What is a greater hell for Ellen Ripley? Watching your entire crew be slaughtered by a near invincible alien being or having to suffer through the bureaucratic bullshit of humans who don’t believe her story?
In some ways, it seemed more appropriate to watch “Aliens” after seeing “Prometheus” than “Alien” itself, mainly because both “Aliens” and “Prometheus” are action films rather than a horror movie. But while both films are special effects titans for their times, it’s embarrassing how badly cliche “Aliens” is in comparison to Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi epic.
In terms of inventive looking baddies and atmospheric terrors, James Cameron’s “Aliens” does hold up pretty well. But it’s a bit too hackneyed for me to really care. In a way, I’m a bit insulted that this now iconic female character was reduced in this film to be another action star.
Sigourney Weaver plays the role wonderfully, and she became the one woman who could open an action picture in the macho ’80s. But “Aliens” goes about making her a multi-dimensional female figure through four generic approaches: giving her a love interest, making her into a motherly figure, showing that she can do the same grunt work the boys do and by making the other female character into a testosterone fueled meathead who only knows how to shoot. In fact, this is a different Ripley altogether, a leader and a hero rather than just a survivor.
It’s a damn shame she has to deal with so many bland archetypes in “Aliens,” be it the brash and reckless Marine, the foul-mouthed Lieutenant, the cowardly and inexperienced commander, the panicking soldier in the line of fire and the idiotic, conniving bureaucrat who only cares about money. It’s so cliche that one pilot still wears Aviator sunglasses even though she’s in the deep reaches of space.
Cameron packs these guys into a dizzying maelstrom of action. The chilling alarms in the shadowy corridors of “Alien” are replaced here with incessant machine gun fire and flamethrower bursts. What was once an alien that was near impossible to kill is now multiplied and easily killed by guns and cars. It’s a whole different kind of movie, one that would even be copied in “Avatar” when looking at Ripley’s robotic loading machine.
Some would argue that “Aliens” is the better film than the original, but it’s like comparing apples and oranges. The difference is that the timeless quality of Scott’s film runs circles around the dated effects and characters of Cameron’s.