Release Date: July 18th, 1986
Directed by: James Cameron
Written by: James Cameron, David Giler, Walter Hill
Based on: Charcaters created by Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett
Music by: James Horner
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, William Hope, Jenette Goldstein
20th Century Fox, 137 Minutes
Aliens is a movie that I have seen at least a few dozen times. It was a staple in my movie diet when I was a kid in the 80s. I never got to see it in the theater because it is rated R and I was seven when it came out. But I did see it when it hit video, probably a year later. Then I watched it all the time and as an adult, at least once a year. But I am now reviewing it because I finally got to see it on the big screen and man, what an experience it was!
Seeing Aliens in a large theater made one thing very clear, it has been a really long time since I have seen something as good as this while at the movies. It made me nostalgic and I went back to a place where I haven’t been since I was a kid, in a decade where there were so many amazing blockbusters. It also made me sad, simply because there really isn’t anything in the modern era of filmmaking that even comes close to the big tent pole pictures of 1980s summers. I mean, it really was the decade that made summer movies a thing in the first place.
This is James Cameron’s greatest film. Sure, many will argue for Terminator, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, The Abyss, True Lies, the incredibly overrated Titanic or the derivative CGI lovefest Avatar. Aliens is simply his best, period.
I’ve always sat on the fence over which is better between Ridley Scott’s Alien and James Cameron’s Aliens. I still do. They are both equally as brilliant and fascinating but for very different reasons, as both are very different films. And I’m fine with that, because both pictures are special and exceptional and one doesn’t have to be better than the other. They are perfect companion pieces that are, I would have to assume, impossible to replicate because no other chapters in the franchise have come close to the pure magic of the first two films.
What still makes Aliens work, is the effects. They are practical, everything you see is real, apart from the wonky landing sequence of the dropship. The use of animatronics, real slime, luscious matte paintings, massive physical sets and meticulous physical detail are why this film stands the test of time. It is also why it carries a sense of realism that just alludes you when you watch something like the Star Wars prequels or Cameron’s most successful picture, Avatar.
The cinematography is perfect. The sets are incredible, the lighting is superb and the world truly feels like a dreadful and cozy home for the viscous alien xenomorphs that have overrun the fairly large settlement of humans sent to terraform the planet.
Just about every character in Aliens serves a purpose. Sure, there are a few grunts solely there to be immediately exterminated upon discovering the alien threat. However, after that, each character is pretty dynamic or at the very least, very entertaining, as is the case with Bill Paxton’s hilarious Hudson and Jenette Goldstein’s big gun-toting Private Vasquez.
Sigourney Weaver has never been better than she was in this movie. She’s played a version of Ellen Ripley four times but this is where she was on another level. She took control of a horrible situation and became the savior of those who survive, primarily the young girl Newt, who lost her entire family to the xenomorphs. Ripley became the ultimate bad ass mother figure of the 1980s. Weaver was nominated for an Oscar for her role in Aliens, which is pretty unheard of for a sci-fi or horror film, at least in the acting category.
Paul Reiser truly owned it as the corporate weasel Burke. Michael Biehn was good as Hicks, even if he felt like an extension of his Kyle Reese character from The Terminator, two years earlier. The real standout in the supporting cast was Lance Henriksen as the android Bishop. This is one of the absolute best roles Henriksen has ever played and my favorite character in the Alien franchise after Ripley.
Aliens is as close to perfection as you can get minus a few minor hiccups, mainly just the one or two effects that didn’t hold up to the test of time. But considering that it is now over thirty years old, nitpicking a slight visual issue with a scene isn’t really fair to its legacy and what it was at the time of its release.
I was glad that I got to see this on the big screen. It made the film come alive in a way that I have never experienced. Yet, we live in a time where people watch movies on their phones. It makes me feel like the love of movies I grew up with is dwindling away. We need to find a way to get back to creating motion pictures that can generate the emotions and feelings and visual awe of a movie like Aliens. I guess that’s my challenge to any up and coming filmmakers that may just stumble across this review.