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Aliens (1986)

ALIENS

Directed by James Cameron. Starring Sigourney Weaver (Ghostbusters; Avatar), Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn (The Terminator), Lance Henriksen (The Terminator; AVP), William Hope (Sherlock Holmes; Captain America: The First Avenger), Bill Paxton (Titanic; Apollo 13). 

I have two insights to share about this film. One deals with characterization, and another deals with patterns in Cameron-esque filmmaking.

1. CHARACTERIZATION

In Aliens, we pick up where Alien (1979) leaves off and briskly move forward from there, never stopping to catch our breath until the end of the climactic final scene. This makes the film successful. Viewers are grasped — seemingly irrevocably, much like the painstaking grip of a facehugger — until the final moments of the film. However, in dense films such as this one, which contain extensive action, it can be hard to find places to insert characterization. Cameron does a masterful job of expressing emotions and personalities briefly but with impressive depth. In one shot, he demonstrates that he can accomplish what other directors may require five shots to achieve. An example which stood out to me occurs near the beginning of the film, when no one on board the ship will believe the warnings of Ellen Ripley (played by Weaver) regarding the dangerous alien life forms. Solely the amount of ash on Ripley’s cigarette reveals that she is in enormous distress. She is too wound up to even calm herself with a cigarette. See the frame below (no copyright infringement intended for any images).


Ripley’s all-telling cigarette.


2. JAMES CAMERON FILM SIMILARITIES: ALIENS AND AVATAR, AMONG OTHERS

Now that I have watched both Aliens and Avatar (2009), a slew of similarities have become apparent. It’s unreal. Some obvious ones include extraterrestrial life forms, other planets, spacecrafts, conflicting attitudes towards other species (e.g., extermination vs. observation/specimen collection), a final battle scene, and Sigourney Weaver portrayed as a leader smoking a cigarette. Additionally, both films, to some degree, present qualities possessed by the extraterrestrials which mirror human qualities. In Avatar, the Na’vi are humanized, and in Aliens, one alien lays eggs and is protective of them while they are developing, just as earthly animals and humans are protective of their young.

Two other striking similarities crossed my mind. The first: both films involve a bionic suit of sorts, shown here:


Bionic Exoskeleton Suits in Avatar and Aliens. On left: Avatar – Mitsubishi MK-6 Amplified Mobility Platform (aka AMP suit). On right: Aliens – Power Loader.


The second: cryosleep, or hyper sleep. This means sleeping in a hibernation-like state for long periods of time. For example, in between Alien and Aliens, Ellen Ripley sleeps for 57 years.


Sleep in Avatar and Aliens. On left: Jake Sully in Avatar. On right: Colonial marines sleeping in Aliens.


I am certain that many more similarities can be identified. For example, the cinematography of one of the Aliens climactic scenes (in which Ripley returns into the chaos in order to locate and save Newt) reminds me of some of the flooding and sinking sequences in Cameron’s Titanic (1997). Cameron has a special cinematic gift: he can portray scenes of chaos and panic without losing control of his precise pacing and steady story progression. Less talented directors may result to excessively shaky, out-of-focus, and wild camera movements, but not Cameron. I respect him for this ability.

I still have not made up my mind as to whether Cameron’s concept repetition is intriguing or dull. It’s fascinating to detect parallels and common themes, but one can only watch the same movie so many times. All in all, these insights are food for thought.

I’ll sign off with a few memorable quotes:

(1) NEWT: Are we going to sleep all the way home?…Can I dream? RIPLEY: I think we both can.

— note: This contrasts with Ripley’s nightmares at the beginning of the film. They are finally safe. At least for now.

(2) RIPLEY: Get Away From Her You Bitch!

(3) HUDSON: Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man? VASQUEZ: No. Have you?

(4) BURKE: Ripley? I – You know I expected more from you. I thought you’d be smarter than this. RIPLEY: Well, I’m happy to disappoint you.

(5) RIPLEY: You know, Burke, I don’t know which species is worse. You don’t see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage.

(6) BISHOP: Not bad for a human.


Queen mother alien.



Theatrical release poster.


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