be all cool only to have ulterior motives about his own agenda as Reiser makes Burke a guy everyone loves to hate. Michael Biehn is amazing as Corporal Hicks who leads the Marines into battle while being the guy who is willing to help out everyone when things get troubling. Carrie Henn is wonderful as the young girl Newt as she displays an innocence of a girl traumatized by what she saw as she also helps out the Marines into surviving the aliens. Finally, there’s Sigourney Weaver in an outstanding performance as Ellen Ripley by making her a far more complex and determined character. Weaver brings a sense of weariness as a woman reluctant to take part in a mission while becoming maternal in protecting Newt as she later becomes this full-blown badass who is not afraid to go toe-to-toe with the aliens as it is truly one of Weaver’s best performances.
Aliens is a magnificent film from James Cameron that features a towering performance from Sigourney Weaver. The film is definitely not just one of the great sci-fi horror films of that genre but also one of the key films that makes the Alien franchise so interesting. Filled with great technical work and memorable supporting performances from Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn, Lance Henrikson, Paul Reiser, and Bill Paxton. It’s a film that has a lot of substance in terms of its story and presentation as well as a lot of action and suspense to be entertained by. In the end, Aliens is a triumphant film from James Cameron.
James Cameron Films: (Xenogenesis) - (Piranha II: The Spawning) - (The Terminator) - (The Abyss) - (Terminator 2: Judgment Day) - (True Lies) - (Titanic) - (Expedition: Bismarck) - (Ghosts of the Abyss) - (Aliens of the Deep) - Avatar
Alien Films: Alien - Alien 3 - Alien: Resurrection
© thevoid99 2012
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This is a tough movie to review - I've been avoiding it for ages, myself. You covered it differently than I would have, but you're dead right on how tense and exciting this film is.
You did a great job pointing out the hard work of the crew. It's tough for me to get in my points and still take time out to give a little love to the costume designer, etc.
One thing you should definitely point out is how impressive the practical effects are - for my money, a lot of movies have lost their luster in using CGI for everything. Films always connect more with the audience, I think, when you know that there was an actual costumed monster, a real animal on set, or a real driver jumping a car over a river...
I didn't think it was tough. I was able to get it because of what the film wanted to be. I loved the effects in that film. I agree with you that CGI tends to make things more artificial and there needs to be more miniatures and such.
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