Despite owning Aliens multiple times (ex-rental VHS, retail VHS, DVD boxsets, Blu-ray Anthology), I ended up watching it over the weekend because it was on television. The the thing is that, much like Big Trouble in Little China, when it starts you can’t look away. Even if it means enduring E4’s ridiculously frequent, and oddly preachy, advert breaks.
This was the first time I’d watched it since marathoning the Blu-ray and it occurred to me that that Aliens is the best film ever made. It’s always been in my top five (maybe three behind Repo Man and The Thing) but looking through more inquisitive eyes, I was amazed at how fucking great it really is.
Of course, the eternal question is ‘what’s the better film, Alien or Aliens?’ and, of course, they are both fantastic but if I’m committing myself to words written up here in pixels then I’m picking Aliens. Yes, Alien is the better film. It’s got the best cast, sumptuous cinematography and is dripping in tension and suspense but Aliens is more watchable and, dare I say it, more entertaining. But both are great, so don’t get your company-issued knickers in a twist about it.
1. Sigourney Weaver acts her arse off in this film. The bit where she first enters the colony after Apone and Gorman agree the area is secured. She looks fucking terrified. Especially when someone accidentally makes her jump. Then she goes from abject terror to motherly concern to righteous fury and everything in between. She’s had a fantastic career, of course, but she’ll always be Ellen Ripley to us.
2. Hudson. He’s whiny and oddly a bit of a macho arsehole for a guy who’s basically their IT techie but his despair and fear are palpable.
A stunning performance and a really entertaining character who dies a hero’s death. Has pretty much all the best lines too.
“I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news.”
“Well that’s a switch!”
3. That bit where Hicks looks above the false ceiling. Look we know. Yes. They just turned the camera upside down but the impact of seeing those xenomorphs crawling towards him upside down… Jesus. Literally terrifying and awesome. This was pre-CGI and so you know it’s all done with puppets and rubber suits except NO, you don’t know that because it’s all in camera and so your brain entirely buys in.
Imagine that scene rendered in CGI like some sort of awful Marvel movie. You don’t want that and neither do we.
4. The bit with the sentry guns. It wasn’t even in the theatrical cut but it’s completely fab.
“Next time they walk up and knock.”
“Yeah, but they don’t know that.”
The day the Director’s Cut was released, I was outside HMV waiting for it to open. I then took that VHS tape back home and spent the next couple of years murdering it. It’s true that this cut is a fair bit flabbier than the Theatrical Cut (a cut I’ve not watched since the ’90s) but we can’t imagine the film not having this scene (and it does help explain why the squad aren’t absolutely flooded with hundreds of aliens).
5. Burke. The complete embodiment of corporate bastardness. How do you not love Burke? Even if he is a “rat fuck son of a bitch.”
Alas, we didn’t get to see his true comeuppance but his face to face meeting with a snarling xenomorph doesn’t leave you guessing what’ll happen next.
That said, the book and a deleted scene both confirm that he ends up in the Queen’s maternity ward and is all out of pain medications. Thankfully for him, Ripley strolls by and gives him a grenade to ease the pain with.
6. The battle under the primary heat exchangers. Absolutely terrifying chaos. Seeing each of the marines getting picked off one by one. When Apone buys it, it’s as shocking for the audience as it is for Gorman. “Apone? Talk to me.”
It’s one of the best scenes ever because of its clever use of space, lighting and those little shoulder cams. The way it cuts from utter destruction to the hopelessness of Ripley and Gorman in the APC is perfect.
What’s really impactful is how the screen goes from a steely blue tone to being saturated in red and orange. Well that and Hudson and Hicks visibly draining in confidence as soon as the aliens show up.
7. The Power Loader. I don’t know how much of it is trickery but to me it looks like they built a proper Power Loader.
And it looks like Sigourney Weaver was capable of operating it. This all makes for a fab final battle with Queeny too. Although we probably shouldn’t focus too much on Ripley crawling out of the airlock with OPEN SPACE underneath her and a giant fucking alien hanging off of her ankle.
But why let physics and stuff spoil your enjoyment of one of the best fight scenes in history?
8. Spunkmeyer. We barely got to know you, Private Daniel Spunkmeyer. But you had the best name. Ever. And you taught us to be wary when finding sticky patches on the floor.
9. Corporal Ferro. Colette Ferro may well be our favourite character. Also she buys it from the same xenomorph as Spunky did but is there a cooler character than her when she’s bringing down the dropship from the Sulaco? No. While Hudson is hyperactively reeling off their arsenal, Ferro’s going on about being in the pipe. Five by five, Ferro. Whatever that means.
10. Most importantly. Even now after watching this movie at least a hundred times, when the marines first go in I still feel like they are in charge and are going to make it. It’s only when the dropship crashes that I remember they are all doomed.
That’s thanks in part to Vasquez and Drake who seem entirely invincible as the perform sweet dance moves with their M56 Smart Guns.
And, of course, Jenette Goldstein (playing Vasquez) is amazing. We had the pleasure of interviewing her a few years ago and she was great (and completely loves watching the film).
Aliens is unfuckwittable, son. It’s two hours of solid action and is possibly the last essential film in the series. Sure, we like Alien3 and Resurrection a lot but Aliens is a solid ten out of ten.