Rated R for horror action violence. I'm going to make a parallel between Aliens and Jurassic Park for this one, but I would like to state that Cameron almost forces himself to go creepier than he'd like for the sake of making a sequel to a pretty creepy movie. But I also noticed that we don't have a lot of gore outside of what happens to Bishop, the artificial person. But I can't ignore that chest-bursters are a thing that I've grown eerily comfortable with. R.
DIRECTOR: James Cameron
Of course James Cameron says that the longer version of the movie is the better version.
Ridley Scott introduces his director's cut of Alien saying something really refreshing. To paraphrase, he states that the theatrical cut was the one he prefers, but that the Director's Cut was simply something that he was paid to do for the die hard Alien fans. And I completely agree with that. It's actually what made me stop knee-jerking towards watching alternate cuts of movies. Sometimes, an alternate cut is just something to make people shell out a few extra bucks when the original is actually the intended version. But with James Cameron, he likes everything he makes to be epic. I will say, I have some opinions regarding Aliens, special edition or no. I'm not sure if I watched the original cut or the special edition before, but I'm going to just pretend that the version that I just watched is the canon version of the movie and go from there.
I used to really hate on Aliens. It's still not a perfect movie. If anything, I'm going to gripe about one moment of the movie to the point where it will make me feel petty, but I acknowledge my own faults and, to a certain extent, embrace these faults. I have always known Aliens' reputation. It was always the superior sequel in the public view to a pretty darned good movie. I never saw this. In my head, there are only a handful of perfect films and the theatrical cut of Alien might be one of those movies. I always viewed Aliens as a movie that was for meatheads. Sorry, I have always been irresponsibly judgmental, so keep all of this in consideration for how awful of a person I actually am. But the big problem was that it completely nerfed the eponymous monsters.
This is something that I've returned to time and again. The first movie always has a tank of a creature. The sequels think that bigger is better, so they add more creatures. But all that means is that the creatures in the sequel won't be impossible to kill. Remember the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series finale? Of course you do, who am I kidding? Buffy nearly gets wrecked by one of those uber-vamps and only by sheer luck and the grace of God does she manage to destroy it. Cut to the Hellmouth, teeming with those things. In the finale, I'm pretty sure every member of the Scoobies takes out at least one of those things. That's kind of what is happening here. Now, I know what the argument is going to be. "Now we have Space Marines." Yes, you do have space marines. But that first xenomorph took some damage. I mean, we're looking at fire and the works. In this one, the monsters just get wrecked with the knowledge that we're following zombie rules. The scary parts about zombies are their sheer numbers. But that shouldn't be the case with xenomorphs. They should be these little unstoppable tanks. The Queen in this movie? That was the challenge level of the previous xenomorph in the first movie.
Okay, that's off my chest. All this leads to me to a key concept that I never really grasped before. Aliens might be an absolutely fantastic movie and everyone's right...but only if you ignore the first movie. Aliens almost doesn't feel like a sequel to the original film. Sure, Ripley's back. Thanks goodness because Ripley is the ur-leading lady. She has the same problem of men not listening to her, despite her prudent instincts. Instead of saving the cat, she's saving Newt. (Poor Newt. I know she dies in the next one, which makes a lot of Ripley's choices in this far less important.) But tonally, it's more of an action movie than a horror movie. This is where the Jurassic Park comparison comes in. These movies structurally are pretty darned similar. Like Alien, I consider Jurassic Park to be a perfect film. While being a story about monsters being out of control and hunting humans, a lot of the issues come down to corporations trying to play God. We have voices of reason coupled with complete boobs who are used to juxtapose level-headedness with the insanity of the situation. The suspense is all there. Heck, I'll go as far as saying that Aliens, with a little fat trimming, could easily become a PG-13 movie.
So if I consider Jurassic Park to be a perfect film and that Aliens is a well-crafted film that has a lot of the same plot structure (and to boot, years before Jurassic Park came out), why don't I have that same obsessive love for Aliens? I mean, I tend to critique it a lot. But I think it all comes down to the fine line of expectations. For a while, like the Mission: Impossible movies, each entry was trending towards being a director showcase. But there wasn't enough of a line down the center to stress that. Look at the directors of the first four movies and tell me that it isn't a who's who of great directors! It's stunning. Yet, I can't help but thinking that Aliens is meant to be a direct sequel to the first film. With the Mission: Impossible movies, each film was a stand-alone involving the same character. So if Aliens came first, I think I would be in love with this movie. It's scary and violent.
But it isn't perfect. Basically, I'm ping-ponging between the goods and the bads, so bear with me. A better writer would have planned this all out, but I'm fighting the clock here and I'm wicked sleepy. There is a moment in the movie that absolutely drives me nuts. It's bad writing. The movie has stress that the place is going to go thermonuclear, you know, like the original Nostromo. They also have to nerf the Marines so they get wrecked in the first confrontation with the xenomorphs. Ripley informs Gorman that they are sitting on an area that can't sustain gunfire because if they shoot, the whole place plus forty miles will explode. Because Ripley doesn't feed the information to the Colonial Marines and leaves it to Gorman, it comes across as a bureaucratic bit of idiocy. Vasquez and Hudson, the two alpha warriors, ignore the command and sneak a magazine to save, just in case. So the movie sets up a rule: If you fire in this area, we all die. The movie then teases that someone is going to break that rule. They do break that rule.
And no consequences.
That's not good storytelling. Part of me wants to forgive it. It's setting up something for the last act of the movie, but it makes Ripley kind of in charge of the deaths of the Marines. Yeah, Gorman, the unlikable character, is the one who gives the order. But Ripley is the one pulling the strings of that whole scenario. We forget that Ripley makes that call because the entire series is about her making the right call in the face of the bureaucrats. But it is given to Gorman and that scene just doesn't work. It actually bugs me a lot. It's a Chekhov's gun that isn't fired. (I keep using this phrase and I apologize. But this is a really good example.)
But there's so much of this movie that does work that I've never noticed before. I love how Cameron has you like Burke before you hate him. He's this guy who clearly represents the company. Borderline from moment one when this guy enters, he establishes that he shouldn't be trusted, but asks for your trust anyway. Casting Paul Reiser in this role is a stroke of genius. It's a perfect example of casting against type. Burke plays into a lot of Ripley's neuroses, as do Bishop and Newt. Cameron's pretty smart to play up with the consequences of the first movie and just pours salt into wounds. While I would have loved to see Ripley dealing more with the "woman-out-of-time" element introduced (mainly because it makes her look kind of unsympathetic that she got over her dead daughter due to pilot error), the introduction of Newt as her new daughter is awesome. Ripley doesn't come across as a stereotypical mom, being always right and maternal. Instead, it gives the title of motherhood a degree of power and that's rad. Similarly, making Ripley fallible with her distrust of Bishop is really interesting. I love the contrast between Bishop and Ian Holm's character from the first movie.
So I'll admit that I'm mostly wrong about Aliens. Yeah, the bullets in the tunnel thing still bothers me, but it is a far better movie than I gave it credit for. I now get why people really like it. It's just that I will always love Alien more.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.