Sigourney Weaver Ripley
Carrie Henn Newt
Michael Biehn Cpl. Hicks
Paul Reiser Burke
Lance Henriksen Bishop
Bill Paxton Pvt. Hudson
William Hope Lt. Gorman
Jenette Goldstein Pvt. Vasquez
Al Matthews Sgt. Apone
Mark Rolston Pvt. Drake
Ricco Ross Pvt. Frost
Colette Hiller Cpl. Ferro
Daniel Kash Pvt. Spunkmeyer
Cynthia Scott Cpl. Dietrich
Tip Tipping Pvt. Crowe
Trevor Steedman Pvt. Wierzbowski
Paul Maxwell Van Leuwen
Valerie Colgan ECA Rep
Alan Polonsky Insurance Man
Alibe Parsons Med Tech
Blain Fairman Doctor
Barbara Coles Cocooned Woman
Carl Toop Alien Warrior
John Lees Power Loader Operator

Directed by James Cameron. Screenplay by James Cameron (based on a story by Cameron, David Giler, and Walter Hill and on characters created by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett). 1986. Running time: 137 Minutes.

The dictum that "sequels ain't never the equal" doesn't apply to one man's career, namely that of director James Cameron. In fact, director Cameron's reputation largely rests on sequels, namely his 1986 Aliens (sequel to Ridley Scott's 1979 Alien) and the 1991 Terminator 2 - Judgment Day (sequel to his own 1984 Terminator).

The problem with sequels is that they are by their very definition a re-hash of the films that predated them. If we've seen Rocky Balboa fighting a boxing match in one movie then what do we expect from the next movie? Rocky fighting another boxing match against another opponent in another movie. In fact, one would be better off watching the first Rocky movie five times over instead of watching the multitude of sequels that followed afterwards!

Any movie buff would be hard-pressed to come up with any sequels that were as good as if not actually better than the films which inspired them. And usually sequels are inspired by only one thing: box office returns. Movie moguls see a hit movie and decide that what movie audiences want is more of the same. The sad thing is that they are usually right, which is why such a plethora of sequels gets pumped out by the Hollywood movie machine and why films today are so drearily formulaic. Films are barely conceived as having sequels. Sure, money bosses may greedily eye a potential blockbuster as a possible franchise, but that is as far as their planning may go. One of the few film franchises that were (sensibly) conceived as more than one installment is the Star Wars series. George Lucas originally wanted it to consist of nine installments. When he started filming the first film, he never for a moment thought that he would ever get around to the other installments since he never dreamt that Star Wars would be the hit that it turned out to be . . .

While it is doubtful whether The Terminator or Alien was intended to be more than one installment, when they did get around to making sequels to them, James Cameron did something unexpected. He wasn't content with a re-hash of the first movies! Instead with both movies, Cameron played around fully with the material that the first two films provided him with. The 1986 Aliens could easily have been a re-hash of the 1979 Alien in the hands of a less imaginative director. Audiences could once again have been faced with the small group of people confronted by a single-minded killing machine alien monster - the bog standard plot of countless horror films from Halloween to Friday the 13th to the first ever haunted house story ever filmed. Like what happened when first-time director David Fincher was assigned to directing the lackluster (in comparison) 1992 Alien 3. Instead Cameron turned the standard horror movie formula into an action film. How about, he asked himself, a group of hardened marines were to face not one, but hordes of viscous aliens?

The result was a film remembered with fondness by fans for its sheer adrenaline injected action. Few action films matched the intensity of Aliens. In fact, the film ultimately owes more to the action than the science fiction genre. It merely entrenched the reputation of science fiction movies of being more visceral than cerebral - a reversal of trends that was started by Star Wars in 1977. Most sci-fi movies made today owe more to Rambo and Speed than they do to let's say the work of Arthur Clarke or Robert Heinlein. A film genre that were previously mostly concerned with the realm of ideas found itself being populated by action heroes like Bruce Willis in The Fifth Element. Sci-fi movies concerned with ideas (like 12 Monkeys) are far in-between. For this director James Cameron has to take some blame. Aliens and its ilk seem to have been directed by the Terminator itself. They are just as mechanical and one-track minded when it comes to eliciting a response from movie audiences. Ah, but what a wild ride audiences had back in 1986 when the theatres darkened to start showings of Aliens . . .


Copyright © November 1997 James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page



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