Aliens (1986) I didn’t recall that this movie ran a bit over two and a half hours the first time I saw it. There’s a reason for that. It didn’t. What I have on my DVD is the Special Edition, or director’s cut, I guess, that adds seventeen minutes. Reading about what was added, I think it was a good idea, as the new scenes have mostly to do with Ripley’s character development.
I have a friend who believes that this is a better film than the original, Alien. Not true. This is a rip-roaring, all-out action thriller, and one of the best ever made. It is awesome. It is pulse-pounding. It is many things, but it is not new, and it is not scary. Alien was like nothing we had ever seen. It was basically a haunted house story, but with the absolute best monster anyone had ever created up to that time. I have been actually scared, in the sense of wanting to look away from the screen or peek at it through my fingers, literally not wanting to see what might be happening next, only three times out of the many thousands of movies I have seen:
Psycho, in 1960. (I was thirteen. Scared the poop out of me.)
Jaws, in 1975.
Alien, in 1979.
Nobody has scared me since. You will notice one thing that the last two have in common, which I believe is vital if you want to scare me. You don’t see the whole monster for a long time. In Jaws, the shark is a terrifying, invisible presence for most of the movie, until they get into the final battle. I was actually lifting my feet up off the theater floor when people were trying to swim away from it. In Alien you don’t really see it until the last few minutes, and that’s when it ceases to be really scary and becomes just exciting. Don’t get me wrong. I love exciting. And Aliens is one of the most exciting movies ever made. But to be actually scared at the movies is so, so much harder to achieve.
So that’s what this movie is not, which is great. It is just very, very, very good. It’s even more awesome when you realize that this was way before CGI got up and running. Some of the sets were enormous, and often the actors just about choked on smoke and flame and asbestos. It took ten guys to operate the little “face-hugger” aliens, and it took sixteen people to operate the 14-foot-tall “queen” alien. These days, of course, you just order shit like that up from the computer. You get great visuals from that, no question, but in some weird way it spoils some of the fun of it, for me, at least.
Aside from wanting to shoot Bill Paxton’s gung-ho, kick-ass, pumped-up marine early on (and of course he was the one who turned coward when it came to the dying part of being a marine), all the characters were sketched out well, and Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley was even better than she was in the first go-round. (Too bad she decided to stick around for two more bad sequels.) Paul Reiser was very good, taking the idea of corporate slimeball to new heights. I couldn’t hate the aliens; they were just doing what their nature required of them. Reiser, I could thoroughly hate. It was a bit of a let-down that his apparent death was so quick and painless. (Oh, how I wish they had filmed a scene that was in the original script, where Ripley finds him cocooned in slime. He begs her to kill him, and she hands him a grenade.) Special notice should be paid to “Private Vasquez,” whose real name, Jenette Goldstein, suggests she’s only half Hispanic, if that. One kick-ass broad. Even the little girl was good. Her name is Carrie Henn, and this is her only film appearance. According to IMDb, she and Sigourney have remained friends. Nice.