Seldom do you come across a sequel which is even as good as the original let alone be better. But when the director at helm is James Cameron, I believe one should expect the unexpected. “Aliens” takes everything good about the first film directed by Ridley Scott and just amps it up two folds. In the process of doing that, it ends up introducing its own set of frolicking additions which over the years was used in varied films and media. The title of the film perfectly explains the difference between this film and its predecessor. While the first film was about a single alien wiping out the entire crew of a ship, this one dwell on what happens when a community of miners living on the same planet where the incidents of the first film unfolded, find the rest of the eggs that Kane from the first film saw and reported before being attacked by the Face-Hugger.
Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has been afloat in the ship that she was last seen going into a hyper-sleep in. She is rescued by the company that she worked for and after coming to her senses realizes that 57 years have gone by. She is shocked and yet somehow gathers up herself and faces a trial to understand and implicate her, if the needed, for her actions on board the Nostromo. By the end of her review, she is ripped off her rank and even subjected to psycho- evaluation. She also learns that the planet they landed in is now a miner’s settlement where engineers are tera-forming to build better worlds.
Soon enough, the company loses contact with the colony of miners as one of the families, while checking a grind finds the ship holding the eggs and is exposed to a Face-Hugger. A team of marines is quickly organized to go down there and have a look at the people and find out if at all there are any survivors. Ripley is requested to join the crew primarily for the first hand information that she has. She reluctantly agrees after she is assured that the mission is only to find the alien and destroy it. The team soon arrives at the planet and finds nobody home. They however find a little girl whom Ripley takes under her wings and promises to protect. The techie in the team finds out the signals of all the miners emanating from a chamber a few clicks from where they are. The team believes that they have found the miners and move about getting them back cockily.
When they arrive at the location they find that the miners have been entrapped on the walls and are being cocooned to breed out new aliens. The team is attacked from all sides by the aliens and only a few of them make it out alive. The ones that survived regroup with Ripley and start planning for their escape out of the planet. Soon the aliens come all out against the crew. Ripley realizes that there must a mother-alien that is laying all the eggs but she is unable to fight her way to it. After fighting for hours, she, with the help of the rescued girl, makes way to an exist from where they can end up on a ship.
Ripley finally finds the mother-alien as she is trying to rescue the girl who is captured and prepared to be cocooned after she gets separated from the team. She destroys the mother’s nest and blazes her way to the ship where she has to now face the wrath of the mother-alien. A tremendous fight ensues and finally she is able to kill the alien and make her way out of the planet. Following that, she takes the little girl and gets back to the cryo sleep expecting to be saved like she was saved before.
The film improves upon a variety of factors from the original. There are a number of aliens as compared to only one from the first installment. The story arc seamlessly integrates with the first installment giving a feeling of being almost in the same time frame with the graphics, the topography and the feel organically integrating with the setting and feel of the first installment, even though it was made more than 6 years later. The mood and feel of the film remains exactly the same as the first installment and there is a constant feeling of uneasiness about it.
There is a lot more action as compared to the first installment. Some of the action sequences were so well done that one can practically see them repeated in films made even today. There is a scene where we see the miners cocooned to be breeders for the aliens where one of the miners is still alive. As the marines reach her, she just lifts up her head and tells them to kill her. Within moments, an alien starts bursting out of her chest and she dies a painful death. This scene was repeated in a film called “The Mist” which was based on the works of Stephen King. However in Mist, the alien was replaced by a spider-like creature which cocooned in the people. When you look at the visual effects they will still hold their own even today. These are the words I used for the first film and I use the same for this film as well because it’s so true.
The screenplay is another huge plus. The pacing of the film is perfect and the manner in which the events unfold holds you on the edge of your seats. Take for instance the first time we see a Face-Hugger. The two miners who go inside the ship in the beginning are delighted to have made a discovery and they leave their children in their vehicle and go inside to look for it. We know what’s inside and then there is a sudden lull which is broken by the sharp scream of the mother who has rushed out of the ship and is now on the radio of the vehicle calling for help. The little girl glances past her mother and sees her father lying on the ground with a Face-Hugger attached to his face. The girl screams out and then we cut to a shot of Ripley who has just got up. The way this scene is filmed increases its affectivity two folds.
There is another scene where the teams of marines seal of an entrance and check their movement meters which shows the aliens still coming towards them. They check everywhere but they are unable to find anything until one of them looks above their heads and finds the aliens making their way through the roof. This scene is scary as hell primarily because of the fact that we know that the entry and the exits have been sealed and that the aliens have found a way inside the room where the survivors are on their own without an escape.
Coming to the performances, Sigourney Weaver as Ripley is brilliant. She has really got the hold of the character and has grown in confidence as well as charisma. The film interestingly has some comic elements which are delivered with a deadpan attitude by Ripley. Michael Biehn has the next meatiest role and he makes his presence felt. Paul Reiser plays Burke, the representative of the company who takes over from Ash being the baddie who is not afraid to kill Ripley just to ensure that the alien is safely captured and brought back home to weaponize it. Lance Henriksen plays the android this time and he is truly an ally for a change. But I honestly preferred the evil Ash from the previous installment. The film boasts of a brilliant score by James Horner. He is the go to guy for films like this and over the years he has reiterated the fact again and again that he is the best. The track here really gets to you and in so many instances gets your pulse pounding.
The cinematography by Adrian Biddle is brilliant. I was particularly impressed by the way he has captured the interior sequences mixing up the footages from the cams that the soldiers wear, the footage from the Point Of View of the soldiers as also from the camera that is free to move across the topography. The sound department does well to complement the visuals. One nice trick was the complete silence when the alien, in one of the scenes untangles from its position on the walls and comes after one of the marines. You get to see the alien at the back of the marine but there is no sound. This scene proves to be so scary because of the way it is shot and scored. The editing is equally good. In so many books, write ups and tutorials we learn how to create tension by using cuts and cross cuts. The sequence where the Marines go to find the miner is a perfect example of how editing is used to build up tension. The same visualization can be seen throughout the film increasing the affectivity and sheer horror of the narrative.
Aliens is my favorite film of the franchise because of its scale, its magnificence, its raw power and performances and above all the fact that it successfully maintains the essence of its first installment and still turns out to be better than it. That is a rare feet and the film pulls off that feet with brilliance and simplicity.