On the theatrical release poster for Aliens it states at the bottom, “This Time It’s War”. This film takes that slogan to heart. Gone is the atmospheric and ominous Nostromo from Alien, instead replaced with a battlefield filled with intense action, pacing, and an overall sense of destruction. The original, by Ridley Scott, makes you feel completely alone on a desolate ship, while Aliens, by James Cameron, makes you feel like you are on a theme park ride. I am in no way saying that one form of art is better than the other, but I will say that one technique lends itself better to the horror genre. I will also mention that viewers should watch Alien before Aliens. It is important to have an understanding of the backstory that makes this world so interesting.
Aliens reintroduces you to Ellen Ripley, the amazing survivor of the first movie. Since she has been in stasis for 57 years (!), it is not surprising that she is a little slow to move around. Essentially, no one believes what happened to her in the first film. Quickly enough, some strange incidents occur on LV-426 (the exomoon in the Alien film), which results in her going back into the fray. Luckily, she has a group of trained marines going with her. Unfortunately, the marines are stereotypical and cliche. They are chauvinistic and unintelligent. These soldiers throw in loads of comic relief, which results in an assuagement of the atmosphere around them.
The humor in the film may take away from many horror elements, but it does create for memorable moments. The acting is top class and there are numerous one-liners that you will be quoting for years. I may have appreciated the tension and isolation in the first film more, but the atmosphere as a whole is just astounding. Even if you are only remotely into science fiction, you will appreciate the artistry of the ships and alien colonies.
The fact is, Aliens is more about action than horror. With that in mind, this movie still has a couple tricks up its sleeve to keep horror fans engaged. The backstory of Ellen Ripley and her eventual relationship with Newt (Carrie Henn) adds a layer of depth to the movie. There are many stupid people in this film, but that only helps to exaggerate the intelligence of Ripley.
This film, much like the first, exhibits an “untrained” female surviving better than male marines. The visceral feeling inside the ship and the almost body gore of the aliens themselves will strike fear into many viewers. You will have a hard time finding a more interesting, yet terrifying alien than the Xenomorph. Still, with all this in mind, I can’t help feeling annoyed with how far Aliens went away from its horror roots.
As an action film, Aliens is right up there at the top. As a horror film, it is simply not in the same class as the original. Luckily, the aliens, acting, and atmosphere still hold enough weight to make this film worth seeing. Oh what could have been if they just stuck to their tension building roots!
If you liked Aliens, you might also like Alien.