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The Test of Time: Aliens (1986)

05.18.2017by: Jake Dee

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they remain must see? So…the point of this column is to determine how a film holds up for a modern horror audience, to see if it stands the Test of Time.

ALIENS: DIRECTED BY JAMES CAMERON

STARRING: SIGOURNEY WEAVER, MICHAEL BIEHN, BILL PAXTON, LANCE HENRIKSEN, JEANETTE GOLDSTEIN

Say friends, have you taken the pulse of ALIEN COVENANT’S critical mass? No doubt about it, Ridley Scott’s newest extraterrestrial assault has garnered polarizing opinions since reviews of the film have seeped out over the past two weeks or so. I flat out dug the flick so much I had zero qualms calling it the best ALIEN movie in 30 years. Our man Chris B. on the other hand, he felt disappointingly underwhelmed by what COVENANT had to offer, despite giving a slight recommendation. The best thing to do in this case? Go out and see it yourself and report back here with your own reactions!

As for those 30 years, opinions are far less varied when it comes to James Cameron’s awe-striking action-incursion, ALIENS. This is a universally beloved sequel, and while not quite GODFATHER PART 2 or EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, many do consider it the superior film to Scott’s 1979 progenitor. For the record, I do not subscribe to that line of thought, but like the rest, absolutely love ALIENS precisely for all the ways in which it deviates from the original. The concern of course, at least for our purposes, is how well the movie plays now, today, in 2017. Given how hands-on Cameron is when it comes to being at the forefront of state-of-the-art technology, do the SFX and VFX still pop the eyeballs they way they did in 1986? Does the story hold serve? So the performances still convince? Does ALIENS deserve its overall apotheosis?

Find out below as we officially admit, “This time it’s war,” and pit ALIENS versus The Test of Time!

UNDER EXAMINATION: ALIENS

THE STORY: One of the superb conceptions of ALIENS is - despite being made seven years after the original - that its story picks up immediately where Ripley left off. This creates a direct umbilicus to the first film in a way that feels genuine, germane and wholly congruous. It’s as if we haven’t missed a beat. This umbilical cord proves all the more vital when considering Ellen Ripley’s well plotted character development. As ALIENS opens, you’ll recall, we learn Ripley’s real life daughter had already passed away at age 66 while her mom was traveling light-years away through deep-space. Not only does this incur sympathy in us the viewer, it also allows for matriarchal redemption later on in the film when interacting with Newt. More on that to come, but first let us consider the subliminally deft design Ripley’s personal progression proves to be throughout. If the first film is all about the fear of impregnation (the Phallic Xenomorph head, the vaginal alien eggs, the embryonic design of the Nostromo, the constant references to the ship as “Mother”, etc.), then subtextually, ALIENS is all about the anxieties of motherhood.

As for the primary thread, we know that Ripley is reluctantly forced to head an even bigger and more badass team to suss the distress signal from the moon of the Alien planet (LV-426) that nearly ended her life only days before. Not only is she pitted against Burke’s corporate mandates (Paul Reiser’s sleazy ass), Ellen also has less sway with her new teammates, who prove far wilder and more unpredictable than the last. Hicks (Michael Biehn), Hudson (Bill Paxton), Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein), Bishop (Lance Henriksen), Gorman (William Hope), Apone (Al Matthews) and the rest of the ragtag horde of colorful cohorts – all well equipped to combat any extraterrestrial critter – are also less keen on following Ripley’s lead. This creates a layered inner-conflict within the team in addition to the outward opposition of yes, an uncouth race of Alien xenomorphs, face-huggers, and ultimately the gargantuan Alien Queen that Ripley squares off with in the final reel.

WHAT HOLDS-UP: As it currently sits at #65 on IMDB’s Top 250 (ALIEN sits at #51), the mass appeal would indicate very little in ALIENS does NOT hold up. Having just re-watched the film, I’d have to concur. This is everything you’d want in a sequel – it’s bigger, bolder, longer, has more death scenes, more impressive action set-pieces, and most importantly, emotionally pushes the narrative of Ripley forward. These attributes are flat-out incontestable.

More subjective in terms of its success is the way in which Cameron chose to inject the film with a diametrically opposed tone, tenor and tempo of the original. With the tagline “This time it’s war,” an overt militaristic intent was favored by Cameron to create a more viscerally intense, in your face action extravaganza. Whereas ALIEN was an adept exercise in slow-mounting dread and petrifying anticipatory suspense, ALIENS is an outright intergalactic war film cut to the flash-bang MTV editing style that was so cutting edge in 1986. To me this is the overarching brilliance of the film, how it continues the tale of Ripley without a missed step, yet utterly inverts the way in which the story is told. The worst thing Cameron could have done was try to redo what made Scott’s version so masterful. He went the complete opposite direction, which, even despite its unabashed B-movie musings, has made the movie a near parallel masterpiece.

The other thing that not only opposes the original, but holds up incredibly well today, is the abundance of abject alien action. Straight up, Cameron employed the loaded-arsenal he stashed with PIRANHA 2 and THE TERMINATOR and aimed it squarely at the intended bulls-eye…the audience! ALIENS still holds as the definitive paragon of incendiary sci-fi action. Remember, the original ALIEN almost played like the JAWS in space, meaning we often only caught glimpses, hints, suggestions of what the ALIEN looked like (a man in a suit) until it finally revealed itself in the final act. In ALIENS, Cameron wisely introduces his Face-huggers and Xenomorphs far quicker into the story, and gives us terrifyingly close-up looks at the various offshoots and mutations in so doing. This throws us into the fire instantly, and by the time the midway of the movie arrives, we’re already neck deep in a barrage of bullets, explosive gore and dripping green-acid. No joke, at its best, ALIENS utterly marauds the senses with an unending bombardment of ultra-violent whirlwinds of barbarous battle.

Of course, all this concludes with an element I think we can all agree actually does surpass the original: The Alien Queen! The sheer increase in size and scope alluded to earlier is perfectly reinforced by The Alien Queen and the direct battle Ripley engages with it in the final 30 minutes or so. Of course, the irony of Ripley as mother protecting Newt (a reptilian name) as analogous to the Alien Queen protecting its new and unborn progeny is not lost at all…it’s actually a profound parallel in the film that lends the story subtextual gravity. Ripley knows she must protect Newt at all costs, fully aware that the Alien Queen must do the same. Still, the scene where Ripley discovers the Queen for the first time…its scaly tail laying eggs in the muck…no shit, this scene still makes my skin rumple! It goes back to the size and scope of the whole movie, which yet again materializes in that epic showdown between the Queen and an exosuit strapped Ripley in that giant cargo-loader. Come on now, scenes like this are the stuff of cinematic lore!

WHAT BLOWS NOW: The only thing I can think of to grouse about in regards to ALIENS is actually a bit of a catch-22. See, the very measures taken to bolster the character progression of Ripley – the matriarchal protection of Newt – is also the thing that works less and less for me the more I revisit the film. I understand why it’s there, again to reinforce Ripley’s compensation for the loss of her own daughter, but if the movie at all drags, it usually has to do with Newt’s endangerment. Granted, Carrie Henn gives a precociously credible turn, but her entire storyline is one that tends to sort of sap the movies overall momentum. Remember, the quick-hitting rhythms of ALIENS’ tempo is one of its undeniable strengths, and when Newt’s storyline threatens to disrupt the pacing, the movie tends to suffer. That said, this is a very minor gripe that in no way genuinely hinders the entertainment value of the flick.

THE VERDICT: Stop it. The jury’s been in for over 30 years…ALIENS is one of the best genre films ever assembled! As a sequel, as a standalone, as a horror flick, as an action spectacle, as a thought-provoking sci-fi parable…almost every aspect of ALIENS remains beyond reproach. Put it this way, there’s no wonder James Cameron became “king of the world” as the richest film director of all not named Lucas or Spielberg. The real question now becomes, does ALIEN COVENANT deserve similar plaudits. Does it really earn rank one slot below ALIENS as the third best flick in the franchise? Go see it and spill your blood on the matter right here!

GET ALIENS ON DVD HERE

GET ALIENS ON BLU-RAY HERE

Extra Tidbit: Do you like ALIEN or ALIENS better?
Source: AITH

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