ALIENS-United States/United Kingdom-1986
Paul Reiser (C) as Carter Burke
Bill Paxton as Pvt. Hudson
Jenette Goldstein as Pvt. Vasquez
William Hope as Lt. Gorman
Al Matthews as Sgt. Apone
Directed by James Cameron
Story by James Cameron, David Giler and Walter Hill
Screenplay by James Cameron
Based on characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett
Do you ever have that problem where, you’re writing a review, and the movie you’re reviewing is so good that you just want to load every superlative onto it that your mind can conjure? The problem with that is that if you do you know you’re going to come off sounding like some pompous jerk.
So what do you do in this situation? You dial it down; which is what I’m going to do. I’m going to dial down all my ‘pompous jerk’ superlatives into three simple words:
Aliens fucking rocks.
There is not one scene in this entire film that doesn’t crackle with excitement, with urgency. Even the quietest scenes are the fuse that will light the powder keg for the more explosive moments in the movie. Director James Cameron has taken all the intensity of his previous The Terminator and cranked it up to ten for Aliens.
I’m giving you the bare bones details. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver, Copycat, The Cabin in the Woods) returns with a squadron of marines to the planet where the crew of the Nostromo first encountered the vicious xenomorph of 1979’s Alien. In the years since that time a mining colony has been established and all contact with it has been lost. For the next 45 minutes or more Ripley and the marines encounter and do battle with hundreds, maybe thousands of the bloodthirsty creatures. The tagline for Aliens is ‘This time it’s war’ and war is what we get as the beasts come out of the walls, from the ceiling and even up from the floors to attack and conquer.
In one of Aliens quieter moments a little girl, Newt, the only survivor, is discovered and Ripley becomes a surrogate mother to her for the rest of the film. The amazing thing about this is that it breaks the main premise of Aliens down into something very simple and that is that a mother, a good mother, will go to any lengths to protect her child. In the end, when it’s down to Ripley, Cpl. Hicks (Michael Biehn, The Victim, Planet Terror), the android Bishop (Lance Henriksen, Pumpkinhead, Millenium) and Newt (Carrie Henn), the last thing standing in the way of them getting off of the planet is the queen alien, a being so magnificent that mere words cannot begin to describe her. That’s a cliché, yes, but one that is loaded with truth. The final battle between Ripley and the queen is an amazing sight to behold. Here, we have two mothers; one human and one alien fighting for the lives of their children.
In the 26 years since its release in 1986, Aliens has stood the test of time as not only a great science fiction film, but as a spectacular action film that can be regarded as one of the finest in cinema. I get the strong feeling that I could make that statement in another 26 years. If Alien is the perfect science fiction/horror film, then Aliens is the perfect science fiction/action film.
Hicks was originally played by James Remar, but Michael Biehn replaced him a few days after principal photography began, due to “artistic differences” between Remar and director James Cameron. However, Remar still appears in the finished film – but wearing the same armor, and shot from behind, it’s impossible to tell the difference between the two actors.
All of the cast who were to play the Marines (with the exception of Michael Biehn, who replaced James Remar one week into filming) were trained by the S.A.S. (Special Air Service, Britain’s elite special operations unit) for two weeks before filming. Sigourney Weaver, Paul Reiser, and William Hope didn’t participate/attend the training because director James Cameron felt it would help the actors create a sense of detachment between the three and the Marines – the characters these three actors played were all outsiders to the squad; Ripley being an advisor to the Marines while on the trip to LV-426, Burke being there just for financial reasons and Gorman being a newly-promoted Lieutenant with less experience than most of the Marines.
Having hired James Cameron to write the screenplay, 20th Century Fox then did the unthinkable when he left the production to direct The Terminator: they agreed to wait for Cameron to become available again and finish the screenplay. Cameron had only completed about 90 pages at that stage, but the studio had loved what he had written so far.
To bring the alien queen to life would take anything between 14 and 16 operators.
Al Matthews, who plays a Marine sergeant in this film, was in real life the first black Marine to be promoted to the rank of sergeant in the field during service in Vietnam.
In the scene where the crew is getting dressed after waking up from hypersleep, Hudson says, “Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?” to which Vasquez answers, “No. Have you?” This is “borrowed” from Hollywood legend. Columnist Earl Wilson once asked Tallulah Bankhead, “Have you ever been mistaken for a man?” Bankhead responded, “No darling. Have you?”