Flashback Friday Episode 94: Aliens (1986)

Sole survivor of the ill fated space tug Nostromo, Lt. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) reluctantly returns to the planet known as LV-426 where she first encountered the hostile alien lifeform that subsequently slaughtered her shipmates when a human colony stationed there falls off the radar. Accompanied by a platoon of battle hardened marines Ripley and Co finds themselves not pitted against just one extraterrestrial killing machine but an entire army of them….

At the dawn of the 1980’s you would be forgiven for thinking that Ridley Scott’s Sci-Fi Horror masterpiece, Alien (1979) was an impossible act to follow. Regular readers may remember that even someone as near impossible to please as yours truly waxed lyrical and bestowed a hallowed 5/5 rating on Alien when it featured in Flashback Friday. Yet despite several years of pre-production limbo and a notoriously volatile set against all odds a young James Cameron delivered a sequel that is not only universally acknowledged as more than a match for the original but some critics argue Aliens (1986) betters its predecessor. Now, to cut a long story short I personally prefer the original and instead of debating about the artistic vision and direction of Scott and Cameron I’ll try my best to keep this subjective and take Aliens on its own merit.

Maybe its the arrogance of youth but its clear from the start that Cameron had no intention of taking the most obvious course of action and rehashing the original but instead drags the Xenomorph out of the art house and into blockbuster country. Aliens is unapologetically a juggernaut of a Sci-Fi Action film that not only demonstrates the rapid evolution of Cameron’s abilities as a filmmaker since making Terminator (1984) but gives a teaser of the landmark achievement of its sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) that would follow in due course. I know I said I wouldn’t do comparisons but while Alien was a slow burning and claustrophobic game of cat and mouse Aliens is the polar opposite and is a loud and explosive gore fest and consequently one aspect I do concede Aliens has over the original is Ripley’s confrontation with the Alien Queen is a far more triumphant, fist pumping and satisfying finale. Seriously if we’re talking iconic duels the final battle in Aliens is right up there with Return of the Jedi (1983) for me personally.

As Cameron is going bigger and bolder a second time round the character of Ripley, who had already demonstrated she was a woman who knew how to handle herself in a fight to the finish back in Alien transcends into the most kick ass heroine popular culture had witnessed by 1986. Sure, we’d had the likes of Karen Allen’s spirited turn in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) but look no further than Roger Moore’s Bond films to illustrate in eighties Hollywood women were still very much viewed as hapless damsels in distress. The iconic image of Sigourney Weaver cradling Newt (Carrie Henn) under one arm and a flamethrower under the other marks a seismic shift where women could be every bit of a force to be reckoned with as any muscleman or beefcake.

Aliens’ other great achievement is for better or worse it broadened the appeal of its source material garnishing Oscar nominations galore (unheard of for an Action film at this point); spawning an entire franchise and marking the first wave of mass merchandising that is still hungrily consumed in the present day. It’s not hard to see why Aliens is regarded as a modern classic both celebrated as one of the greatest Action films and sequels ever made and I love it as much as the next nerd but just a tiny wincy bet less than Alien.


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