Lauren (finally) watches: ALIENS

Welcome back for the second installment in my journey through the Alien franchise. In case you missed part one, I’ve somehow managed to go my entire life without seeing a single Alien film, despite being born in the ’80s and loving science fiction basically from the womb. I even managed to remain mostly unspoiled. I knew a few things about the first film, and stumbled across a few spoilers for Alien: Covenant when it came out last year (thanks, internet), but that’s about it.

So today I’m watching James Cameron’s Aliens, and I honestly don’t know a blessed thing about it other than that Paul Reiser is in this one and also I think this is where Bill Paxton’s “game over, man, game over” quote comes from. Buckle up.

Aliens (1986). Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

ALIENS (1986)

My expectations:

My biggest question going into this is does Sigourney willingly go BACK to the alien planet, or do they come to her, because in one scenario she’s less smart than I gave her credit for and in the other she’s got the worst luck EVER.

Also, was the cat secretly impregnated with an alien baby, because I kind of felt like it was. (I just deeply want the cat to be relevant, guys, considering the time devoted to it in the first movie.)

James Cameron is on board as the director for this one, so I’m anticipating GRAND SPECTACLE. Not necessarily on a physical scale (although maybe on a physical scale?), but more that I expect that this film will significantly up the scope and stakes of the conflict. If Ridley Scott’s movies are all about sensation, I’d say that the common thread in James Cameron’s films is overwhelming awe. From Titanic to The Terminator to Avatar, he tends to favor sweeping stories that are breathtaking in both their reach and their impact. Alien felt isolating, claustrophobic, and suffocating, but I anticipate Aliens broadening the world to focus on more characters than just Ripley, and giving us a conflict in which a lot more hangs in the balance than the fate of a single spaceship.

Speaking of the conflict, it’s been pointed out to me that, uh, I missed some nuance in the first movie.

I think that, despite my best efforts, I went into Alien with a few preconceived notions, and they somewhat colored my experience. Namely, I assumed from the start that no humans had ever encountered the xenomorphs before, so even when Ash was revealed to be an android and Ripley discovered the orders to bring back an alien at any cost, I still reasoned that this was just intended as a contingency plan in case they encountered alien life, and didn’t consider the possibility that the encounter with the xenomorph ship was engineered by a Big Bad Organization who already knew they existed. (Also, throw that onto the pile of Things The First Movie Set Up But Never Paid Off.)

I’m very curious to see how this second movie builds on the foundations laid by the first one, and whether Cameron will take it upon himself to tie up all those loose threads that Scott seemed perfectly content to leave dangling.

Watching the movie:

  • Nice callback to the first one with the pan through the empty (and…very sparkly? I get that it’s condensation but it’s coming across as thoroughly bedazzled) ship. Oh, hey, it’s Ripley… and the cat. This must be right where the first one left off? Does the door not work or do we just open doors with lasers in the future? Speaking of which, what year is it?
  • Oh my gosh, young Paul Reiser, look how poofy your hair is.
  • 57 YEARS??? See this is why I find cryosleep terrifying.
  • Wait, now she’s acting like there’s an alien in her… which means this is a dream, isn’t it? Yup, dream. So maybe not 57 years after all? Are they just… not going to tell us? Also how did she dream Paul Reiser before she’d met him? Okay, he just said there’s been a colony on the xenomorph planet for more than 20 years, so I’m going to assume 57 years is accurate, despite it being said in a dream. Maybe she was dreaming about her first meeting with Paul Reiser after meeting him in real life. I’m gonna go with that.
  • The future is popped collars, apparently.
  • These tactics to get her to go back to the planet are very The Lost World. Or I guess I should say, The Lost World’s tactics are very Aliens.
  • The cat is staying behind, which means my theory that the cat has a dormant alien in it is still alive, but also that as of right now, the cat is still not relevant. Have thinkpieces been written on the cat? I don’t want to Google them because spoilers, but I’m so weirdly fascinated by why the cat gets so much screen time in the first movie.

Paul Reiser, Sigourney Weaver, and that infuriating cat in Aliens (1986). Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

  • I refuse to believe that if you were going into cryosleep for months at a time, on an incline, you’d sleep with one arm over your head. Surprisingly diverse cast for the mid-’80s though. I like it.
  • Oooooooh telling us about the android up front this time, interesting. And with I, Robot rules, I see. Which, as we know from I, Robot, never backfires ever.
  • “Ripley, brief the crew.” [cuts her off before she ever even gets to the part about the actual xenomorph] Also, LOLZ, “it’s all on disc.” I remember the days when everyone thought that the dominant technology of the future would be laserdiscs and hoverboards.   
  • I will forever think of that one soldier guy as the “I WILL NOT GIVE THAT ORDER” guy from The Rock. 
  • Waiting for an alien to pop out in this scene is like constantly winding a jack-in-the-box and bracing for the clown to spring out at you. At this point Ripley is probably wondering why she ever agreed to come on this mission when the only way she killed the first alien was by jettisoning it out into space, which is not an option here on the planet’s surface.

Aliens (1986). Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

  • Facehuggers in jars, because of COURSE that’s what humans would do. We really are our own worst enemies.
  • GET ‘EM, KID. I was getting all irritated at how that soldier was just roughly groping toward this traumatized kid and then she bit him and that was great. Oh but now Ripley is manhandling her into submission until the kid just goes limp and blank. That… could’ve been done better, I think.
  • ALL the people are clustered together underground? This smells like a trap. If that’s the case, I’m on board. Feels smart to raise the stakes in this movie by not just increasing the number of aliens, but by making it clear that they’re intelligent and devious, not just animals.

Aliens (1986). Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

  • NO ONE thinks to ask why they’re being told not to fire in there? They just assume it’s for kicks, and that it’s no big deal for half of them to have hidden extra magazines? Dang it, people, you’re going to realize this was a bad idea when you all die in a nuclear explosion.
  • Crap, here they go.
  • I’m glad that these movies decided to cast women in multiple roles that seem like they’d more typically go to men, but why are the women so INFURIATINGLY STUPID. First Lambert and her staggering uselessness in the first movie, and now this trigger-happy woman just blindly spraying bullets everywhere after being specifically told not to. Sure, she doesn’t know WHY she was given that order, but as a soldier, isn’t it her job to at least ATTEMPT to follow orders? Or at least to question any that seem suspect before flagrantly disobeying them? (I’d make a terrible soldier; I have to question everything.) Can’t any woman other than Ripley resist the urge to act like a massive idiot?
  • ACID BLOOD EVERYWHERE, oh dang, I knew that was going to happen to someone eventually.
  • Having trouble closing the ramp = there is DEFINITELY an alien on board that ship. [5 seconds later] Yup.
  • IDK how I feel about the convenient “they come at night, mostly” loophole, but I guess they needed SOME way to give the characters time to regroup and plan.
  • Bill Paxton has never played a bigger mess than he does in this movie. Is this just a thing with ALIEN movies, to have a character whose entire job is to FREAK OUT in every scene? (I find him less grating than Lambert though, partially because he seems to at least be a decently competent soldier, but mostly because he’s Bill Paxton.)

Bill Paxton in Aliens (1986). Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

  • She put the location fitbit on the kid. That’s for sure gonna come back around.
  • This is going to sound very cold, but I’m finding it a little hard to swallow just how incredibly fond Ripley appears to be of this kid. I completely get that the poor kid has Been Through Some Stuff, and that Ripley forged an immediate connection with her on the basis of them both being the sole survivors of similar trauma, but… I dunno. I totally understand that she relates to the kid, and that she feels fiercely protective of the kid, but I think the thing I don’t quite get is why she appears to like the kid so much, when the kid has shown no real personality (which is fair, given what she’s been through). Maybe Ripley is just projecting maximum warmth in order to try to diffuse some of the kid’s fear, because she’s a kid and does not deserve what’s happened to her, and Ripley is not a monster and would want to try to make the kid more comfortable. I get all of that. It just seems like more than that, like Ripley legit loves this child after only knowing her for a few hours, and that’s the part that doesn’t ring entirely true for me — but it’s also not enough to take me out of the movie. Just a small character question that I can’t quite shake.
  • “Who’s laying the eggs?” Oh man, is this going to be an “it’s a HIVE MIND, we have to take out the QUEEN” story, because that feels like where this is going. (I hope I’m wrong.)
  • Wait, Paul Reiser is a BAD GUY? I keep being surprised that movies about super-powerful killer aliens require human villains (yes, even after being told that I overlooked the human villain element of the first one). I should… maybe get over that. Also what is Paul Reiser’s endgame here, does he WANT Ripley to get implanted by the facehugger? Did he let it out on purpose? WHY?

Paul Reiser and Sigourney Weaver in Aliens (1986). Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

  • …Okay, so, his whole plan is to BRING THESE TO EARTH, does this franchise end with the human race going extinct because we are just TOO DUMB TO LIVE?
  • There’s that acid blood again. It’s funny, the first movie is full of setup that never goes anywhere, which I didn’t really mind at the time (because Ridley Scott magic). But I like how this second movie is finally paying all that off. Makes it feel like that was the plan all along. James Cameron wizardry.
  • Hahahaha Ripley just duct taped a flamethrower to her already ridiculously gigantic gun. Because why settle for a ridiculously gigantic gun when you can add fire and duct tape to it. The Rock would be proud. (Also, here’s the location fitbit coming into play, as predicted.)

Sigourney Weaver in Aliens (1986). Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

  • Oh, there’s the kid, suffering from a tremendous case of Will Byers-itis.
  • … I just realized where the inspiration for the Upside Down must have come from.
  • QUEEN ALIEN. Called it. Barbeque her, Ripley. Wait no, barbeque the EGGS. Or both. Both is good.
  • Ripley, maybe stop exploding the aliens when they have acid blood, have you forgotten about the acid blood, acid blood is an ongoing theme in this movie.
  • The Queen is chasing her. Please tell me this isn’t going to end with her killing the Queen and all the other xenomorphs just dropping dead. That always feels too easy. (I realize none of this has been EASY for the characters so far, but you know what I mean.)
  • Oh good, it didn’t. But there’s always the next movie.
  • OH DANG, there goes Bishop. DID NOT SEE THAT COMING. Man, I was hoping he’d be in the third one, too. So the Queen just like… clung to the bottom of the ship? In space? Do the xenomorphs not require oxygen? Because they sound like they breathe. Is that just a thing they do to sound more intimidating? Is that REALLY necessary?

Aliens (1986). Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

  • Awwww, Bishop’s torso is still being heroic. Poor Bishop. Maybe there’s hope for him to be in the next movie after all.
  • Is the kid going to come back as a grown-up in the next movie? Maybe that’s too obvious.

Closing thoughts:

I honestly liked this movie even more than the first one. I thought the pacing was much more even, and while Ripley was definitely still the strongest character, the others felt far more fleshed out than the crew in Alien. I also liked how the action was sprinkled throughout the movie instead of concentrated mostly at the end. While I think the slow burning tension of the first one absolutely worked, my personal taste tends to lean a little more toward traditional action frameworks, so this one was a bit more in my wheelhouse. 

As expected, James Cameron took everything about the first movie and made it bigger, and I think it really worked. I very much appreciated how he took most of the open-ended setup from Alien and either unpacked it or took it one step further, which I think not only made for a stronger second movie, but actually retroactively elevated the first one.

The exception, of course, is the stupid cat, which I will apparently be obsessing about at least through the third movie, and possibly forever.

I think I’ve finally wrapped my head around the idea that there are human (and/or android) villains in these movies, so I will hopefully not be blindsided by that a third time. But the presence of Bishop shows that not all androids are evil (although I’m not entirely convinced Ash was entirely evil — maybe ‘dangerously logical and devoid of all empathy’ would be more accurate?) so it doesn’t appear to be a Cylon-type thing. After two movies alluding to some devious shadow organization pulling strings in the background, I’m anxious to have that curtain pulled back a bit more, hopefully in the next one.

Next up we have Alien³, which was the first feature film David Fincher directed, after working exclusively on music videos up until that point. So I’m expecting something dark and murder-y, but also maybe a little jazzy? Time will tell.

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