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‘Aliens’ 4K UHD (Digital review)

Disney

One of the best sequels ever made, James Cameron’s Aliens instinctively knows exactly which aspects of Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic Alien to embellish and which mysteries to pass over in silence, a feat not even Scott himself was able to accomplish in his 2012 sort of follow up Prometheus. Cameron famously shifts genres from cosmic horror to relentless action, and builds upon the minimal characterization of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley to deliver a film which is, in many ways, superior to the original.

Aliens opens with Ripley’s stasis pod being picked up 57 years after the events of the first film. The Weyland-Yutani Corporation, who were complicit in the slaughter of Ripley’s crew, refuses to accept Ripley’s explanation of events and she’s forced to try and work through her trauma and build a new life for herself.

When the human colony trying to settle the remote planet that Ripley’s ship found in the first film goes dark, Weyland-Yutani executive Burke (Paul Reiser) enlists Ripley to join a platoon of Colonial Marines going to investigate the situation.

Of course, the situation is even worse than she expects and when the platoon’s leadership is decimated, Ripley and Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn) are forced to lead the small band of survivors off world while protecting the only survivor of the colony, Newt (Carrie Henn).

Alien employed designers Jean “Moebius” Giraud and H.R. Giger in order to create an atmosphere of unknowable dread and subliminal body horror. Characters crawl through yonic corridors and evade a phallic shaped killer alien in a film that suggests more than it says and is more about ideas than people.

The natural inclination of a sequel would be to try and shed light on the mysterious ancient alien figures the crew encounters, but Cameron wisely side steps this in favor of a new approach. Whereas the first film is visually designed to suggest the implicit horror in the human body, the sequel is about our capacity to create family connections in crisis and overcome primal trauma. Alien is, to put it gently, a cosmic sexual assault, and Aliens is the action packed recovery from that trauma.

Alien was famous for presenting us with a very “working class” vision of the future: the crew of the first film are essentially space longshoremen with a few specialists in case of emergency. Aliens substitutes this for military grunts and their unprepared officers, and I love the supporting cast of this film so very much.

Bill Paxton as the overconfident and then apoplectic Hicks, Lance Henriksen as the entirely noble Bishop who overcomes Ripley’s understandable reticence at his presence given the actions of the android in the first film, Al Matthews as the sergeant, and especially Michael Biehn as Hicks, whose quick nap during the drop ship sequence tells us more about him without words than we learn about any character in the first film.

Cameron comes into his own as a filmmaker in this, his third film.

The attack scene in the power station is relentless and terrifying foregoing suspense for clinical perfection in editing and blocking to create an atmosphere where anyone can die horribly at any time. Siskel and Ebert famously tempered their praise for this film by characterizing the action as so powerful and overwhelming that you can barely breathe.

Almost forty years later, the film is not quite as visceral as it must have been when it debuted but it absolutely retains its ability to thrill.

Extras include the 1990 Special Edition, James Cameron introduction, commentaries, isolated original score, deleted scene montage, deleted scene, featurettes, and trailers.

This is also Cameron’s first brush with top shelf effects and the final flight into the complex that contains the Alien Queen is up there with Blade Runner in terms of science fiction landscapes that excite the imagination and generate awe. I think gradually Cameron’s career is the process of a genius storyteller getting caught up in pushing the envelope in technical terms while he falls back on simple emotional manipulation in the script, but here we have the perfect mixture.

A genuine triumph and one of the very best science fiction films ever produced.

Highest recommendation.

 

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