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*Also starring: Carrie Henn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Jenette Goldstein, Bill Paxton

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Dragan Antulov review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
2.  Brian Koller read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review

Review by Dragan Antulov
4 stars out of 4

Almost any film reviewer sooner and later gets nostalgic and thinks fondly about certain period in film history, when unmatched multitude of masterpieces emerged in a relatively short time. For the author of this review, such Golden Age happened in late 1970s and early 1980s, when he enjoyed most of the movies he considers the best. Almost exclusively those movies belong to the genre of science fiction; genre that later became the domain of blockbuster infantilism, inspired by Lucas and Spielberg. Most of the directors that used to shine in that Golden Age, slowly faded away in the years to come, unable to adapt to the new rules of Hollywood. However, even in such atmosphere another masterpiece happened; shining counterexample to the popular belief that Hollywood sequels always must be inferior to the original. Such movie was ALIENS, 1986 science fiction horror by James Cameron, Canadian director who had a difficult task in matching quality of 1979 classic ALIEN by Ridley Scott. However, Cameron managed not only to make a good movie, but he also made a masterpiece of his own, instant cult classic that enjoys popularity even now, after twelve years and two disappointing sequels.

Like many sequels do, ALIENS begins more or less exactly where the old movie ended. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is a sole survivor of the space freighter plagued by a single yet deadly alien monster that killed the rest of her crew after being brought from LV-426 planet. Her voyage back to Earth in a shuttle ends when she is picked up by salvage team, only to discover that her hybernated sleep had lasted 57 years. Burdened with terrible nightmare and forced to live in a world with all her friends and family gone, Ripley also loses her job, because her old Company executives don't believe her story about alien-infested LV-426; the planet was in the meantime colonised by terraformers and nobody reported any problems. However, that is about to change when LV-426 stops sending signals. Ripley reluctantly agrees to join Company's senior official Burke (Paul Reiser) on a rescue mission, led by Liuetenant Gorman (William Hope) and his small but elite unit of Colonial Marines. Upon landing, they discover that the entire population was turned into hosts for alien organism. That means that they should deal not with a single monster, but entire small army. Marines quickly learn that in a first serious engagement, when they despite all their firepower, get slaughtered. The remaining band of survivors, nominally led by Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn), and actually by Ripley, finds itself stranded in a small, isolated part of colony complex. Their chances of survival aren't however, totally hopeless, because a little girl Newt (Carrie Henn), daughter of the colonists, managed to avoid monsters simply by hiding in ventilation tunnels.

The biggest achievement of ALIENS is a fact that the movie seems to work both as a standalone action adventure, and as a sequel in the same time. Script by James Cameron remains true to the previous movie, even borrowing some crucial elements of its plot; yet, despite all those similarities, script manages to add new twists to the story and remains original. The most notable difference between those movies is in a genre; the first one was dark, disturbing, and slow-paced horror which relied on a thick atmosphere of anxiety and claustrophobia; the second one is an war movie, that relies on a clever combination of suspense and non-stop action thrills, that brings ALIENS clearly to the action genre territory.

However, there is another element that separates ALIENS from ALIEN; it is the fact that, unlike the previous movie, this one has more time and opportunity to speculate about the trends in future society and comment on the present one. The world of ALIENS seems like a natural extension of the some current yet disturbing trends of the Reagan era - supremacy of all-powerful military-industrial complex, rebirth of ultramilitaristic jingoism and, finally, yuppie philosophy of material success through any means necessary. Cameron obviously seems very concerned about the ultimate result if such trends remained unchecked, because ALIENS could be very easily (and most of the critics agree with such notion) seen as a metaphor for another, this time historical disaster - Vietnam. If ALIEN tried to warn about the fact that the universe may hide some horrors that humans aren't ready for, its sequel tries to warn that even in the brightest of futures superior technology can't save humans from repeating some costly mistakes from the past.

Because it tries to send a clear message, ALIENS, unlike ALIEN, tries to be more humanely oriented film, even uplifting, especially in the end. While the last one barely had a happy end and left nothing but a bitter taste in mouth, this one manages to praise courage, sacrifice and human spirit, and rewards its heroes by giving them a ride in the sunset in the form of well-deserved sleep. In order to be achieve that impact, ALIENS collected a small yet impressive group of well-drawn and three- dimensional characters the viewer cares for. The only character shared with ALIEN, Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver in an "Oscar"-worthy performance, was well- developed; already proven to be capable of handling dangerous situations, Ripley was hardened by previous traumatic experience and now is ready to tackle with her worst demons. For some contemporary critics, character of Ripley from ALIENS was some kind of feminist response to the RAMBO-inspired renaissance of action moviee machismo. But, unlike Stallone's icon, Ripley was, through her interaction with Nwet, also portrayed as a mother figure, capable of emotions. Thus, character of Ripley can serve as an ideal for strong and capable women who don't want to lose her sensitivity and femininity.

Other characters are also well-drawn, although the breath-taking tempo of non-stop action and their constantly dwindling numbers wouldn't indicate so. Corporal Hicks, played by one of Cameron's most reliable actors, Michael Biehn, is brilliant as an indecisive, yet capable soldier, whose single yet subtle scene with Ripley gives few precious elements of sexual tension in this picture. Bill Paxton is, on the other hand, gave much stronger impression as his wisecracking yet panicky comrade who redeems his cowardice in the end. He managed to shadow even Jeanette Goldstein and her great effort to transform herself into tough female Marine. Most subtle performance was one by veteran character actor Lance Henriksen who played android Bishop; his simple gestures helped to turn his android character Bishop into the most human personality of all the cast. All of those characters were also equipped with a series of sharp one-liners that would become one of this movie's trademarks. Even the slimy Burke, played by Paul Reiser, had one of them.

Although ALIENS, unlike its predecessor, puts more emphasis on action than on atmosphere, James Cameron had worked very hard on visual details, trying to make it as faithful to ALIEN as possible. Yet in the same time, he made ALIENS quite unique with its new, futuristic weaponry, clothes, vehicles and spaceships. Together with Stan Winston's superb special effects those visuals made ALIENS one of the most recognisable and visually stunning movies. While the original was literally dark, Cameron's photographer Adrien Biddle used a lot of light, but its combination with grey tones made an atmosphere of ALIENS equally depressing. However, the most noticeable element of the movie is a superb musical score by James Horner, who had a very difficult task in matching Jerry Goldsmith's haunting soundtrack in the ALIEN. However, Horner made it by using effective themes that perfectly match numerous action scenes in the film. The proof of its quality lies in the fact that the ALIENS soundtrack is often used outside this movie.

For a lot of people ALIENS is considered to be "the best" in many categories. It is considered to be the best in Alien cycle. It is also the best movie in already impressive career of James Cameron. And, finally, it is also considered to be the best science fiction film ever made. Some people might disagree with anything from above, yet one thing remains obvious -ALIENS is an excellent movie, not just for the fans who built a whole cult around it, but also for the regular viewers, who haven't been able to see something matching its quality for a long time.

Copyright 1998 Dragan Antulov

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