15. EMPIRE MAGAZINE GREATEST: Aliens

October 25, 2018

Director: James Cameron
Screenplay: James Cameron
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Carrie Henn, Bill Paxton, William Hope, Jenette Goldstein, Al Matthews
Runtime: 137 Minutes

 

Original UK Release: 1986

 

★★★★★

 

Aliens as a concept shouldn’t work, yet it does.

 

James Cameron’s direction skills for action had already been proven with The Terminator, and this is a step up from the same level of close quarters fight sequences and explosive pyrotechnics on a larger budget and scale. 

 

Although shot predominantly on interior sets, there’s a larger than life quality to its design that feels deserved considering its switch of genre from horror to action film. Upping the tension from extended sequences based around the scuttling terror of both singular and multiple enemies at once, the onslaught is breathtaking in that the pace is relentless and compulsively watchable.

 

Cameron’s screenplay constantly undercuts the uber-macho testosterone of the Colonial by exposing their quivering insecurities whenever they’re not spouting off traditional tough guy language. These are real people trapped in the shells of archetypes, daunted and overrun by what they’re facing, and every single one of them sells the hell out of their stock role positions. Biehn is the candid heart, but Paxton and Goldstein are a riot. 

 

The film still very much belongs to Weaver though, as her Ellen Ripley has evolved and hardened into someone who refuses to stand down to authority and brutishness and takes the war to the creatures, while her kinship with Lance Henriksen’s Bishop is surprisingly sincere. 

 

The creatures themselves are better than ever. Although more like animals now they look, feel and move like living beings, and Stan Winston’s large-scale animatronics work is beyond compare here, with huge practical effects that are dazzling and terrifying in equal measure – the battle with the Queen is still a seamless piece of technical filmmaking.

 

It’s not quite as distinct or unique as the original film, but it works so well as its own thing and feels like a real extension of that world.

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