Remember before 1997, when James Cameron actually made GOOD movies? As much as he seems to be too self-indulgent, sophomoric, and just bad at making good films after he got a blank check from Fox to do whatever he wanted, he was one of the best action movie directors of his time. Fox understood that when they asked him to do the sequel to the 1979 horror classic Alien. When confronted by the task of making it scary, Cameron laughed and had a much different idea. That it would at least equal the original in quality was a pleasant surprise.
Ripley, our heroine from the original film, learns that the planet where her crew found the xenomorph in the original film is now a terraforming territory. However, contact is lost from that territory and Ripley is sent with a crew to perform an investigation, since she knows the planet. When they get there, they discover that the colony was overtaken by a whole swarm of xenomorphs, along with the Alien Queen.
Where the original was a horror film that was structured like a slasher film in space, this film is very much a run-and-gun action film. Since most of the horror for the original was the Jaws-esque treatment of the alien (don’t show it for most of the film), Cameron knew that he couldn’t do the same with this film. So, how could he make a sequel to one of the most horrifying films ever made? Make a film that laughs at and confronts that fear with really big guns.
The thought process that went into this film was “if someone is afraid of snakes, put them in a room full of snakes.” The film is swarming with the Aliens, or xenomorphs, all still with their strengths from the first film. They still have acid blood, they still come from Facehuggers, and they are still as skillful in killing as the first film. What’s changed is the pure numbers, which has gone from one to who-knows-how-many. Ripley and the crew can’t kill them, but they can attempt to survive, which is what they try to do.
And then there are our two “motherly” leads: Ripley and the Alien Queen. Ripley finds and takes care of Newt, the little girl they find when they arrive on the colony, because she is supposed to represent the protective parent, not letting danger befall on her child. The Alien Queen has a similar role, but it’s more animalistic. The final fight between Ripley and the Alien Queen is meant to contrast the two. It is two mothers fighting to protect their children.
And that still doesn’t get into talking about James Cameron’s direction. As I said before, his strength has always been, and still is, directing action. This film acts as more of a showcase for his directing skills than anything else. In the colony, he effectively shoots it as a battlefield, with every shot emphasizing this war-like feeling. It stands as the testament that he should’ve stuck to directing action films.
Aliens works because a very skilled director got a talented action movie crew to go through hell on-screen. It is one of the most intense and entertaining films ever made because it just entertains and excites, without needless baggage bogging it down, unlike Titanic and Avatar, which were both awful.
Directed by James Cameron
Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, William Hope, Paul Reiser