Turn Back the Clock

Science Fiction


Distributed by 20th Century Fox

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            When I first saw the movie Aliens, I had not seen the original film by Ridley Scott that started it all.  I had seen what I thought was an amazing trailer filled with action, special effects and no dialogue except for the narrator speaking at the end: This time, it's war.  I knew I had to see this film.

            I saw Aliens with my mother, an odd occurrence since it was my dad who had turned me on to the science fiction with Star Wars.  But as we watched the film, I could tell my mom was just as into it as I and the rest of the audience was, especially when  that fateful lab scene came up and the facehugger slammed itself into the side of the stasis tank.  Everyone...and I do mean everyone...jumped and gasped collectively at that scene.  Then, we all laughed and poked one another, embarrassed that we had become so caught up in the story that we could be so easily spooked by such a simple effect.

            With the coming of Prometheus, an Alien prequel film, to theaters, I thought it only fitting to re-watch (for like the hundred-thousandth time) the movie that had become the basis by which I would judge all future science fiction films against.  So, into the DVD player went Aliens from the Aliens Quadrilogy Set.  I decided to watch the 1991 Special Edition of the film that included all of the scenes deleted from the original film version.

            As the movie opens, we meet Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), other than Jones the Cat, the only survivor of the freighter Nostromo.  Rescued after over fifty years in stasis, she is brought before a panel of members of the Company where she tells her tale of why she had to destroy the Nostromo after it was attacked by an alien life form they encountered on the planet LV-426.  The Company members are unimpressed by her story - after all, they have had colonists on the planet for twenty years who have never encountered such alien life forms the entire time they have lived there.

            Some time passes and, unable to obtain a piloting license, Ripley and Jones the Cat live in a small apartment, all she can afford running freight loaders and the like.  She receives a visit by Carter Burke (Paul Reiser), a representative from Weyland-Yutani (the Company), and Colonial Marine Lieutenant Gorman (William Hope).  Apparently they have lost contact with the colony on LV-426 and want Ripley's assistance as a consultant on a military trip to the planet to check on the colony.  At first Ripley flat out refuses, but after dreaming of her horrific experiences there, she relents on one condition, that if they find the aliens she encountered on the last journey, they will be destroyed.

            They travel on board the warship Sulaco where Ripley meets the Colonial Marines.  As they are being debriefed, Ripley is distressed that the Marines have no idea of the seriousness of the mission, relating to the trip as a bug hunt.  She reminds them that just a single alien wiped out her entire crew.  That sobers them a bit, but they are still a bit leery of this civilian invading their military space until she proves that she can handle herself and help them as well, driving a load lifter and assisting them in stockpiling their weapons on the drop-ship in preparation for the descent to the planet.

            Once they get to LV-426, the marines find the area deserted with no signs of life.  Believing the location to be secured, Lt. Gorman everyone to Operations and the Med Lab to discover what might have happened to the colonists.  The Med Lab offers up some ideas as the group comes in contact with their first facehuggers, two still alive, in stasis.  They also come in contact with what appears to be the only person left in the colony, a distraught little girl named Rebecca Jorden (Carrie Henn), known as Newt.  The young girl has kept herself alive hiding in airshafts and access tunnels throughout the station.  While Ripley gets as much information out of Newt, who reminds her of her own daughter, the Marines discover that the colonists have all seemed to communed on Sub-Level 3 of the Power Station. 

            As they set out to discover why the colonists have all migrated there, none of them could possibly imagine that this may be the last time the tightknit group might ever see one another alive.  They soon learn that the colony is overrun by the very aliens that Ripley described to them and as they begin to decimate the Colonial Marine squad, Ripley discovers that one of the members of their recovery team has been working against them all along.  Can Ripley and the others find a way off the planet, or will they succumb to the aliens?

            The acting in this film was phenomenal.  You truly believed in these characters and felt particularly drawn to them, even the Marines, as the story moved along.  Weaver was amazing in her reprisal of Ellen Ripley, now no longer simply a headstrong and intelligent Warrant Officer on board a space freighter, but a traumatized and terror-filled woman who is determined to prevent these aliens from taking any more from her than she has already lost.  Carrie Henn, despite having no previous acting experience, was completely believable as the equally traumatized girl who found a way to survive despite losing her entire family to the alien creatures they inadvertently brought to their colony.

            The Marines were also engaging and viewers found themselves vested in the outcome of Corporal Dwayne Hicks (Michael Biehn), Private William Hudson (Bill Paxton) and Private Jenette Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) and Bishop (Lance Henriksen).  William Hope had the misfortune of portraying Lt. Gorman, proven to be incredibly inept and inexperienced as a leader, mirroring the issues voiced by many a grunt about their commanding officers.  His performance was spot on, but viewers didn't feel much sympathy for his character until his moment of redemption which only comes toward the end of the film.  And Paul Reiser's portrayal of Carter Burke - he was the perfect corporate sleezeball, thinking only about the Company's profits and his own advancement.  It was a great moment for Reiser who had previously been nothing more than comic relief, yet he mostly stuck with comedic roles after this film and, to my knowledge, never picked up any other serious parts after Aliens.

            The special effects combined with the darkness of the film, the fast-moving camera angles, the moments of extreme quiet followed by adrenaline pumping action, spooky music by James Horner, an engaging storyline and likeable characters made Aliens a box office smash hit and a fan favorite.  It helped to launch many of a career, was nominated for a number of awards and earned Sigourney Weaver an Academy Award nomination, a feat never before achieved by a lead actress in a science fiction film.  And, as I said before, the movie has become the benchmark to which I compare all other science fiction films that have come along since.

            The Special Features found on the Aliens Quadrilogy version of the film features movie stills, trailers and the usual fare, but the most important and interesting are the featurettes.  Until I watched these featurettes, Aliens had simply been an incredibly well-written and executed film with amazing effects, adrenaline pumping action and heart-stopping terror.  I knew something of what went into making the film, but had no idea what really went on behind the scenes.  These featurettes gave me invaluable insight into the making of Aliens that I never had before.  For instance, I had no idea that some of the British crew and James Cameron didn't get along very well during the making of the film.  I also had no idea that the closeness of the Marines was brought about by real boot camp training or that Michael Biehn was brought into the film later in the production, yet still was able to assimilate well into the group.  It was interesting to learn of the way Weaver and Henn bonded in the film.  I loved learning about how the movie was made and the actors', director's, producers and crew's experiences while making the film. 

            If you have never seen this film before, I highly recommend seeing Aliens as soon as possible.  This is an example of a what a sequel can be when it is done right, not simply becoming a clone of the first film, but taking it into a new and exciting direction.  If I may, I would suggest that you watch the Special Edition of the film as it is the most complete package.  The original version, while still being excellent, was less than complete without the deleted scenes and I was glad when the Special Edition restored the seventeen minutes of film revealing Ripley's daughter's death (offering invaluable insight into her bond with Newt), an explanation as to how the aliens ended up at the colony and more.  And if you can get a chance to view the featurettes, the more's the better.  Aliens is just one of those films that no self-respecting science fiction fan can afford to miss.

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