Time to mosey onto the 2nd film in the series.
I can say for certain that the first film of this illustrious franchise that i had watched would be Aliens. When that would have been though is totally lost to me, my most educated guess would place it somewhere around the ages of 5-12 and it would probably have been at my cousin’s place. I remember having an Alien queen action figure and i still remember fragments of my mother buying it, (it was the kenner series circa 1992) i loved that toy and had it for many, many years.
Other than that, there was a poll on the escapist forums years ago that asked the all important question:
Alien or Aliens?
Given the setting of the poll (being a gaming website) i wasn’t surprised that the results leaned heavily towards the latter. Aliens’ effect on the video gaming world is indelible, it has served as inspiration for countless FPS titles and will do so likely for many more years to come.
But what about my answer?
In the director introduction included on Fox’s excellent DVD release for the special edition, James Cameron calls Aliens: “40 miles of bad road”. And i can’t think of a more apt description for the special edition myself, and much like in the previous film pacing plays a huge part in creating Aliens dangerous atmosphere.
The pacing is very slow in comparison with modern action films, as Ripley only agrees to go back to LV426 within the film’s first 1/2 hour; which stands in stark contrast to many action films having some sort of large-scale set piece happening by then. In fact a shot isn’t fired until 57 minutes into the movie, and the Aliens themselves aren’t seen until an hour and eleven minutes in (which is almost the halfway mark).
The deliberate pace of the film is ultimately its greatest boon, as it allows for enough small scenes to continually set up the large pay off by the end. Relationships, thematic development, and large-scale action scenes are all built up to naturally. Ripley and Hick’s relationship is a good example of the drawn out pacing put to good use; he’s shown looking at her, she’s shown noticing, he’s shown to have read her report, he asks her if she’s alright, they flirt, and finally at the end the build up is paid off with a genuine human connection of exchanging names.
It’s masterfully pulled off, and doesn’t just stop at interpersonal relationships. Ripley’s fears are given plenty of time to grow, as her nightmares and general sense of dread and hesitation are given multiple scenes. Weaver herself is given plenty of space to breath in the little moments of hesitation or startlement.
The action scenes themselves are top-notch, Cameron being a master at creating and sustaining a mounting tension to an explosive pay off; and all the while never losing a sense of suffocating claustrophobia that is suitable given the subject matter.
To put it plainly i find Aliens to simply be less interesting than Alien. Many of the most interesting ideas from the earlier film are underplayed, removed, or developed in uninteresting ways.
Aside from the facehugger’s disturbing anatomy all the sexual underpinnings i found so evocative in Alien are heavily repressed. As a result even though the Aliens themselves (apart from the queen) are heavily obscured and more impressionistic than in the previous film are ultimately less interesting. They lose their sense of mystery almost completely when they are easily compared to ants or bees, as i find it then easy to explain their aggressive behavior and purpose.
Thematically i see Alien as a warning of the dread that might await the incautious in the void of space, with the creature representing a primal fear of the unknown; and while fear is most certainly a central part of Ripley’s struggles (with the creatures being an avatar for such fears), the struggle is far more relatable and small in scale. where Ripley must overcome her fears to gain back a bit of what she lost, and while i don’t have a problem with this metaphorical struggle i just don’t find it as engaging in comparison to the original.
Other problems that bubble up with multiple viewings is a lack of development on anyone other than Ripley, and to a lesser extent Newt. With Hicks notably being a complete cipher, and audiences adoration of his character i find to be based more on how well his and Ripley’s relationship is paced out and rewarded.
The production of Aliens also strangely feels a good deal more dated than in its predecessor, as the sets, costumes, lingo, and attitudes within the film all have a distinctly 80’s vibe that just wasn’t present in Alien.
Despite the dozens of times i must have watched Aliens it still remains enjoyable, however in the end i prefer Alien over Aliens. As there is something more elemental about the older film. It’s more of a nightmare than a roller coaster, and while there is nothing wrong with the latter the former (much like a dream) offers a better chance at looking within.
However it must be said that a roller coaster makes for a far more memorable ride than a dream, and a good one can be ridden again and again without too much loss of thrills.
OUT OF FIVE
And it goes without saying that Bill Paxton’s performance defines the word: Iconic.