Monday, April 25, 2011

Flick of The Day: Aliens

A few weeks back, we reviewed Ridley Scott's Alien, noting how it builds the tension through a creepy atmosphere to great effect. How then to follows this up? Once the cat is out of the bag so to speak, how do you create a follow up that is as tense, frightening and entertaining as the original? This was the task facing director James Cameron in 1986 with today's flick of the day Aliens. He delivered a modern classic by combining ground breaking special effects with pacy storytelling and another great performance from Sigourney Weaver that resulted in 7 Oscar nominations.
The film opens as its predecessor ended, with Ripley, again played by Weaver, in hypersleep with her tabby cat having vanquished the alien from her life boat. Her boat is picked up by a passing space ship and she is rescued. After receiving medical care, she is awoken with the news delivered by her company's representative Carter Burke played by Paul Reiser, that she has been adrift in space for half a century and that the planet where they discovered the alien life as since been colonised. Her account of the destruction of the ship and the attack of the alien is met with ridicule and scepticism and she is removed from her position as a Warrant Officer. Initially depressed, she retreats from life, her family and relatives having long since passed away.  Soon, Reiser and a Colonial Marine return to her seeking help, contact has been lost with the colony and they are going to investigate.  Ripley initially refuses to help before relenting, haunted as she is by nightmares of her last encounter with the alien. Arriving to find the colony deserted, Ripley, Carter and the marines are soon in a fighter for survival as the planet is overwhelmed by the alien hoardes. 

While Alien was much more sombre in tone with a deliberately gradual escalation of tension, James Cameron's Aliens is much more action oriented but is no loss thrilling because of it. The special effects are used to great effect, in Cameron's own words, his plan from the beginning was to focus "more on terror, less on horror". The cast spend much of the movie confined to a small space fighting off the oncoming Aliens or moving through the darkened colony searching for human life. This creates an atmosphere of fear, of not knowing what is coming round the corner both literally and metaphorically. Again unlike the original, the character of Ripley is no longer a victim seeking to survive and escape the horror but a veteran out to kill the aliens off once and for all. This makes for an entertaining film.
If there is a criticism of this film to be made, it is that the film largely follows the same dynamic as the original but with a cast that is less developed, characters often seemingly there only to get squashed by the aliens and a script that is at times poor. The dialogue exists only to drive the plot forward.

Ripley: Lieutenant, what do those pulse rifles fire? 
Gorman: 10 millimeter explosive tip caseless. Standard light armor piercing round, why? 
Ripley: Well, look where your team is. They're right under the primary heat exchangers. 
Gorman: So? 
Ripley: So, if they fire their weapons in there, won't they rupture the cooling system?

That said, the film is always entertaining and action packed in a way few directors can deliver better then James Cameron. For all his many faults, the man can deliver an action sequence better then almost anyone else.
All in all, a fine sequel to a great film with enough cracks to see how things went so badly wrong with the next outing. Sigourney Weaver is excellent once again as Ripley, creating a heroine that shines through a clunky script. Cameron makes great use of the special effects available to him at the time and the film is an action packed adventure that doesn't slow down from the moment they arrive on the colony. A worthy addition to the genre and well worth a look.

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