Stuff I Watch in October: Aliens (1986)

Happy October and welcome! All 31 days this month, I will be reviewing all the films I watch in the month of October. They’re mostly a selection of horror or suspense films in my own library or films and shows that have been recommended to me.

Please enjoy and leave a comment!

And if you missed any of our past reflections, take a look:

The Phantom of the Opera (1925)
Psycho (1960)
The Haunting (1963)
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)
The Other (1972)
The Legend of Hell House (1973)
Young Frankenstein (1974)
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Halloween (1978)
Alien (1979)
The Shining (1980)
Halloween II (1981)
The Evil Dead (1981)
Halloween III – Season of the Witch (1982)
Ghostbusters (1984)
Teen Wolf (1985)

Our next film is…

WATCHING: Aliens (1986)


DIRECTOR: James Cameron. Never heard of this guy. This was probably his first and last film.

WHAT IS IT?: If “Ghostbusters” was a movie about laughing in the face of fear, then so was James Cameron’s “Aliens” — only without the goofy humor.

“This time, it’s war”, says the ominous tagline.

They weren’t kidding.

THE PLOT: After a salvage team finds Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) floating around in deep space in her escape pod from “Alien”, she is brought back to Earth. At a space station, she meets Burke (Paul Reiser), a man from the Weyland-Yutani company which owned the Nostromo — and he drops a bomb: she’s been floating out there for 57 years. She hasn’t aged one bit due to being in hyper-sleep. And she’s having recurring nightmares about her time on the Nostromo. Worse yet, nobody with the Weyland-Yutani corporation believes Ripley’s story about the alien and simply believe her to be negligent. Furthermore, while Ripley was asleep all those years, Earth terraformed the planet where the Nostromo discovered the alien eggs — and nobody has ever complained about aliens.

This all changes when Burke returns to Ripley, telling her that the contact with the colony on that planet has been lost. At first, Ripley refuses to go along with Burke’s offer to be an advisor on their military-led investigation of the area, but as Ripley’s nightmares persist, Ripley changes her mind — contingent on the agreement that if any of the alien lifeforms Ripley encounter 57 years ago are found, that they be completely eradicated, not brought back and studied like the last time.


WHAT DID CRITICS THINK?: The film was a HUGE hit. I still remember seeing this on the cover of TIME and seeing the ads all over TV and the newspapers. It left critics wow’ed. Roger Ebert expressed that he was actually exhausted by the last half of the film and couldn’t even classify it as something which entertains because of the intensity. Jay Boyer of the Orlando Sentinel called it “the Jaws of the 1980’s” and said it was intensely shocking. Nearly every single critic praised Sigourney Weaver’s performance in the film, something which earned her an Oscar nod the following year. The film was nominated for a slew of awards including 7 Oscars (it won 2), 1 Golden Globe, and 11 Saturn Awards (where it pretty much cleaned up).

WHAT DID I THINK?: With a macho mentality comes carelessness. 99 percent of the time, you’ll see it just collapse onto the screen and then just make a mess like yolk from a cracked egg. Had this been a Michael Bay film, we’d be swimming in dick jokes and racial stereotypes and all the pyrotechnics money could buy. But this is “First Terminator”-level James Cameron. This is Cameron before he made the blockbuster that was Terminator 2, a fw years before he peaked at Titanic and then went on to make the self-indulgent mess that was Avatar.

Cameron was building his resume. And this is impressive.

It’s “Alien” with multiple shots of testosterone, the answer to “What if the crew of the Nostromo had a ton of firearms and grenades and nukes and stuff this time around?”

Sigourney Weaver deserved her Oscar nod for the film. She’s really good here. Her ability to show her character’s growth from a company woman who is haunted by monsters in the middle of the night to a badass hardened by those monsters is just perfection. The fact that “Newt”, the sole survivor of the alien infestation of the colony, is brought under Ripley’s care just makes Ripley that much more awesome simply because the bond she has with Newt empowers her and gives her more strength.
The team of Colonial Marine grunts are perfectly case from Apone down to Wierzbowski (I cannot believe I spelled that right on the first try without looking it up). Michael Biehn and Bill Paxton are perfect as Hicks and Hudson as two Marines who are both tough as nails when the battle starts — but only ONE remains cool as ice under pressure.

The production level for “Aliens” is high as a kite and the icy visual scheme Cameron applies to every film he makes is here and perfectly welcome.

My only gripe is that the disquieting unease and bead-of-sweat-inducing suspense and “haunted house” feel of “Alien” is mostly gone, replaced with balls-out action sequences.

This isn’t a bad thing. The creature effects are top-notch and the set pieces are truly amazing. The Queen Alien is a stroke of absolute genius, the next ace-up-their-sleeve from the “Alien” universe.

Still…that old-school monster-movie inspiration is missing somewhat.

The debate over which of the first two Alien films will survive long after I’m gone.

I still side with the original “Alien” — but only slightly.

“Aliens” is one of the greatest sci-fi action pictures I have ever seen.


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