A favorite device of Hollywood is the sequel. If a film made a lot of money lets do it again and make even more. What usually happens is the exact same formula is utilized resulting is a pale copy of the original.
With the success of the film in 1979 it was inevitable that a sequel would be made and with this film they broke the mold and did something original.
Only three characters are brought back, Rippley (Sigourney Weaver), the alien and of course, Jones the cat.
Rippley is located still in hyper sleep 57 years after the events of the original film. She is brought back to Earth and held accountable for the loss of the multi-million dollar Nostromo.
Naturally the company is displeased and revokes her license for space work. Haunted by nightmares she takes a menial job as a dockworker. She is approached by Burk (Paul Reiser), company lackey extraordinaire and offered her credentials back if she acts as a consultant to a group of marines who are being sent to investigate the complete loss of a colony.
It turns out that the colony is on the planet that she found the deadly alien. While the original deliberately kept away from back stories and details of the personal lives of the characters, where we get a chance to see a little more of what motivated Rippley.
In the director’s cut there is an included scene that helps to explain her maternal feelings towards a young girl that survived the planet’s alien attack. While Rippley was physically isolated in the first film here that is compounded by the 57 years that has elapsed, removing her from everyone she has ever known.
Of course some of the tried and true devices of the sequel are employed here. If one monster was scary, a whole bunch of monsters will be even better. To balance this you need a group of people that can put up a better fight and for this we have the space marines.
So, we have Rippley, frightened about the though of a planet for of aliens, Burk, motivated by the greed and corruption of the company, and the marines, ready for a good fight. This sets up a great social dynamic between the humans.
To assist the audience in identifying with the characters there is the introduction of a resourceful young girl Newt (Carrie Henn). Seen as a daughter substitute by Rippley, Newt represents the need to save the future from these heinous creatures.
In all there is more of everything, just as you would expect in a sequel but here the film can stand on its own merits.
Weaver adds more dimensions to her role of Rippley. While still the female ‘Rambo’ she has motivation here that goes beyond personal survival. We get to see a more fleshed out Rippley, one with maternal instincts that comes to play in the final showdown between her and the Alien queen.
While Paul Reiser is best known as the sweet husband on ‘Mad About You’, here he is the perfect company man. He is willing to sacrifice any number of innocent lives in order to obtain this creature for the company’s weapons department. With his slick smile and calm voice he tries to hide the true monster of the film, the greedy human.
Michael Biehn as marine Hicks is the grounding and stabilizing influence of the film. He is the voice of reason that the audience needs to hold on to during the unsettling events of combat.
There is another alumni from Terminator here as well, Lance Henriksen as Bishop, the artificial human. While the previous android was somewhat evil here Bishop is the reflection of what is noble in man.
Also from Terminator is Bill Paxton as Hudson. Every horror film needs a complainer and he fits the bill here. Although he is constantly moaning about the circumstances he is a marine and ready to do what is necessary.
Taking over as director for this film is James Cameron. Now here is a man that knows how to create another world on the screen. Cameron knows how important pacing is in a film like this. He builds up to an action packed moment only to allow the audience to decompress a bit before the ride begins again. He balances the overt threat of the creatures against the subtler one represented by Burk, the inhuman control of the large corporation.
The light shift around, nothing is as it seems on the surface. The changing shadows and disconcerting musical score keeps the audience off balance, on edge waiting for the next attack.
Cameron also enjoys pushing the envelope with his equipment. His use of the camera to follow the action is without flaw. He gives a sense of tension just by how he sets the frame and pulls the focus. He brings out the humanity of the characters set against a backdrop of the most inhuman circumstances possible.
For continuity sake there are some aspects that are the same as the Ridley Scott vision of this saga, Cameron truly makes this film his own. There is a very intimate use of the camera lens. Cameron uses lens that approximate human vision bringing the audience up close and personal, right in the middle of the action.
While so few sequels met the standards of excellence set by the original this one does so and ever surpasses them. Aliens stands on its own and as a corner stone in the entire saga.
It shows that even when help comes a person still have to rely on their own instincts for survival. There is freshness about this film that remains even today.
Click Here To Return To The DVD Reviews Page