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Face-Off: Alien vs. Aliens

03.22.2012by: Paul Huffman
For the Face Off last week, we saw the closest race that we've seen yet for this column with a tally of 11-10 in The Joker's favor. Why so serious, Durden?

For this week we've chosen to capitalize on the buzz we're still on thanks to the Prometheus trailer by throwing the classic 1979 film Alien in the cage with it's worthy sequel Aliens in the cage to let them duke it out. Both are classics that came from, in my opinion, two of the best directors to ever sit in the chair. They both brought their own style to the franchise and it made for two totally different films. But which one was better? Debatable, and that's perfect for this here situation.
Set-Up
What we were in for was a mystery to the audience and to the crew of the Nostromo. What the hell is on this planet? Okay, what the hell is in those eggs? What the HELL is that thing raping John Hurt's face? Aw, that thing is so cute...then again it did just burst out of a dudes chest. Acid huh? M'kay. Is sh*t about to go down? You bet your sweet ass!
Ellen Ripley has been out of commission for 57 years, she is interviewed by a company who isn't totally buying her story due to lack of physical evidence, but that doesn't stop them from asking her to accompany some marines to "destroy" a whole colony of the f*ckers. Why is this Carter Burke guy rubbing us the wrong way? Is their plan really to destroy the Aliens? Are you kidding me, another Android? Stay tuned folks.
Suspense
Slow and methodical, that was the name of the game for this puppy. We were given enough to keep us enthralled until sh*t really hit the fan and what we were given worked. The mystery surrounding what this thing was, what it could do, and what it would become was done perfectly. This was the first of the franchise, bottom line is that not knowing what we were getting played in it's favor, thankfully this film was in the hands of a capable director to pull that suspense off right.
James Cameron could have rehashed what we saw in the first film, but we all knew that was impossible. We know the stakes, there is no introducing us to the terror we're about to witness. We knew with this bad boy, especially with the inclusion of a bunch of hard ass marines, that everything was going to go down with a quicker pace. That is exactly what we got, it was the first film on steroids. Cameron didn't disappoint.
Effects/Set Design
On my end the two most notable effects used in this film were the chestburster scene (which has become notorious for the nature of how the scene would play out being kept from most of the cast until the scene was shot) and the inner workings of the android Ash. High pressure pumps and squibs were used to get the full effect for the chestburster scene and it was all done in one take. Bravo. A mixture of something as simple as Ian Holm's head sticking out a wall, some milk, caviar, pasta, and glass marbles gave us the classic payoff with the Ash character.

The use of miniature models and sets built, namely the claustrophobic ship added to the atmosphere of the film, the dark tones and cold feel was a character all it's own.
Actual military weapons, vehicles, and aircraft were a major inspiration for James Cameron in bringing this to the screen. I'll give you two guesses why. Everything on this film was on a grander scale than it's predecessor. We are in the middle of a larger world in this installment. Nothing supports this more than the building of the Alien Queen, built for a test by Stan Winston's company, the final product stood at fourteen feet and was operated by puppeteers, control rods, cables and hydraulics, and a crane. Cameron's vision was indeed vast.
Characters
When we meet the characters in the first film they are easy to like, easy to relate to, they seem like people we would crowd around a table and have dinner with ourselves, they're just a bunch of schmucks who can't wait to get home. When sh*t hits the fan is where we see they start to differ, we're given their depth. We see Ripley's strength and leadership skills, we see the characters that will break down, we begin to see Ash's menace. The situation they were in stripped them all down and let us know who they really were, and what they weren't was dull.
Ellen Ripley had a tough exterior in the first film, but the events of said first film increased that for this sequel ten fold. Man was she a beast. They contrasted that nicely with introducing cute little Newt to remind us that she had that human element left to her. Well played. The humor, camaraderie, and same M.O as Ripley being to f*ck sh*t up that her marine counterparts brought to the table made for great entertainment. Bill Paxton and Michael Biehn stood out. Carter Burke took over the smarmy punk with a hidden agenda and did it well, Bishop as the android done right was intriguing.
Accolades
Alien grossed a total of $104,931,801 worldwide and has 8 awards to it's name. Among them are the Academy Award for best visual effects, and the Saturn Award for Best Director and Best Supporting Actress courtesy of Veronica Cartwright. It received universal critical praise and has influenced many films that came after it.
Aliens grossed a total of $131 million worldwide and took home a total of 14 awards, including the Academy Awards for Best Sound Editing and Best Visual Effects. It was also nominated in Best Actress, Best Art Direction, Best Editing, and Best Original Score. Sigourney Weaver has been quoted as saying Aliens made the first film look like a "cucumber sandwich." Whatever that means doll. It's been given one of the few honors by various critics that it surpassed the original.
Alien
This was obviously a tough one to judge. Both these films are classics for different reasons and are not the same film, which is why both are as loved as they are. There was just something to me that was special about the original that was never duplicated. Aliens however, would not have worked the way it did if James Cameron had came along and rehashed the magic Ridley Scott created with the first film. I know there will be those who disagree with this outcome, wouldn't have it any other way. So what about it schmoes, which film holds a bigger space in your heart?

If you have an idea that you'd like to see in a future FACE OFF column, feel free to shoot an email to me at paulhuffman@joblo.com with your ideas and some ideas for the critique to base your ideas off. Thank you and in the meantime...

Which movie is your favourite?
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