Cult Film Classic: Aliens

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For today’s Cult Movie choice, I’ve decided to look at one of my all time favourite James Cameron movies, the now classic Aliens. Cameron had quite a task on his hand as he helmed the follow up to Ridley Scott’s highly vaunted Alien, and few (least of all Cameron himself), could have foretold the films mass success. Aliens is the model for every potential sequel-maker: it completely connects  with the events of the original (even to the point of starting exactly where the drama left off), and retains all the essential elements, while completely differentiating itself as a solid movie in its own right.

The film takes off right where the original ended; with Ripley still in hyper-sleep (and unknown to her) 57 years in the future. To Ripley’s horror, she discovers the planet LV-426, where the first Alien was unwittingly discovered, has been colonised by the Nostromo’s mother company Weyland-Yutani. And wouldn’t you know it, communication has been lost. Que sending in your super team of space marines and  a tough, but very tramatised Ripley to check out the situation. So, you’ve got the tough team of marines, the ever resourceful, intelligent Ripley and a (space) load of Aliens (plus their mother), and the result is one cracking war/science fiction film.

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The films success is absolutely down to writer and director James Cameron. His solid vision, knack for shooting action scenes and complete understanding of Ripley (he does love a strong female character) meant that he was the perfect man to tackle the Aliens for the second time. Shooting was not without its problems. On location at Pinewood Studios in England, Cameron had to deal with a difficult, mutinous crew, who worshipped the ground Scott walked on and had little respect for the newbie who was only shooting his third film.  What did this Yank know? (a quote taken directly from the DVD commentary). Well, he knew how to up the anti and add more to the story — in a literal sense. There’s an army of these creatures (plus their mother and kids). The studio passed over when Sir Scott wanted to direct the follow up, opting instead for the military angle on the Alien franchise that would launch Cameron’s career into hyperspace.

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Crucial of course was his complete understanding of the aesthetics that made the first film such a success.  He accepted Sir Scott’s (and, of course, H. R. Giger‘s) design ethic; we have the aliens in all their scary, gooey glory, but their out fighting the battle instead of lurking behind you. He also took on the original writers story and expanded and developed this; he replaces the “there’s something behind you!” tactic with straight up tension and full blown views of the creatures in their beautifully, scary form.  He also knew Ripley and understood that this was her story. It’s only because of her tactics and intelligent acceptance of her fear of the aliens that enables them to even think of survival (Weaver rightly so got an Oscar nomination for the film), and the addition of Newt was ingenious; she is a mini Ripley (she too uses her wits to stay alive) and the two bond instantly.

Throw in a terrific cast (Bill Paxton is particularly brilliant), some fantastic dialogue (“get away from her you…”) and some truly suspenseful, scary moments and you’ve got one of the best sequels ever to hit the silver screen and certainly one of my all time favourites. It’s gritty, scary, nail-bitingly good and introduced real depth to Ripley’s character (and made her a feminist icon) and scarily enough, the aliens too.It simply brings the universe to another level and is, in this case, the queen above a great deal other sequels out there. Not only that, but it’s release in 1986 suddenly gave the franchise a whole new lease of life (and a new army of fans) which would cement Weaver’s cult status and inspire studios to fork out for the follow ups. (FYI: the film was nominated for  five Oscars and won two).

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A word of advice though; if like myself you want to revisit this cult classic, go for the 1992 directer’s cut as opposed to the original 1986 theatrical version. The ’92 version has over twenty minutes of extended footage (which was cut from the original as the studio thought it too long), and really adds more depth, tension and buildup to the storyline, and is as Cameron intended you to see it.  Weaver herself has stated that this is the version she prefers, so if that’s not enough to make you check it out, I don’t know what is!

Are you a fan of Aliens or do you prefer its predecessor? Tell me all your thoughts in the comments section!

Comments

  1. Great read. I think you are spot on about the Cameron’s extended cut, it adds so much impact to the relationship between Newt and Ripley knowing that Ripley’s daughter grew up without her and was dead before Ripley came out of hypersleep. It’s my favourite version by far.

  2. Jennifer says:

    Thanks Adam! Great to have another Cameron fan here on the website 😉 The directors cut is just brilliant, it’s hard to believe the studio made him release the theatrical cut!

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