Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Reel 30: ALIENS

“…they mostly come out at night. Mostly.”

This month marks the 30th anniversary of James Cameron’s ALIENS.

Often regarded as one of the best action-films ever made, Cameron’s ALIENS was a direct sequel to Sir Ridley Scott’s ALIEN (1979), which told the story of a mining-crew who was wiped out by a single alien onboard their ship while in deep space. Emerging the victor in that film was the character of Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), who was the lone survivor in the story and elevated herself as a new action hero in the genre.

The want for a sequel to Scott’s ALIEN emerged as far back as 1979. However a change in ownership at 20th Century Fox delayed the project for several years, and it wasn’t until 1983 when new management found an interest in the film. The first director on the list was James Cameron, who at the time was not even into filming his breakout film, THE TERMINATOR with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Cameron, who was a huge fan of the original film, wrote a portion of the script while filming TERMINATOR, and wrote it as a war film with Vietnam War influences.

Where Scott’s ALIEN was a slow-paced horror-flick in which one single alien-terror kills off a crew one-by-one in the seclusion of outer space, Cameron’s ALIENS raised the stakes by upping the number of alien creatures into the hundreds and by making our heroes a platoon of futuristic Marines. Re-joining the story would be Sigourney Weaver, and her cast-mates would include a testosterone-fueled cast of  Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, William Hope, Jenette Goldstein, and Al Matthews. But not content to let his film play out like a old boy’s club of ass-kicking Marines, Cameron cast a nine year-old Carrie Henn to play the part of Newt; a young girl who is the lone survivor of the alien infestation…a brilliant move by Cameron which gave Ellen Ripley something real to fight for.

Filming took place at the famed Pinewood Studios in London, and at the abandoned Acton Power Station, also in London. Filming had its hiccups, as Cameron clashed with his director of photography and a production crew who were loyal to Ridley Scott and felt Cameron wasn’t experienced enough. Problems continued through post-production, as editors rushed to meet the July 1986 deadline and composer James Horner, fresh off his success from STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982), had to put together a final soundtrack in a matter of days.

Cameron and his team were able to pull it together, and ALIENS arrived on time and was the No.1 film at the box office for four straight weeks…and to this day it sits as one of the highest-grossing R-rated films of all time. It would be nominated for seven Oscars, including James Horner for Best Original Score, and would win two for Best Sound Editing and Best Visual Effects. It would win eight Saturn Awards in the categories of actress (Sigourney Weaver), supporting actor (Bill Paxton), and performance by a young actor (Carrie Henn). The success would give James Cameron the clout he needed to have his own way with his films…which would lead him to his Oscar-winning TITANIC (1997) and AVATAR (2009); the highest-grossing film of all time.


Sometimes there is nothing better than seeing two of your favorite genres come together on the screen in a glorious milkshake. ALIENS was, and is, a great mashup of science fiction, horror, and the war-film genre…with an adventure in outer space involving a creepy-as-hell alien-things and flag-waving, ass-kicking, ball-breaking, big-fire-bringing Marines. As wee-lads, this Blogger and his brother loved ALIENS; every fight, curse, character, and on-screen death (Bill Paxton’s Hudson was, and still is our favorite). Thirty years later, ALIENS holds up just as well if not better than most blockbuster-tailored action-flicks of today. The film has heart, is visually amazing, and knows how to treat soldiers on film. After all, the best war-films are the ones that know that a platoon of soldiers are composed of people from all walks of life and allow those diverse characters to be themselves. Outside of the big-nuts platoon, we have our Ellen Ripley, as gloriously played by Sigourney Weaver. Weaver’s performance and Cameron’s writing set the template for women as action-heroes, and the influences done in ALIENS can still be seen, and sought after today. Ellen Ripley was a badass, but was graced with the motherly instinct to protect those around her, making ALIENS not just a model for sci-fi fans, but also the highest standard for elevating the role of women in a man’s universe.

 “I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.”

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