Tuesday, 4 October 2011

100 Days, 100 Films; Day 99 - Aliens

#2 - Aliens:

Ah, Jim Cameron, so close and yet not close enough. Well the number 2 spot ain’t nothing to sneer at especially when he’s already got in at numbers 100 and 16. I said that three of the Alien films would make it on my list and I call them like I see them. I do respect Ridley Scott for everything he did with Alien and I enjoyed what Jean Pierre Jeunet did and I’ll even nod my head to David Fincher but it is this film out of all four that has the most replay value and it is this that influenced me when I was introduced to the series. I saw this at the tender age of thirteen and it was my favourite movie ever. For years I tried to get my brother to watch it and he always refused for his own personal reasons. Then when he turned into the film lover he is now, he finally agreed to watch it with me and he did agree that it was one of the greats. Well, what are we waiting for?

We pick up from the end of Alien with Ripley in hypersleep in her shuttle drifting around in space until she is found by a salvage crew. She then finds out that she has been drifting around in space for fifty-seven years. What’s worse is that the planet her ship originally received the transmission from has now been colonised and is full of families. The suits don’t believe Ripley’s story about the alien until they abruptly lose contact with the colonists. As the only one who knows what they’re up against, Ripley goes back to the planet with a team of marines to investigate. Things don’t look good for them when they arrive as the entire settlement is completely deserted, save for one survivor – a little girl that calls herself Newt who assures them that all the colonists have been killed. And low and behold the colonists have all been harvested and now there are dozens of aliens running around out there, and they don’t take too kindly to the marines arriving on the scene. What’s worse is that the marines can’t expect a rescue until after seventeen days.

I guess as is the case with many films I’ve reviewed, over time they have all been copied and parodied to death so that the original version does look a bit tainted. I mean if we’re being honest this film does seem a bit like a typical clichéd space action flick. But of course this actually helped to popularise many of those things and them being copied or referenced in other films resulted in them becoming clichés. Another thing it is notable for is being one of the few (alright there are a lot more but you know...) sequels that matched the original to some and surpassed it to others. If you’re comparing them on a genre basis then Alien trumps it completely because of how suspenseful and breathtaking it was as a horror film while this shifts the genre to action. However as films on their own, I feel easily that Aliens was much stronger.
From the first film we never really got a sense of Ripley’s character. She was just the third in command on the ship and appeared to be a by-the-book type of woman who was able to survive the alien attack. Here we go a bit further with her character development and find out who she is as a person. There are a couple of little scenes that were cut from the theatrical release but re-inserted in a special edition (that Sigourney Weaver herself stated was much better) where we hear that Ripley’s daughter died as an old woman two years before Ripley was found. It definitely adds a lot to her story with Newt. Speaking of the little might, the special edition includes a good scene that shows her family discovering the original ship near the beginning of the film. I guess I should also go back to my clichés talk and also go back to what I said about Halloween and note that the aliens don’t actually show up until about an hour in. The entire first half builds suspense and the second half just takes you on an adventure.

Sigourney Weaver getting nominated for the Best Actress Oscar was actually one of the most shocking nominations at the time. This wasn’t because her performance was bad but rather the sci-fi, horror and action genres had hardly ever gotten recognition by the Academy so for an actress to be nominated for a sci-fi film was a huge landmark, much like it was when Sissy Spacek got the nomination for Carrie. Indeed Sigourney Weaver delivers the strongest performance of her career as we see Ripley become the action girl she’s known as, going from having nightmares at the start of the film to taking charge and saving the marines’ asses on more than one occasion. In the role of Newt we have Carrie Henn and to this day she has not starred in another film. It is a shame really because for a child actor she delivers a pretty good performance as a young girl haunted by her experiences. Her voice is a little odd as she was an American living in London for a couple of years so she has that odd Transatlantic twist to her accent that I know all about. Carrie avoids being overly cute and frosty as well for most of the film, acting as a girl who seems devoid of all emotion, so that when she does smile or be cute then it means something. Back when I wrote on The Terminator I did have to be critical of Michael Biehn but thankfully now I can continue bowing endlessly and doing my moonlit vigils. My brother once asked if he’s ever done a role where he doesn’t pick up a gun at some point and I don’t know if he has but he’s certainly a pro at it anyway. Hicks was my idol when I was thirteen and he was *the* action hero all my characters would aspire to be like and of course I was royally pissed after the opening credits of Alien3 for obvious reasons. I also have a soft spot for Lance Henriksen
playing the benevolent android Bishop who is a nice contrast to the sinister Ash from Alien. No matter how funny it could be to some viewers, I did not laugh once when he got ripped in two.

Now for the supporting cast because this is one of those films where anyone with a speaking part is notable. Right off the bat I hold my hands up to Bill Paxton, playing the closest thing to a nice guy in any of his movies. Hudson ain’t exactly prince charming but I liked him almost as much as Hicks and I always get annoyed whenever I hear people call him annoying. You can’t beat his awesome “game over man!” or his badass boast as they go onto the planet. Paul Reiser plays Carter Burke, one of the few characters in the film that doesn’t pick up a gun at some point (in fact he might be the only one as I’m almost positive the doctors at the start had guns as well). Jeanette Goldstein is now iconic as Private Vasquez who is living proof that this woman is a human chameleon. She’s not even Mexican though of course by now everyone knows the story of how she though the film was about border crossers and showed up to the audition dressed as a Mexican prostitute. For all the people suspecting she’s a lesbian, where were you looking during all those ship tease moments between her and Drake? William Hope plays Gorman, the newly promoted lieutenant who is nearly totally incompetent for this mission. In a cool little coincidence, Hope, Reiser and Weaver weren’t around for the military training drill exercises that the other actors playing the marines went through which worked out pretty well since those three characters were meant to be outsiders. Oh and you gotta love Al Mathews at the tough trash talking cigar smoking Sergeant Apone.

Being completely honest here (and when am I ever not?) you could get a bit bored in the first half of the movie but once the aliens appear you will most certainly not be. The first scene where they do appear on screen is uniquely done since the majority of it is shown on the portable cameras the marines wear on their helmets, and they’ve conveniently gone all jerky and gotten lots of interference as they tend to do during scenes like this. It really adds to the suspense. The big scene from when the aliens start closing in on the room to the characters having to escape through the air vents is pretty exciting and that is of course why I included it as the clip for this film in my video. It’s too bad it wasn’t made in the time when a video game adaptation would be churned right out alongside the release. And you can’t mention action scenes in Aliens without talking about the final showdown between Ripley and the alien queen complete with the famous line “get away from her you bitch!”
Now the big drama scene that stands out is a lovely moment between Ripley and Newt in the med-lab where Newt admits she sometimes has nightmares about the aliens and Ripley also tells her about her own daughter. And the ending was simple but it just fit so well that I want to pretend Alien3 didn’t come along and spoil everything.

So there’s only one day left on this challenge and sorry to those who had their fingers crossed that this would make it to number 1. In fact when I was making up the list I always knew Aliens would be at number 2 as well as Inception being at number 3. I had a tough time picking my number 1 spot though but if you think about it then there really was no competition at all. This film right here made a big impact when I was thirteen and left a major impression on me throughout the following years, especially whenever I wrote action stories and the like. Now the much coveted number 1 spot had to go to something that was a bit further back when I saw it. If Aliens defined me through my preteen years then my number 1 film defined me through the years leading up to that. Well sayonara Bobby-verse and for the second-last time don’t forget to follow me on Twitter.

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