Face-Off: Alien vs. Aliens

Yesterday was Alien Day, but it really takes more than just one twenty-four hour period to fully celebrate the ALIEN franchise, so we've decided to extend the festivities a bit by making the series the focus of this week's Face-Off. Several years ago, the two least popular entries in the quadrilogy went head-to-head in an ALIEN 3 vs. ALIEN RESURRECTION Face-Off, so now it's time for the two most highly regarded entries to step into the ring. Here we go, it's Ridley Scott's ALIEN vs. James Cameron's ALIENS.
Third in command on the commercial starship Nostromo, Ellen Ripley becomes the film's clear heroine through her disagreements with science officer Ash, whose decisions lead to the ship being infiltrated by the title creature. She's tough, by-the-book, concerned for the safety of the Nostromo and for the ship's cat Jonesy. She resolves to do whatever it takes to destroy the alien, no matter how drastic the measures.
James Cameron didn't create the character of Ripley, but he fully embraced her when crafting the sequel, boosting her level of badassery while also giving her a tragic maternal story to play out and something of a love interest. The xenomorphs have destroyed her life, she wakes up after a 57 year cryosleep with nothing but a determination to make sure these monstrous alien lifeforms are wiped out for good.
There are six crew members on the Nostromo aside from Ripley, each making an impression in their own way. Kane is the unlucky sap who "births" the alien, Dallas is the seasoned captain, the intensely scared Lambert has some great freak-outs, the money-minded Parker and his sidekick Brett are highly entertaining to watch, and then there's science officer Ash, who puts everyone's life in danger to serve his own secret agenda. It's a great bunch of characters, brought to life by an excellent cast.
Having a platoon of Colonial Marines take on hundreds of aliens that have already destroyed a colony means there is a ton of fodder in this film, but there are also some great characters in the mix: the cool and capable Hicks; the intensely scared Hudson, who has some hilarious freak-outs; the android Bishop, who is the opposite of his villainous predecessor Ash; fun ass-kicker Vasquez; precocious survivor Newt; and the slimeball company man Burke. It's another unforgettable bunch.
The way Scott gradually doles out the information on this creature is fascinating. The facehugger emerging from its egg and wrapping around Kane's head. The acid blood. The chestburster. Its rapid growth into a towering monster. The xenomorph doesn't come bursting out of Kane's chest until nearly an hour has passed, but it's such an amazing creation that it quickly attains genre icon status over the remaining hour. It's creepy, it's hideous, it's an incredible achievement.
Scott's lone alien was terrifying, so you'd think that having hundreds of them in a film would be even scarier, but it actually takes away from the effectiveness of the creature. The aliens are now just a swarming horde there to be mowed down, viewers cheer as we watch them get blown to pieces. As the film draws to a close, the massive Queen attempts to remind us how troublesome an individual xenomorph can be. She's cool, but she only accomplishes getting smacked around.
The chestburster scene is one of the most famous shock moments in genre history, and once the xenomorph is loose on the ship there are many more scares to be had as the creature makes its way around the ship, able to disappear into its surroundings. It's usually on top of people before they even realize it's there, even when they're tracking its movements. The most effective scare sequence for me is a journey through dark, cramped air vents that ends in the alien's waiting arms.
ALIENS has thrills, jumps, and sequences that get the adrenaline pumping, but frights are mostly traded out in favor of action. This movie is packed with gunfire and explosions. There are a couple effective uses of motion detectors, much like the air vent sequence in ALIEN. The best scare comes when the motion detectors show aliens all around even though there's no sign of them, so Hicks takes a look inside the ceiling to see multiple xenomorphs crawling toward him.
Ridley Scott's ALIEN is essentially a haunted house movie that just happens to be set on a space ship. It's a relatable vision of the future, inhabited by blue collar characters, the interior of the ship a mixture of high-tech machinery and dark, dirty work areas. That said, Scott doesn't shy away from the sci-fi wonder of his setting, filling the film with long, lingering shots of the ship and machinery, taking several minutes to show the step-by-step of multiple procedures. It would enhance my enjoyment if such sequences were trimmed; at nearly two hours, I find ALIEN to be a bit too long and slightly too slowly paced.
James Cameron paid clear tribute to Ridley Scott's style while building upon the world the previous film established, expanding the scope, upping the ante, and making ALIENS his own. It's a very different film than its predecessor and iconic in its own unique way. Even though it has bigger sequences and more action, it also has an extended running time that starts to wear out its welcome for me, with scenes that stretch on too long. I love these movies and they deserve the classic status that they have, but I think Scott and Cameron both could have been more vicious in the editing room.
My nitpicks aside, ALIEN and ALIENS are both absolutely awesome movies in their own ways, on equal footing in several categories. At the end of the day, though, it's Scott's darker, scarier film that I prefer over Cameron's action shoot 'em up. If I could choose only one Alien movie to celebrate, it would be ALIEN. Luckily, ALIENS is still there to watch afterward.

Do you agree that Scott's original takes the win over Cameron's sequel, or do you think ALIENS is the superior film? Sound off in the comments section below! If you have suggestions for future Face-Offs, I'm always open to hearing them. Send me an email at [email protected].



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