Aliens [retro review]

“Game over, man! Game OVER!”

The Scoop: 1986 Rated R, directed by James and starring Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, and Michael Biehn.

Tagline: This time, it’s war.

Summary Capsule: The bad black nasties go toe to toe with Ripley and a platoon of colonial marines.


Justin’s Rating: Best. Movie. Ever.

Justin’s Review: In your typical layman movie conversation, I’m often asked “What is your favorite movie?” Now for the average moviegoer, it’s probably whatever they saw last week. But for me that’s an extremely loaded question, because I love so many films. But if I had to pick one across all categories, good in nearly every aspect, it would be that stirring space epic, Aliens.

I don’t know what it was about the 80’s that produced so many GOOD action films. I suppose it was the lack of PC restraints with blood and gore and all. Many people see Aliens as a primarily action movie, which it is, but it also is a melting pot of many other genres as well. Scifi, thriller, horror, suspense, and dare I say… drama? The only thing it’s lacking is some romance, but I’m actually glad they don’t bog down the plot with Ripley being all moony-eyes — she needed her strength for some serious butt whoopin’.

Aliens picks up a long time after the first movie, some 57 years later when Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) shuttle is found and she is brought back to the civilized world. One of the biggest things she’s missed were all the re-runs of “Mad About You”, but fortunately Paul Reiser is on hand to provide a target for our hatred and scorn. Naturally, noone believes Ripley’s tale of the acid blood alien, and the company blames her for the destruction of the vessel. But once her nightmares and some missing colonists get her back in the action, she goes back to the planet where it all began.

This time she’s not alone. In addition to Burke (Reiser), she has the backing of a full platoon of some of the toughest hombres in the galaxy — the colonial marines. Their ship, weapons, armor, and attitude exude confidence, but Ripley knows that the enemy is a shade stronger. Soon enough, the team is deep in alien doo-doo, and only Ripley can figure a way out. Ripley’s a good character, but not near as interesting or funny as the marines. From tough sarge Apone to constantly freaked-out Hudson, they’re exactly the type of guys (and gals) you’d want at your back in an alien-infested colony.

Aliens is a horror movie done RIGHT. It’s scary, sure — the second big chestburster scene is just as wrenching as in the first movie. But finally we have a movie where they don’t split up like idiots, they pack major firepower, they’re cool and capable, they try to get out of there when things go bad, and we actually begin to care about them. It’s only a major streak of bad luck that gives them a one-way ticket to slimy hell. Sure, the aliens are tough, but a pulse rifle with a grenade launcher (Dear Santa…) is much tougher. The aliens explode in beautiful streams of acidic green blood, but they keep on coming.

But ultimately, Aliens is a movie about welding. Go ahead, watch it and tell me there’s not a MESS of welding that goes on here! It seems to be the marine’s answer to everything, probably because they just got these nifty tools right before the mission. “Whoo-hoo!” they yell. “You weld those two iMacs together, and I’ll see if Jonsey’s skull can be welded to the side of a Buick!” I honestly haven’t seen this much welding since Flashdance. What a feeling.


Kyle’s Rating: if there can only be one, this is it

Kyle’s Review: Aliens is practically review-proof and let me tell you why. In my circle of friends, Aliens is one of the greatest movies ever. I think that’s a worldwide distinction, as well. Forget the idiocy and pretentiousness of stupid “Greatest American Films” lists that are usually topped off by films like Citizen Kane (bleh!) or The Godfather (yeah!). If anyone had the stones to really compile a best pictures list, Aliens would be pretty high up there. The only real regret is that it was probably faithful Aliens fans who wanted to return some of the love to James Cameron that made Titanic such a big success, instead of allowing it the straight-to-video route it was clearly destined for. Oh well, for Aliens I guess it was worth it.

Aliens is golden, an action-packed sci-fi epic with likable (lovable!) characters, truly evil villains (no wonder I couldn’t get into “Mad About You” — Paul Reiser is the devil!) and excellent weaponry! And what morality! This movie teaches us to go back for our friends and comrades, that bad deeds result in head-splitting alien attacks, and that if someone you don’t really like is in pain and is about to sacrifice themselves to delay enemies and take one for the team, the right thing to do is to stay behind and blow up with them. Yeah!

Ripley is found in deep space, tells her story, and gets sent with a crack team of ultra-violent marines to investigate a potentially alien-infested planet. Hijinks occur, of course, but thanks to Ripley’s ass-kick-a-liciousness and the level head of Hicks (always-dependable Michael Biehn) things will probably turn out okay. Aliens gives us violence and some tender mushy stuff when they find the young Newt and suddenly have a new reason to save themselves. What a rush this movie is! Modern summer movies aspire to the level of cinematic adrenaline that Aliens has running through its reels, but they fail. Oh well. We’ve got Aliens on tape to watch when we get home from the theaters. Go go go, Ripley! And go go go, Aliens fans, away from the next two sequels! Run for it! Run from them!!! RUN!!!!


Rich’s Rating: Hello, my childhood.
Rich’s Review: The very first time I saw Aliens, I was 12 (or around that age). My parents had borrowed it from a video library, and I remember my Dad saying “You can watch this film, but if you get scared, come and see my or your Mum, OK?”. So I sat down on a sunny Saturday afternoon in the middle of our living room, and watched it. I don’t think I’d ever been so scared in my young life, but with the kind of twisted logic that comes from nowhere, I was determined to make it through the film — if the Aliens were defeated at the end, then I’d know they were gone and I was safe; if I stopped watching now, while they were still around on TV, they would be haunting me for the rest of my life.

When I was 15 years old, I got a VCR and TV set-up in my bedroom for the first time. I’d had a TV for a while, but my parents had just bought a new VCR, and so the old and dingy cast off got hooked up to my equally ancient TV, and finally the joy and comfort of home movies in my own bedroom was a reality.

The very first film I ever bought for myself was Aliens.

Every night after that for more nights than I could count, I would come home from school, disappear up to my bedroom, and put Aliens on the VCR. It didn’t really matter whether I was watching it or not, it just had to be on in the background. Within a month I could recite the entire script word perfect along with the cast. In fact, I still can, much to the constant annoyance of everyone else who knows me.

I don’t know exactly what it is that makes Aliens such a huge part of my development as a lover of movies. Maybe it was the fact that everyone I knew had seen it as well, and thought it was awesome. Perhaps it was the infinitely quotable script. Maybe, just maybe, it was the fact that a film about a bunch of marines firing guns at some of the coolest, creepiest creatures ever to come out of cinema is simply the greatest idea imaginable for an action film. Who can say?

Even to this day, Aliens slots itself into my life in ways that have become second nature to me. In every online game I play, my e-handle of “Carter” is a direct reference to Carter J Burke (come on, how can you NOT love Paul Riser being the slickest slimeball in the galaxy) since back in the days of using it for high score tables on my ZX Spectrum games (ask your parents, kids). Around my friends, I’m forbidden from using Aliens quotes, even though I quite often find myself unable to resist when someone gives me the perfect lead-in line. For my birthday this year, my friends bought me a plush Facehugger, which now lives on the head of my bed, and is second only to my full-sized Greedo mask in cool film stuff that I own. All in all, Aliens has been completely detrimental to my mental health and yet I continue to love it in a really quite scary and un-natural way.

I suppose, as a thinly veiled effort to make this look like a review rather than a trip down memory lane for me, I should talk about the film. And unlike Justin, I don’t believe this is a film entirely centred around welding (though, how many films before or since have used welding so dramatically?). Aliens is a film about two things — a brilliantly conceived, believable and utterly frightening and relentless enemy, and the armada of cool guns with which the marines blow them up. Honestly, the guns in this film are so cool, they actually defy description.

The Aliens themselves are an iconic villain, presenting you with a number of unpleasant ways to be killed by them, coming in various forms, shapes, and sizes, and being utterly and completely ruthless and unstoppable. They’re also slick, black (and who doesn’t look good in black?) and agile as five cats — all in all, absolutely perfect for scaring the bejeezus out of you. Pitted against them are a group of undisciplined marines, who’s belief that firepower beats everything is shattered in as much time as it takes to say “they’re coming out the walls!”, Super-heroine and all-round indestructible alien-beater and psychological nutcase Ripley, sleazy corporate schemer Carter J Burke, and effortlessly annoying little brat Newt.

The time spent in this film actually building the suspense before the appearance of the Alien horde is one of the many things that make it a classic. I wonder how many films, in this MTV Music Video Quick Cut Generation, would actually spend 45 minutes before even bringing in the antagonist, and still be compelling viewing. My guess is not many. But the real meat of Aliens starts once the black evil insects start their campaign of terror, and from then on, it’s non stop adrenaline and absolutely bucketloads of aliens being shot by cool guns, right the way through to the films climax.

The only thing that I really dislike about Aliens is Newt. Now, don’t get me wrong, I completely accept the necessity of the character, and Carrie Henn does a great job for an 8-year-old actress in this film, and without her and her character it probably wouldn’t be half as good. With all that said however, every time I watch Aliens I pray that this time, when Newt meets the Marines, that Hicks doesn’t push Drake’s smartgun off-aim and instead Newt’s body is torn to tiny pulpy shreds by hundreds of high-velocity projectiles. Every single time she opens her mouth in the film, I am actively hoping for her to be bitten in half. Her dialogue is some of the most irritating and inane commentary in all of film-making, and she infuriates me in ways few other things can. But that’s just a personal thing.

Aliens is an all time classic sci-fi film, and if by some chance you’ve not seen it, do yourself a favour and do so. You really won’t be disappointed.

Best. Line. Ever.

INTERMISSION!

  • One of the sets was kept intact after filming. It was later used as the Axis Chemicals set for Batman.
  • Michael Biehn’s character gets bitten on the hand by another character. This happens to him in every James Cameron movie he’s in – see The Abyss and The Terminator.
  • In a special edition scene, Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) daughter was played by Weaver’s mother.
  • The APC was modelled after an airplane tug.
  • “Sulaco” is the name of the town in Joseph Conrad’s “Nostromo” (the ship in Alien).
  • During the scene inside the APV preparing for battle, “El riesgo vive siempre!” can be seen scrawled in white across Vasquez’s armor. This is Spanish for “The risky always live!” [Jonah F. adds: “Vive siempre” means “live forever”, not “always live”]
  • The body mounts for Vasquez’s and Drake’s smart guns are taken from Steadicam gear.
  • The “pulse rifles” that the Marines use are made from a Thompson M1A1 machine gun with a Remington 870 shotgun underneath.
  • Michael A. disagrees with the previous trivia notice: “Incorrect. It is made from a Franchi SPAS 12 shotgun, with its heat shield facing backwards other and obvious modifications to the slide action,barrel, and tube magazine. It is fairly obvious (at least to me) that it is a SPAS 12, owning to its unique and “prolific” use in movies. Also, Hicks’ shotgun is a Ithica 37 Stakeout used in WWII for the same purpose.”
  • The M-56 smart guns and the sentry guns built for the movie were designed around German MG 42 machine guns.
  • The helmets the Marines wear are modified M-1 ballistic helmets.
  • When Vasquez says to Ripley, “I only need to know one thing: where they are!” you can see Hicks in the background moving his mouth in time to what she says. This could well be because his character has heard her say it a million times before; his reactions also imply this.
  • As the final credits fade, there is the sound of a face-hugger scurrying from left to right.
  • “She thought they said `illegal aliens’ and signed up…” said Hudson. This line (directed towards Vasquez) was in inside joke amongst the actors. Jenette Goldstein (Vasquez) had gone to the audition thinking the film would be about illegal immigrants. She arrived with waist-long hair and lots of makeup. Everyone else was wearing military fatigues.

Groovy Quotes

Newt: We’d better get back, ’cause it’ll be dark soon, and they mostly come at night… mostly.

[Pulling out his pump-action shotgun.]
Hicks: I like to keep this handy for close encounters.

Lt. Gorman: I’m coming in.
Hudson: I feel safer already.

Ripley: Get away from her you bitch!

Ripley: These people are here to protect you. They are soldiers.
Newt: It won’t make any difference.

Sergeant Apone: All right, people, what are you waiting for? Breakfast in bed? Another glorious day in the corps! A day in the Marine Corps is like a day on the farm. Every meal’s a banquet! Every paycheck a fortune! Every formation a parade! I LOVE the corps!

Hudson: Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?
Vasquez: No, have you?

Hudson: Is this going to be a standup fight, sir, or another bughunt?
Gorman: All we know is that there is still is no contact with the colony, and that a xenomorph may be involved.
Frost: Excuse me sir, a what?
Gorman: A xenomorph.
Hicks: It’s a bughunt.

Hudson: We’re on an express elevator to hell – going down!

Frost: What the hell are we supposed to use, man? Harsh language?

Newt: My mommy always said there were no monsters—no real ones—but there are.
Ripley: Yes, there are.
Newt: Why do grown-ups say that?
Ripley: Because usually, it’s true.

Ripley: I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. That’s the only way to be sure.

Bishop: I’m afraid I have some bad news.
Hudson: Well that’s a switch.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Alien
  • Terminator 2: Judgement Day
  • Alien: Resurrection
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35 Comments

  1. “I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. That’s the only way to be sure.”

    I love using that line at business meetings when a project is about to KO’d. If you get a chuckle, you know you’re working at the right place.

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  30. Before I say anything else….

    Aliens is pretty much my favorite movie that I have ever seen.

    (Honorable mention goes to The Crow, Last Of The Mohicans, Robocop, Fight Club, Enter The Void, and Bronson)

    That being said, I have to disagree with Mr. Rich on one thing. Rich hasn’t written for the site for years mind you.

    I thought Newt was adorable.

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