Preparing for Prometheus pt. II – Aliens (1986)
I mentioned when I reviewed Alien that my first exposure to the franchise was with its sequel. I didn’t get to experience all of it. My vhs copy that I recorded off of a late night showing on Fox got cut off around the time the marines started getting wasted at about an hour into the movie. I was hooked from what I had seen and wanted more but I didn’t have access to the films other than going to a video store (if you’re younger than twenty you might need to google that concept) and renting them and my parents were hesitant to let me watch stuff like that alone and I wasn’t comfortable watching stuff like that with them. Enter my friend from down the street who had all three Alien films on VHS. We watched the first one together and he left the other two with me to enjoy at my leisure. The very next night I watched Aliens all the way through for the first time.
I’m going to say that Aliens is probably my favorite entry in the series. The fact that it is so unlike its predecessor and yet somehow a logical evolution hooks me in and keeps me onboard. Now, I had seen Predator before I saw this one. My dad had that Arnold Schwarzenegger classic taped off of HBO and I’d watched it more than once. I knew how good the idea of tough guys with big guns being hopelessly outclassed by a foreign being could be. But the difference between that film and Aliens is that in this particular go around the sheer overwhelming number of the Aliens and the chaos they bring creates a completely different sort of terror. The idea of being swarmed is a very primal fear. Sharks in a freeding frenzy or a haze of angry wasps are some examples of naturally occurring means in which a person can be swarmed and scared out of his gourd. It’s a common recurring theme in many nightmares.
But it is through this change in the manner of horror that the film shifts from being a horror film into something more akin to a survival thriller. It’s a man against nature film except in this case it is man versus the supernatural and that same fear of the unknown from the first film carries over. The fact that the marines go into the fight knowing that they are dealing with something lethal and yet being blissfully ignorant of the danger and overconfident of their own bravado makes for an interesting contrast to the cornered and frightened crew of the original film. It also contrasts with other films of the genre, like Predator, where they don’t have any clue what they are dealing with and therefore have no idea how to combat it. It is almost more frightening to know what you are dealing with and still feel hopeless than to wonder what it is that is circling you waiting to pounce.
I don’t feel as if I can say as much about this film as I can its predecessor because while it is well constructed and smartly made, it doesn’t give you enough time to take in the craft of the film itself. It is kinetic and frenzied. Alien is slow and deliberate while Aliens is frantic. That is a very deliberate choice and it fits in with what I was speaking to earlier about the different sort of fear each film is attempting to instill in the audience. Neither is superior to the other but I will definitely say that Aliens is far better in the repeat viewing category because you don’t have to be in nearly as patient a mindset to enjoy its charms. It starts off fast and ramps up speed to the climax and then the valve bursts and it leaves you feeling pretty well drained.
Seriously, it’s a high point for multiple genres and should be shown to film students on a repeated loop until they get the point.