Rixflix A to Z: Aliens (1986)

Director: James Cameron (also screenplay/co-story) // 20th Century Fox; 2:17/2:34 (dir.cut); Color
Crew Notables: Walter Hill (co-story), Stan Winston (alien effects creator/2nd unit director), James Horner (AAN, music score), Adrian Biddle (Dir. of Photog.), Ray Lovejoy (AAN - Editor)
Cast Notables: Sigourney Weaver (AAN - Ellen Ripley), Carrie Henn (Rebecca "Newt" Jorden), Michael Biehn (Cpl. Dwayne Hicks), Lance Henriksen (Bishop), Paul Reiser (Carter Burke), Bill Paxton (Pvt. Hudson), William Hope (Lt. Gorman), Jenette Goldstein (Pvt. Vasquez), Al Matthews (Sgt. Apone), Mark Rolston (Pvt. Drake)
Cinema 4 Rating: 8

Sometimes when you love one film so very, very much, it makes you extremely reticent when the filmmakers wish to expand the original film into a series, or at the very least, into a sequel. When I wrote about Buckaroo Banzai a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I was glad they never went through with the promised sequel, allowing the original flick to stand on its own as a goofy and cherished artifact of its times. But at the time? Hell, I wanted a sequel more than anybody.

Not so with Alien. Even though I loved The Terminator and was damn ready to pretty much follow James Cameron through hell if I had to, I was still more than hesitant at the prospect of anyone making a sequel to my beloved 1979 sci-fi masterpiece. I had the damned thing memorized by 1986, and really didn't need anything, even an official sequel scripted and directed by a director of whom I was more than eager to see more work, to scramble my memories of that film. Still, I knew full well that I would be at that film on opening weekend, and most likely, as it turned out, on opening night, dragging my fleet of friends along with me.

So, what was I worried about? If I still consider Alien to be the superior film, we are talking degrees in the single digits here. We are talking about the difference between an A+ and an A. And if I am more given to Atmospheric Slow-Roasting Mindfucks than I am to Adrenaline-Jolting Action Flicks... well, that's a personal preference. Because as "A-JAFs" go, this one not only showed the world how to do it perfectly, but it continued the string of personal oneupsmanship that has defined Cameron's career since he started out low and cheesy with Piranha II: The Spawning in 1981. Whether this has been a good thing once he hit Titanic is purely subjective (he pretty much lost my faith in him with True Lies, though I am excited about his upcoming dual return to sci-fi), but in Aliens he topped all expectations by dazzling me with stunning set pieces like the crash on the planet surface, making even annoying military stereotypes some of the more engaging characters, scripting some great over-the-top and funny (but only slightly campy) dialogue, and staging the mother of all catfights between Sigourney Weaver's Ripley (a surprising but fully deserving nominee for an Oscar) and that "bitch" of an Alien Queen. And at the time, the expansion from a single threatening alien to an endlessly regenerating brood made it seem like the idea brought to life in the first film was like a first draft, and that Cameron had taken that germ of an idea and blown it up to epic size, showing the true breadth of the danger the aliens posed.

Yes, it turned out I loved Aliens, but watching the original just after the sequel's release reaffirmed my solidarity with Alien and its moodier, darker charms. And as much as Cameron's vision has gradually lost me over the years, I still have a great love for his slicker sequel.
If only it had stopped here...

1987 Academy Awards: 2 wins (Best Sound Effects Editing & Best Visual Effects) & 5 other nominations (Best Actress, Art Direction-Set Decoration, Film Editing, Original Score, Sound)


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