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From Under A Rock: Aliens

April 23, 2016 | Posted by Michael Ornelas
9.3
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From Under A Rock: Aliens  

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I’ve made it no secret that Alien is my (Michael’s) all-time favorite movie. Well 4/26 (the Fox-proclaimed “Alien Day”) is just around the corner, so it only made sense to bring Aaron along on the journey that is the equally-heralded action sequel.

You only get one first time, and for some people, it comes later than it does for others. This particular column is about documenting the first viewing of a “classic” movie or TV show determined at the discretion of Aaron Hubbard and Michael Ornelas in alternation.

Last week Aaron showed Michael the hell of war with Apocalypse Now. This week Michael shows Aaron that the hell of war can exist in space as well in James Cameron’s Aliens.

Aliens
Released: July 18th, 1986
Directed by: James Cameron
Written by: James Cameron
Starring:
Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley
Michael Biehn as Cpl. Dwayne Hicks
Bill Paxton as Pvt. Hudson
Lance Henriksen as Bishop
Paul Reiser as Carter Burke

Michael Ornelas: The world of these films is the one that excites me most. I am so pumped for Alien: Covenant and I’m in the minority who absolutely loved Prometheus. You’ve only seen the first movie in the franchise and, well, it was time.

Aaron Hubbard: This franchise is one I wasn’t interested in for most of my life, as neither horror or straight-up action movies were really my cups of tea in my teen years. I immediately regretted that decision upon seeing Alien which is now one of my favorite movies of all-time as well. This one was a worthy sequel, but it became worthy largely by being its own thing.
Vasquez
Action Over Horror
Michael: This topic is a bit of a double-edged sword coming from me. While the original film terrifies me, I actually don’t feel very much suspense while watching Aliens, save for a few moments. But the action in this film is badass, and I absolutely love that. Maybe my favoritism for the original comes from the fact that I prefer horror to action, but in its own right, Aliens is still an awesome movie. First, to acknowledge the moments where the suspense actually delivered in spades: the shot of the Xenomorphs crawling through the ceiling is such an amazing moment (and leads to the best shoot-out of the franchise). Seeing them converge on the tracker was horrifying and I love that the acidic blood wasn’t ignored in this scene (despite being forgotten about in others) because it only added to the thinning of the crew. The moment where Newt falls through the cracks in the water wheel into the sewer below is fantastic as I felt just as trapped as Ripley did. And of course during the first Xenomorph attack, there’s just something so unsettling about seeing it blend into the wall in the background. All of these were awesome, suspenseful moments in an action-packed movie.

Aaron: Aside from the scenes you mentioned, I really enjoyed the scene where Ripley and Newt got trapped in the medical wing with the face-huggers. Every time the camera cut away from the aliens I lost my mind worrying about those characters. Yes, I knew Ripley would make it out okay, but I also realized that Aliens was probably the kind of movie that wouldn’t shy away from killing a child in the most horrible way possible. That scene was really tense for me, and their eventual rescue was satisfying. I was also legitimately shocked by the final reveal of the Alien Queen, as I assumed they had thwarted their enemy and the movie was at its end. Largely because I didn’t realize I had the extra-long special edition, but hey, a surprise is a surprise. That ending action scene was phenomenal, and definitely the part that felt most like James Cameron to me. I think a lot of the things that were absent from the first film that debuted here were recycled when Cameron directed Avatar; the invading army, the giant mech-fighter, the slimy businessman. It was interesting to see the similarities.

Michael: Well Ash represented the slimy businessmen in Alien, so at the very least, that’s a common thread. Caterpillar P-5000 Powered Work Loader Ripley is one of the coolest things in this movie though. This movie oozes coolness and I think that’s what launched a great classic one-off film into a marketable franchise. Like it or not, the marriage of action and horror is what makes this series work so well, and you have to give that specific credit to Aliens.

Aaron: I certainly wasn’t knocking it. While I didn’t get sucked into this one in quite the same way as Alien, I think that’s a personal preference issue. This movie is excellent, and you can probably tell a lot about a person’s movie tastes by asking if they prefer Alien or Aliens. I got more into the isolation that Ripley felt in the first movie, but it’s hard to deny she’s a badass with great relationships in this one.
Lifter
Building On What’s Established
Aaron: Making a great sequel is not an easy thing to do, and most fail to live up to the legacy of the original. Aliens plays things smart though. James Cameron knows that the setting of the first film was pretty much perfect. The Xenomorph was great, but we didn’t get many close-up looks and the special effects were much more impressive this time around. He also really had a good sense of Ellen Ripley’s character and where he should take her. The transformation from the scared young woman who barely escaped with her life into the tough-as-nails, willing-to-take-on-anything fighter feels very natural. We also get to see more of the universe of the franchise, and we realize that while their technology has advanced, they are still very much the same types of people we know. I knew from listening to analysis that the soldiers (and their weapons and vehicles) were designed to remind the audience of the Vietnam War. And since we just watched Apocalypse Now a week ago, it’s easy to see the similarities.

Michael: The most notable aspect that this film adds to the franchise is the scope of the characters included. The Marines are actually a very diverse bunch, and I really appreciated that. Vasquez was probably my favorite of that bunch, showing us that Ripley isn’t the only strong female in this universe. She was the definition of heroic throughout the entire film, and I very much appreciated that. Contrasting her was Bill Paxton’s Pvt. Hudson, who was an overly excitable manbaby, yet one of the most enjoyable components of the film. He was absolutely one-note, but he broke up an otherwise very tense movie. As you mentioned, we did have Burke who was a character type that was implied but never shown on-screen in the original. He was the corporate stooge and 30 years later is just as relevant today as he was when the movie was released. And to address your take on Ripley in this movie vs. in Alien, I love her hesitance to deal with the Xenomorph again, but at the same time she’s the only one who knows how. We see in the opening of the film that she’s essentially suffering PTSD from the events of the first movie, but her resolve is strong enough to take it to the aliens once again. She’s literally the only known person still alive with experience in combat against these things, so she’s in this position where we automatically understand both her objection and her duty to fulfilling the role of the hero.

Aaron: It’s a great conflict for any central character to have. I also liked that the journey Alien took me on had me firmly in Ellen’s corner. When nobody believes her about the xenomorph, and later when the marines don’t take her seriously, I felt her frustration. It’s difficult to be the only person who is aware of something horrible. The other key addition for me was Newt. Tag-along kids are often some of the most annoying characters in any movie, and even when they’re tolerable, they don’t usually add much. But I don’t think this movie, or Ellen in particular, would have worked as well without Newt. In many ways, Ellen is seeing the scared little girl she probably felt like before, and knows how much Newt needs someone to take care of her. I really enjoyed this dynamic, and I didn’t expect to.
Newt
Maternal Instinct
Michael: One thing we were able to take away from this film was that maternity was a running thread — not just between Ripley and Newt as you had mentioned before, Aaron, but with the Xenomorph Queen and her eggs. This theme is further expanded on in the next two films, but the trope of a protective “mama bear” is ever-present. When Ripley is shooting grenades at the eggs the Queen is laying in this movie, it almost felt brutally over-the-top. I felt sympathy for the Queen for a split-second until I remembered how much evil the Xenomorphs contain. But the very fact that the climax is two protective maternal figures battling over their young is pretty cool and definitely unique.

Aaron: It certainly is a rarity, but it definitely works. I honestly barely even noticed that until I sat and thought about it. Usually I’m a fan of strong female characters getting showcased, but this may be the gold standard for it, honestly. When I compare this to characters like Rey in The Force Awakens or even Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, this felt about as far away from being a purposeful subversion as it could. This wasn’t someone yelling “Hey, girls can play too!” It could only be Ripley in that role. And this movie accomplished the feat of making me think of Ripley not just as a great character, but as an icon of cinema. Ellen Ripley deserves to be in the same discussion as characters like Indiana Jones, James Bond and John McClane as legends of the action genre.

Ratings:
Aaron: Aliens is awesome. There’s no other way to put it. Just because Michael and I prefer the original film doesn’t mean we didn’t love this one as well. The Xenomorph special effects are incredible, the action and dialogue are memorable. Most impressively, it manages to keep the aesthetics and characters of the first film and expand into an entirely different genre of film, and is still successful. That’s hugely impressive.

A

Michael: I feel that the first act pacing drags just a bit and slows the movie down. I say that and I watched the theatrical version which is 20 minutes shorter than the Special Edition that Aaron watched. Once we get to see all the colonists who were being harvested for facehuggers to implant their seeds, the movie picks up steam and never lets off. It’s a fantastic movie that, from a visual standpoint, more fully realized the Xenomorphs than the original. But it’s not a perfect film like Alien so it scores just a notch below that for me.

A

Aaron: How do I get out of this chickenshit outfit, Michael?

Michael: I have a picture I could post here but I’ll refrain for the sake of our readers.
Aaron: That’s ultimately for the best. Trust me, guys.

Did you like the relationship between Ripley & Newt?

Next week:

Aaron: Hey, Michael. There’s this cool little independent film coming out in a couple weeks. Perhaps you’ve heard of Captain America: Civil War? Because it’s time to look at one of the only major Avengers *not* showing up in that movie in his solo MCU film…

Michael: First World War II. Now Captain America’s going back to the Civil War? This timeline is all screwed up…

Aaron: You should try making sense of X-Men movies.

Michael: In all seriousness though, I’m excited about this. I love Edward Norton, and Hulk is such a fun character in the Avengers movies.

Who’s your favorite Banner? Ed Norton, Bill Bixby, Eric Bana or Mark Ruffalo?

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Check out our past reviews!
Mission: Impossible, They Live, Marvel’s Daredevil, The Silence of the Lambs, 12 Angry Men, The Usual Suspects, The Boondock Saints, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Iron Giant, Fargo, American Psycho, 28 Days Later, Frankenstein, Crank, The Godfather: Part II, American Beauty, Rocky, Alien, Spaceballs, Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Muppets Christmas Carol, Reservoir Dogs, Superman: The Movie, Lethal Weapon, Double Indemnity, Groundhog Day, The Departed, Breaking Bad, Shane, Glengarry Glen Ross, Blue Ruin, Office Space, The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest, Drive, Memoirs of a Geisha, Let the Right One In, Apocalypse Now, Aliens

MICHAEL HAS A NEW WEB SERIES
Michael’s Spin on Things is a comedic YouTube product review parody channel in which Michael Ornelas will review ANYTHING and EVERYTHING in accordance to the criteria provided by the spin of a wheel.

In this week’s episode, Michael reviews a 3-pack of Wrigley’s 5 Gum. The wheel lands on “Shampoo” so…you can probably guess where this is going….

AARON HAS A NEW COLUMN
Aaron’s column finally has an official title and theme: 411 Comics Showcase! This week, Aaron focuses on one of the best team up comics in the history of the medium, The New Teen Titans.

9.3
The final score: review Amazing
The 411
James Cameron tackles the difficult assignment of following one of the greatest horror films of all time. But while Ridley Scott's Alien is a masterpiece, the sequel does plenty to add to the legacy of Ellen Ripley and the Xenomorphs. It's bigger, badder, and more accessible to general audiences, and Michael and I both know that many consider it to be better than its predecessor. We don't agree, but we loved this film all the same. If you haven't had the chance to see both films, definitely remedy that situation.
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