Aliens is a fantastic canvas that develops the mythology of the space saga. James Cameron, having replaced then Ridley Scott, was seemingly trying to consolidate his new status. Both James Cameron and Ridley Scott have made some of the most successful movies worldwide. Cameron took the opportunity to direct this movie after the robotic Terminator, the film that changed the cinematic industry of the 80s. Aliens, another dark and unique film, appeared to be a good choice for Cameron, who had experience in shooting something similar.
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Cameron’s Terminator clearly illustrated that the director knows how to create suspense and illustrate a story. From this perspective, Aliens has some moments worth mentioning in regards to the gloomy atmosphere perfectly presented by the film crew. After the expressive chamber and claustrophobic first Alien, the sequel did not completely take the formula called – most of all: guns, xenomorphs, equipment, locations, and others. The film still looks relatively good even without exquisite special effects.
The director did not consider changing the concepts and distancing himself from the first film. The concept of having one strong main character and team members who are killed one by one remains the same. However, Aliens portrays another side of Ripley, the seemingly unbeatable superhero-type person. This time, Helen Ripley has to preserve the small and innocent life of a child (Kameron, 1986). Far from being a family tape, the film shows real motherly feelings in contrast with bravery and danger.
Another aspect that can be credited is the illustration of the ship crew, specifically, how the characters interact, their personality traits, and their differences. As in every movie, bad guys and good guys do not get along, a cliché but a relatively useful tool which creates tension and allows the characters to show their intentions. Moreover, viewers are able to find characters to connect with, which is a significant factor that creates an emotional link between the movie actions and the audience members. The screenwriters and the director were able to portray both likable and unlikable characters without making them too one-dimensional. Whether on purpose or not, Cameron has authentically sent the viewers back, a few years earlier, to another cult film – Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. There were similar scenes, long shots, a boy on a tricycle, and an operator at child’s eye level.
A big part of the first movie, Alien, were the scenes in which both the sound effects and the camerawork were designed to create suspension. The dark setting, mysterious creature, and loud sound effects were a great addition to the movie. It is uncertain whether the sequel managed to maintain the same level of tension throughout the movie. First, the audience is well aware of the creature, how it looks, and how it kills. This may have been the downside since a new universe is always more exciting to look at. An interesting choice was using scenes in which the viewers are able to see the action from the perspective of the main character. Thus, such camerawork resembles a video game and allows the audience to feel the same fear and uncertainty as the character portrayed by Sigourney Weaver. Close-ups of the actress’s face emphasize the gloomy atmosphere of the movie, which is the merit of the film crew and the performer herself. Another magnificent shot was the moment where Ripley stumbles upon the Queen of Alien, and the camera perfectly captures the massive creature and the small but brave Ripley with a child in her arms. The contrast is beautifully presented through an almost still picture which acts as a comparison between two mothers.
It is essential to mention that adding a child to the acting crew was a brilliant idea. Thus, the innocence of a kid makes the whole dark setting and scary events even more horrific. It definitely is an emotional trigger, which is why the director decided to include it. The audience is always sympathetic when children or animals are in danger, and the movie’s creators played on this. Carrie Henn (Newt), like Danny Lloyd from The Shining, will be remembered for the only role of an eternal child. In principle, all the actors involved were perfect for their roles and managed to create a believable setting.
In my experience, directors are rarely able to film sequels that are as good as their first movie. While Cameron’s second Terminator is, objectively, much better than the first one, the director could not achieve the same effect with the Aliens. The problem is that the second film is trying to emulate the success of the first one without changing the main aspects. The main character, a team that is slowly taken down by the monster, and the location is all the same. Moreover, the first film in the franchise illustrated a perfect image of isolation and almost induced the audience into a state of claustrophobic fear. While pleasant to watch on a Saturday evening, it is hard to compare the movie to other similar works such as the first Predator and even Terminator. Aliens is trying to be something that it can never be, which is the unique and nuanced Alien, Scott’s principal piece of art.
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Kameron, J. (1986). Aliens [Film]. 20th Century Fox.