“I think a lot of it has gone into comic books, and to me, in comic books, it’s all about the men — and because they were written in the ’50s and ’60s especially. It just wasn’t where it was at for those writers and there’s only so many band-aids you can put on that to make it relevant for today’s society. There are gorgeous, occasionally kick-ass characters like Scarlett Johansson in Iron Man 2, but in general I don’t think those guys were thinking about women in those ways. I think as long as Hollywood is doing that, there won’t be these amazing action-women characters.” Sigourney Weaver interviewed by Eric Larknik for moviefone, July 2011
Directed by James Cameron
Screenplay by James Cameron, story by James Cameron and Walter Hill & David Giler, based on characters created by Dan O’Bannon & Ronald Shusett
Produced by Gale Ann Hurd
137 minutes (theatrical version)/ 154 minutes (special edition)
Sequels start out as business deals and often build a case of buyer’s remorse among audiences as soon as they drive off the lot, but James Cameron wasn’t interested in business as usual when he signed on for part two of Ridley Scott’s 1979 outer space spookfest Alien. With ideas bountiful enough for three good movies, Cameron races away with a film that laps other sci-fi, horror and war movies for a far greater prize: the mantle of epic filmmaking. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), lone survivor of the freighter Nostromo, is discovered drifting through space by a salvage crew. Revived after spending 57 years in hypersleep, the home office remains skeptical that Ripley scuttled the Nostromo because a hostile alien (with acid for blood) got on board and killed her crew. The moon where Ripley first encountered the creature is now the site of a terraformed colony which hasn’t reported any trouble. Not yet.
Plagued by nightmares of her ordeal in space, Ripley is notified by smarmy case officer Burke (Paul Reiser) that contact with the colony has been lost. Burke promises to reinstate Ripley’s flight license if she accompanies him and a unit of colonial marines to investigate. These include the green Lt. Gorman (William Hope), quiet Cpl. Hicks (Michael Biehn), cocky Pvt. Hudson (Bill Paxton), two macho gunners (Jenette Goldstein, Mark Rolston) and an “artificial person” called Bishop (Lance Henriksen). The marines find one colonist, a girl named Newt (Carrie Henn) crawling in the ventilation ducts with no sign of the others. Advancing on an atmosphere processing station, the marines with their pulse rifles and motion trackers are overwhelmed by a swarm of ferocious creatures seeking human hosts. Ripley saves what’s left of the unit, which is now marooned with her and Newt in hostile terrain 17 days short of any rescue.
James Cameron was scrambling to finance a low budget sci-fi thriller he’d written titled Terminator when he met with Walter Hill & David Giler. Cameron pitched a few ideas, none of which went over well, until the producers mentioned they were thinking about a sequel to Alien. The up and comer submitted a 40-page treatment for Alien II, which Hill & Giler developed with Cameron, who was retained to write a screenplay. He turned in only 90 pages before departing to direct Terminator, but based on what they’d read, the producers made the unusual call not to hire another writer. Armed with the prestige of The Terminator, Cameron was handed directing duties for the sequel, with his 29-year-old partner Gale Ann Hurd producing a studio film for triple their last budget. Cameron coaxed Sigourney Weaver back, survived a skeptical British crew at Pinewood Studios and again exceeded expectations in the realm of modestly budgeted sci-fi.
Cameron wrote Aliens in tandem with First Blood Part II and without Sylvester Stallone’s input, Aliens persists as an allegory to the colonial wars of past, where superior technology is overrun by an indigenous enemy. As fantastic as the tech is — the next generation power loaders from Caterpillar are beautifully designed and rendered — Aliens is Zulu in deep space. Instead of making a copy, Cameron actually gives each element from the original film sharper and deeper imaging, from the alien biology, to the culture of a maritime shipping corporation, to space travel. What makes this business so engaging are characters drawn with distinctive humor and guts who live and die memorably based on those established traits. Instead of a plot pushing her from point A to point B, Ripley’s fear of the aliens and her desire for motherhood is what drives the expansive narrative, a trick that may be the most enduring Cameron was able to pull off.
Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 374,363 users: 90% for Aliens
Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: N/A
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