Friday, September 23, 2016

ALIENS (1986) - *****

Rated R for monster violence and for language
Running time: 137 min.
Release date: July 18, 1986

Aliens is the sequel to Ridley Scott's Alien from 1979. It continues the story of the lone survivor of an alien rampage, Lt. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and sends her back to confront her nightmare. Taking the helm this time is James Cameron, two years removed from his last sci-fi blockbuster The Terminator. The result is a more action-oriented, but no less tense, follow-up to the original. The combination of suspense, thrills and emotions takes the story from Aliens, adds all the firepower and cranks the film into the stratosphere. Aliens is not just a sequel that can be argued as being greater than the original, it is also one of the greatest sci-fi/horror films of all time.

The film opens with Ripley quietly drifting through space in deep sleep. She is rescued by a salvage crew and she returns to her employers at the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, where she is debriefed. Apparently, the suits are skeptical of her story concerning the alien attack on her crew that resulted in her being the only survivor. She has been out of the loop for 57 years and learns that the planet LV-426, where her crew discovered the alien eggs, has been colonized during that span. She is approached by Carter Burke (Paul Reiser), a representative of the corporation, into returning to LV-426. All contact with the colony has been lost and a crew of Marines are being dispatched to investigate. After Burke assures Ripley that any creatures found will be destroyed, she agrees to the mission. 

We meet the Marines that are part of the mission. Led by Gorman (William Hope), some of the more notable crew members include Hicks (Michael Biehn), Hudson (Bill Paxton), Apone (Al Matthews), Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) and the android Bishop (Lance Henriksen). They are a gung-ho crew for certain, with brash attitudes and boundless bravado. When the crew lands, they find the colony deserted. Once inside, they find barricades and signs of a struggle. In a lab, they find the hideous "facehuggers" contained, indicating that the colonists discovered the alien eggs and attempted to study them. Soon after, the team finds a lone survivor: a young girl named Newt (Carrie Henn). Ripley reaches out to her and soon becomes a mother-figure for her. The crew determine the location of some lifeforms in an area of the colony that has been overtaken by alien secretions. Before we know it, we discover that humans are being kept alive in order to be incubators for the aliens. At this point in the film, the action picks up greatly, as the Marines are ambushed.

As the plot moves along, Marines are killed in violent fashion, the survivors retreat and attempt to find a way off the planet, as their shuttle is destroyed after an alien gets aboard and kills the flight crew. Meanwhile, Ripley and Newt grow closer as Ripley vows to protect Newt at all cost. Carter Burke has accompanied the crew on this mission, but it turns out that he's harboring a secret that makes him possibly slimier than the aliens stalking them. By the time the film reaches its climax, the story has unfolded in a logical manner and a 137 minute film has suddenly breezed by you.

Aliens is a technically sound film, with creatures created by Stan Winston that are much deadlier than the original creature in the first film. This is because there are more of them, for one, but also because we get to see them move. They are faster and more relentless, and even have some human qualities to them, especially in one scene where the queen alien communicates to others to back off when her hatchlings are threatened by Ripley. This makes them just a little bit more than just your average hungry monster. The visual effects are Academy Award-winning. The use of miniatures helps provide realism in a way that CGI rarely is able to do. The alien queen is truly lifelike and frightening in appearance. From a casting standpoint, Sigourney Weaver, once again, knocks it out of the park as Ripley. At first, she is apprehensive and still frightened by her prior experiences, but once Newt enters the picture, Ripley becomes a mother-figure who is determined to protect the young girl. Weaver gives a strong performance that is the archetype for future roles for female action leads.

With all the technical prowess behind it and the strong lead performance by Weaver, we get the actual story. Everything falls into place sensibly and logically in the first hour and then Cameron lets the action dictate the pacing. This allows the film to never overstay its welcome even at a near two and a half hour running time. You're taken from one harrowing scene after another, each one more tense than the previous one. Aliens is superior to the original while also taking ideas from the first and expanding on them. It ranks with The Empire Strikes Back as a sequel that surpasses its predecessor and takes its seat firmly at the top of the sci-fi/horror mash-up genre.

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