What am I doing reviewing a scary movie the week before Christmas? Well, every Saturday night, the members of my family alternate picking a movie for everyone to watch, and my son’s choice this past week was Aliens. (I reviewed Alien a few months ago here.) No, we didn’t let my daughter watch, and my wife sat this one out too. So it was father-son bonding.
Though this is the sequel to Alien, it has quite a different flavor than the first movie. The first was directed by Ridley Scott and was about a monster loose on a spaceship–essentially a haunted house in space. This movie, however, was directed by action master James Cameron and operates as an action-horror film, full of guns and soldiers and aliens getting blasted. (I speculated here that 1982’s The Thing was the first entry in the action-horror sub-genre.)
It follows Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, the sole human survivor of the first movie, who has returned to human civilization. She finds a job as a loader operator on an industrial work site but suffers from nightmares that keep her from sleeping and finds it hard to relate to others. A big corporation has recently planted a small human colony on the planet where she and her crew encountered the alien in the first movie, disbelieving her warnings that malevolent aliens live in an abandoned spacecraft there. When the Corporation loses contact with the colony, they start to think she might have known what she was talking about.
Despite misgivings, she accompanies a contingent of space marines to the planet to investigate. Not surprisingly, they find on arrival that the colony has been taken over by the aliens, with all humans apparently killed, their bodies used to incubate baby aliens. A battle between the marines and the aliens ensues in the depths of the aliens’ breeding chamber, and the stakes rise even further when Ripley discovers a seven-year-old girl still alive, named Newt, who has managed to survive for months in the ductwork beneath the colony’s buildings. Ripley, Newt, and the few remaining space marines must escape the aliens and meet a ship that is returning to take them from the planet’s surface, but will not be able to stay long if they are not there on time.
Story/Plot/Characters–Pretty good acting by horror movie standards and a well thought-out plot. Cardboard characters though, and with a whole platoon of marines, there are a lot of them to keep track of, with little to differentiate them. Though most are killed off early, we still know next to nothing even about the ones who last most of the movie. (2.5 points)
Special Effects–Like the first movie, the effects in Aliens are masterful and spectacular. Spaceships, slavering aliens, abandoned industrial buildings, and planetary surfaces are rendered completely believable. I actually wished at some points the movie would slow down and give viewers a chance to enjoy some of the beautiful scenes. (2 points)
Scariness–Like The Thing, the very nature of the movie as a hybrid between action and horror undermines much of the scariness. Scenes that would be chilling in other movies simply turn into shoot-outs. Some tense parts, but my son spent very little time hiding on the stairs, as is his wont with scary scenes. (.5 points)
Atmosphere/Freakiness–Definitely some atmosphere in the abandoned buildings of the colony and the alien biology is disgusting and freaky. But again, as with The Thing, the fast action pacing undermines the atmosphere to an extent. (1.5 points)