Reviews, Vintage Vault — April 5, 2012 at 3:00 pm



“These people are here to protect you. They’re soldiers”


I will set out my objective clearly: To strip Aliens of all of its credability. I want to reveal how fatally flawed it is. How it is appalling that so many viewers argue Aliens as the strongest in the franchise, when if we really analyse it and compare it to Alien or The Terminator, both are superior and offer unique and profound points, whilst Aliens is a rehash of previous Cameron topics – dare I say it, is Aliens a dry-run for Terminator 2: Judgement Day? Whilst, in terms of what Ridley Scott set-out in Alien, Cameron completely ripped up the rule-book and ran off on a tangent that took the franchise the wrong direction. I think Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection are both attempting to claw back the credability of the first film … but their hands are tied behind their backs as they always try to make the film more ‘action-packed’ like the second film. In this months Empire magazine, Ridley Scott notes how he was always fascinated that none of the sequels explored the space-jockey starting-point he had set-up. A wealth of material (which he intends to use in Prometheus) was waiting for a filmmaker to capitalise on, but none of them did. It took Scott to really get back to the true starting point of the franchise. James Cameron thought “right, a sequel – we need more aliens, more guns and more military … stuff”.

Moral Compass

A clearly controversial (and debatable) starting point … and maybe a little unfair. It was unfair, I can appreciate James Cameron. I think what Aliens does clarify – and expand upon – is the clear anti-capitalist argument that was touched upon in AlienAlien touches upon the nature of the term “crew expendable”, but this time it is about the importance of family. In fact, the very nature of a maternal role in Ripley is set-up in the very first act, as Ripley gives birth to an alien … before waking up. It is a dream. Then we are told in no uncertain terms that a substantial amount of families have lost contact … they are all dead. The aliens are destroying families and it is Ripley who needs to restore and create the family-unit. And she successfully does this by establishing a relationship with Cpl Dwayne Hicks (Michael Beihn), and becoming a maternal figure to Newt (Carrie Henn).

Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) is the ‘Ash’ of this film. Not that Burke is a robot, but he is very much detached from his human emotions. It is established early on that Burke is not to be trusted and we find out, as the film progresses, that as Ash was happy to break quarantine rules in Alien, Burke will actively release a face-hugger in the hope that it can be transported home and further experimented on. In contrast, the robot Bishop (Lance Henriksen) is played as untrustful but we see as the film progresses that his heart is in the right place. Or, a better way to put it, his circuits are running properly [insert robot-version of the phrase here].

James Cameron-isms

Cameron ups-the-ante, by utilising the various alien-features to great action-effect. The acid-blood becomes a huge danger – especially for the military unit attempting to kill the aliens. The face-hugger is not just a creature that leaps on a face – we now see the tentacles flailing and slapping around, whilst we see a facehugger held back as the penetrating tube that slips down the throat is desperately trying to find its way into a humans neck. This exploration of the creatures really builds on what we know – never had we seen the creatures become so fast and dangerous. Alien is very-much about a creature killing off a crew tactically, one-by-one, whilst in Aliens it is brute force and relentless attacking. As much as I may appreciate these elements, it is very-much the old sequel-story – more aliens, more attacks, more close-ups, etc. The beauty in Alien was how we didn’t see these things – we knew about them, and were shown a dead facehugger as Ash delicately operated on it, but we didn’t see it leap around much or show-off its features. Thats not to say there was no place for it, but imagine if we had a similar small-scale story to Alien second-time round and the horror-element still played a part (opposed to turning it into action), you could still see a sequence whereby we saw a little bit more about the movement and skills of the creature – but this sequence alongside the relentless attacking of the aliens themselves just makes it a part of a mass-army attack opposed to a unique element to a subtle exploration of the aliens. Fascinating as it is, the film as a whole is built upon the idea of excess – which is completely against the subtlety of Ridley Scott’s original. Remember, all the interesting aspects of the alien itself were set-up in the original – the only ‘new’ aspect was the Queen. Who simply looks like a queen-bee. How original.

Even James Cameron didn’t bring much new to the table. The Terminator was only two years prior and had many similar concepts and designs. In The Terminator we have Skynet and in Aliens we have Weyland-Yutani – the corporation in a futuristic environment against the common working woman – Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley respectively. Even the designs of the machines in the military-team in Aliens would not look out-of-place on the barren landscape in the post-apocalyptic 2029 that begins The Terminator. The excessive use of guns and miltary-grade machinery is akin to the excessive use of force the T-800 applies when tracking down Sarah Connor. Even the finale of both films almost imitate each other as they are both set in industrial environments, across multiple levels and heights, with blue-and-white lights shining through unneccessary but ‘looks-cool’ gas in a nightime-setting. When Ripley ascends in the never-ending lift, you almost expect her to come face-to-face with Arnie, instead she becomes The Terminator and dresses up in her mechanical-outfit to take on the queen alien. Maybe Cameron looked at Ripley-as-Robot and thought: “What about The Terminator as a good guy?”…

Simply Not Good Enough

Consider at this point how you are realising how Aliens is clearly repeating everything Cameron himself created in The Terminator. Add to this the standard of the acting – specifically, the child-actress in Newt (Carrie Henn). This is the heart to the film and you can see, clear as day, how she is reading and acting off simple direction. She hides and is mute initially and very slowly opens up as the film goes on to reveal a very 2D character. Then, to make matters worse, in terms of 2D characters, lets consider the entire military unit. “Loose-cannon” Hudson (Bill Paxton) with his popular imitate-me lines: “I say we grease this rat-fuck son-of-a-bitch right now.” or “We’re on an express elevator to hell; going down!”. Then we have Sgt Apone (Al Matthews) who constantly refers to the unit as “sweethearts”.  Butch Pvt Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) with her huge guns and destructive attitude – we all think “Wow, what a strong woman! Could she [*shock*] be stronger than a man?“. To top it off we have the Lt Gorman (William Hope) as the under-experienced but more-senior positioned character – we all think “how can he be leading this team!?”. An incarnation harking back to many World War II films as senior leaders do not understand the role of the regular soldier. These characters are flat and 2D – there is nothing more to them. Family? Loved Ones? Previous relationships? Previous missions that changed them? Understanding of aliens? Understanding of earth? Nothing – they are set-up for one purpose: to become meat for the aliens to chew on. They mean nothing. (oh, and we can endlessly quote them)


But, as a fan of Jurassic Park, I cannot help but see the clear comparison. The conflict of interest regarding company morals and ethics; is it right to experiement on creatures and play with science – and act as God (again, a theme due to come up in Prometheus). Even visually, when the aliens are at the door and when Hudson dies – both have a striking similarity to Jurassic Park. Hell, even the offices look like the Ingen company offices whilst Burkes clothing seems to be from the same shop as Dr Alan Grant.

Furthermore, I think films like Aliens are what must have created and directly-inspired games such as Quake and Doom. So often we see from the point-of-view of the soldiers – often through the cameras on their heads. The relevant data appearing on the left and right, as the guns lead into the centre of the frame. Throw in the industrial and alien environment and we find ourselves in the territory of alien-shoot-em-ups Doom, Quake and – after GoldeneyePerfect Dark. Maybe James Cameron should be in gaming-industry instead.

Alien Tangent

There is one obvious echo and link to Alien when the characters run through the halls with alarms ringing out, it reminds you of the final act with Ripley in the first installment. But you can simply see how James Cameron simply took the film and franchise in a completely different direction. Even the planet LV-426, whereby the colonies live, is nothing like the spectacular, artistic creation by H.R. Giger in Alien, and I wouldn’t be suprised if this Giger-world is what Ridley Scott loved about the franchise – not the action-and-guns that became a staple of the franchise in Aliens and Alien: Resurrection. Think about Blade Runner - despite some great action-sequences, it is very much about the look of a world combined with profound and fascinating talking-points that established the film as a Sci-Fi classic. Alien, equally holds its own as it is an environment which had never been seen before combined with a creepy, horror-take of the Sci-Fi genre … the action was not important, but it became important because Jim Cameron made it so in Aliens.


  • Top 5 movie of all time.

  • Phew, that wasn’t as bad as I expected from the opening lines! Though I’m a big fan of horror, Aliens’ mix of horror, war and action film is just too damn perfect for me so I’m going to stick with Aliens for number one. And I also think Alien 3 is underrated. Greatest ‘ending’ to the franchise possible!

    • ALIEN 3 is underrated – but we’ll get to that. I think its fair to say that I give credit where its due, but I think that people who ADORE the film and think its better than ALIEN are completely wrong. (Yes, you might they are merely opinions … but WRONG opinions.)

  • imagine if we had a similar small-scale story to Alien second-time round

    Being blunt, I imagine that in this scenario you’d be accusing Cameron of cribbing too much from Scott to make his Alien film. Cameron isn’t and never has been the type to go for a subtle, less-is-more approach– more is more with him, and as far as I’m concerned it always has been. So I don’t think it’s particularly fair to critique his film for not being like Ridley Scott’s film.

    Your point about this film essentially being nothing but release with little exploration is true, but I hardly take that as a strike against it; in fact, that’s pretty much a good thing. Cameron doesn’t mess with Scott’s mythology here. He honors it and keeps it intact. His only purpose, really, is to use Scott’s creation to explore his own ideas, rather than to tinker with the inner workings of the xenomorph and adding his own elements to their biology and behavior. While that ultimately “only” means that the Queen represents the sole new element introduced here, it also means that nothing of what Scott did with the creature originally is lost.

    Which means that I disagree on the notion that the aliens here behave that much differently than the aliens in Scott’s film. Sure, there’s much less stalking and killing, but, a) it’s not that kind of film, and b) by virtue of that, their behavior naturally changes. The monster in the first film was, frankly, outnumbered and outside of its own environment. Here, they vastly outnumber the humans, and the humans are in their hive. They’re not going to for stealth and assassination; they’re going for seek and destroy. To me that just seems logical.

    I don’t like Aliens as much as I like Alien, but for me it’s a solid action-horror and a great take on the Vietnam film.

  • My stance is – why give Cameron the project? If he made afilm called MARINES VS ALIENS then he can design the aliens himself and he can choose the lead himelf. He’d probably have big, smurf-like blue creatures … and an actor like Sam Worthington. Cameron took something which was artistically and biologically fascinating and turned it into a by-the-numbers shoot-out movie. If you like shoot-out war movies, then fine, you’ll love it – but shoot-out war films is not what ALIEN is about!

    “use Scott’s creation to explore his own ideas” – what a shame. Bastardizing something that was so incredible. I responded to someone on my own blog – why doesn’t he just make his own MARINE VS ALIEN movie rather than play with something much more profound and insightful. Cameron reduces it to good vs bad, family is good and capitalism is bad. end of. ALIEN had so much more depth.

    I didn’t look into the Vietnam side of things, so MAYBE (maybe…) there is some more depth with that analogy, but its not that clear at any rate.

    No discussion on the completely 2D nature of the characters – opposed to the much more liked, and much more interesting crew of the Nostromo?

    • See, now you’re trying to stake a claim on what you think Aliens should be all about, which I think is a false approach to critiquing a film. It’s equivalent to tearing down subsequent Friday the 13th movies after the original because they abandon the giallo formula entirely, in favor of the contemporary slasher model. Like I said, the flesh and bones of the xenomorph aren’t manipulated in any way; they’re just being utilized on a bigger scale.

      And so too are the themes of the original. Aliens is anti-capitalist? So’s Scott’s film. In fact, it might be one of the most successful Marxist films of all time. For all of its depth, I wouldn’t exactly describe Alien as a film that exists in the grey; it wears its morals and ideals on its sleeve, though I admit that Aliens is far more overt in its continued commentary on “the company”. I’d also argue that the film continues the same exploration of masculine domination begun in the first picture.

      I think the only reason that we can agree on the characters being 2D is that there are so many more of them, and most of them are just static characters meant to represent one element or characteristic and little else. There’s nothing strictly wrong about that. But on that same token I wouldn’t say that every character in Alien is three dimensional, either; regardless, that doesn’t keep me from enjoying their company any less.

      (For the record: I strongly dislikeAvatar.)

      • You’re absolutely right – if you want me to judge James-Camerons-Aliens rather than Aliens-the-sequel-to-Alien, then fine, he clearly created what he wanted to create and the film reached to its directors intentions. But its not just your average film – it is very much THE SEQUEL TO ALIEN, and with that comes a certain expectation. I’m not going to ignore its predescessor, otherwise I ignore the simple fact that it is a sequel.

        I covered the fact that both films deal with capitalism – but very briefly in ALIEN and much more in ALIENS. My issue with the issue in ALIENS is how it is the EXACT SAME EXPLORATION AS CAMERON DID IN TERMINATOR. Its nothing new. And thats my issue.

        None of it is new – either its the xenomorphs, Ripley and face huggers created by HR Giger and Ridley Scott. Or its a capitalist message, industrial look and excessive gunplay from THE TERMINATOR. What is new here?

        I additionally dislike AVATAR.

        • I don’t get this complaint– a lot of directors explore the same themes across all of their films. Why is it bad for Cameron to do the exact same thing as Wes Anderson, or Takeshi Kitano, or Federico Fellini?

          • Because Cameron does it with a sledgehammer and those other directors do it with a paintbrush (to mix a metaphor). At least, that’s my opinion.

          • Yeah, but if we’ve already established that subtlety isn’t Cameron’s thing– and it’s not always the hallmark of amazing cinema– then I don’t see how that makes his continued exploration of the same themes that problematic. Maybe his anti-subtlety doesn’t float your boat– it doesn’t always suit me as a film enthusiast, I’ll say that much– but that doesn’t make it a crime for him to delve into the same ideas over and over again. The bigger problem is his lack of nuance, I think.

  • I think you’ve hit pretty solidly on what makes ‘Aliens’ a lesser film than its predecessor. But I admit that, from a purely entertainment point of view, I enjoyed it. Granted the first time I saw it was at a party, which resulted in a betting game on who will die first (Lesbian Soldier and Token Black Guy were the popular votes). So it really is just a standard action flick, which can be enjoyable in its own right. Cameron never was a particularly subtle filmmaker, but he is good at producing straight-forward entertainment.

    I do find it interesting in the view of what it says about the society that produced it so I like what you said about the establishment of the nuclear family. All of Cameron’s films seem to have an element that exposes the sociology of the surrounding society.

    • My partner Sarah felt that there is huge problem with the depiction of women in the film too – arguing that Vasquez/Lesbian Soldier is very-much “woman-imitating-a-man” opposed to an actual strong-woman in terms of her feminity. Ripley on the other hand desires a family and babies – the maternal stereotype. So, while the film had a strong set-up of female characters – it reduces them to cliche and stereotype. Vasquez has to be a MAN to be a strong woman.

  • I think Simon needs to watch more films.

  • You want to strip Aliens of all its credibility? Yet….

    “Cameron completely ripped up the rule-book”

    “It was unfair, I can appreciate James Cameron. I think what Aliens does clarify – and expand upon – is the clear anti-capitalist argument that was touched upon in Alien”.

    “Cameron ups-the-ante, by utilising the various alien-features to great action-effect”

    “This exploration of the creatures really builds on what we know – never had we seen the creatures become so fast and dangerous”.

    You even have a sub-heading of “Influential”.

    Perhaps when you want to reveal how ‘fatally flawed’ something is, be consistent.

    You come off sounding like a whiner who bitches about Aliens not being the film you want it to be (the Alien Carbon-copy), if only Ridley could have made it, we could have had a another “small-scale” horror film, despite the fact that the adult alien had been fully revealed by the end of the first film, blah, blah, BLAH. Would you really believe in another bunch of unarmed ordinary people being picked off again?

    The Alien Queen is tied into the motherhood theme and the contrast of the two very different style of ‘mothers’ (which is an important part of this story), but I guess you don’t get or choose to ignore that (I suspect the latter). This film is not about the alien per se, it is about RIPLEY. Ripley and her discrimination of androids, her bond with Newt, mutual affection for Hicks and hatred of the alien and more specifically, the chestburster. Not to mention her transition from unbearable nightmares to peaceful dreaming-a complete character arc. Aliens is about the character of Ripley and her reactions to the things in that universe. Alien focuses more on plot points and the characters are there to die in atmospheric, tense, nail-biting ways.

    “Family? Loved Ones? Previous relationships? Previous missions that changed them? Understanding of aliens? Understanding of earth?”

    Apply the above questions to the characters in Alien. How about Brett’s previous relationship? Lambert’s understanding of earth? Kane’s previous mission that changed him? Dallas’s loved ones? Ripley’s family? Oh. Wait. In Aliens we learn that Ripley had a daughter who died.That wasn’t established in Alien. Oh. Dear.

    I think you are seeing Alien with an extreme case of rose-tinted spectacles.

    Final thought: Kane exists in Alien only to get Face-hugged and chestbursted. What a well-developed and 3D character he really is (and a complete waste of John Hurt in the process).

    • First off, I’ll conceded that the opening line is for dramatic effect, but I seriously don’t think ALIENS is as good as people claim. There is realy heart to the characters in ALIEN – something very human about how they talk around the table at the start and something very honest about the relationship between Dallas and Ripley. ALIENS is not about honesty – its about action and guns. yes, the motherhood theme is throughout the film and, in terms of Camerons vision, this is VERY MUCH his vision, but I think it is out of place within this franchise.

      PROMETHUES, we now know, is the direction it should’ve gone. ALIEN 3 and ALIEN RESURRECTION are flawed because they are both trying to walk that tightrope between the first two films and ultimaetly fail to be either. just inconsistent films to some extent of another.

      My issue with this film is that in terms of originality, themes explored were explored in TERMINATOR and the context of the aliens was set up in ALIEN.

      A whiney bitch is a bit much. Sequels, by definition, have expectations and this is not what I believe the alien series is about. Thats just me and, clearly, you disagree. And thats ok too.

      I think it is much more short-sighted to argue that because I don’t (like? appreciate? give credability?) enjoy ALIENS, I’m ‘wrong’.

      I know I’m not a fan of it – I know I don’t enjoy it as much as all the other films. And there is a reason why. My analysis is me, trying to put that feeling into words.

      Why do you think I don’t like it?

  • I see you are not very good at answering the questions I had for you about Alien – are you a politician?

    I wholeheartedly disagree on Aliens being all about shooting and action.

    Aliens Special Edition – Action/shooting breakdown

    Scene Time Breakdown

    Drake shoots at Newt – 0:57:37 – 0:57:38 1s
    1st attack (Hive) – 1:12:43 – 1:18:47 6m 4s
    Dropship crash – 1:24:37 – 1:25:00 23s
    Sentry gun setup – 1:30:18 – 1:30:21 3s
    1st sentry guns – 1:37:28 – 1:38:19 51s
    2nd sentry guns – 1:41:24 – 1:42:17 53s
    Facehuggers shot – 1:50:47 – 1:51:25 38s
    2nd attack (operations) – 1:56:10 – 2:04:44 8m 34s
    Saving Newt – 2:12:27 – 2:12:38 11s
    Destroying Hive – 2:15:02 – 2:17:18 2m 16s
    Escape – 2:17:19 – 2:22:17 4m 58s
    Bishop Killed – 2:23:36 – 2:24:01 25s
    Queen Fight – 2:26:12 – 2:27:53 1m 41s
    Finale – 2:28:13 – 2:29:37 1m 24s

    Total shooting/action 28m 22s

    Length of film 2h 34m 27s

    Length of film (seconds) 9,267s
    Total shooting (seconds) 1,171s
    Total action (seconds) 1,644s
    Total shooting as a percentage 12.6%
    Total action as a percentage 17.7%

    Amount of film that contains no shooting 87.4%
    Amount of film that contains no action 82.3%

    But its all about the shooting and action, right? ;)

    One of my favourite parts in Aliens is where the marines are told they can’t use their rifles.
    I love how they have a problem with this and (some) flat out disregard their orders altogether.
    I thought it really added to the collective character of the marines and their attitude – it seemed a totally believable reaction to how a group of armed marines would feel being in that place and being told they can’t use guns. Quite simply – they aren’t having any of it :).

    Personally I think you don’t like Aliens because it isn’t the sequel that YOU wanted it to be. I think you would have been happier with a second Alien film going down a similar route as the first film (i.e. slow-burning suspense and horror). However, this makes your point about originality moot as I’m sure you would have to score a second Alien film (if it were in the horror-suspense only genre) down as it too would suffer that lack of originality. To score Cameron down on this is a little harsh, personally I feel that its his different take on the second film that actually gives it that originality, purely by basing it out of the first film’s genre and its conventions.

    Prometheus is certainly different, but better for it? I don’t think so. The film ends up reminding me of Alien (the Vase room = egg chamber, people who are not what they appear to be/hidden motives-David and Weyland, etc). It also has an idiot plot (i.e. the characters stupidity moves the film forward – hello Milburn + Snake, hello redshirt opening cargo bay door and walking up to mutated Fifield). Giving Milburn an overconfident personality for two minutes (after being scared by dead Engineers previously) was both jarring and pathetic.

    It also suffers from an identity crisis (not sure whether it wants to be an epic or a horror). Just check out the scene of David activating the massive Engineer holographic map and the grandiose score and scenes of a snake breaking someone’s arm/the Shaw C-Section. The tone of the film is never coherent and it suffers for this.

    Talking of coherence, things happen that never get mentioned again (squid baby, a toasted Holloway, David’s motives, the supposed surprise of Weyland being alive and also being Vickers father) unless of course, the plot requires it (squid saving Shaw from the Engineer). Even in Alien the characters would discuss what just happened (i.e. Dallas disappearing after the ventilation shaft attack). How ridiculous would it have been if Dallas were never mentioned again by the other characters? Yet Prometheus presents us with this kind of incoherent storytelling and asks us to take it seriously, which frankly I cannot.

    It seems from your posts you have a disdain for action, does this mean that you have a hard time differentiating between Aliens and a film like Commando (1985)? If so then I feel you have drastically underestimated people’s ability to tell well thought-out action from mindless action. As I have already pointed out, less than a fifth of Aliens has action scenes.

    What is it about the characters in Alien that make them seem so real? I think the scenes have an unrehearsed, raw quality to them, but I don’t find the majority of the characters in that film very engaging (save for Parker and Ash, to a certain extent). I blame Ridley Scott to a degree (he has said on the Alien Anthology ‘making of’ that he cast very good actors specifically so that he could focus on the visual ‘look’ of the film and therefore spend less attention and not worry on directing the actors so much).

    Why do you think I don’t like Alien?

  • Thanks again Anthony for taking the time to reply. I wrote a review on this site for Prometheus so please feel free to have a read (though I won’t lie, my anti-ALIENS streak continues…)


    “What is it about the characters in Alien that make them seem so real?” Like you said, their characters are simply workers on a ship – not marines, not heroes, just normal people. And I feel that. I believe that.

    I don’t think you don’t like ALIEN. I just think that the direction the series went, you clearly enjoy. I don’t and I blame the inconsistencies in 3 and 4, in part, on what ALIENS did to the series.

    With regards to the action, I definitely couldn’t time the film to work out the quantity, but it is an action film through and through – whether it is building up to the action and setting the scenes that were due to play out later (ripley – can you manouvre this machine?) or whether it was a moment of calm before the storm, its still an action film and it uses these traits to inform the film. Is the ALIEN series primarily action? I don’t think it set out to be – but it did seem to turn into one.

    Its all subjective – and im not a fan of ALIENS and, to twist the knife further, nor was my partner. We both came away from the rewatch and thought “yknow, I really didn’t enjoy that”. Again, I’m trying to figure that out and I explained as best I can why. i can’t be argued round to liking it – and all the points you raise I can understand why you like it – but I simply don’t.

    I-am-what-I-am. But its not because I ‘don’t watch enough movies’. Maybe not enough action-movies, I’ll take that…