For as long as I can remember, Aliens has been a special and pretty much PERFECT film in my life. The first time I can remember seeing it has to be during its original CBS television debut in 1989 and, oddly enough, I remember doing so through a pair of 3D glasses. While I can’t remember if viewing through only the red or blue lens individually masked some of the grizzlier moments or not – maybe I was channeling the way martial arts films got around television censors before I even knew that was a thing? – I definitely enjoyed what I saw and, as far as I was concerned, it was on from that point. Shortly after that, I fondly remember playing the Aliens arcade game from Konami which, to me, is still one of the best arcade games ever!
You all know the story: 57 years after the events of Alien, a team of crack commando Colonial Marines are sent to the deadly Alien planet of LV-426 to investigate the sudden communication breakdown with the colonists who’ve inhabited it. Lt. Ripley, last surviving member of the Nostromo, is sent with the Marines as a technical advisor since she’s familiar with the creatures, only after she’s assured that they’re going there to destroy – Not to study. Not to bring back. But to wipe them out.
From there out, it’s non-stop action all along the way; as Bill Paxton’s Hudson exclaims “Express elevator to Hell. Goin’ down!” Of course, it wouldn’t be until years later as an adult that I’d catch James Cameron’s Vietnam allegory not-so-thinly below the surface of the film’s OOH and AHH structure; it’s pretty blatant that the Dropship kinda looks like a Huey Bell UH-1 helicopter and that the Marines’ overconfidence and reliance on technology ultimately becomes their undoing against a far less-advanced enemy. See, even the most fun and excited genre movie can have something important to say!
But yes, as the film inches towards its 30th Anniversary on July 18th, I can’t help but look back fondly on it and exactly how trendsetting it truly was. Think about it: how many genre movies have you seen where there is a group of “badasses” who look cool and spit out one-liners left and right? There are way too many to count right? In fact, 2002’s Resident Evil didn’t just try to borrow this formula with its group of commandos accompanied by someone who has a past history with the monsters, they simply had Michelle Rodriquez just replay the Vasquez character! Forhelvede!
Design-wise, while H. R. Giger’s original creature designs will never be matched after his Oscar-winning work in Alien, my hat is off to Cameron and the late, great Stan Winston (that one still stings to type!) for re-imagining the designs a bit and making the Xenomorphs more bug-like in look and nature. As far as I’m concerned, between Alien and Aliens, that’s when the creatures looked the best; all of the sequels (and AvP movies) have missed the mark in some ways.
Speaking of creature-design, who doesn’t love the Alien Queen? Dreamt up by Cameron and realized by Winston and his team, that bitch is truly one of the classic movie monsters! Again, like the Xenomorph itself, any other film appearance by the Alien Queen pales in comparison to her 1986 debut. There’s simply no contest.
Let’s talk about that incredible score – which you’re no doubt humming right now -- from the late James Horner (that still feels odd to type) . . . the track “Bishop’s Countdown” that plays as Ripley & Newt are rescued by Bishop in the Dropship moments before the reactors blow LV-426 to dust is the kind of music that should be played during EVERY heart-stopping, pulse-pounding moment that builds to a crescendo in movies, TV, and life! Oh wait, it already has as it’s appeared in dozens of movie trailers since 1986!
When I think of the movie Aliens, I’m immediately reminded of a special time in my life: adolescence. My best friend was Chris and his dad had a copy of the movie on VHS; though I don’t think we ever watched it. However, once Alien3 was released in 1992, I immediately taped Aliens when it was shown as a seemingly free movie on Request Pay-Per-View – of course, I missed the very beginning of the film, so that tape I’d watch for years started with the Marines running into formation for inspection by Sgt. Apone as he proclaimed them to be “absolutely badasses.”
It was around this time, at the age of 10 or 11 when Aliens really took hold of my interests and strengthened some strong friendships. Along with Chris, my other Aliens buddies were John and his little brother Dan. Together, the four of us would watch the film endlessly for the next 3 or 4 years. Slowly but surely, the trio of me and John & Dan would become obsessed with all-things Aliens. We collected the original Dark Horse comic books (or any of their seemingly endless spinoffs), were always drawing the movie’s titular creatures whenever & wherever we could, dropped at least $20 of quarters in the local arcade as we tried to beat the arcade game (we almost did, but the Queen got us!), role-played the movie with our toy guns (as well as the occasional Predator cross-over) and, eventually, collected the action figures from Kenner Toys!
As an adult, I find myself quoting Aliens in pretty much any given situation on a daily basis. When I’m assigned a particular task, I’ll sometimes throw out an “I’m on it” with the same tone as Hudson; if I’m asked about something that I might not want to admit, I’ll deliver a “Yeah…yeah, that’s right” in the same, uneasy tone as Hicks; if I’m impressed by what someone has done or said, I’ll casually throw out a “Now all we need is a deck of cards” . . . I know there are plenty more that slip out, too. Haha.
Seriously, I don’t think there’s a single thing that I can find fault in with Aliens. From top to bottom, Fox fanfare to fade out of the closing credits, this movie continues to rock my world! Here’s to another 30 years!