So once again we have survived.

Aliens

I’ve seen this movie many times over many years, and I’m sure you have too. I don’t think I need to try to convince anybody to like ALIENS. Asking somebody if they like ALIENS is like asking them if they like pizza or ice cream. You can assume the answer is “yes” and if not it’s just some weird quirk that person has, you can’t really make much of it.

But having noticed signs that the BIG FUCKIN SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER POPCORN MOVIE may be ailing here in 2007 I decided to get nostalgic and watch T2 (theatrical cut, back to ’91) and I had such a good time with that I thought, jesus, where do I go from here? Is there anything that big and yet at the same time that good? I wasn’t sure but I did know of one other James Cameron part 2 that I like even better and that of course is ALIENS. So I watched the theatrical cut of that too.

ALIENS is the perfect sequel to a perfect original. I always say I like ALIEN better, but that’s just a matter of personal taste and maybe the unavoidable fact that it came first. But I don’t really think one is better or worse than the other. Both are as good as they ever made ’em.

AliensLooking at it just as a sequel it’s incredible, one of the best ever, so much so that references to ALIENS are the number one shorthand for a sequel that builds on everything that was great about the original and takes it to a new level. Every director of a part 2 now days seems to say he’s trying to make ALIENS to the first movie’s ALIEN. Here is a movie that takes the main character, the world and the premise of the original and expands on them, takes them in new directions, elaborates on them, even puts them in a different genre. Ripley becomes a warrior but also a mother. Her working class job is over so she gets another one using a robot to load crates. We see the same planet again but also the boring space station where people live, and what life is like for the military (now part of a corporation). Instead of repeating the same horror movie structure it goes into an action movie structure. Before it was one alien sneaking around a ship, now it’s a platoon trapped in hostile territory. Instead of just using the same monster – or just multiplying it into a group of monsters – they also expand on the life cycle of the monsters and introduce the Alien Queen.

Time for an ode to the Alien Queen. There have been many bigger and more powerful monsters on screen, and ones with more personality by human standards, but few as primally scary as the Alien Queen. What I love about the Queen is that she seems like a real animal, a dangerous fucking animal whose cave you would never want to walk past. Like the other aliens she has no eyes and her mouth isn’t expressive and you’re not sure she has emotions anyway other than anger. So you can relate to her as much as you can relate to a wasp. All you really know about her is she wants you the fuck away from her eggs. Unless you’re cocooned in slime. If you were Ripley and accidentally bumped into the Queen I think you would feel a combination of the terror of running into an angry mama bear and the “how is that possible?” I-can’t-believe-what-I’m-seeing awe of seeing a spider as big as your fist crawl across the living room floor.

I actually saw the Alien Queen once, but not alive. It turns out it is all a special effect and the puppet/suit/whatever is on loan at a museum here in Seattle. Even without the lighting and editing it looks amazing. I stared at it for a good 5 minutes before I noticed the velcro straps on the chest where people apparently climbed inside to control the thing.

But as great a villain as the Queen is this movie is all about Ripley. She’s a great character in all the movies but in this one she shines by far the brightest. Here for the first time she plays the only person who really understands the danger and can’t convince anyone else to take it seriously. We know she’s vulnerable because we’ve seen her nightmares and we can hear the emotion in her voice, but she’s still tough enough to convincingly command the attention of a platoon of macho space marines. And she cuts through the machismo without having to use a word – check out that expression on her face in the cafeteria when she hears them talking about “poontang.” Also, watch and see who survives longer – the tough talking warriors or Ripley. We don’t need some scene where she insults them. She wants to save their lives even though they’re assholes.

And why does she willingly go back there? They got spaceships, it’s a big universe, why not go as far away as she can and not look back? The movie’s answer is that she’s worried about those colonists, and about the aliens getting to other planets, and her experiences haunt her and she can’t just keep running. But I think the corporation’s original idea for how to get her to go is convincing too. They offer to get her flight officer license back so she can continue her career. And you’ve seen that space station. That would not be a good life loading crates all day and then going back to your little room. I’d want to get on a space ship too.

Watching it this time I was thinking that I can’t imagine anybody pulling it off as good as Sigourney Weaver did. Some of that dialogue might come across corny with somebody else. But Sigourney really believes it. That is a great god damn performance. I know they say you’re not supposed to have great acting in a sci-fi action movie, but nobody told them that when they were making this, so they fucked up.

I also gotta mention sitcom actor Paul Reiser (My Two Dads) who does an amazingly subtle version of the sleazy corporate bad guy. Almost always in movies this kind of villain either seems to know that he’s evil or at least revels in being a total asshole. This guy seems to believe his own bullshit. I don’t think he knows he’s a bad guy.

And the movie just has so many clever ideas in it. For example when the marines start exploring the colony they have this gimmick of the helmets having cameras attached so the people back in the ship can see what’s going on. This was before COPS was even on TV, long before reality TV and webcams and BLAIR WITCH. So you can see it was an accurate prediction of future technology and a clever way to stage the scenes. We are anticipating seeing one of these aliens, and from those camera feeds we start imagining aliens in every little abstract squiggle. We share Ripley’s helpless perspective of not quite seeing what’s going on and being at a distance where she cannot help anyway. They keep us in suspense with those ambiguous images but then they show us a clearer view. This helmetcam thing has been tried in many bad movies since and never executed nearly as well.

You know what is a classic badass moment for the record books is when the door opens up and Ripley is standing there in the power loader ready to kick the Queen’s boney black ass. She wouldn’t even have to have that great line (“Get away from her you bitch!”) for this to be unforgettable. In fact, if this power loader just showed up out of nowhere and she used it to fight the Queen, I think people would laugh and it would be silly, but it would work. But the way they set it up is perfect. It’s that old trick of doing it three times. First they mention that she has that job, tying it in with the working class “truckers in space” thing from ALIEN. Then later they show her using the power loader to help moving crates around, impressing the Sarge and making him laugh. So then when it turns up as a weapon it’s perfectly organic, we know she knows how to use it, we know why, and we believe it. And it’s gonna be better for fighting Alien Queens than for moving boxes.

After this and especially T2 there was a trend of making so-called feminist characters in movies, and it just meant to give a girl a gun. If she kills some guys it counts as feminism. But I think Ripley is the real deal. She uses a gun and a blowtorch, she kills some aliens, she kicks the queen’s ass. She’s tough as hell. But her femininity is still intact. In fact, the whole reason for the asskicking is her maternal instincts. The Queen protects her eggs, Ripley protects her Newt.

It’s too bad, Ripley sort of gets a daughter but she never gets reunited with her cat, does she? Poor Jonesy. Maybe instead of resurrecting Ripley they should’ve done part 4 all about Jonesy, starting on that space station and he tries to go rescue Ripley but never finds her and faces some aliens of his own. And maybe they have breeded from some cats so they are more cat-like and closer to his size so he can take them on using cat methods. By the way, you ever notice that cats are afraid of aliens and dogs are afraid of terminators? It’s true. And I believe fish are afraid of robocops.

I could probaly write a whole book about all the things I love about this movie, but even I would never read that crappy book, so instead I will leave it at this review and cut it off with one last observation. This is a sequel, a “franchise” movie, a July release, sci-fi with action, special effects, from one of the A-List blockbuster directors, the guy who later made the highest grossing movie of all time. So I’m lumping it in with all these big loud summer movies, but one thing I like is that it begins and ends quietly. In the opening Ripley drifts through space asleep in her pod. And we see her sleeping face superimposed with the earth (a place she hasn’t seen in, what, more than sixty years? I forget how long she’d been in space at the beginning of ALIEN, but it’s been 57 years since then).

Then at the end she returns to sleep and this time when her profile is superimposed with the earth we also see the profile of Newt, the little girl she rescued. This is what she’s gained. She went through all that shit, but she’s not back to square one. The first time she went to sleep with nothing but her cat and her underwear. This time she goes to sleep and she has a family. I didn’t see ALIEN 3 until long after everyone said it was trash, so when I finally saw it I kind of liked it and the ballsiness of killing these characters offscreen during the opening credits. Almost as if it should say “a film by David Fincher” over a picture of him holding up two middle fingers. But watching ALIENS again now and really thinking about what Ripley has gained in this movie I finally understand why people were so pissed. She earned that new family. She should get to keep it in a movie, not just in the between movies hibernation period. She was asleep, they didn’t even get to go on any family picnics or powerloader races or anything.

Anyway, it’s a great ending, and then the music during the end credits lets you sit there and contemplate it. It doesn’t hammer you over the head with some thrilling adventure theme as alot of movies would’ve done then, or drill a hole into your brain with some horrible fucking garbage rock song by whichever shitty band the corporation that owns the studio is trying to promote, as they would do now. It’s a movie confident that it can kick your ass and then leave you peacefully to consider what has just happened.


SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER SCORECARD:

ORIGINAL RELEASE DATE July 18th
IT’S NOT MADE TO GET OSCARS but it did win best visual effects and best sound effects editing. Sigourney Weaver also got a well-deserved nomination for best actress, but lost to Marlee Matlin in CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD.
BRAIN CHECK REQUIRED? no
STANDARDS THAT NEED TO BE LOWERED TO ENJOY: none

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Friday, July 27th, 2007 at 8:59 pm and is filed under Action, Horror, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit, Thriller. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

67 Responses to “Aliens”

  1. Great piece Vern. I agree with everything you wrote. I love “Aliens” almost but not quite as much as the original, which is probably my favorite film of all time. You know it’s great movie when you can’t think of one thing they could do differently or better.

    Speaking of Sigourney Weaver’s acting, one little bit in particular always struck me as great proof of how terrific an actress she is. It’s the scene were Ripley and Newt are traped in the Med Lab with the facehuggers and she’s at the window. She sees the pulse rifle lying on the desk just behind the glass (kind of dumb for Burke to just leave it there, but nevermind), but she can’t get to it. In that instant, her face does a little subtle flicker of hope as she recognizes the rifle but doesn’t quite process that she can’t get to it because of her panicked state. I equate it to sitting a red light going straight, and the when the light in the turn lane changes first — you see the green in the corner of your eye and sometimes your foot comes off the brake just a bit, you know it’s not your light but you respond to the green by almost-but-not-quite going for it.

    That is great acting and far more nuance than you see in most performances, particularly SF / action movies.

    I actually prefer the theatrical cut of “Aliens” to the director’s cut because even though the DC shows you how Newt’s parents find the ship and the stuff about Ripley’s daughter (which shouldn’t have been cut, really), there are a few things in the DC that just don’t quite work as well. For one, the derelict ship–one of the great things about it in the original is that it really looked ALIEN – ancient & incredibly weird, almost like it had once been in a living thing. The scenes of it in “Aliens” deprive it of some scale and majesty and make it look more like a pile of junk. Then there’s also one scene of Hudson talking smack early on, maybe even before they drop, that I just thought didn’t play right and came out kind of sounding silly.

    As for the Queen, she IS awesome and scary, but truthfully I always preferred (a little) the hints about the alien life cycle in the original, that deleted scene of Ripley finding a still-alive Dallas in the monster’s lair. That was so horrifying it actually still gives me the creeps today. It looked like Brett was being made into a facehugger (and this is even more heavily suggested in the novelization), and even if I can’t figure out how that works it’s still really scary stuff.

    BUT ANYWAY. I could ramble all day about “Alien” and “Aliens,” and in fact I sometimes do. Keep up the great work.

  2. Tom, that’s an interesting point about Sigourney Weaver in “Aliens”. I agree with it. It takes something special to make an “everyman” character stand out, even if that character is something of a badass. I actually prefer “Aliens” to “Alien” by quite a wide margin, but they’re both classic films and I love the original’s soundtrack.

    Probably my favorite “everyman” portrayals would be Tom Cruise in the first “Mission: Impossible”, Kurt Russell in “The Thing”, and Donald Sutherland in “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, for very different reasons each time. Sutherland makes his character something of an asshole, but still very relatable, which is tough to do; Russell adds just the right amount of “is-he-or-isn’t-he” ambiguity to his, and yet the performance works perfectly even when you know what the answer is; and Cruise simmers with intelligence, using his eyes to portray watchfulness in a way I can’t ever recall having been done before or since.

  3. I always thought DePalma’s M:I was a very underrated flick. There really isn’t anything wrong with that movie at all and it has several pretty cool action set pieces that pay off nicely. I guess some M:I “purists” were mad that they made Phelps (SPOILER) into a villain but I think it made sense in the script. To be honest, I never really observed Cruise’s acting in that movie to the same degree you did but I do think he’s turned in several very good performances over the years. Maybe his personal beliefs are a little out there, but I don’t really care about that.

    And of course, MacReady in “The Thing” is a great everyman. I haven’t seen more than a few minutes of Kaufman’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” in quite a few years, I should check that out again.

    Just to elaborate on my earlier point about Sigourney Weaver in “Aliens,” I don’t think that facial tic she has when seeing the rifle out there is a conscious thing at all; I think it just shows how closely she identifies with the character and how invested in the performance she is. In that moment, she IS Ripley in those circumstances, not just playing her. And that’s how Ripley would react in that moment. It may not be conscious, but it shows her ability to get inside her characters and that’s a rare thing. Weaver is actually outstanding in all of the Alien movies, even “Resurrection” although that had a junkyard of a plot.

  4. I love the first M:I (but only the first one) and think the twist is brilliant. I think Vern himself summarised the objections to the twist a few years ago; “oh I was so upset and disappointed when this movie surprised me…”

  5. Woo’s M:I2 (or MI2 or MI:2 or whatever the accepted shorthand is) is terrible. Boring. Just writing about it makes me want to nod off.

    But I actually thought III wasn’t that bad. Maybe the ending was little too pat but I didn’t hate it. I think it got sort of unfairly caught up in all of the hubbub about Cruise’s couch-jumping and Scientifictionologicalism.

    (just to make a potentially meaningless aside, the couch-jumping was always way overblown to me. I’m no Cruise apologist, even though I do generally like him as an actor, but I watched that Oprah bit after all of the backlash and it just really felt mostly self-deprecating, like he was goofing on himself after a bit. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me)

    *Cough* DePalma’s is definitely the class of the series, though.

  6. holy shit, i can’t believe i never noticed this review until now. my favorite action movie (and one of my favorties overall) being reviwed by probaly my favorite critic.

    i agree with everything in vern’s review, and i too could go on all day talking about ALIENS and all the different ways in which it is a masterpiece, but i wouldn’t say anything that hasn’t already been said.

    so i will just leave you with this: on the japanese VHS of ALIENS that i own, the subtitle for the line “getaway frome her you bitch!” which i consider to be one of the all-time greatest – if not THE greatest – badass lines of all-time, not to mention that as vern points out it occurrs in a scene perfectly constructed to emphasize its badass impact, the japanese subtitle for the line translates to “don’t worry about the child.” -_-

  7. FWIW, my franchise scorecard – curiously enough, it follows the sequence of release. Hmm.

    1. Alien – masterpiece, classic, brilliantly conceived and superbly executed from script to production design to acting to score. I watch it at least once a year. Still the scariest movie I’ve ever seen.

    Close No. 2. Aliens – one of the best sequels ever made, done with a true respect for the original and yet with a lot of vision of its own. It does everything a great sequel does – expand on the universe and the characters, creating new situations and jeopardies without mindlessly parroting its predecessor. One of the only times that my high anticipation for something was truly rewarded. This movie didn’t let me down one bit and I will always love it for that.

    Distant 3. Alien 3 – at best, an interesting failure. Some really good ideas, but ultimately pointless. While Aliens does everything a good sequel should do, this does not. Plus it completely devalues Ripley’s struggle and victory in Aliens, almost to the point that I’d prefer it didn’t exist at all. The director’s cut is moderately better than the theatrical version, but doesn’t come close to saving it, sorry.

    Way, way, way back No 4. Alien Resurrection – a mess almost from frame one. The only redeeming quality is Sigourney Weaver’s performance. All over the place, illogical, hard to follow, goofy at the wrong times, practically campy in spots, unscary, poorly paced, a jarring departure in tone and even more pointless than 3.

    — No ranking: those Alien / Predator movies. They’re dead to me.

  8. For those young people who would like some interesting context and trivia regarding _Aliens_ and how the Space Marines vs. Alien sequences were played: a very popular boardgame among us geeks in that day (and still good today; this year was a 20th anniversary re-release) was called “Space Hulk”, and featured heavily armed (and heavily armored) “space marines” going up against rampaging “genestealers” in the creepy chitinous bowels of a ship. With bolter rifles, flame throwers, heavy chainguns. (Also with melee weapons like claws, hammers and shields–the game was developed from a much larger original property, Warhammer 40K–but THEY NEVER SEEMED TO WORK VERY WELL IN COMBAT! {ggg!} They were a backup in case the aliens got past the firepower, and failed 2/3 of the time.)

    Sound familiar? Well, when Electronic Arts contracted the developers (Games Workshop) to translate it to a computer game, they proceeded to make it even _more_ like “Aliens” by putting the player in the position of the lieutenant back safe directing the operations by watching multiple first-person-video screens. (The player could at any time jump to control a marine in his movements and firing, like in a first-person shooter, but couldn’t overwatch the rest of the marines then–who went about their orders without you anyway.) The pinging motion detector was now included, too.

    To appreciate how awesome this was, you’d have to keep in mind that this was one of the very first games to feature digitized speech and sound (the stereo sound effects alone added immensely to the tension of the game), and if I recall correctly was actually released _before_ Doom 2. (Thus before any of the Quake games, and a long time before most other 1st-person shooters.)

    And “Aliens” was all done _before_ this game.

    It really is almost impossible to overestimate how influential James Cameron has been on pop culture I guess. {g} (Less so than Lucas, I suppose, but maybe even moreso than Spielberg.)

  9. **. . . so many clever ideas. . . . For example when the marines start exploring the colony they have this gimmick of the helmets having cameras attached so the people back in the ship can see what’s going on. . . .it was an accurate prediction of future technology and a clever way to stage the scenes. . . . This helmetcam thing has been tried in many bad movies since and never executed nearly as well.**

    And now, 25 years later, this helmet-cam business is the next big thing in the coverage of Operation: Shoot Ace of Spades in the Face.

    I think I’ve only been on one raid in which the ODA chief rocked a helmet cam. And that footage he got was garbage. I have, however, filmed some exciting SSE, post-firefight action of HVTs & criminals crying & pissing themselves while we put on the flexicuffs and turn their hideouts upside down. Wait, no, better than that, I have a decent story about helo-mounted cameras and a pair of pilots who are true American badasses. I’ma go consult my notes and see if I’m allowed to relate the story. Shit would put James Cameron’s ex-wife’s “realistic” filmatism to shame.

  10. yup, Sabreman, Aliens is the origin of about 90% of video games

    similarly I would say Blade Runner is the origin of about 80% percent of anime

  11. Mouth – In reference to your Whiskey Tango Foxtrot scene on the Potpourri 3D thread, it’s been a few years since I saw Aliens, but I have to respectfully disagree and say the mom Alien broke the truce first. Ripley was backing out in a “peaceful” manner when an egg laying pod started opening near her. She even tilts her head a bit and looks at the mom Alien like “why you gotta do that?” before laying some destruction about her.

    Btw, totally dug your story of when you learned about Ace of Spades getting a hole in the head.

  12. Great review, Vern. Never noticed that you did this one! Also have to give you props for pointing out the great closing-credit fadeout in this movie. You hit the nail right on the head – it just makes you go ‘wow’ and want to sit there and think about what you just saw. It’s exhilarating but also melancholy and sad, you’re not really sure what to feel.

    I’m sure this has been brought up before – but I really kinda hate the “opening credits at the end” bit that they do now. In some cases, like Jurassic Park, I love the cold open and the booming, triumphant music over the actor’s names, the “Directed by…” etc…. But more often than not we’re treated to some horrible music video/video game-style nonsense like the end credits of Doom or GI Joe or The Mummy.

    And I really don’t like the “put the title at the end of the movie” bit. I know which movie I just bought a ticket for, thanks for reminding me. It sorta seems smug and self-congratulatory, and as much as I liked Avatar, it was really unnecessary. Can you imagine Aliens (or T2) ending with the title in big fucking words at the end instead of Ripley or the shot of the highway?

  13. For me, the best “title at the end of the movie” is ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST.

  14. It really works in BATMAN BEGINS because he’s just gotten the Joker card and he really is just beginning. Subsequently I think it’s a good motif to continue with THE DARK KNIGHT, because he really only becomes the dark knight at the end. It’s particularly inspiring in TDKR because we know it’s the end but it’s rising up all the possibilities for rising more rising.

    Now I’m going to stay up all night thinking of more titles at the end.

  15. Did BRAVEHEART come at the end? I know the “Directed by Mel Gibson” did.

  16. Oh man, how awesome would it have been if the Seagal movies had ended with the title. After he’s taken out Richie, OUT FOR JUSTICE. Screwface #2 is dead, MARKED FOR DEATH!

  17. The other thing about the Batman titles Fred mentioned is that they are usually punctuated with a signature Zimmer THUMP when they come on screen.

  18. Brilliant assessment. I especially was touched by your analysis of the framing (beginning and ending) and why Alien 3 is a slap in the face. EYE firmative!

  19. A slap in the face, sure. But aren’t all the killings in the ALIEN movies a slap in the face?

  20. I’ve been watching a lot of the “ALIEN ANTHOLOGY” Blu-ray set again, which is an embarrassment of riches with regard to extras and such. I love the first two almost equally, but I ultimately give the first the edge. It works best as a thriller with the gory elements bubbling under, all done in this beautifully constructed and filmed environment. But yeah the 2nd is quite special on it’s own. Besides everything else mentioned, James Horner’s score has probably been dissected and ripped off many many times in other movies (sometimes by James himself) and used in TV commercials and trailers. I would like to know which cut you prefer Vern, as it seems your review is based more on the director’s cut. I prefer that one myself, but I always tend to like the longer cuts of films I like for some reason.

    I never had much of a problem with how ALIEN3 began, the theatrical version especially. It’s 7 minutes of pure emotional and visceral hell, even when the Fox fanfare comes on and how it comes to this terrifying halt and leads into Elliot Goldenthal’s excellent score (probably the best part of the whole film for me). And then how it ends, a computer screen, telling us in the most blunt and unemotional way possible that the three supporting characters were dead. I can imagine Fincher being okay with that opening even if he had all the clout as a feature director which he’s rightfully earned by now. It’s just that the rest of it is more fractured and almost a mess, because of all the studio meddling and the fact that he was thrown into a half-cooked version of someone else’s vision. The “making of” on the Blu-ray is an especially interesting study in big-budget fiascos.

  21. New Years Resolution No.1 – Force myself to watch ALIEN. I’ve just started my bi-annual (roughly) re-watch of the ALIEN films, but I cheat and start at ALIENS. And I think, if Scott’s ALIEN didn’t exist, Cameron’s ALIENS would still work as good as it does. The first 15 minutes show Ripley waking from hyper-sleep, starting to have nightmares, alluding to something horrific from the past. It’s a great setup. And makes ALIENS succeed on it’s own as horror and action.

    Summer movie flashback – The year ALIENS came out, I started my first after school job at a local independent cinema. I remember we ran it for about six months, to a mostly packed house on the weekends and bargain nights. Those days seem to be gone, where a great film can have such a long run. So many films, even today’s tent-pole’s don’t last more than a couple months, if that. Other movies I remember lasting that long were PLATOON, FATAL ATTRACTION (and not even a tent-pole by 1980’s standards!), CROCODILE DUNDEE and TOP GUN.

    How times have changed…

  22. Darren- I agree how it works as its own. Still my favourite ALIEN movie. The first one

    Darren- I agree how well ALIENS works on its own. It is my favourite ALIEN movie to date. Where Ridley Scotts original fails to scare nowadays, ALIENS succeeds by being extremely suspenseful and still work. You know how dangerous these things are but still you sit through these suspenseful scenes which works as a motherfucker. Michael Biehn is a badass motherfucker which FAR CRY 3 BLOOD DRAGON only cemented.

  23. Yeah I suspect most children of the 80s saw Aliens first (and probably Rambo II before First Blood and Road Warrior before Mad Max). All three of these movies work perfectly fine without seeing the predecessor, and it might even be a fun experiment to watch them out of order. (Mad Max in particular comes across as the Nolan-ized prequel/origin story to Road Warrior, with it’s less futuristic/fantastical setting and characters).

    But Darren i hope you finally watch Alien this year – i thought it was deadly dull until I was well into my 20’s (especially because Aliens gives away every single thing that happens in it), but now I may like it even more than Aliens. It’s the ultimate “style over substance” movie, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way – it takes a well-worn horror/slasher formula, and makes it a work of art. The framing, the editing, the music, the pacing, the set design – all technical things that I barely notice in 90% of movies, is done so perfectly and with such OCD attention to detail that I honestly feel it’s more immersive than 3D. It’s a directorial tour de force on par with Kubrick and Malick, and it’s a shame Ridley Scott only reached these heights two more times in my opinion (the similarly difficult Blade Runner, and the more accessible Black Hawk Down). Sure he’s made plenty of other good movies, but even with 30 years of advanced technology on his side, Prometheus couldn’t come close to matching the feel of Alien (the supposed exact same ship in Prometheus looks like a crappy soundstage when the one in Alien looks like he got access to an actual alien ship)

  24. I was very lucky in that I saw ALIEN before ALIENS as a kid, I remember watching ALIEN on TV late at night once, it was a blast, than my dad informed me about the sequel a little later and imagine my surprise when I was blown away again.

    But as much as I love ALIENS, ALIEN is undoubtedly the best movie in the series, ALIENS works great as a sci fi action movie with a dose of horror, but ALIEN is pure horror and it’s scary as hell.

  25. Some of us saw Alien3 and BEYOND THUNDERDOME first.

    Thanks FOX Saturday afternoons. (?)

  26. I recently did a Mad Max triple feature. I never understood the THUNDERDOME hate, but going straight from the all time badass end of ROAD WARRIOR into that fucking Tina Turner song on the opening credits of THUNDERDOME, I got it. That is some jarring shit. I do not recommend it.

  27. The Original Paul

    January 6th, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    I saw ALIENS first. Which might be why I find it endlessly rewatchable, whereas ALIEN I’ve only seen twice.

    I do think, though, that ALIEN does not push my buttons the way that ALIENS does. It’s still a fantastic movie, but it’s one I admire more than I like. I guess part of the problem is that I just find Ash a helluva lot scarier than the actual alien for most of it. (see: my theory about how “the familiar changed into something distant and threatening” is almost universally more deeply unsettling than “the completely unfamiliar”. Also why I think the Bodysnatchers movies are about the purest expression of cinematic horror that there is. Anyway…) With the alien itself, you get the paranoia the not-quite-knowing when it’s gonna appear, the silent threat that works on the characters’ nerves. But for all its effectiveness – and despite how sparingly it’s used – It never is, or was, anything more than a threat. It’s symbolic of all kinds of awful fears – bodily penetration, rape, etc – which makes me think it would be a whole lot more effective to people who have a genuine fear of that kind of thing. (Honestly I think ALIEN is a horror movie aimed primarily at women, for that very reason. The threat of rape isn’t something most men have to deal with when just walking down a dark street, say.)

    Understand I’m not in any way trying to “dis” ALIEN here. I still think it’s a fantastic movie. I’m just trying to explain why, ALIENS works better for me as a shoot-em-up than ALIEN does as a straight horror movie.

  28. I’ve always prefered ALIEN and ALIEN3 over ALIENS. I think it’s all the badly delivered military gung-ho dialog and the fact that Cameron just doesn’t have the eye for details that Scott and Fincher have, that puts me off. He uses plastic coffee cups and holders from 1986, for petes sake!

  29. The Original Paul

    January 6th, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    In all fairness to Cameron, I think I still use some of those plastic cup holders myself…

  30. But I suspect you won’t in the year 2120, Paul…

  31. Horror is perishable. Or rather the sense of being scared. You can never recreate the same experience you had seeing something fresh. That is why I don´t like ALIEN anymore as much as ALIENS. ALIENS still keep my blood pumping, but ALIEN fails to scare me at all. I can understand someone who never seen a horror movie before or has little experience in that cinematic language getting scared shitless.

    From a technical and objective point of view the film is a major accomplishment, but horror is most subjective and for me it doesn´t work anymore. Add to that the overexposure the xenomorph has in popular culture and you have a creature most people seem to be more fond of than scared and you have a problem. Fondness and fear do not mesh.

    I apologize for this blasphemy, but I can´t blindly praise ALIEN. I mean it works as a horror movie, but not for me anymore. But then again, horror movies doesn´t scare me anymore. It is a genre I have grown tired of.

  32. But, Shoot, if we look away from the horror aspect for a moment, don’t you think ALIEN is a better movie?

  33. What do you mean by “better”? Objectively better? Perhaps. But movies are subjective experiences in my opinion. I still like ALIEN very much, but it doesn´t do anything emotionally for me anymore.

  34. “Better” is a loaded word, I know.

  35. The Original Paul

    January 7th, 2015 at 4:38 pm

    Pegsman – my parents have and use a desk that, we think, was made some time around the mid-1800s. Let’s not make presumptions about the lifespan of furniture, ok? That’s the kind of assumption that can really bite you in the ass if you’re not careful. Like if you look at a door, think “that door won’t last five years”, come back in ten years’ time, and end up walking into it face-first. Happens every day.

    But more seriously… I’m kinda where Shoot is on the ALIEN vs ALIENS thing. Although to be honest, they’re both great movies. With great scores too – I could listen to ALIEN’s opening theme all day. (Spotted it immediately when they re-used it in PROMETHEUS.) I think we’re arguing about which movie works best for us, not which movie actually is “best”, because how do you compare the quality of two movies that are so completely different anyway? That’s like trying to say which is better out of, say, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL and EDGE OF TOMORROW – both of which I loved, yet they’re totally different in terms of how they’re structured and what they’re trying to achieve. Trying to compare them is like trying to say which is “better” out of a banana or the Eiffel Tower. It’s not a fair comparison!

  36. That’s just silly, Paul. Everyone knows a banana is better.

  37. Both are flawless examples of their respective forms, but ALIEN is a movie I have to be in a specific mood to want to watch, while ALIENS is a movie I just have to be awake to want to watch. Advantage: ALIENS.

  38. The Original Paul

    January 8th, 2015 at 3:51 am

    Maggie – yeah, I was gonna say banana too. I’ve never snacked on the Eiffel Tower in between shifts at work.

  39. As a dumbass kid of the 80s, my first exposure to the franchise was actually this guy:

    …which kind of took the sting out of the horror once I actually saw the movies. Still enjoy ’em, though.

  40. The funniest thing about that scene is when John Hurt says “Not again!”

  41. Finally saw ALIEN, loved it, can’t fault it on any level. Loved the slow, deliberate pace, which I may not have appreciated when I was younger. Loved the dark cinematography, the closeups of the sweaty faces of the crew as the acid blood starts hitting the fan.

    As a horror movie, it’s a great argument for the less is more approach. The aliens attacks on the crew, who, by the way, are the best group of mostly middle-aged character actors I’ve ever seen in a slasher film (Harry Dean Stanton is gold in every film he’s in), are wrung out with tension and atmosphere right up until the very brief, but effective reveal of the alien. For example, Tom Skerrits death in the vent shaft. We get a flash of the alien at a crucial moment, but we don’t see the attack. It’s left to our imagination.

    Likewise, Yaphet Kotto and Veronica Cartwrights deaths, we finally get a full, lifesize reveal of the alien, but the cutaways make it hard to really get a good look. Which adds terror, and distracts us from the fact there’s a guy in an alien suit. Pretty cool.

    In hindsight, I can see ALIEN’s influence on space horror over the last few decades, and probly horror in general, from EVENT HORIZON (but with Hell as the antagonist), to the recent, not that bad, THE LAST DAYS ON MARS (viral zombies this time).

    Pretty fuckin good, this ALIEN.

  42. Addendum to ALIEN – I still think ALIENS could exist on it’s own without ALIEN, but I’m not gonna downplay it’s awesomeness, cause it’s pretty great. However, like Mr M said, I will still watch ALIENS any day of the week, simply because I am awake and breathing. And in my own mental movie filing cabinet, I will treat ALIEN like the belated prequel to the ALIENverse that PROMETHEUS should have been, and try to forget that one even exists.

    ***

    So I watched Finchers ALIEN3 again, the theatrical cut, and its a got a lot going for it. Great steam-punk set design. Somewhat morbid atmosphere with the prisoners stuck on the shit-hole planet/prison/refinery/alien playground. If I had never heard about the production problems from way back I would have thought it was a perfectly good first feature for Fincher. I like Weaver in this. She holds her own among the foul mouthed rapists and murderers, her jawline even more gritted and impressive with her shaved head.

    The CGI alien running around the tunnels was a bit lame looking, but the closeup, flesh and blood alien attacks were gorier, I think, than in the first two films. I agree with some of the comments above from a few years back that the killing off of Newt and Hicks, and in the end Ripley, adds to the huge downer on the movie. In hindsight, it’s so Fincher, but I guess the world wasn’t ready for him in 1992.

  43. ALIEN 3´s bleakness is its greatest strength. I wonder if a similar bleakness would be allowed on a blockbuster franchise today. ALIEN 3 came out almost at the exact same time as BATMAN RETURNS which was of course also quite dark and nasty in its own way.

  44. I love the first seven minutes of the theatrical cut of 3, where it’s bleakness is out in force. Everything from Elliot Goldenthal fucking around with the Fox fanfare to the final computer screens telling you the characters you grew to love from the previous film died. The rest of it (and the other cut as well) is pretty scattered in terms of quality but it may hold up better than the numerous stories of it’s dysfunctional production may otherwise paint it. In a weird twisted way it was kind of perfect that Fincher had his big coming-out in Hollywood with such a decisive picture, even if he didn’t have the final cut there is enough of the bleakness to come in it.

  45. And three years later, Gwyneths head in a box sealed the deal.

  46. Caught this again on the big screen (unfortunately it wasn’t film, I’m pretty sure they were just projecting a blu ray or something) – it’s still a great film and I’m going to say in addition to Weaver’s Best Actress nomination, this totally should have been up for Best Screenplay at the Oscars. The structure, the characters and their mini-arcs, the foreshadowing, the setups and payoffs; it’s an incredibly well-written movie. Just a simple scene like Bishop’s “Knife Trick” works on multiple levels as 1) comic relief, 2) character development for both him and Hudson, and then ultimately 3) the cut on his finger becomes the reveal of him being an android. Or how Vasquez and Drake secretly keep a few clips of ammo, which 1) establishes their rogue characters 2) saves everyone’s bacon during the big escape 3) but also punctures the cooling chamber which creates the plot’s ticking clock scenario. It’s weird that this movie is so influential yet the Lindelofs/Orci/Kurtzman’s these days can’t seem to grasp the things that make it work like consistent characters and an actual sense of cause and effect.

    Ok, the fact that they don’t leave a single person on the Sulaco to pick them up is a little ridiculous, but one plot hole is a pretty amazing feat. Oh and Burke’s traitorous turn doesn’t work as well as it used to, and a few shots of them firing off screen at non-existent aliens seem a little dated. But again, these are minor nitpicks in a movie that deserves it’s classic status.

    However, the eternal debate on whether this is better or worse than Alien still rages on after my umpteenth viewing. This one has the better action, stronger screenplay, more memorable characters and quotable dialogue, but I’ll have to say the “slow” parts of Alien are definitely better than the “slow” parts of Aliens. The exposition/suspense scenes here aren’t bad per se, but they seem kind of mandatory and workmanlike (I kinda wanted to hit fast forward to be perfectly honest, so sue me) where Alien doesn’t contain a single frame that couldn’t be put up in a museum or a single moment that doesn’t make you feel queasy with dread. I think the fact that alot of people love both movies equally shows how lucky we are to be blessed with this series.

  47. James Horner’s plane crashed, killing the pilot, and the news swirling around is that he might have been inside.

    Besides “My Heart Will Go On”, another claim to fame would be that this cue from Aliens is arguably one of the most-used pieces of music in trailers or TV spots ever.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NlzkGd7qaMY

  48. I was holding out hope, but I guess news stories are confirming it. So with a heavy heart I must say RIP James Horner, an incomparable talent. So, so many iconic scores, from badass action scores like Commando and Aliens, to rousing family fare like The Rocketeer, Krull, and Willow. Even his respectable, Oscar-winning movies like Braveheart and Glory (and of course, Titanic) have instantly recognizable scores they just don’t make anymore. There’s a reason Bishop’s Countdown from Aliens is used in all the trailers, and that Cocoon was used in the Super 8 trailer, and that a deleted musical bit from Aliens was used in the Powell/Karl scene at the end of Die Hard – Horner was a master at transporting you and sending chills down your spine. Going through his IMDB makes me realize I might actually put him above John Williams, believe it or not.

    I know Horner had his detractors who loved to point out he recycled his scores, but when his scores are this good, who cares? So what if 48 Hrs. sounded like Red Heat which sounded like Commando? I kinda like that they create a thematic link to each other – those movies might take place in the same universe for all we know (Joel Silver-ville?), why shouldn’t their music sound the same? Also I thought Aliens was the greatest score ever when I was a kid, and I still think it’s flawless even though now I know it literally mashes up his monster movie score from Wolfen with the space-opera grandness of Star Trek II. How completely appropriate and delightfully meta.

  49. 48 Hrs. is the most badass piece of music ever recorded. If he did nothing else, that would still be a hell of a legacy.

  50. That steel drum and sax combo he often used in the 80’s= pure magic.

  51. James Cameron has written a beautiful tribute to James Horner here: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/james-camerons-james-horner-tribute-804563

    Highlights include him pointing out Horner wrote the score to Aliens in a day and a half(!) Btw, I only learned recently that Aliens also borrows from the Gayane Ballet Suite, which I had never heard of but was apparently used prominently in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Again, I love that his score works on a meta-level by referencing other space films, but to the unaware it’s just a great kick-ass score.

  52. The score for ALIENS is recycled a little in the Jack Ryan movies he did, specifically the use of the Lygeti piece he weaved in. To hear him, Cameron and Gale Anne Hurd describe it on the making-of for ALIENS, it sounded like it was pure hell getting it all together. It’s amazing what can come together sometimes with the most limited amount of time.

    I think FIELD OF DREAMS is my favorite of his, just on a pure emotional level it brilliantly accompanies the sentiment and earnestness of the story. But he was also great at doing pure suspense, apart from ALIENS which to me is much more of an action score. He could make the low notes of a piano sound as menacing as a Metallica riff. I heard a rumor that he was going to score Fincher’s GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO before Reznor and Ross were announced. As it is I love that score, but I think Horner could have brought something equally interesting to it.

  53. R.I.P Bill Paxton. Game over,man.

  54. I was literally just thinking about Bill Paxton this morning before I heard the horrible news. How wonderful it is that he mastered the art of playing the goober-y comic relief in classics like Weird Science, Aliens, Predator 2, and True Lies, but also managed to transition successfully to play the leading man in a huge summer movie (Twister) and a long-running, well-respected drama series (Big Love). Thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.

  55. He was fantastic. Endlessly enjoyable to watch in anything.

    A real “15 percent-er” if ever there was one.

    Heartbreaking news.

    Thanks for being utterly awesome, Bill.

  56. Looking back on it, Paxton was pretty important to action cinema, even though he wasn’t an action star. A lot of this of course is thanks to his friendship with James Cameron, but he also showed up in Navy Seals and Haywire. He also seemed custom built to star in Westerns. I almost wish he were born a few decades earlier, so he could have really taken advantage of the genre’s popularity. I think his greatest strength was that he made the best out of a role no matter how big or small. Without Paxton, I don’t think a character like Hudson would have been as instantly iconic.

  57. Fuck. Bill Paxton. He was one of the first character actors I was aware of, just by being so memorable in so many of my formative movies. What a cool career he had. PA for Roger Corman*. James Cameron regular. Scene stealer. Movie star. TV star. Director. Deliverer of some of the most quoted lines of our day. Co-star of the biggest movie of all time until Cameron decided to make another one and not put him in it for some reason. Inspiration for a generation of storm chasers. Rock star. Ice-T concert stage diver. Half of a meme. Creator of “Fish Heads.” He really did it all.

    Bill Paxton. Fuck.

    *And in the art department, too. Real work, none of that fetching-coffee-and-getting-releases-signed crap. Plus, he might be the only Corman graduate to ever come back and make a Corman movie after he became successful. As a borderline Corman obsessive, I respect the shit out of that.

  58. Paxton really kicked ass. Aside from the obvious blockbuster stuff (ALIENS, TITANIC, APOLLO 13), I enjoyed him in all kinds of quirky roles across the genre map over a 30-year period–from Chet in WEIRD SCIENCE to the sleazy car salesman in TRUE LIES to BIG LOVE (I enjoyed the first several seasons largely in on the strength of the Paxton-ator) to Coconut Pete in CLUB DREAD. This guy was the shit.

    Oh, yeah, FRAILTY – kick ass beautifully weird, tragic, brutal horror movie.

    That’s all just top of the dome. Dude did it all.

    Sad night for a walk.

  59. I’m going to celebrate Bill’s life now by watching Dana Carvey’s Hudson:

    Sigourney Weaver in "Alienses" - Video Dailymotion

    Sigourney Weaver in "Alienses" comedy sketch from 1986. VHS transfer. Sorry for the low quality.

  60. This one hurts.

    I think it’s partially because Bill WASN’T an A-list leading man . . . and yet he was in so many Goddam great movies that he belongs to that group somehow. He’s like that awesome little brother who’s always hanging around and who everyone likes but who isn’t ever the center of the party because he’s the youngest. Had I learned today that Arnold Schwarzenegger had died I wouldn’t be as sad, because by comparison, Arnold has been so fucking famous, and so successful, for so long; a King who has enjoyed his crown for decades. Why does death have to take someone like Paxton first? Doesn’t seem right.

    For those who have time for TV shows, check out BIG LOVE, which Bill was great in. I don’t need to mention the rest, because you all know them.

    I happen to live in the town they filmed A SIMPLE PLAN. Gonna take a stroll past the Feed Store tomorrow with my son and think of him.

  61. Even Ice-T called Paxton “coolest guy ever” and told a story on Twitter how he came to one of his concerts and stagedived, after they shot TRESPASS together. Judging by all these stories I’ve read since yesterday, I do believe that he WAS that cool and people not just try to be polite in a “Don’t talk bad about dead folks” way.

  62. I remember BRAIN DEAD, the aforementioned Corman reunion, being a pretty damn good TWILIGHT ZONE writ large (but not expensive) like they used to make back then. And I was fascinated by the trailer for it on the WEEKEND AT BERNIE’S VHS for a couple of years before I actually saw it. Sadly it seems its legacy was relegated for years to being “not *that* BRAINDEAD”, maybe it’s one people will get a chance to rediscover.

    I know it’s always a bit suspicious when people bring up the lower/lowest end of someone’s filmography which doesn’t even have a proper cult following when they die, but as someone who saw it in its very brief UK theatrical run during a Sixth Form Off-Site period, I can tell you I truly love CLUB DREAD, not least because of Paxton’s Jimmy Buffett stylings.

  63. Yet another great, long lost (it seems) movie with Paxton (and a shit ton of other great dudes) is THE LORDS OF DISCIPLINE. Awesome, tough little film. Well worth the tracking down.

  64. Has Anybody seen this movie?

  65. I’ll admit tearing up a bit at this, James Cameron Remembers Bill Paxton:

    James Cameron Pens a Moving Tribute to His Friend Bill Paxton

    "He was loyal, decent, kind and so damn funny."

  66. Watched Twister last night to pay homage to the man. Some takeaways:

    1) The HD version that’s streaming (at least on Amazon) doesn’t look very good and surprisingly the surround sound mix was underwhelming. This movie needs a remaster ASAP, considering how heavily it relies on spectacle.

    2) Another prime example of the “practical FX are better” argument. The CGI FX have not aged very well AT ALL, but any time there’s real props and real chaos happening onscreen, the movie’s excitement level goes up tenfold. A CGI tornado throwing around a CGI gas tanker somehow left me cold, but driving a real truck through a real house will never not be exciting.

    3) For some reason I keep thinking of early Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a poor man’s Jack Black, but this performance actually precedes Jack Black’s shtick by a few years. I like that there’s like 10 people on the Twister team, none of which die, and almost all of which play the role of “the quirky comic relief”, but Hoffman still finds a way to stand out and make a good impression (Fun note: this came out right around the time of Mission Impossible 1 – who would have thunk the stoner guy from Twister would end up being the main villain in Part 3?) And yes, it’s very weird to watch the scenes with just Hoffman and Paxton and think “man, both of them are no longer with us”

    4) Interesting to see a big summer action movie based on an original property with no villain, no violence, and a relatively low body count (3). They really don’t make them like this anymore.

    5) And finally, Paxton doesn’t have the meatiest role, but he truly lends an extra bit of character-actor realism and gravitas to what he’s given. He doesn’t look like an actor or a model, he doesn’t look like Luke Evans or Jai Courtney or whatever non-American actor will play him in the eventual reboot*, he looks like a 40ish Midwestern scientist who just wants to graduate to weatherman but can’t let his past wild streak go. In other words, he’s perfect for the role .

    *I guess you could argue this was already rebooted as “Into the Storm” with the guy from the Hobbit who’s not Luke Evans playing the male lead. You could also say the modern day successor to this is San Andreas, which is actually headlined by an American guy who is awesome in his own right but also the very antithesis of Bill Paxton.

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