Happy 25th Anniversary, Aliens! Let's Reflect on its Genius
A hot July day exactly 25 years ago yielded one of the best films of the 1980s: Aliens, James Cameron's sequel to the Ridley Scott's classic Alien seven years before it. It holds up all this time later, and arguably may stand up as the most solid work Cameron and his ensemble ever did. Let's pay it the anniversary respect it deserves.
Sigourney Weaver earned an Oscar nomination for reprising her role as Ellen Ripley, the erstwhile Nostromo warrant officer plucked from hypersleep limbo and once again inducted into service for The Company. Paul Reiser played the sleazy corporate stooge overseeing a military-industrial mission to restore contact with colonists who may or may not [ahem] have encountered some unfriendly forces on the desolate rock below. Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton and Jeannette Goldstein led the grunts into battle with the title creatures, deploying pretty much all the one-liners and zingers Cameron had -- and would ever have -- in his screenwriting bank. ("Hey, Vasquez, you ever get mistaken for a man?" "No. Do you?") Carrie Henn appeared as Newt, the young lone survivor of the ravaged colony and surrogate daughter whose disappearance down an air shaft sends Ripley into the alien queen's slimy crucible. And of course Lance Henriksen rocked it as Bishop, the android of the hour with his knife tricks, nifty piloting and unfortunate positioning on the business end of a vengeful queen's tail.
I remember this movie like it came out yesterday -- one of the last R-rated films I really had to beg my parents to let me see, and one of the first films I ever attempted to write anything about. Nothing's been the same since for the principals, either, for better or worse: By the early '90s Cameron's grandiose vision would wholly consume his early knack for story and character, and only Paxton would really emerge from the supporting cast to develop as a leading man. (Henn never acted onscreen again.) The Alien franchise would stumble with the likes of David Fincher's bloated, murky Alien 3 and glorified B-trash Alien vs. Predator. The forthcoming prequel, Prometheus, pledges a return to Scott's style and mood, but for my money, Aliens set the bar unimpeachably high for what a sci-fi film can be: Brilliantly choreographed action, sympathetic characters, exquisite cinematography and set design, awesome creature, and unexpected detours into horror, dark comedy, proto-Avatar/Reagan-era social commentary ("You know, Burke, I don't know which species is worse: You don't see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage"), and even feminist chamber drama. It's got everything! And it sticks the landing in the third act. Such a classic.
Anyway, your mileage may vary. Send along any anniversary regards or differences in the comments.