1986. Directed by James Cameron.
James Cameron's action sci-fi megaton bomb, Aliens, released 30 years ago and has been taking theaters, top ten lists, and film discussion groups by storm ever since.
Ellen Ripley, lone survivor of the Nostromo in Alien, is found drifting through space decades later. Soon after her rescue, she learns that LV-426, the planet on which the Alien ship crashed, has been colonized. Communications are suddenly lost with the colonists and a group of Marine recruit Ripley as an advisor as they head back for another showdown.
Aliens is a film that does an overwhelming amount of things right. James Cameron's script is light and heavy. It respectfully captures the soldiers' banter and makes you care about the marines while also broaching concepts of female empowerment, corporate greed, and most importantly revenge. Adrian Biddle's cinematography is equally essential. There are amazing space shots of the gun-like Sulaco, close, tight shots of the cast members in peril, and brilliant blue drenched scenes of the interior of Hadley's Hope. Color is an important theme in each Alien film. I think Cameron chose blue for Aliens because while it can represent sadness and fear, it also represents the hope of the skies above.
Stan Winston and John Richardson's Oscar winning effect's are so terrifyingly realistic, the Aliens are able to be shown in their full chitinous glory. The Queen herself is an image of nightmare given form, while the face-huggers adopt a more organic and practical sheen. The work in effects not only brings horror to life, but ingeniously illustrates the entire life cycle of xenomorphs in an already overloaded and action packed film and it remains fresh in memory because of the attention to detail.
James Horner's score is relentlessly on pace for the film's tempo, tracking the desperate events with every note. Don Sharpe's sound editing delivered the iconic beep of the motion trackers that is still imitated today. Ray Lovejoy's film editing is astounding. Particularly during the initial nest ambush, the way the frames jump between the video cameras the soldiers carry and the real world is pure wizardy.
Emma Porteus' costume designer is solid. The soldiers, the execs, and the colonists all have distinct costumes that give them the illusion of being from the future but also the comfortable normalcy to present them as natural cosmetic evolutions.
The cast is perfect. Cameron maintains that he was going for a Vietnam style war movie in space. The Marines were forced to attend a training camp together as unit, aside from Weaver, Reiser, and Hope, which, in hindsight makes perfect sense. Mark Rolston and Jeanette Goldstein as Drake and Vasquez are amazing. A backstory rumor is that the two characters were in juvie for murder and enlisted as a means to get out and this only helps to increase their legend.
Paul Reiser is the definition of corporate sleeze as Burke while William Hope as Gorman, the squad's inexperienced leader, delivers some decent character development. Al Matthews as Apone is another unforgettable scene stealer. Cameron chose Matthews for his leadership experience in Vietnam and it shows in every scene that he's in.
Lance Henriksen delivers a unique take on the Android that makes him almost more human than his counterparts. Michael Biehn delivers a charismatic and sweaty turn as Hicks, the most proficient soldier in the crew who is forced into a leadership role.
Of course, the main event is Sigourney Weaver as Ripley. Weaver delivers the performance of her career. She received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, a huge achievement, given that it was for a horror/sci-fi picture, something the Academy loves to overlook. The elevator scene during the film's climax serves as the strongest example of Weaver's performance. As she is riding the elevator down into her personal hell, preparing for war, the emotional expressions on her face, coupled with her body language, the running of her hands through her hair, her slow breathing...it's almost too much. Cameron, by way of Weaver soul bearing performance is able to make a strong statement on victims confronting their abusers in a summer action film. As Ripley confronts the Queen, she's really confronting the life that was stolen from her, the daughter that died while she was in space, and all other things the Aliens have denied her. It's a woman's revenge tale at it's core and it works on every level.
This may not be Cameron's best made film. There are flaws. The blue colors can be a bit much, Paxton's Hudson requires multiple viewings before become tolerable, the jump scares are predictable, and the director's cut is definitely superior.
Aliens is a film where Cameron was learning about cast and world building (Themes he would improve upon) and in the end telling an epic story about a mother protecting her daughter from the horrors of the world, both human and alien. Take some time tonight and walk among them, you won't regret it.