Thanks everyone for contributing to the thread!
And now… Aliens!
So, let me tell you this story. When I was a freshman in college (this is 1988 we’re talking about now), the guy in the dorm room across the hall from me had a VCR and a TV in his dorm room. This was incredibly extravagant at the time. He had three movies on tape: Conan the Barbarian, Terminator, and Aliens. So, we watched those movies a lot. So, there was probably a time when I had this movie memorized.
But that was a long time ago, and memory fades. I certainly remembered all the one-liners (“Game Over Man!”, “Have you ever been mistaken you for a man? No, have you?”, etc.), and most of the highlights of the plot, but I’d forgotten most of the overall flow of the movie, and a lot of the character details, locations, and events.
I have to make a confession here: when I first saw this movie (and I honestly don’t remember when that was), I was somewhat put off by the massive shift in tone between this and Alien. Alien was a horror movie; a claustrophobic scare-fest with an unkillable monster. Aliens is a straight-up action film, with bunch of Marines who go toe-to-toe with a horde of these monsters and mows them down by the score, sometimes with nothing but a pistol.
Anyway, I now feel like that was a silly objection. Aliens is a fantastic action movie, which does more than hold up, it outshines nearly every action movie to come since. It actually doesn’t lean very much on its predecessor anyway; it borrows the lifecycle of the Alien (and introduces the term “Xenomorph”), the character of Ripley (and her distrust of Artificial Persons), and… that’s about it. In retrospect, if they had just done a repeat of the first Alien, I’d have complained that they didn’t do anything new.
Aliens is a much more sprawling, expansive movie than Alien. Where Alien takes place 90% in the cramped corridors and chambers of the Nostromo, Aliens takes place in a wide variety of locations: Ripley’s shuttle; the Earth-orbiting station, the Sulaco, the drop ship, the colony complex, and the terraforming station (and probably a bunch of others). I wouldn’t say all of those locations got the same level of detail treatment as the Nostromo in the first movie, but they’re all pretty damn good. I love Ripley’s crappy apartment on the station after she loses her flight license. Newt’s hideaway in the vents. The nightmarish Giger-style corridors of the alien hive.
Again, the aliens themselves appear in the movie less than you probably remember. They don’t show up for about an hour (depending on if you’re watching the original or the 1990 Director’s Cut). Then we get the firefight, where, I don’t know if you’re keeping up with current events, but the Marines just got their asses kicked. Then a while later the escape from the colony complex with the aliens close behind. And then of course the third act, which is almost wall-to-wall Alien Queen (they spent a lot of time and effort building that damn thing, they’re gonna use it!)
Now, you might think that with so much non-Alien screen time, what the hell is going on? But there is no dead weight in this movie. (In fact, the added scenes in the Director’s Cut, where we find out RIpley had a daughter who died of old age while she was in cryo, and we see Newt’s family discover the derelict alien spacecraft, and the predictable results, are great, but probably unnecessary.) Ripley’s nightmares. Hudson’s flip-flop from testosterone-laden braggart to quivering jelly as soon as he sees the aliens. Burke’s gradual reveal as a slimy, corporate, greedy, murderous coward. Bishop’s heroism. Hicks falling asleep on the express elevator to Hell. As well as Hicks emerging as the leader that Lt. Gorman didn’t turn out to be.
I want to talk about Newt. Putting a kid in a major role in a movie is always a crapshoot (just ask Shane Black), but Carrie Henn just knocks it out of the park. She delivers lines like “It won’t make any difference” perfectly, just the right combination of “I’m a kid” and “I’ve seen shit you wouldn’t believe”. She’s badass (she crushes a facehugger against the wall with a piece of furniture), but still a kid (she usually just gives a high-pitched scream when something horrifying happens).
It’s not surprising she won a Saturn award for her performance. What is surprising is that she never acted in anything else, before or since. I don’t know if she just had a terrible experience, or just wasn’t interested, or what. But I suppose if you’re going to give one performance and bow out, at least it was one she can be rightfully proud of.
Since there was talk above about the Ridley Scott/James Cameron switch… I did think it was interesting that these four movies were all made by different directors; all very high-profile directors with very different styles. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the guy who made Delicatessen, City of Lost Children, and Amelie, made Alien Resurrection, so that has to be good, right? But next up, Fincher’s Alien3. He made Fight Club, so what could go wrong?