Viking Night: Aliens
By Bruce Hall
December 5, 2012
It's uncommon for a sequel to succeed as well as the original. Rarer still is the one that's still relevant 30 years later. In 1979, Ridley Scott’s Alien was as much a work of art as anything else, one whose influence can still be seen today in almost any science fiction film that lacks a happy ending. Cameron's follow up doesn't age quite as well, but it takes the same universe in a different, equally successful direction. And it does this so well that next to the original, it almost works as the second half of a whole. Almost.
Cameron's take on the Alien universe is full of the all the brawn and verve you'd expect from the man who brought us The Terminator. As a result, it lacks the sense of grandeur present in Scott’s movie, but it manages to create a distinct identity for itself while maintaining an almost ideal balance of visual and narrative continuity with the original. In fact, when we see first see Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) again, she's wearing the same clothes she had on back in ‘79. But from her perspective, 57 years have passed as she drifted through space, awaiting rescue.
Many things have changed about the world, but corporate greed isn't one of them. Ripley's employer doesn't seem excited to hear her stories of chest bursting space beasties, because they’ve since colonized the planet she visited. Hysteria is bad for business, so they send her home with a pink slip. There she might have stayed, and Aliens might have been two hours of Ripley driving a forklift. Luckily the colony vanishes, and the company sends a smooth talking executive named Burke (Paul Reiser) to talk Ripley out of retirement. Of course he succeeds, and off they go to investigate - along with a phalanx of bored space marines, all itching for some action.
They find it when they land, and discover signs of intense combat. Something has killed off the colonists, but not without a fight. Ripley acts as adviser as the Marines conduct a search and stumble into a veritable shit-storm of alien activity. A firefight takes out the two top Marines, the colony's cooling system and the ship they all landed in. With no ride home it's left to Ripley, Burke, a mysterious android and the remaining Marines to find a way off the planet before everything blows up, they kill each other out of frustration, or just end up taking turns watching each other's chests explode.