Year: 1986

Production: A Brandywine Production / 20th Century-Fox

Director: James Cameron

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Paul Reiser, Carrie Henn, William Hope, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, Bill Paxton

Screenwriter: James Cameron

Based on a story by James Cameron, David Gilder, Walter Hill. Novelization (1986) by Alan Dean Foster

137 minutes, Color

This formidable sequel to Alien is more an action than a horror movie, reminiscent of all those war films and Westerns about beleaguered groups fighting to the end. Ripley (Weaver, in a fine performance), the sole survivor at the end of Alien, is sent off again with a troop of marines to the planet (now colonized) where the original alien was found. The colony has been wiped out by aliens (lots of them this time); the marines, at first skeptical, are also almost wiped out. Ripley saves a small girl (Henn), the sole colonist survivor, and finally confronts the Queen alien.

Aliens is conventional in its disapproval of corporate greed; less conventional is its demonstration of the inadequacy of the machismo expressed by all the marines, women and men. A peculiar subtext has to do with the fierce protectiveness of motherhood (Ripley and the little girl, the Queen and her eggs). This is a film unusually sophisticated in its use of sf tropes and is arguably even better than its predecessor.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction

A rarity among sequels, Aliens elaborates upon the haunted-house-in-space success of Alien (1979) by replaying all the monstrous highlights of the earlier film in the context of a different transplanted-to-space genre. Borrowing heavily from the Sam Fuller-style combat movie, Cameron, working from an outline by Walter Hill and David Giler, has Ripley (Weaver) revived after 57 years in suspended animation, and packed off to the planet of the eggs to help a group of battle-hardened space marines deal with a further outbreak of alien activity. As in the traditional World War II movie, the marines includes representatives from every possible minority group, updated to include women and androids. The plot essentially concerns a patrol, with the group wandering into danger and being picked off in a series of engagements with the enemy, until a representative survivor faces up to the main menace and triumphs, signifying the superiority of the Allied way of life. Although Cameron is plainly in love with the mix of cinematic and military hardware - one of the most pleasing devices is a perfect fusion of the two, an M-16 mounted on a steadicam harness - the film presents its marines not as the indestructible superheroes of the contemporary earthbound action movie (Cameron had co-written Rambo: The First Blood, Part 2, [1985]) but as cannon fodder thrown away by conscienceless corporation men back on Earth. When told that she needn't worry because she is being protected by well-trained troops, a blank-face child (Henn) chillingly says, " That won't make any difference."

The finish has Weaver in a robotic forklift-truck suit clashing head-on with the egg-laying Queen Alien in order to rescue the little girl, demonstrating the superiority of one brand of maternalism over the other. The extra length is used to advantage to fill in the characterizations - Weaver's Ripley being softened since the first film, and made a real person rather than an emblematic survivor - and to build up the suspense before the all-out battle scenes, which demonstrate the significant advances in special effects since the astonishing first film. Cameron, fresh from The Terminator (1984), stirs hiw own concerns - with hard-boiled heroines, biomechanics, political paranoia and relentless suspense - into the set-up of the first movie, not quite matching Ridley Scott's detailing of the deadbeat futuristic background, but certainly one-upping him insofar as suspense, character, gritty dialog, action and explosions are concerned.

The Overlook Film Encyclopedia - Science Fiction

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