Classic Film Review: Aliens (1986)

‘It always amazes me when I see a film that’s older than I am look as good as this film does’

Aliens, 1986

Directed by: James Cameron

Written by: James Cameron

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen


This is one of those rare occasions where the sequel takes what the original created, and expands on it. While I don’t think it is as good as Alien (more on the reasons why later), it is still arguably one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time. It’s no surprise when seeing films such as Aliens and The Terminator, both early works of James Cameron, that Cameron is still an influential director despite his filmography only containing eight films that he’s directed (one of which, Titanic, became the highest-grossing film of all time until it was knocked off the top spot by Avatar, another James Cameron film).

After nearly 60-years in her hibernation pod, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver, Alien) is awoken to learn that colonies have grown on Planet LV-426 (where they originally discovered the first alien), before they lose contact. A rescue mission soon turns chaotic when they discover the colonists have been harvested to create an army of these xenomorphs, thus the plurality of the title.

It always amazes me when I see a film that’s older than I am look as good as this film does. Sure, the scenes where the spaceship is flying against a green screen or some of the xenomorph’s movements look poor, but the set designs, especially, look amazing and wouldn’t feel out-of-place amongst today’s releases. Aliens is also shot so well that it creates genuine tension and atmosphere that hook you into their peril. Towards the end as Ripley looks around and realises she’s among the queen xenomorph and all of her eggs, without a word being uttered you feel her worry and you worry for her. A beautifully presented film.

Aliens, 2

One criticism I had early on was that there were so many characters that you’re almost rooting for the xenomorph early on to eliminate a few extras, but after that happens those that are left and the journeys they all go on are wonderful. Little Newt (Carrie Henn) I felt held her own (and it’s a bit of a shame she chose not to pursue acting as a career as it would have been interested to see how her career would have panned out) and once-again Sigourney Weaver was fantastic (even getting herself an Academy Award nomination in a genre that typically gets overlooked). The writing of these characters was really effective, too, as they genuinely come across as arrogant soldiers early on before realising the true horror that they face which wipes away that bravado. And my favourite was the call-back to the first film, with the android, Bishop (Lance Henriksen), constantly presented through Ripley’s untrusting eyes.

The first film was a horror about one xenomorph killing a crew, while this one ups the xenomorph count dramatically, and while that works in some respects, it also fails in others. In Aliens they were just too expendable due to the amount of them, that they were never that terrifying. The situation was, but the xenomorphs weren’t. Aliens also suffered from what a lot of sequels (especially those released some years after the original) suffer from, and that is copy-and-pasting scenes to remind the audience of its roots. In Alien Ripley ran back to get her cat, in Aliens Ripley runs back to get the child. In Alien someone was revealed to have evil intentions, in Aliens someone is revealed to have evil intentions. In Alien they felt they were safe before they realised a xenomorph was on their ship. In Aliens they felt they were safe before they realised a xenomorph was on their ship. A lot of the first half of the film was original and interesting, but they it did feel like a lot of the first film was repeated.

But, my biggest reason for choosing Alien as a better film, and the part about Aliens that I hated the most was how goofy certain scenes were. In Aliens the queen xenomorph rides an elevator. It has the knowledge to get in, turn around, press the button to go to the top floor and wait. It could have just rippled a whole through the elevator’s roof and climbed up, but, nope. The xenomorph rides an elevator. It’s not the only scene of this ilk, but it’s by far the worst. It took me so far out of the action that it almost cemented the idea that Alien was a better film. And, I also didn’t understand, from the film’s perspective, why the queen xenomorph wasn’t able to kill Ripley while she operated the robot suit while fighting it. The queen has terrible aim with her tail as well as terribly slow movements. Basically, while the ending is a great watch, too much of it led me to roll my eyes.

But all those minor gripes are ultimately nowhere near enough to prevent Aliens from being a thoroughly enjoyable film. From how amazing it looks, even some 33-years on, to how atmospheric it is and how worrying some of the situations are. The characters all have relatively distinct personalities that stand them out, more so once the extras are killed off early on, that you can get invested in their journey, rather than some of the more modern horror films which throw a bunch of five unlikeable people in amongst a horrific scenario that almost has you rooting for the villain. Its ending may not be the greatest, and more xenomorphs ultimately lessen the destructive power of the xenomorph on their own, but for every negative, there’s the image of Ripley going head-to-head with the queen xenomorph while the area around them blows up. So, certain things (but not the xenomorph riding the elevator) get a pass.


Personal: * * * *     Acting: * * * *     Writing: * * * *     Presentation: * * * * *

Overall Rating: * * * * ¼

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