“Game over, man! Game over!”
If there’s one thing that really stands out from the 1986 sequel to Aliens, 30 years later and upon reflection of the abysmal Avatar, James Cameron hates the military like a hippie, but loves destructive hardware like an eight-year-old boy. In fact, you sort of wonder if he’s ever known any military people, because his “marines” are such a disobedient, weak-willed lot, they can’t even take out a few xenomorphs (despite having experience with “bug hunts”). Having seen more accurate portrayals in recent cinema, these caricatures date the film more firmly than Paul Reiser’s suits and Sigourney Weaver’s Reeboks.
That said, it’s a great movie.
The Flower has not seen the 1979 original, but I told her that was okay because there’s not a huge connection between the two movies, which is true. Part of the reason this movie succeeds where so many fail is that it doesn’t even try to recreate the original. It borrows, of course, the titular aliens (most of their biology had been worked out for the first movie, I believe, but the budget was lacking), and gives us a little chest ‘splodin, acid bleedin’, robot-milk-blood spewin’, but rather than an old, dark house movie in space (which is what the Ridley Scott movie is), it’s a straight up action movie with Ellen Ripley back to take on the baddest mofos in the galaxy.
Accompanying her (though they think she’s accompanying them) is company man Burke (Reiser), robot Bishop (Lance Henriksen), precocious survival girl Newt (Carrie Henn) and assorted military clichés, like the tough-as-nails Sgt. Apone (Al Matthews), level-headed Corporal Hicks (Terminator‘s Michael Biehn), swaggery-but-cowardly Hudson (Bill Paxton) and, everyone’s favorite, the tough hispanic chick, Vasquez, played by lovable pale Jewess, Jenette Goldstein. Seriously, Goldstein does such a good job here, none of us realized she was white until Terminator 2, and really, really white until she played the Irish mother in steerage in Titanic. (But then, since she’s really Jewish, she isn’t really white, is she? Cultural Marxists are on the fence!)
We saw the original version, not the extended version you can see on DVD, which is about 15 minutes longer. Those are good fifteen minutes, they add a lot to the story, but you don’t need ’em (which is why they weren’t in there originally). Maybe the only really vital missing cut is one where Ripley is shown to have a child, which she doesn’t visit because it’s been 57 years since she last saw her, and which never comes up in any of the later movies either.
The special effects are almost as dated as Forbidden Planet and they also still read about as well, too. I mean, it’s really obvious that that’s a model armored car, and that’s a composite, but these shots have aged well aestehtically even if you wouldn’t be fooled (and certainly not wowed) as you were at the time. The Flower especially liked it, except for shots she thought were CGI—from what I can tell, she parses the rougher composites as CGI, which makes sense since they tend to offend the eyes (as it were) in the same way.
This, by the way, is the only real weakness of the film 30 years later (apart from the dopey anti-military bigotry): All those sweet-hot Cameron-mech displays take up time, and most of them are unnecessary and uninspiring today. On the flipside of that, though, is Cameron’s command of space. Throughout the movie you have a sense of where things are, where people are going, how scenes connect to one another. I mentioned this in the Phantasm review, the way director Coscarelli’s command of space makes the scenes feel connected and the spaces real, even when very limited. But if it’s big for horror, it’s probably even bigger for action. Without a sense of where things are, action becomes mere kinetics. (By the way, I think this is why the rare musical dance numbers these days tend not to work, too: As an audience, if we sense too much trickery-through-editing, we are much less invested in what’s going on.)
Anyway, The Boy and The Flower both liked it a lot, and we’re hoping the original Alien comes around soon.