Aliens (1986)

31 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

If 1979’s “Alien” is considered a science-fiction thriller, or rather a haunted-house movie set in space, then 1986’s “Aliens”—sequel to “Alien”—would be considered just a relentless series of sci-fi action sequences. And there’s not a thing wrong with that. “Aliens” is a gripping, adrenaline-fueled powerhouse of thrills, tension, and action. It throws just about everything it can think of right at you and hardly backs down.

Sigourney Weaver reprises her role as Ellen Ripley from the original “Alien.” She was the lone survivor of the terrifying events in “Alien”—when an alien creature found its way on a space ship and killed off the rest of the crew before Ripley was able to kill it. Now, a salvage crew has found the ship with her (and the loyal cat Jones) in cryonic sleep. Ripley is brought back to Earth, where she realizes how much time has passed and that her daughter is now deceased. She is also met with skepticism when she delivers her story about the alien. But an agent from the corporation—Burke (Paul Reiser)—has his suspicions when contact is lost on a vacation-planet, which also turns out to be the same planet where the alien was discovered. He plans to send a military team to check it out, and goes to Ripley to act as an advisor.

Reluctantly, she agrees, but only if none of the alien creatures of brought back to Earth.

That’s the setup to “Aliens,” which leads to absolute madness once Ripley, Burke, and the team reach the planet and discover just exactly what is living there. What they encounter are some of the nastiest, vicious, slimiest alien-monsters you’ll come across. And give special praise to Industrial Lights and Magic for making distinctive, realistic creatures that are so convincing that at times, you could actually be terrified of them, which is mainly the point of a monster movie.

Then the action picks up once the crew is forced to fight for their lives against an ever-growing army of aliens. With director James Cameron coming off the action-packed “The Terminator,” and Ridley Scott—director of the first “Alien” movie—not returning, it seemed necessary to let Cameron come in and see what he can do. Like “The Terminator,” Cameron uses a hostile, limited scenario to set up his action sequences before letting them upon us with suspense, tension, and just as important, a brisk pace. These are some pretty nifty action scenes.

Sigourney Weaver, reprising her role from the first “Alien” movie, is fantastic and makes an interesting heroine to follow. She plays Ripley as a psychologically distraught woman, stuck with the remorse of how everything on Earth has changed except for her, and now she’s forced to fight for her life, as well as the life of her surrogate daughter, on that planet. And speaking of the “surrogate daughter,” I forgot to mention the little girl that the team finds lost and alone on that planet. Her name is Newt (a nickname, I hope) and she’s put under the team’s protection as the aliens attack. This is where the human-interest part of the story kicks in—the mother/daughter relationship between Ripley and Newt. While the camaraderie among the rest of the crew is fun to watch, this relationship is the most touching in the film. I can think of many action films that don’t contain heart with its human characters amongst all the action and effects (and if the filmmakers realize that, they just force it anyway), but “Aliens” is not one of them.

The supporting actors do game jobs and their characters are fun and memorable. There’s Burke whom I’ve already mentioned, faced with the choice of doing the right thing while constantly…not. Then there’s the rest of the team—in particular, there’s Apone (Al Williams), subdued Hicks (Michael Biehn), smartass Hudson (Bill Paxton), and unflustered Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein). My favorite was Bishop (Lance Henriksen)—the quiet android on the ship that Ripley doesn’t trust, seeing as how the android on her last expedition tried to kill the crew himself in “Alien.” Ripley is on edge around him, though Bishop tries to keep his good nature and trying to remain trustworthy. Truth is, though, he may turn out to be more human than the actual humans, kind of like Mr. Spock in “Star Trek.”

From beginning to end, “Aliens” has us invested in its story. From the introduction to the discoveries to the many chases to the supposed final struggle to its twist ending, by the time this movie is over, we are exhausted by everything that has been thrown at us, but glad to have taken this journey. This is one wild ride.

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