Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #36
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: July 18, 1986
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: 131,060,248
Running Time: 137 minutes
Director: James Cameron
Producers: Gale Anne Hurd, Gordon Carroll, David Giler, Walter Hill
Screenplay: James Cameron
Story: James Cameron, Walter Hill, David Giler
Characters: Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett
Visual Effects: Robert Skotak, Dennis Skotak
Cinematography: Adrian Biddle
Score: James Horner
Editing: Ray Lovejoy
Studio: Brandywine Productions
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, William Hope, Carrie Henn, Paul Reiser, Al Matthews, Mark Rolston, Ricco Ross, Colette Hiller, Daniel Kash, Cynthia Dale Scott, Tip Tipping, Trevor Steedman
Suggested Audio Candy:
James Horner Aliens
It is incredibly unlikely for a sequel to reach the lofty heights of its predecessor with The Godfather Part 2 the rare exception to this rule. By and large, once the initial foundations have been laid, a great deal of the surprise element is then neutered. However, when you procure self-proclaimed King of the World James Cameron as your captain, you discern that he will move heaven and earth, or sink a full-scale ocean liner, to ensure that his visions of grandeur are realized. Egocentric in the extreme; Cameron was that annoying kid in school whose science project was far more advanced than any other and takes great pleasure of reminding you too. He may come across as arrogant to some but few can ever hope to emulate his success and even fewer will stand any probability of ever replicating it.
Ridley Scott had already supplied us with the Alien template in 1979, offering up an insular and untrumpable haunted house horror archetype that has stood the test of time remarkably well. Jimmy was dispassionate about fashioning a carbon copy and had visions, as he does, of a larger scale extravaganza. Gone from the forefront were the stifling close quarters from Scott’s vision (although they were still present) and instead the action took place in a much more sprawling locale: a deserted colony which, since sending a distress signal, has become eerily muted.
One critical element from the original film that Cameron brings back is Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) as our ballsy heroine unwittingly agrees to assist a throng of military personnel on a simple reconnaissance mission. Simple huh? I smell napalm. Most would jog a kilometer in the opposite direction at the sheer mention of returning to the fray but not this hardened trooper; she relishes the prospect of kicking more bony Xenomorphic asses back into the ocean of emptiness and, after sleeping on the proposition and waking up drenched in sweat, signs up once again for active duty. Alas, this mission is no place for Jones so she leaves him out a dish of milk and heads off with the grunts on their mercy mission.
I consider, with keenness I might add, my first tang of titan terrorization aboard the Nostromo. Everyone was on an even playing field and there was a mélange of endowment on display with such dab-handed veterans as John Hurt, Ian Holm and Harry Dean Stanton showing up to support Ridley’s revelation. Sigourney was merely one of the crew back then and, if asked who I suspected at the half-hour mark would’ve made the end credits, I probably would have suggested Dallas over Ripley. Nevertheless she showed her mettle and consequently went on to become a household name. This time round we are well aware that she is the lead protagonist so Cameron surrounds her with badasses, each in possession of both assholes and elbows, to help her settle in. Misery loves company you see. Said grunts are all perspiration and testosterone, cocky to the extreme, and pumped-up ready for any threat posed.
Cameron sets up with admirable refinement and the entire first act is spent breaking bread with our ragtag assembly. There are some real characters secreting beneath all that war paint and all-embracing body armor. They banter, mentally prepare for the assignment ahead and then jet off to the colony to collect intelligence for slimy company man Burke. Everything is set for that primary encounter and when it comes… it MOTHERFUCKING comes!
Equipped to the nines with advanced weaponry they regrettably cannot use, the cast is suddenly chiseled down in one of the most spectacularly breathless set pieces ever committed to celluloid…period. In the same way pioneered by the original, nobody’s safe passage is secured (with the exception of Ripley of course). Without further ado, let’s meet and greet our ill-fated battalion.
Lieutenant William Gorman
Poor old Gorman. It’s like watching Watership Down all over again as he spends most of his screen-time paralyzed like a rabbit in headlamps and babbling incoherently. You know as soon as someone sports a head bandage that it won’t end well for them and indeed it doesn’t although, despite his woeful leadership skills, Vasquez takes pity on his raggedy ass and provides him the hero’s send off he hardly deserves.
Sergeant Al Apone
“Alright, sweethearts.” What a gloriously grizzled old-hand Apone is. He has prepared many times for combat scenarios and admirably leads his line-up from the front. Bet he wishes he hadn’t. It’s all over far too early for our Cuban-chomping chief although, to be fair, he survives the remainder of the film alongside Dietrich while they gestate in an oily corridor. We miss his quotability and mourn his unexpected departure.
Corporal Dwayne Hicks
I’m so glad Biehn’s back. The Divide, The Victim, and Bereavement are just a few tasters of a man back on the incline after a decidedly lean spell. Hicks peps up well after his forty winks and supplies Ellen a staunch comrade with more than a faint whiff of potential mating material. Instead the honor of popping her cinematic cherry falls to…Charles Dance?! He ain’t Kyle Reese is he? Seems a shame this legendary soldier is destined to suffocate in a poky chamber with the sound of Newt gargling her last few breaths alongside him. Things could have been beautiful.
“Not..bad…for…an…android.” Well markedly better than Holm at least. Lance is one of the safest pairs of hands in the industry and he adds charm to a character seemingly not programmed for emotion. Not a hostile kind of droid although maybe a little combat training would help him evade that tail swipe. However, it is great to see him return in Fincher’s third entry. Hell, it’s great to see him anytime. Still not sure I would trust him with my groceries mind you.
Private William Hudson
What a wonderful whining whinnie. Near-on every word Hudson utters is pure plutonium. I have long admired Bill and he is easily the pick of the bunch alongside a certain someone waiting in the wings. For all his incessant whimpering he ends his trail with chest puffed out and trigger finger firmly down. My least favorite five-minute segment of Aliens consists of losing Hudson and this next badass in rapid succession.
Private Jenette Vasquez
Is it okay to have a crush on Vasquez? I’m not entirely convinced what it is that makes her so appealing but there can be no denying that undeniable swagger. I yearn for her safe delivery and, to her eternal credit, she damn near makes it. At least she goes out with a sense of dignity and purpose. A little piece of me dies each time she pulls the pin out of her frag in the air vent and I would much rather she stuffs the grenade into Gorman’s bandage and scuttles off to fight another day.
Private Mark Drake
You have to feel bad for Drake as he so nearly makes it out of the initial skirmish. However, on evac, his smart-gunning comes to an abrupt end as he catches the wayward spray of alien jizz that ironically results from his best buddy’s slaying prowess. Great frame, cool demeanor. It should’ve been Gorman.
Carter J. Burke
What a shitbag. Reiser takes a break from his TV commitments and is perfectly cast as the misguided and out-of-his-depth corporate slime. Ulterior motives ultimately lead him to suitably whimpering closure as he simply doesn’t possess the tools once that door slides open. I hope it fucking hurt you cretin. By the way, love your work Paul.
Private Ricco Frost
General joker of the unit and good friends with both Hicks and Hudson, he is also pretty handy behind the wheel of the APC. Not frosty enough when it all explodes however and becomes the very first casualty of war. At least he doesn’t get his face punched through. Deserves more screen time than he is destined to receive.
Corporal Colette Ferro
Entitled to feel a little let down by her right-hand man Spunkmeyer who is too busy mopping up ejaculate to notice the gargantuan Xenomorph tiptoeing straight past him. Pilot Ferro provides living proof that it’s not always wise to wear seat belts although don’t quote me on that one.
Rebecca ‘Newt’ Jorden
I can’t help but liken her presence to inviting the wife to an all alpha poker party. While out way past her bedtime, she’s actually pretty charming and cute. You just want to shield her and tell her everything will be alright. It will…or at least until she suffocates in her chamber later.
Screen legends: Snake Plissken, Henry Hill, Action Jackson and now Ellen Ripley. Weaver makes this elite list and probably pips Carl Weathers in the process. The scene in the queen’s lair and the climactic mêlée in the loading bay are landmark scenes and a vital part of my filmic development. She carries herself with self-possession and steely purpose.
Private Daniel Spunkmeyer, Corporal Cynthia Dietrich, Private Trevor Wierzbowski & Private Tip Crowe
Early baths and a longer one for Spunkmeyer after his masturbating antics cost Ferro her pilot’s licence. Hardly a line of dialogue between any of these stragglers but we’re still glad they came.
Back to Ripley for a moment as she continues to be a bankable almost masculine heroine. Her blockbuster battle with the Queen is momentous as both mothers shield their babies from harm whilst sizing each other up suitably before their eminent divergence. Her hinted mutual magnetism with Hicks is another key factor as it allows Ellen, temporarily at least, to lower her guard and reveal a little of her vulnerable side. Cameron correctly doesn’t push this dynamic too far but their unspoken connection is prevailing. The moment when they exchange first names hints at a potential which will regrettably never be realized.
What else can I say that hasn’t already been stated about this fine specimen? Cameron’s director’s cut is clearly the only version you ever need watch as certain key scenes only serve to pad out this grand experience further. It is such a dissimilar strain from Scott’s original. Faster paced but no less thoughtful, less enclosed but just as oppressive, Cameron does with this film what very few filmmakers are equipped to do. He takes an exclusively elite angle on existing excellence and does it with no end of panache and enthusiasm. Often I’m asked the poser of whether Alien or Aliens is top dog? Neither. Both. Whatever! Drawing comparisons would be like trying to decide which alien ovium to peek into first. It will only result in egg on your face.
Filmed in the UK at Pinewood Studios and a decommissioned power plant in Acton, London Cameron’s original treatment was patched together in a handful of days but, once hit development snags delaying it by nine months, he was permitted more time to work on the script. Meanwhile, shooting was also not without its trials and disruptions. He is known for his hard-line directorial stance and rubbed a few of his crew members the wrong way. However, despite its problematic development, Aliens was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Actress for Weaver; not the usual outcome for a simple actioner.
Other reasons were cited for the troubled working relationship some shared with Cameron and both composer James Horner and editor Ray Lovejoy struggled with slender time-frames. You’d never have guessed it as the final product is absolutely spot on. Scott has flagged up that he was skeptical about Cameron being too young to shoulder the huge liability of a venture this hefty but he needn’t have concerned himself as Aliens is a success on every feasible level.
It inexplicably matches its predecessor stride for stride and, whilst paying Scott’s original the reverence it warrants, never becomes bogged down by attempting to live up to expectation. Cameron is arrogant enough to take his own route and, while noses are occasionally disjointed around him, there’s absolutely no disputing the immaculate end product.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 10/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: This is essentially an action movie so grue really has no great requisite. There is a little chest-bursting on exhibit and, by the end, Bishop looks like he has had a rendezvous with Spunkmeyer but, other than that, there’s no reason to pack your umbrellas.
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
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Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2013 (Revised Edition 2016)