Summertime brings with it all kinds of weather. Some days it’s boiling hot, other days cold and heavy with rain. And then there are the days where everything balances out and is just right. If only every day could be like those balanced days weather-wise.
Sadly, things don’t always work out that way. And they don’t always work out the ‘balanced’ way in the movies either. The story lays things out to end in a happy fashion, but there are the overwhelming odds, the things that tip that balance in opposition.
An excellent example of such a tipping is in the Alien franchise. More specifically, 1986’s sci-fi blockbuster Aliens, the sequel to the original 1979 Alien. And what a sequel it was. Taking the foundation that was laid down and then upping the ante to build a threat more terrifying then what was originally shown on-screen.
And helming the sequel was not its original director Ridley Scott, but a man who was already well-established by the time he stepped up to the plate. None other then James Cameron, who has cemented himself for all-time in the science-fiction movie world with The Terminator.
Cameron put a lot of heart and soul into making Aliens become a reality. A fan of the first film, he put together a series of treatments during the pre-production and filming of Terminator, with the executives at Fox giving him the promise of directing the sequel if Terminator proved to be a success. With his first foray into science-fiction movies panning out, the work out Aliens began in earnest.
Filmed over a ten month period on a budget of only $18M, James clashed a lot with the production crew who were many part of the first team on Alien. Belittled for being too young, and his then-wife Gale Anne Hurd being mocked for receiving producer credit only for being married to James.
In spite of all these melodramas on set, Aliens defied expectations when it opened in theaters. And the largest reason for that was the return of Sigourney Weaver as Ripley.
Ripley is one of the quintessential female heroes of sci-fi. Even when the chips are down and her back is against a wall, she does not give up. Overwhelming odds in the first story resulting in the loss of her crew, one would think traveling 57 years through space asleep means she gets a break. Not the case, sadly. Ripley is cast back out into the void with a company of Marines to investigate a crashed colony ship. Once there, things go from bad to worse fast as most of the company are picked off one by one as the Xenomorphs take them down.
Ripley stands strong and tall through it all. And some of her best moments as a certified hardcore hero come near the end of the story.
Moment 1. When Ripley and Newt (Carrie Henn) enter the nest of the Xenomorphs and encounter the Queen while making their escape. Ripley has the option to leave due to the Queen perceiving her as a viable threat to her offspring. So what does Ripley do? She torches all the eggs, destroys the Queen’s ovipositor, and sets off an explosion that takes down the colony and all the remaining Xenos.
Moment 2. One of the greatest brawls in sci-fi movie history: Ripley throwing down with the Queen in the cargo-loader, jettisoning her into space before taking a much deserved cryo-sleep with Newt, Hicks and Bishop.
The 1980’s was a decade where a vast array of movies of all different genres and story types flourished. Comedy, romance, action, superhero, science-fiction, teen comedy, action comedy etc. And in that time frame, there was a wide range of heroes and protagonists that popped up and have stood the test of time as noted characters. Many of them are male, because of there still being a culture of men as leaders and charging into action or being in charge or what have you.
And then there are the leading ladies, the heroes who aren’t men. Princess Leia, Ellen Ripley, Sarah Connor are the 3 primary names that pop up, because their characters break from traditional norms and hold their ground against impossible odds, like hordes of alien monsters or the Empire or murderous Terminators.
Sequels are always a hit or miss in movie franchises. Yet at the time of its release, Aliens not only was a hit, it was a home run out of the ballpark. Not only did it earn back its budget and more (grossing in the range of $131.1 million-$183.3 million), it was received very positively by critics everywhere.
One of the most sterling reviews at the time comes from Roger Ebert. He said of Aliens:
“Aliens” is absolutely, painfully and unremittingly intense for at least its last hour. Weaver goes into battle to save her colleagues, herself and the little girl, and the aliens drop from the ceiling, pop up out of the floor and crawl out of the ventilation shafts. (In one of the movie’s less plausible moments, one alien even seems to know how to work the elevator buttons.) I have never seen a movie that maintains such a pitch of intensity for so long; it’s like being on some kind of hair-raising carnival ride that never stops.
I don’t know how else to describe this: The movie made me feel bad. It filled me with feelings of unease and disquiet and anxiety. I walked outside and I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I was drained. I’m not sure “Aliens” is what we mean by entertainment. Yet I have to be accurate about this movie: It is a superb example of filmmaking craft.
It’s summertime. It is well and truly summertime. A great time for kids to be kids and people to come together. And while yes, the 80’s was a couple decades ago, there is no denying the allure and pull and appeal of movies from that period. It’s the point of these pieces, it’s the point of taking time to sit down, watch the movie in question and write about it. So a final encouragement, make an effort to watch this and other 80’s works, whether they are written about here or already known favorites.
And make sure when sitting down to watch this, that no small children are present unless parents feel they can handle the level of action and violence. This is not something a 5-year old needs to see. Parents, be smart, monitor what your small ones are viewing.