Aliens (1986)

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By Scott Ross

Your basic bug-eyed monster story elevated to the level of popular art through the incisive screenplay and razor-sharp direction of James Cameron. (Whatever happened to him, anyway? Oh. Right: He got infected with Bigititus which, coupled with the accolades that feed his already overblown ego, have conferred “importance” on him in a manner which only Hollywood can do to talented hacks with a straight face.) An unnecessary sequel to Ridley Scott and Dan O’Bannon’s stunning 1979 original (which Walter Hill refined, as potential director, before moving on) this one foregoes the haunting, grimy atmospherics and elegiac horror in favor of mounting terror, aggressive action and staggeringly effective cutting. The so-called “Director’s Cut (1992) adds an aching depth of feeling to Cameron’s conception of Sigourney Waver’s Ellen Ripley as well as illustrating how smart and adaptable Stan Winston’s aliens — based on H.R. Geiger’s original designs — really are.

The movie’s title, with its added plural, may have been nothing more than a laudable effort to avoid the ubiquitous roman numeral. But it may also be a metaphor: Who, exactly, are the aliens? The deadly xenomorphs who, however they actually got there, were on the planet first? Or the humans who first colonize, then come in force to “wipe them out”? I wouldn’t waste too much time on that thought, but it’s interesting to conjecture.

Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley confronts the alien queen in the movie’s nail-biting climax.

Although its narrative contours, and ensemble cast, make it resemble a World War II Marine epic, Cameron’s script ultimately disdains that blatant machismo; everyone who espouses, or practices, a “kick-ass” attitude, is dead by the end.

James Horner composed a (for him) unusually fine score, although time constraints forced him to write very quickly, and he lifted themes and orchestrations from his own, also very effective, score for the underrated 1981 supernatural thriller Wolfen. (At least this time he stole from himself, for a change.) Weaver’s Aliens co-stars include the always-splendid Lance Henriksen — who has one of the most interesting faces in American movies — as the android Bishop, and Michael Biehn, whose slight overbite is sexier than Mel Gibson’s ubiquitous ass any day of the week, and twice on Sunday.

Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross

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