Reviewed by: Brett Willis
Sci-Fi Action Adventure Thriller
2 hr. 18 min.
Year of Release:
July 18, 1986
Movies in this series:
In terms of doing what it sets out to do, this is possibly the best Sci-Fi Monster movie ever made. It stands out from the others in this series, and WAY out from the genre.
Everything about the first film, “Alien”, has been amplified. There are more characters, more aliens, and more variety (besides the Face-hugger and the regular Warrior, we get to meet an egg-laying Queen). More twists and surprises. More action, blood, gross-outs and profanity. Even a larger dose of PC social engineering. And if the standard 138-minute edition isn’t enough for you, there’s also a “long” version.
The focus is no longer just survival; the tagline is “This time it’s war.” I was 36 when I saw this in theatrical release, and that night I was looking out the corner of my eye while walking from the garage to the house. Since age 10 or so, I can’t remember any other film that impacted me that way.
Ellen Ripley (Oscar-nominated performance by Sigourney Weaver) is still on the lifeship from the Nostromo. Her beacon has failed and she’s drifted through the human-inhabited star systems undetected. Finally a Deep Salvage team stumbles on her ship, and she’s brought back after 57 years in hypersleep.
Not surprisingly, The Company denies all knowledge of having sent Ripley’s crew to contact the alien; she’s charged with blowing up her ship “for reasons unknown,” stripped of Flight officer status and put to work in a space-station loading dock. Her plea to investigate the planet is ignored, since a human colony has already been there for 20 years, “terraforming” it with a nuclear-powered atmosphere processor. But one member of the inquiry committee, Carter Burke (comic Paul Reiser of TV’s “Mad About You,” cast against type), shows interest in Ripley’s story.
Ripley suffers from depression and nightmares. Then, Burke and Lt. Gorman of the Colonial Marines show up at her door. Contact with the colony has been lost. Will she come along on the mission as an advisor? No, absolutely not. Then later, yes, provided that the mission is to destroy the aliens rather than to bring them back.
The Marines add a lot of human interest to the story, and play to the PC agenda. There are three women in the strike force—a pilot, a medtech, and smartrifle gunner Pvt. Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein)--all competent in their jobs. Vasquez was regarded as the most fascinating character aside from Ripley. Sgt. Apone (Al Matthews) is also competent (in real life, Matthews was the first black enlisted man in Vietnam to receive a field promotion to Sergeant). Cpl. Hicks (Michael Biehn) is OK, but several of the other white males have noticeable flaws. Lt. Gorman isn’t a coward, but he’s unseasoned and unfit to lead. Pvt. Hudson (Bill Paxton) isn’t a coward either; he’s brave in battle, but so overreactive in between battles that his rantings provide the comic relief. Science officer Bishop (Lance Henricksen) can’t be counted in the tally, since he’s an android. And Burke—well, never mind. Athough the strike force is integrated, there are obvious distinctions at the dinner table. While the women engage in low-level military griping, the men play games with a knife and brag about having had sex with aliens (not the species Ripley encountered). “Yeah, but the one YOU had was a MALE.” “Doesn’t matter when it’s Arcturian.” Since this film was made, women in the U.S. Armed Forces have moved closer to full combat status, and the public image of white males as “the new bimbos” has progressed along nicely.
Once on the planet, the Marines find the atmosphere processor and the entire colony deserted except for one little girl, “Newt” (Carrie Henn), whom Ripley “adopts.” (The original script—and I believe the expanded cut of the film also—has scenes of Newt’s family finding the alien eggs, and explains that Ripley’s own daughter died of cancer/old age while Ripley was lost in hypersleep. So the two are a natural pair.)
I haven’t mentioned the aliens yet. Let’s just say that it’s one continuous rush from the time we figure out that “they’re in there” until it’s all over. And don’t assume it’s over until you see the roll-up credits. Remember, this is a James Cameron film. Quit too soon, and you’ll miss an amazing interstellar catfight.
Thanks to an enraged Ripley and a pack of Marines, the profanity is extreme. There are gross on-screen or implied deaths including the trademark chest-bursting; the constant threat of alien attack; and the possibility that The Company is still sacrificing people for profit. There’s no sexual content, although when Ripley isn’t imitating Rambo we get a few glimpses of her in underwear as in the first film. There’s some disturbing Big Brother technology, such as the colonists having surgically implanted Personal Data Transmitters. If I were a Futurist on prophecy, I’d consider PDTs a good candidate for the “Mark of the Beast” in Rev. 13:16.
This species of alien and the Predator alien are linked together in the film “Predator 2;” and there’s a video game called “Aliens vs. Predator” featuring three-way combat choice between Alien aliens, Predator aliens and Colonial Marines. There have also been plastic toy figurines of the demonic-looking Alien aliens.
On a technical level, Weaver’s work is fabulous. She convincingly exhibits a great range of character and emotion. Biehn is very good, as usual. And Goldstein, who appears in later Cameron films in her natural red hair, blue eyes and freckles, is convincing here as a tough, bodybuilding Hispanic warrior. When she answered the casting call for “Aliens,” Goldstein misunderstood the film’s content and showed up dressed as a 19th Century Irish immigrant. This was a running joke on the set, and was reworked into one of the on-screen verbal barbs between her character and Paxton’s.
Writer/Director Cameron received high marks from feminists for the barrier-breaking content in this and several of his other films, although the objection was raised that Ripley, and Linda Hamilton’s character in “Terminator 2,” were still stereotyped because they were fighting specifically to protect children.
When a film (through sexual imagery, extreme scariness or whatever) creates an adrenaline high in the viewer, everything else in that film is remembered more vividly. Therefore, it’s difficult to watch a well-crafted piece like this and avoid having its social messages implanted in us. If you choose to watch it, proceed with caution.
Prequel: Alien (1979)