Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, Carrie Henn
“We’d better get back, cause it’ll be dark soon and they mostly come at night. Mostly.” (Newt, Aliens)
It’s very rare that a sequel not only offers a complete change of pace from that of its predecessor but also manages to match it in terms of quality. Aliens is one such film, one that has a very different feel to Alien but is still a fantastic film regardless.
After her epic battle with the Alien at the end of the first movie, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) takes a well-deserved rest in her ship’s hypersleep chamber. Turns out she was a little too tired though, because she remains asleep in suspended animation for 57 years and by the time she’s found by a salvage ship and brought back to the company she used to work for she’s told her 10-year-old daughter has died of old age.
The company doesn’t believe Ripley’s stories about the parasites they found on the planet in the first film, explaining to her that there’s a colony of people living there now and they haven’t reported any problems. They suspend her from her duties for destroying their pricey mining ship in the first film, and tell her to go see a psychiatrist. That is, until a few months later, when they come crawling back and tell her that they can’t get in touch with the colonists on the planet and have the feeling something’s wrong. Hmmm, wonder what it could be, hope they’re alright.
Obviously, they’re not alright – there be Aliens all up in that bitch – but the company doesn’t know that yet, so they ask Ripley to travel there with a group of marines to act as an advisor, just in case, and in return she’ll get her license back. Reluctantly, she agrees, which is just as well otherwise there’d be no film.
The addition of marines, coupled with the fact that this time there isn’t just one Alien but a whole army of them, makes Aliens a very different film to Alien. The moments of tension remain but rather than ending in a crew member getting stealthily offed, they usually conclude with lots of gunfire, yelling and blink-and-you’ll-miss-them shots of Aliens exploding into an acidic mess of xenoguts. These guys aren’t fucking around and Aliens is all the better for it.
With all that testosterone in there and the knowledge that Ripley’s survived this before it’s hard to find a character that genuinely seems like they might be vulnerable, which is why the ingenious introduction of Newt is so important to Aliens. Newt is a 10-year-old girl whose family were killed by the Aliens and who’s managed to survive by crawling through the air ducts and other nooks and crannies of the colony complex. Other than her expert hide-and-seek skills and the fact she’s got a hell of a set of lungs on her (you’ve never heard a scream this high in your life), Newt is otherwise as vulnerable as a snowman in Barbados and so Ripley not only takes on the role of the heroine once again but also that of the protector.
The supporting cast is of a high quality throughout. Cult legends like Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein and Terminator alumni Michael Biehn and Lance Henriksen are all perfect in their wildly different roles, and Paul Reiser – usually a bad comedian – is instead a great “weasel” as he plays the company sleazeball who has a hidden motive for the mission.
Aliens has been available in two different versions for quite some time now. A Special Edition was released in 1992 which proves it’s not messing around by adding seventeen minutes to proceedings. Much of this extra footage takes place in the opening half of the film, but it adds more depth to each of there characters by showing what happened to Newt’s family, Ripley’s reaction to the death of her daughter and the like. If you get the choice between the two (and you have the time to watch a 154-minute film) I’d strongly recommend the Special Edition because the majority of the extra content is interesting stuff and only serves to increase your attachment to the characters.
Regardless of which version you watch however, it’s the final part of Aliens where everything properly kicks into high gear and it all gets crazy. The introduction of the terrifying Queen Alien is one of the greatest reveals in movie history, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if an illustration of the epic final battle was found in some dictionaries next to the word “awesome”.
Is Aliens undoubtedly better than its predecessor? No. Does that mean the original remains the best? No. Choosing which is best between Alien and Aliens is like choosing which is best between eating chocolate in the bath and playing football. Both are great, but they’re so different that it’s hard to compare them. Personally, I ever-so-slightly prefer Aliens because its focus on action and its greater number of memorable lines makes it more entertaining on repeat viewings, but this favouritism is negligible to say the least. My advice is simple – get them both and enjoy an epic four-and-a-half-hour double-bill. That way you can get stuck into a game of five-a-sides then go home, run the bubble bath and chew on your Curly Wurly to your heart’s content.
WHERE CAN I SEE IT?
As with Alien, there are loads of ways to see Aliens. You can get the DVD on its own here or get it as part of the excellent Alien Quadrilogy boxset here. You can also get the single Blu-ray edition on its own here or – and, again, this is what I recommend – as part of the Alien Anthology Blu-ray collection which can be bought for stupidly cheap here.
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