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Empire Magazine (2008) Greatest Movies List - #30: Aliens

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes a movie can change a person. For me that movie was James Cameron’s Aliens (1986), a movie that made an action icon out of Sigourney Weaver after pitting her against an army of nightmarish creatures and their giant queen. This movie came out the year I was born and while I was growing up it increased in popularity achieving classic stardom as a science fiction, action and horror film. Unfortunately while I was growing up I must admit I was scared of most movie monsters, to the point that just the trailer for an Alien movie would make me nervous. Then I saw Cameron’s film and went to the dark side of the moon.

Here’s the setting: it’s 2002 and my parents and I are living in Santiago, Chile. By then I haven’t seen any of the Alien films from beginning to end, but I have a general idea of what they do and how they tend to pop out of people’s chests. One evening I see that Aliens is about to start playing on a movie channel and I decide to take a chance and watch the whole 137-minute thrill ride. During the movie Bill Paxton’s Private Hudson gleefully says, “We are on an express elevator straight to hell, going down,” which turns out to be terrifyingly prophetic. Throughout the movie characters get burned with acid, blown-up and are chased in dark tunnels by intelligent creatures who want to either eat them or use them as cocoons. Here’s the funny thing: by the time it was all over I was left wanting more.

At the time this surprised me because this movie is scary in lots of different ways. There are jump scares, moments of gore, and moments of genuine suspense such as when motion sensors are detecting movement in a seemingly empty room. Then there is the movie’s setting, the eerily quiet buildings of an abandoned colony built on a planet where it seems to rain in perpetuity. If this isn’t hell it is definitely hell adjacent. Despite all the fear one feels when seeing characters get hunted down in this place, you can’t help but enjoy the ride because this movie is fucking awesome.

It is the ultimate roller-coaster ride starting out slowly with space trucker Ellen Ripley (Weaver) being discovered after having drifted in space for 57 years following the events of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979). If you ever start watching this franchise with Aliens you won’t feel lost because Ripley painfully goes over the events of the first movie in a boardroom filled with sceptical pencil pushers wondering what happened to their precious cargo ship. Looking at the photos of her deceased comrades, Ripley tries to make these corporate employees understand that a parasite infected one of her crewmembers, mated with him, causing its spawn burst through his chest and then proceeded to kill everyone onboard.

To Ripley’s horror it turns out the Weyland-Yutani Corporation has colonized the planet where her crew found the parasite and there are now families with children living there. Surprise, surprise, shortly after her return the colony is no longer communicating with Earth and company stooge Burke (Paul Reiser) would like her to accompany a group of heavily armed marines to the planet to offer her expertise in the situation. Given the nightmares Ripley has been routinely experiencing, Burke believes this would give her closure. True, but it might also give her more material for her nightmares.  

The marine squad travelling with Ripley are a fearsome bunch, armed to the teeth and full of bravado. Standouts include the cigar-smoking sergeant Apone (Al Mathews), the cool-under-pressure corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn) and Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) a female private who proves women can be just as tough, if not tougher, then the guys when the shit hits the fan. There is also the ultra resistant Bishop (Lance Henriksen) an artificial being who is human enough to fear for his life.

When these characters arrive at the colony and find it abandoned with clear signs of a battle, this is when the roller coaster is about to reach the top of the tracks. The race to the bottom begins when they find what is left of the colonists and realize that they actually did not bring nearly enough weapons. In the first movie it was a small crew against a tall alien that has acid for blood, a retractable mandible and a razor sharp tail. As the title of this sequel indicates, this time there are hundreds of these nasty buggers and the creature laying their eggs is not only huge but also smart enough to know how to use an elevator. This is the ultimate example of a sequel going bigger than the original.

Amidst all the carnage, amplified by James Horner’s superb score, there are also great scenes showcasing Sigourney Weaver’s dramatic skills, which earned her an Academy Award nomination. Of all people, a little girl named Newt (Carrie Henn) survived the attack on the colony and Ripley develops strong maternal feelings for her. This leads her to not only face her own fears, but also head into battle armed with a rifle, grenades, and a flamethrower. This also gives us the iconic line movie line, “Get away from her, you BITCH!”

After I saw Aliens it became very rare for me to be scared at the movies ever again because there is just no way to top this roller coaster ride. I even got the director’s cut on DVD so I could get even more scenes (totally worth it) and if I can ever find a movie theatre that plays it on a really big screen you can bet I will be there even if it is for a midnight screening. It turns out sometimes in order to face your fears you need to get into that express elevator straight to hell and enjoy the ride.



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