Greetings Zoners! I’m pleased to report that I caught a recent showing of Aliens at the Kimo Theatre in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The difference between Ridley Scott’s 1979 film, Alien, and James Cameron’s 1986 follow up, Aliens, has been stated and restated a thousand times. In case there’s anyone out there who doesn’t know: Alien is a horror movie; Aliens is a war movie.
I have always detected a slight critique of Cameron in the many reviewers who have made this observation. I have also always felt like that was a bit unfair.
There’s no denying that Cameron dialed up the action, but I don’t think he does it at the expense of other aspects of the film. I particularly liked the way that he uses revelations about the aliens to highlight growth and changes in Ripley. When Ripley is awakened, the world around her is calm, but her soul is in turmoil. She awakens each night with terrible nightmares about an alien bursting from her chest. All the men in her life assure her that everything is fine, which only makes her more emotionally reactive – understandably. Then, they lose contact with the terraforming colony on LV-426. The men around her become concerned, but Ripley is changed by her experience on board the Nostromo. The introduction of a threat galvanizes her. She coolly sips her tea, receives the reinstatement of her commission as a flight officer, and demands assurances that they are going with orders to destroy the aliens – not bring them back for study. Only then does she sign on.
Cameron, inspired by the Viet Nam war, has keyed into something psychologically intriguing. Ripley only seems at home when she’s under threat. The cycle repeats for the rest of the film. Ripley finds it difficult to relate to the marines, but bonds instantly with Newt – another survivor of the same war. Ripley asserts more authority as the aliens wipe away the space marines resolve and chain of command. The only time we see Ripley get a good night’s sleep is when she is sleeping next door to a couple of face huggers.
Cameron confounds our expectations at every turn. You could write a dissertation on the differences between Ash and Bishop and our relationship with technology in the years between ’79 and ’86. Heck, isn’t it great that the guy who gave us the Terminator’s next robot was Bishop?
There is a difference in quality between Alien and Aliens. Alien is better, more focused, a better psychological text and a stronger meditation on femininity and gender politics. However, Aliens has stronger action scenes, a more compelling climax, and pays more attention to all its characters, providing us with insights into the likes of Hudson, Hicks, Newt, Bishop, and Ripley.
Aliens is a great movie. It was an excellent experience on the big screen, and it comes highly recommended.
Coming to you for the first time from Out in the Void.