Aliens (1986)
February 17, 2021 8:50 PM - Subscribe

Fifty-seven years after surviving an alien loose aboard her ship, first officer Ripley finds herself returning to the planet where she first encountered the creature.

"THIS TIME IT'S WAR"

Aliens trailer [yt] -- It spoils the movie, but damn, it gets the heartbeat up every time I watch it.

Notes on watching "Aliens" for the first time again, with a bunch of kids by Matt Zoller Seitz

Ebert (3.5/4): "Aliens" is absolutely, painfully and unremittingly intense for at least its last hour. [...] I have never seen a movie that maintains such a pitch of intensity for so long; it's like being on some kind of hair-raising carnival ride that never stops. [...] I was drained. I'm not sure "Aliens" is what we mean by entertainment. Yet I have to be accurate about this movie: It is a superb example of filmmaking craft.

Wikipedia has more on how the movie was received and the awards it was nominated for and won. The critics all praised Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, who went on to be nominated for a Globe and an Oscar for Best Actress (she lost both to Marlee Matlin for Children of a Lesser God).

Poster's thoughts:
The key here is Signourney Weaver as Ripley. Ripley survived the first movie. She is the only one who knows what the Marines are up against. She is the one who doesn't want to go back to the planet, but once there and stuff goes sideways, she takes control of the situation and does her best to make sure as many people get out as possible. She is also extremely motivated after they discover Newt the little girl; Ripley has recently learned her own daughter died of old age waiting for her to come home and Ripley has a chance to save Newt.

Actors don't get nominated for sci-fi or action, so Weaver's noms were and remain a big deal. She is well supported by the Marines, the android Bishop, and the little girl Newt. Even Burke, a typical 80s company man, is brilliant in his sliminess. (Check out this analysis of an early scene: great acting by Reiser and direction by Cameron.) The movie wouldn't have worked without all of them doing their thing, from Hudson and his one-liners to Hicks' cool professionalism to Vasquez' steely confidence living in a guys' world. And of course, all credit is due to Cameron for writing the script and directing a sequel as good as Alien itself.

This is a great movie and I wish I could watch it again for the first time.
posted by Fukiyama (51 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
James Cameron directed the only two movies that bothered me as a child. "Aliens" was one of them. I was lucky we taped over it. When I finally watched it again years later, it was with fresh eyes. Not only is "Aliens" a great, great movie, a personal favorite, but its also a touchstone of two different parts of my childhood.
posted by Stuka at 9:28 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


Surprised this hasn't shown up on FanFare before. Yes, this is solidly in my top list of movies.

As a youth, I preferred 'Aliens' over 'Alien.' Now, they're co-equal - they are quite different movies even moreso than the transition from 'The Terminator' to 'T2: Judgement Day.'

What struck me originally, and resonates decades later, is the anti-corporatism. Paul Reiser is fully in 80's mode (perhaps sans cocaine) but that shit is eternal. I actually like Alien 4 ('Resurrection') because everyone is sick of corpo shit but just goes along with it because money.

Newt (the little girl) was surprisingly non-annoying and my biggest gripe with Alien3. Producers didn't have the courage to explore the scenario (ultra-violent genetically-predisposed-to-toxic-masculinity prisoners - but that's a different discussion) and a peri-pubescent girl.

Michael Biehn - 'The Terminator' (1984) and 'Aliens' (1986) - ended up petering out afterwards. I have no idea if his range is so limited, or if he's a bad person, or if he pissed certain people off?

The Colonial Marines got a little bit of Stormtrooper incompetence treatment, but this is after all a Viet Nam War inspired flick. Shame it didn't show underlying structural weaknesses of the fighting force to counter the Gung Ho attitude and swagger.

But - given sharing an universe with 'Bladerunner' and 'Soldier' - it could be deliberate as a morale thing in the face of obsolescence/ third-rate organisation.

Sigourney Weaver absolutely carried the franchise and I'm glad the money people involved acknowledged that. 'T2' was released in '91 so production was probably concurrent/ ignorant between 'T2' and 'Aliens' - ? I'm not sure I've ever heard of Hamilton or Weaver commenting on the other's roles.
posted by porpoise at 10:40 PM on February 17 [1 favorite]


But - given sharing an universe with 'Bladerunner' and 'Soldier' -

??? Er....

---

I saw this at a now-defunct movie palace in my hometown at a preview, a few days before general release. I was with two friends and we were so excited by it that we walked home (45 minutes or so) in a driving thunderstorm just to talk about it. It holds up pretty well now, I think, but part of the experience derived from living in the era where spoilers were actually easy to avoid. We were hugely eager to see it, but in the eighties tracking down every scrap of information about a huge sf movie ahead of release meant maybe having seen the trailer twice, poring over six production stills in Starlog, reading the two-page story there, and watching Entertainment Tonight for a week in case there was a three-minute segment about it.

It's also the movie that more or less ended my notion of watching a movie on commercial TV. Somewhere around 1990 or so it ran on ABC with extra footage never before seen. It is the stuff that any fan has now seen, of course, on a DVD release (Ripley learning about her daughter, a few seconds of the sentry guns defending the bolthole, maybe one or two bits more) but this was years before DVDs and watching it in prime time was tortuous. Whatever one thinks of it, it is an immaculately paced movie. Pausing that story every eight minutes to see a pickup truck driving on a mountain road CLOSED COURSE PROFESSIONAL DRIVER DO NOT ATTEMPT and then to see some dancing rabbits sing a song about toilet paper five times in an hour destroys the story entirely.

Seeing it for the first time is a thrilling memory, and years later I learned that a friend of a friend was one of the Marines (which always delights me every time I have met him), but I realize that part of my associations I have for Aliens are a mixture of nostalgia for a thousand-seat-theatre and the recalled feel of a different media landscape and just being a teenager.

The the theatre closed down three years later (I was there on the final night for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). The Alien franchise eventually sputtered out with Alien vs Predator movies, and then came back to a sort of sad unlife with Ridley Scott's latter-day underwhelming efforts. Of the two friends I walked home in the rain with, chattering about it, one is five years dead and the other I haven't seen in decades.

If it were released today, I don't think I'd enjoy it a quarter as much as I did then. Really, I suspect I could not enjoy anything in quite the same way I did then. Gather ye rosebuds.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:16 PM on February 17 [9 favorites]


??? Er....

Are you complaining about my using 'an' in front of a word starting with 'u' ? =)

It's as close to cannon without anyone outright admitting it outside of optical-media director's commentary.

The first and second 'Predator' movies were great, but directly bringing the conflict between two extraterrestrials to Earth was a misstep. Perhaps over-compensated for in 'Predators' - yet another movie which I will defend and take injury for.


Agreed, though. Aliens success was boosted because of its release date (qv Terminators) and viewer environment. Then again, I wonder how much of it has to do with 'founder antipathy' (ie., the novels 'Lord of the Rings' gets slagged by young people who've read derivative works before reading the influencing source material, then ignorantly decry the source material as derivative).


I recall originally being amused with Bishop doing the knife/ hand trick - only recently read that Bill Paxton went into the scene cold to the fact that the other actors would hold his hand down for it and that his WTF!DUDES! response was kind of natural.
posted by porpoise at 12:09 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]


Predators was great.

I remember it being said that Alien/Terminator are horror films, while Aliens/T2 are action films. And casting Al Matthews as Sgt Apone was brilliant. (Drop ship prep)

I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.
posted by mikelieman at 1:49 AM on February 18 [2 favorites]


I recall originally being amused with Bishop doing the knife/ hand trick - only recently read that Bill Paxton went into the scene cold to the fact that the other actors would hold his hand down for it and that his WTF!DUDES! response was kind of natural.

On the Alien set, they didn't tell the cast about the chestburster, and their reactions are unscripted. Veronica Cartwright was not acting.
posted by mikelieman at 2:00 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]


??? Er....

Later movies put them into the same universe. Soldier includes references to battles at places like the Tannhauser Gate, and Prometheus links the Blade Runner/Soldier universe to the Alien one. But AFAIK when they were making Aliens and Alien3, nobody had any connection to Blade Runner in mind.

In Alien IIRC they knew that there was going to be a chestburster but the crew made the actual take vastly messier than the rehearsals, which is what caught them out.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 3:53 AM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Hard to know what to add to the conversation about this film after all this time. I will say that my initial viewing experience was one of my best theater going experiences ever. I saw it at Penn State back when they screened films on campus a few months after they left theaters for $1. People would get pretty stoned and/or drunk before the shows. So everyone was pretty wasted and hissed loudly at Paul Rieser every time he was on the screen and cheered when he got eaten. Everyone went totally crazy at the end with the "you bitch" line and when the queen finally got airlocked.
posted by octothorpe at 5:47 AM on February 18


Small thing that I've appreciated for a while: in an art history grad seminar on photography, we talked a bunch one night about the way that the technological development of gun and camera technologies were really closely intertwined. Maybe a week later, I watched Aliens, and started laughing when I realized that the heavy guns that some of the marines have, the ones that mount to their waists, are actually Steadicam rigs that have been repurposed into cool guns by the prop department.
posted by COBRA! at 6:27 AM on February 18 [3 favorites]


One of the rare instances where a sequel is at least as good as its predecessor.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 6:34 AM on February 18


Michael Biehn - 'The Terminator' (1984) and 'Aliens' (1986) - ended up petering out afterwards. I have no idea if his range is so limited, or if he's a bad person, or if he pissed certain people off?

What the Hell Happened to Michael Biehn?
posted by Stuka at 8:08 AM on February 18 [3 favorites]


This movie periodically gets rehashed on the blue, and at first I didn't know what else I had to say about it... but when I thought about it, I realized that I'm not sure exactly when I saw it first. It definitely wasn't in the eighties; its release was coincident with the summer after I graduated from college, a time in my life when I had almost literally no money to speak of, and, since I hadn't seen the first movie (being too young at the time to get into an R film, and my guardians not generally being interested in taking me to a slasher-movie-in-space film), I skipped it. I might have begged/borrowed the admission price off of someone if I'd known that the Terminator guy had directed it, though. By the time that I did see it, I think that the "game over, man, game over" and "nuke it from orbit, it's the only way to be sure" memes had already permeated geek fandom in general, although not necessarily in the way that we think of memes as captioned graphics nowadays.

But anyway. It's still one of my go-to "I'm in the kind of mood where I don't want to get wrapped up in an unfamiliar story, but I want something that will hold my attention" movies, if you catch my drift. One of the extraordinary things about this movie as compared to the first one (and speaking of threads on the blue, one perennial favorite comment of MeFites is The First One is Better, something that I don't necessarily agree with) is that Cameron, more than once, will cut to a shot of Weaver's face... and just stay there for a few seconds, to get Weaver's reaction to something. And Weaver uses that attention well, modulating her expression very slightly, especially in the early scenes when Burke is making his offer to take her back to LV-426. She's also got much more in the way of great dialogue than just the meme-friendly stuff; after her bit about nuking the site from orbit, Burke starts going on about the dollar value of the site, and Ripley--probably mindful about all the grief that the Weyland-Yutani execs gave her during her debriefing about self-destructing the Nostromo--goes, "They can bill me!" Similarly, before she gears up, there's the scene where Hicks shows her how to use the gun and grenade launcher that's also kind of fun.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:20 AM on February 18 [4 favorites]


A great and very unusual film. It manages that rare feat in filmmaking where there is almost no wasted line of dialog or shot, every little thing either furthers the plot, lays the foundation for something that happens later, compounds the themes of the film, or adds to character development.

Cameron is an absolute master of this (even in junk like Rambo: First Blood Part II) when he wants to be, which isn't all the time but here he is on fire with smart choices. In fact, the directors cut of Aliens is a significantly worse film in my opinion because it adds in some of the fat that had to be dumped for time.

One of my favorite scenes is when Bishop shows the team the flare from the atmospheric processing plant. He never actually says "This is going to blow up soon" - it is obvious to the characters and the film makes it obvious to us through clever directing and dialog.

I could also write a dissertation about Ripley in this film. Her journey from outsider to moral (and actual) center of the team has never been better done. None of the other sequels or countless ripoffs really get it right.
posted by AndrewStephens at 9:26 AM on February 18 [4 favorites]


The biggest difference between "Alien" and "Aliens" is the worldbuilding. Yes, "Alien" laid the foundation for the franchise, basically inventing the blue collar sci-fi subgenre. But aside from the scenes when the crew is discussing profit shares and when Lambert is attemping to contact Earth traffic control, the world of "Alien" is limited to the immediate storyline.

On the other hand, "Aliens" does a magnificent job of fleshing out the world Ripley lives in. We see Gateway Station. We see the executive meeting (corporate honchos, Colonial Administration, ICC) that decides Ripley's fate. We see Ripley's minimum-living-space apartment. And all of that is before we even get to the Sulaco, the Colonial Marine grunts, and the colony.

As far as worldbuilding and establishing the franchise, where "Alien" was an appetizer, "Aliens" was a full course meal.
posted by Stuka at 9:35 AM on February 18 [4 favorites]


It's as close to cannon without anyone outright admitting it outside of optical-media director's commentary.

That’s a very odd approach to take. GCU S&FoG has the right of it above. When Blade Runner and Aliens were being made, there was no intent on anyone’s part to have them in the same setting and a throwaway joke or two later isn’t much of a hook to hang canon on. TVTropes terms this post facto connection Canon Welding and it’s more like a “did you know...?” sort of trivia question than a realistic way to view how the movies are related to one another. It’s all fun to bring up that Knight Rider is part of the Star Trek setting, but that level of analysis eventually leads us to asserting that all filmed narrative ever (as well as consensual reality itself) is merely the very involved daydreams of Tommy Westphalia.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:32 AM on February 18 [6 favorites]


Biehn definitely got typecast into "military guy" roles but he seems to have pretty steady work as a on-screen or voice actor, even if the quality of the projects declined over time.
posted by AndrewInDC at 12:42 PM on February 18


Besides being one of the greatest action movies ever, it's also one of the best sequels ever - instead of trying to recapture the same experience as the original film, it went to a different genre. This is one of those Cameron films that's full of perfect little thumbnail sketches of the characters to flesh out the supporting characters. Cameron really did do his best work when he was collaborating with Gale Anne Hurd.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:48 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


I picked up the Blu-Ray box set of all the "canon" Alien movies for cheap over Christmas, to give me a bit of a refresher before (one day) running the Alien RPG with some buds. The first two movies in the series, director's cut or not, are impeccable.

Alien 3 I used to have a real soft spot for and still kind of do, but, man, the effects team really dropped the ball on that one. Absolutely awful alien model and insertion work, that is so in-your-face on Blu-Ray that it's basically unwatchable.

I'll view Resurrection again one day, when I'm sufficiently drunk, but that's doubly-tainted now by a) being shit and b) being Whedon.

Prometheus and Covenant are just the pits. Easily some of the stupidest films of the last couple of decades.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:12 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Biehn definitely got typecast into "military guy" roles but he seems to have pretty steady work as a on-screen or voice actor, even if the quality of the projects declined over time.

He had a small role in the most recent season of The Mandalorian. He is now in his mid-sixties and it took me a minute or two to recognize him. Ironically, I initially thought I was looking at Lance Henriksen.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:07 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


The first two movies in the series, director's cut or not, are impeccable.

Alien 3 I used to have a real soft spot for and still kind of do...

I'll view Resurrection again one day, when I'm sufficiently drunk...

Prometheus and Covenant are just the pits.


I’ve said before that the Alien franchise has been unlike anything before or since (although the MCU may have surpassed it) in that it didn’t hand off the subsequent instalments to jobbers, but kept giving it to auteurs and visionaries. Well, the studio didn’t really intend to do it that way, as Cameron and Fincher showed every sign at the time of being jobbers but they were both on their way up. Even the first AvP movie wound up with Paul W S Anderson, a sort of b-movie auteur (the second one wound up in the hands of a pair of dickheads who didn’t understand how lighting worked, much less the theme of the movie.)

I think in a better world than this, Cronenberg did an Alien movie.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:15 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


I saw this movie when I was a grad student; my usual fare was Kurosawa or Renoir at the art house and I hadn't seen "Alien". I think I went to see Weaver. I came out barely able to walk. Wow.
posted by acrasis at 3:56 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


I think in a better world than this, Cronenberg did an Alien movie.

Oh, I would watch the hell out of that!
posted by Thorzdad at 5:40 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


If I may, some favorite lines that aren’t necessarily the most famous:

“Whatever you’re gonna do, do it fast!”
“Drake, we are leaving!” (I love Biehn’s urgency and inflection here)
“You always were an asshole, Gorman.”
“Why don’t you put her in charge?” (Great exhausted despair from Paxton)

I also love the moment when Bishop is handed a gun as he gets into the pipe that leads to the satellite, and hands it right back.
posted by schoolgirl report at 6:34 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


Michael Biehn - 'The Terminator' (1984) and 'Aliens' (1986) - ended up petering out afterwards. I have no idea if his range is so limited, or if he's a bad person, or if he pissed certain people off?

He was pretty memorable as the main human antagonist in The Abyss (1989) and only slightly less so in Tombstone (1993) as Doc's foil Johnny Ringo, then relegated to a smaller but kinda similar-to-Hicks professional soldier role by The Rock (1996).
posted by Pryde at 7:10 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


I think the first time I saw this was on TV in 1989 or '90 as a kid in Miami. It had the sentry gun scene that was cut from the cinema release (I think). That shit was tense, as was everything else in this movie. I never want to go into combat after seeing this.

As a film, Aliens is, to force Sgt. Apone's words into a context of my own making, "absolutely badasses."
posted by heteronym at 7:42 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


I think in a better world than this, Cronenberg did an Alien movie.

I agree. I mean, very close to this world, Blomkamp did the Gibson script. Which...that would certainly have been a thing.

(I know, Gibson's script was for 3 and Blomkamp was in pre-production for 5, but still!)
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:22 PM on February 18 [1 favorite]


Ebert (3.5/4): "Aliens" is absolutely, painfully and unremittingly intense for at least its last hour. [...] I have never seen a movie that maintains such a pitch of intensity for so long; it's like being on some kind of hair-raising carnival ride that never stops.

John Carpenter's The Thing says hi. To those who have seen both, which scene do you think is more intense, the scene where Ripley and Newt are trapped with a face hugger or the scene where MacReady, armed with a flame thrower, performs a blood test on the remaining crew members to determine who can be trusted and who gets torched? It's close, but I give the nod to the blood test.

Don't forget that Biehn played Ringo in Tombstone.

Aliens 3 ruined Aliens for me, which is why I hate it. I think it was a horrible mistake to completely negate the rescue of Newt.

PS, I love this post sooooo much.
posted by Beholder at 8:29 PM on February 18 [3 favorites]


If I may, some favorite lines that aren’t necessarily the most famous:

Mewstly there is one line I quote. Mewstly.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:30 PM on February 18 [4 favorites]


To those who have seen both, which scene do you think is more intense...

Ooh, that's tough until you metagame it and figure out what both Carpenter and Cameron were doing in the 80s. For me I think it's the scene from The Thing, because honestly, who are these people? With the exception of Kurt, maybe, the world this movie has set up is one where pretty much literally anything can happen.

With Aliens, we know Ripley is a badass and a survivor and will do whatever she can to protect her surrogate daughter (although, if I remember correctly we only know this if we've seen the Director's Cut, because I don't think her real daughter was explicitly mentioned in the original cut, or in the first movie).

That said, both scenes are tense as ffffuuuuuuuu-
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:53 PM on February 18 [2 favorites]


I've always wondered if this film was the first to do the thing where the soldiers' vitals are being monitored on remote screens, and a bunch of them flatline suddenly. Such a brilliant trick, it lets you preserve the tension/chaos of a dark and claustrophobic battleground, while also making it crystal clear how terribly things are going.
posted by equalpants at 2:15 AM on February 19 [3 favorites]


So much to like about this movie. The fact that it successfully creates a "new" vision from the familiar elements of the first film. The great pre-CGI effects. The Syd Mead design stuff. The visceral motion of the scene where the lander drops (but why does the pilot wear sunglasses?). The out of control, tumbling lander with people scrambling in the foreground (maybe done with rear-projection?). The smarmy, dislikeable corporate jerk. The plucky little girl. Ripley as "mom" against the alien queen as "mom." The power suit battle. The automated gun stations mowing down aliens who JUST KEEP COMING! The fact that you know that bragging marine is going to be the first one crying for mommy. Bishop, who you can't possibly trust because of the first film, but who turns out good. The scene where Ripley turns from bystander to kick-ass leader because the other guy freezes. Aliens under the floor! In the ceilings! Everywhere! It's no wonder all the subsequent movies were disappointing…you can't really top this one. One dislike: The musical score…where you can just hear the composer having to recreate the "roughcut music" because the director said, "I want it to sound just like the Gayne Ballet Suite."
posted by jabah at 7:19 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


The two movies after this weren't nearly as great, but they were failures in interesting ways. Alien3 came about as the result of a lengthy and somewhat cursed development which had a William Gibson script early on (described by Gibson himself as "Space commies hijack alien eggs—big problem in Mallworld"; you can read it here), and at another point a satellite made of... wood? I guess? Anyway, Fincher's final film is interesting, and even kind of bold in how it breaks away from the tropes in the previous films, but I also thought that it was callous in how it indifferently disposed of Newt and Hicks, and didn't really come up with compelling replacement characters of its own. When I try to remember who was in it, there was Charles S. Dutton's character, mostly because he's wearing glasses; Charles Dance's character, mostly because he sleeps with Ripley; and Human Bishop (also played by Lance Henriksen), because he's the template for Bishop the android. There are a number of exceptional character actors in it, but they don't get a lot to do except run from the critter; I had forgotten that Pete Postlethwaite was in it until I looked at Wikipedia, which is not really a problem with anything else that he's been in.

Alien: Resurrection is a different sort of problem; I think that it's an example of a great director and a great script that are utterly unsuited to each other. Joss Whedon's problems have been rehashed a lot, especially lately, and there are moments in the script that remind you of them, sometimes painfully so; the character of Call is badly underwritten (despite Winona Ryder getting equal billing with Weaver) and the sleazy merc captain refers to her as "severely fuckable". But the story itself is pretty tight and the obvious laugh lines could have worked, for the most part, if the film had had a director who could work with them or even just seemed to understand that they were supposed to be funny, and that director was not Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Jeunet has a striking visual imagination, and the film has its own distinct look and feel that isn't strictly Gigeresque, but a lot of the best lines fall flat and often he doesn't seem to be that interested in what his characters are actually saying. Alien-Ripley is pretty terrifying most of the time, but then she'll open her mouth and say something like "who do I have to fuck to get off of this ship?" and it's just awkward.

As for The Thing, it's a really different premise, so I don't know that there's that much comparison, aside from the basic set-up of a small group of people who are isolated and in a relatively fragile enclosed environment at the mercy of the critter. Alien only had one character whose nature was hidden from the others--although that ended up being kind of terrifying when he finally went apeshit--and Aliens' rogue character, Burke, was never really that trustworthy in the first place; the nicer he tries to be to Ripley, the less I trusted him. (Speaking of The Thing, one of the things about it that I found the most disturbing was wondering if some of its assimilations were done so subtly that the victims weren't fully conscious of it during the process; obviously the guys who were infected during that interrogation/testing scene were aware of it, but what about the ones who didn't know what was happpening at first?)
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:22 AM on February 19 [1 favorite]


I got to (re-re-re-re-re-re-re)watch in the cinema a few years back and, like Alien, it's such a better experience when you get to see it in full glory and the audio design really gets to do its thing. (And like Alien, watching reactions in the audience from people who've never seen the film before is excellent.)

Like most others I don't really have anything new to add to Alien(s) discourse in 2021 but I will give an obligatory shout-out to the (military industrial) design in the film. Everything looks and sounds like ugly bulky gear, designed for heavy use in hostile environments. The deep thunks of metal on metal, hydraulic hissing and shitty digital read-out beeps all coalesce nicely in the loader. It's a forklift with feet and looks like it's a forklift with feet rather than a tactical deus ex mech suit.

Compared to Alien this one has a bit less of the wet organic Giger design in the form of an alien ship to contrast all the hard-edged mechanics. It does play with the idea of the aliens being highly adaptable to their environment and subsuming it, even going so far as to make the colony (heh) a fertile breeding ground.

And yes, if you are watching this for the first time or showing it to someone else, do not watch the director's cut. While some of the scenes don't hurt the film (more Ripley at the start, auto-turrets firing) introducing Newt & the colony in a scene before the marines get there is a massive misstep. That scene removes the question of "what if Ripley is wrong". I mean, yes, the movie is called Aliens and we all know she's right, but having the movie answer that question immediately removes that tension entirely. It also makes the eventual landing onto the colony feel less, well, alien.
posted by slimepuppy at 8:18 AM on February 19 [3 favorites]


Notes on watching "Aliens" for the first time again, with a bunch of kids by Matt Zoller Seitz

This was a fun read as the dad of a kid approaching an age where they could watch stuff like this.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:31 AM on February 19


Aliens 3 ruined Aliens for me, which is why I hate it. I think it was a horrible mistake to completely negate the rescue of Newt.

Me too. This ^^^ a thousand times. I gave myself permission years ago to expel Alien 3 and the subsequent ones from my personal head canon. I even came up with an in-universe explanation-- they are just bad dreams Ripley has in the suspension chamber on the way back to somewhere safe.
posted by seasparrow at 8:38 AM on February 19 [2 favorites]


Re: favorite scenes
I hesitate to single any one scene out, but I always have a soft spot for the face huggers loose scene, specifically the part where Newt has one pinned by the tail against the wall and she's holding it back desperately. She looks over and yells, "HUDSON!" and he comes over, takes over pinning the face hugger with his boot, and calls for Newt to look out before wasting it. The Ripley/Newt relationship always gets highlighted, but it's details like what I've described that really add heart to the movie. Newt knows Hudson by name and Hudson saves her with extreme prejudice. Another little detail like this is in operations when they are all gathered around a map of the complex and Newt is trying to see and Hicks picks her up and sits her on the edge of the table so she can look with all the adults.

Re: extended edition
It's interesting what made it into the different versions over the years and what I remember. I would have first seen Aliens on HBO or Cinemax after it made it onto cable when its run in the theaters was over. And I am pretty sure that it was more or less the theatrical version EXCEPT that it had the scene where Ripley learns the fate of her daughter. This really stands out for me because I remember seeing the movie on VHS or maybe DVD and it confused the hell out of me because it didn't have that scene. I don't remember anything about the early colony scenes or the sentry guns.
posted by Fukiyama at 10:02 AM on February 19 [3 favorites]


For me, it took a while to appreciate Aliens properly; the consensus when I was in junior high was that Aliens was great and Alien sucked, and I so violently disagreed (and I was right) that it was many years before I realized that Aliens was good on its own terms. I never grasped this before, but Aliens must have been a huge influence on the Paul Verhoeven of RoboCop and Starship Troopers.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:01 PM on February 19


they are just bad dreams Ripley has in the suspension chamber on the way back to somewhere safe

Well she only has herself to blame for that.
posted by biffa at 2:30 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


I first saw Aliens on ropey VHS at a mate's house on a revision after during my O levels. I've seen it since in all its variations, pirated on a different VHS with Egyptian subtitles, on DVD, with and without Norwegian subtitles, original cut and special edition. Its the film I've seen more than any other, and my favourite action film. A while ago someone was talking about it in a thread and mentioned how it is fast paced in a way that 1980s action films often aren't. I was watching the special edition at about the same time and it struck me that there is actually not a lot in the way of action for the first hour. A whole hour. Vasquez doesn't rock until about 63 minutes. Build up, set up, characterisation, human conflict, but it all works - it keeps you engaged and then gives you an hour of it cutting loose. I love it.
posted by biffa at 2:45 PM on February 19 [1 favorite]


I had this and Transformers The Movie on the same VHS tape when I was in Grade 3. Transformers was first and after watching that Aliens would start up and it got too scary real quick so I'd rewind the tape back to the beginning so that I could watch Transformers again later. Our TV was in the basement and usually I was watching it all by myself so yeah it was pretty scary. I probably ended up watching Aliens in full after a couple of months when some friends or cousins came over for a sleepover and after that I watched it many more times, because it's not like we had tons of movies to watch, but still not as often as Transformers. I didn't see Alien until I was in high school which was a more appropriate age to watch it.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:21 PM on February 19


Build up, set up, characterisation, human conflict, but it all works - it keeps you engaged and then gives you an hour of it cutting loose. I love it.

Hitchcock said something to the effect of, “There is no terror in a bang. Only in the anticipation of it.” That tension that Cameron pulls off here is superb; as well, he is using some great shorthand here for the characters — the Colonial Marines are basically a Vietnam war movie cast in spaaaaaace, the same way the first movie was essentially a bunch of oil rig workers (and the third was eleven Brits with shaved heads and no character development, which is why it didn’t work a tenth as well).
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:38 PM on February 19 [2 favorites]


A lot has been said about how this isn't a horror movie it's a war movie, but I think there is some area of overlap because war is horrifying. And one of the common way horror movies work is to draw you in and make you think, "What would I do in that situation?" Aliens is incredibly good at drawing out that feeling, I think in part because the characters respond logically by what the audience is thinking too (often with Hudson as the voice of the audience). Fucking kill Burke. And why not nuke the site from orbit? And yeah no I'm not going through that pipe.

Alien was pretty good that way too, and I think this may be part of why Prometheus for example seems so bad in comparison, because all the characters are just doing a bunch of dumb fucking shit all the time all the way through the whole goddamn movie; it's not engrossing or terrifying it's just annoying.

I always have a soft spot for the face huggers loose scene, specifically the part where Newt has one pinned by the tail against the wall and she's holding it back desperately

Also when Newt turns on a dime from holding her doll and screaming to teeth-gritting fighting that facehugger. And yeah Hudson being the one to help out is also good, he is in a way the most childish of the troops, he is like a dorky brother.

A whole hour. Vasquez doesn't rock until about 63 minutes.

One thing I like about this movie is how Vazquez's bravado falls away the scarier things get, until she is saying, "Hudson may be right," in a normal tone. The competent and brave Vazquez is not dumb soldier machismo Vazquez.

Another tiny touch I like is when they are landing the first time, and the pilot says, "Where's the beacon? Oh I see it," or something like that, and like, there's just nothing on the screen to see until a few seconds later, and I think it's saying just, this pilot has really good/experienced eyes.

Off the top of my head I can't think of another actiony/scifi movie that humanizes its supporting cast quite as well as this.
posted by fleacircus at 1:00 AM on February 20 [6 favorites]


Off the top of my head I can't think of another actiony/scifi movie that humanizes its supporting cast quite as well as this.

It really helps that the background Marines fill out the background and aren't just extra bodies to take up space. Like when they are coming out of hypersleep and Apone says, "Crowe, Ski, time to wake up!" They are background Marines but they are still name checked. And later during the drop, there is this exchange:

"I gotta bad feeling about this drop."
"You always say that Frost. You always say, 'I gotta bad feeling about this drop.'"
"I'll call your folks when we make it back without cha."

Who is Frost talking to there? If my memory serves, that's not Hicks', Hudson's, or Drake's voice. So it has to be either Crowe or Ski bantering with Frost. Again, a nice touch to include the background Marines.
posted by Stuka at 10:12 AM on February 20 [1 favorite]


It could have been Spunkmeyer.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 1:25 PM on February 20 [1 favorite]


PROTIP: If you need an elevator to get back to the LZ, jam the door open so it doesn't wander off to another floor, and you're not standing there pushing the buttons to make the elevator come faster.
posted by mikelieman at 2:49 PM on February 20


This is a great movie and I wish I could watch it again for the first time.
I saw it, near its debut, in a London West-end cinema and have vivid recollections not only of the number of people in the audience who were screaming - not just in isolated moments but in the manner of roller coaster passengers. I also remember that this included my supposedly nonchalant mate Sean who was sitting right next to me - and who was awfully sheepish about it afterwards.
posted by rongorongo at 11:20 PM on February 20


Watching again the interactions between Ripley and Hicks, it was definitely something I can't remember seeing between male and female characters in other 80s films I grew up with. I'm certain those exchanges contributed to how displays of masculinity worked in Pacific Rim and other films since.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 12:03 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]


I was thinking about this movie last night with a fresh perspective after reading all the comments here and something occurred to me.

We know Cameron wrote Aliens with Vietnam in mind and US troops being overconfident with all their technology in going into battle. But last night I realized Cameron wasn't exactly playing fair in the movie. The Marines have all this tech. Hudson in the deleted scene during the drop rattles off all different types of badass weaponry they have at their disposal. BUT Cameron creates a situation where they can't use any of that tech due to the reactor. And he couples this disarming of the Marines with Gorman being in over his head.

Once the Marines get out, are able to salvage what's left of their gear, and are led competently by Ripley and Hicks, they fare a lot better.
posted by Fukiyama at 9:26 AM on February 21 [1 favorite]


Off the top of my head I can't think of another actiony/scifi movie that humanizes its supporting cast quite as well as this.

Thinking about this more... In a moment of maximum lame 80s dork feeling I realized that Die Hard is another movie like this, with a second ring of cast members around the main characters that feel relatively human and realistic in small ways. Maybe it's about seeming to have a inner life away from the plot. The FBI guys in DH are shallow as hell, but they have their own kind of inner life and worldview, which is not the same as the city worker they tell to shut it down now.

One person who REALLY sucks at this is Christopher Nolan. No side character has a shred of inner life, and main characters kinda don't either. Imagine how fucking flat and terrible Nolan's Die Hard would be omg. In the power shutoff scene it would be like a distracting bustle of technology and pointless action, with all the characters moving as if they had one mind and organizational allegiance. Probably they wouldn't say anything at all, bc that's covered by Gruber's exposition.

Aliens is a little unique in that the characters start out pretty Flanderized and it kind of peels that back (as Ripley gets to know them too). So they get some depth that way. A lot of horror, as well, starts off with goofballs who get their characters kinda deconstructed.

I would say, like, Predator fails at all this. Most movies do, even I think some like Annihilation that have richer side characters but nevertheless they are not really allowed to breathe, they're just there to deliver something as efficiently as possible without any glorying in them as actual people living their own lives in small ways moment to moment.

Your fave would never let a henchman grab a candy bar.
posted by fleacircus at 10:17 AM on February 21 [3 favorites]


I think the movie’s virtues are self-evident but the farther into life I get the less I’m able to overlook Jenette Goldstein in brownface in order to enjoy the film.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 7:07 AM on February 24 [1 favorite]


Like most others I don't really have anything new to add to Alien(s) discourse in 2021 but I will give an obligatory shout-out to the (military industrial) design in the film. Everything looks and sounds like ugly bulky gear, designed for heavy use in hostile environments.

I think one of the design things that sells Alien and Aliens is the intrusion of Giger’s organic alien into the clunky industrial realness established by Ron Cobb.
posted by zamboni at 7:42 AM on March 21


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