(United States, 1986)
Undoubtedly, there are some who will express shock and outrage that I have had the temerity to place Aliens in the same Top 100 neighborhood as such revered classics as All About Eve and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence. However, I offer no apologies for the high placement of James Cameron's sequel to the original "haunted house in space" motion picture. Not only is Cameron's film superior to its Ridley Scott-directed predecessor, but it is one of the best action-oriented science fiction stories ever to be committed to celluloid. Aliens represents brilliant, dizzying, breathtaking filmmaking – a heart-stopping cinematic thrill ride that doesn't allow viewers to pause until the celebrated "false ending" (which precedes a surprise second climax). Not every great film has to aspire to be Citizen Kane. Despite caring more about visceral than intellectual pleasures, Aliens is not mindless – in fact, the script is quite intelligent (especially for a "popcorn motion picture.") This production was designed exclusively for one purpose – to enthrall and exhaust an audience. And it succeeds in a way that too few movies do. After all, how often does a film get the adrenaline pumping on the third or fourth viewing the way Aliens does? Some films are great because they display an amazing artistic vision. Some films are great because they are literate and powerful. And some films, like this one, are great because their entertainment value is virtually unparalleled.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
Aliens takes place a half-century after the events in Alien. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver, reprising her role as the lone survivor from the first outing) has been in cryogenic sleep in outer space, accompanied only by her loyal cat, Jones, until a salvage ship discovers her and brings her back to Earth. There, she finds herself facing serious charges of official misconduct (she was responsible, after all, for the destruction of a space ship) and her claims about the alien are greeted with skepticism. She is stripped of her pilot's license and left to cope on her own with life in the future - a future without her daughter, who recently died of old age. Then, all contact is suddenly lost with the terraforming colony on LV-426 - the planet on which Ripley's crew discovered the alien. A corporation executive, Carter Burke (Paul Reiser), approaches Ripley with a proposition: accompany a military team to LV-426 as an advisor and have her pilot's license restored. She concurs, but with a proviso: they are going there to destroy the aliens, not to harvest them or bring them back. Burke agrees. Ripley's new companions are a tough-talking, hard-bitten bunch: Ground Troop Commander Apone (Al Williams), wisecracking Private Hudson (Bill Paxton), somber Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn), unflappable Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein), quiet android Bishop (Lance Henricksen), and several others (none of whom last long). Only Gorman (William Hope), the squadron commander, is cut from a different cloth - he's by-the-book and does not react well to unexpected developments, especially in combat. Of course, when faced with the plethora of aliens on LV-426, the others don't know what to do either, as the insect-like creatures decimate their ranks and trap them in an abandoned operations center. There, they encounter Newt (Carrie Henn), a young girl who is the only survivor of the aliens' attack on the colony. Ripley takes the child under her protection, but Newt is unconvinced that a small group of armed soldiers will be able to stop the ever-growing army of aliens. Soon, they are fighting the clock as well as the creatures, as the plant's nuclear reactor starts on a countdown to going critical.
Perhaps the best single word to describe James Cameron's Aliens is relentless. Tautly paced and expertly directed, this roller coaster ride of a motion picture offers a little bit of everything, all wrapped up in a tidy science fiction/action package. From the point when the opening half-hour of exposition ends and the real movie begins, Cameron barely gives viewers a chance to catch their breaths or ease their grips on their armrests as he plunges his characters from one dire situation to the next. This is one of those rare motion pictures that involves the audience so completely in the story that we're as worn out at the end as our on-screen counterparts.
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