Sunday, September 14, 2014

Aliens


  This review is going to seem a bit odd coming from a guy who jumps at the opportunity to remind people that Aliens is his all time favorite movie. Ever. Of all time. Yes, it is a masterfully crafted experience that on it's own merits is close to being flawless... yet, it robs the original of it's mystery and subsequently takes away some of the inherent scariness. Aliens was the movie to franchise things. The term 'xenomorph' was coined for the alien creature, the colonial marines were introduced into the universe, Ripley says "Get away from her, you bitch!" and thus... things would never be the same again. Comic books, trading cards, action figures, video games, novels, you name it- Aliens is the movie that spawned all of that. Decades on, and with a legacy to boot, it's easy to look back on Aliens as the pinnacle of the franchise... but the unpopular opinion that I have been fostering myself, is that it was indeed the beginning of the end.

  The plot of Aliens is pretty straight-forward like the first one. The lone survivor of Alien, Ellen Ripley, is found on the escape shuttle from the Nostromo (the ship from the first movie) floating through space in hypersleep... after 57 years. The people who find her don't believe her wild claims about the alien creature, until they lose contact with the terraforming colonies they established on the planet from the first movie, now called LV-426. They offer Ripley her old job back if she accompanies a team of Colonial Space Marines to the planet, in case it turns out to be a "bug hunt", she can 'advise'. She agrees, under the condition that they're going back not to study the creatures or to bring them back... but to wipe them out. It's a great set up honestly. Most sequels struggle with a good plot, but this isn't bad at all. The film's tagline fits perfectly: "This time it's war."

  And war it is. As they descend to the planet, which in comparison to the pacing of the first movie, seems like at a breakneck pace- one of the marines remarks, "Express elevator to Hell, going down!" It's a catchy line, but it also perfectly describes the movie too. The closer we get to the end of the movie, the crazier things get. I mean, obviously, that's basic movie logic. Yet, director James Cameron poured so much raw intensity into the last 45 minutes of this movie, you practically have to remind yourself to breathe.  The climax of this movie seems to have multiple parts to it, each eclipsing the last in sheer tension and spectacle until we finally end with the iconic power loader vs. Queen Alien fight. At this point, you want to cheer. This time, we get to see Ripley fight back.

  On the note of the Queen Alien though, I feel like in a way, that's where things went screwy. Not that she's not an iconic and breathtaking onscreen presence... but the life cycle of the xenomorph is completely explained now. They are animals, they operate much like an insect hive, with a hunt/gather mentality. The queen lays the eggs, the eggs propagate more worker drones and the hive expands. Gone is wondering whether or not the alien is malicious or sadistic. It's not. It's just an animal, doing what it was programmed to do. A single one of these things doesn't seem so scary anymore, which is why Cameron has legitimate swarms of xenomorphs attacking the protagonists at any given moment. It's the sheer number of them that manages to be frightening now, but in a very basic way. There's nothing Lovecraftian about this movie, no sir.

  There's no mystery left to the alien creature. Something which all the subsequent movies struggled to undo to a certain extent. We had a perfect cinematic killing machine which was surrounded by this impenetrable fog of mystery, danger, and death. It easily ranks as vicious and scary as any iconic movie antagonist. Freddy, Jason, Dracula, The Terminator, you name it. However the sequel sort of strips that mystery away from it. It reduces it's actions to that of a simple animal, working on natural instinct. Which is still frightening, in the way that coming face to face with a hungry Panther might be frightening... but the alien creature is no longer the outer-space boogeyman it was in the first movie. That is why I feel that Aliens was the beginning of the end.

  Regardless of how it changed the mythos, in my opinion it is one of the best movies ever made. Due in no small part to it's heart. Ripley forms a maternal bond with a little orphaned girl who's survived against the aliens for a long time. There's just something more intense about having to put your life on the line to save someone else as opposed to the entire push of the movie being about self-preservation. Putting a kid into a mix like this was ballsy in my opinion. It's disturbing situation. Yet I think that just strengthens the bond between her and Ripley and makes for one of the most memorable on-screen dynamics ever. That's what saves this movie from being just really good, and makes it absolutely fantastic. It has heart, surprisingly.

  On it's own merits, it's an amazing thrill ride of a movie. It's been decades since it's release and to this day, you'd be hard pressed to find a sci-fi, action, horror movie any better than this. It has all the perfect elements for a big space-action/horror extravaganza. It's exciting, thrilling, scary, unnerving, and it manages to be all of this without being cheap about it, or insulting your intelligence. Complete with stunning battle sequences, a memorable cast of characters, and a fantastic score, Aliens is one movie I can easily watch over and over. I simply never tire of it.

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