"Blends a premise of high-tech firepower, adventure, excitement, terror and a human story, and makes all the threads gel."

I've come to realise that the only thing separating Alien and Aliens in my critical estimation is the time when I last watched either film. Indeed, comparing them is difficult, since they are two quintessentially different kinds of horror movie, with Ridley Scott's masterpiece standing alone in terms of atmospheric dread and grand vision. James Cameron's Aliens clearly prefers to have a more intimate and repeated claustrophobic close-up encounter with absolutely relentless tension and release cycles. Even rivalling his own The Terminator for masterly adrenaline rushes and jolts.

Aliens opens after a 57 year hiatus from events on-board the Nostromo, with Ripley having narrowly escaped death from the nightmare xenomorph. Her escape pod and sub-zero coffin slowly glide through space. By "blind luck", the pod is salvaged, and Ripley sent to hospital for recuperation. Her story of the alien is taken with more than a dash of salt; the planet where they discovered the alien is now a new human colony. They lose contact with the colony, and eventually a team of marines - self-proclaimed "ultimate bad-asses" - are sent, along with reluctant advisor Ripley.

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Of course, the trouble isn't simple. Through a series of sequences delivering suspense, unintrusive exposition and character-building, we learn the colonists' fate. Each of the marines is quickly delineated into their respective archetypes skilfully, and Cameron lets us have moments of juxtaposition comedy along with their posturing and subsequent decimation by the aliens. Also, there's a wildcard, a sleazy corporate drone, Burke (Paul Reiser), looking after the Company's interests on the sly.

In what is essentially a Vietnam war film in space - a strong story thread on relationships plays out. The greatest one in Aliens is that between Ripley and the sole colonist survivor, a little girl called Newt. Having both lost their families to unrelenting forces: Newt to the aliens, Ripley to time - they quickly and easily bond, with Sigourney Weaver's strong performance giving texture to the simple character setup. The subtext of the sexual clash is easily read, with the masculine ("Have you ever been mistaken for a man?" is asked of a tough woman marine; her reply "No, have you?!") marines bending to the will of the mother bug.

By then, the clock is most definitely ticking - adding an edge to the climax, with a computer voice calmly counting down towards nuclear incineration. All the while, Cameron stages the mother (pun intended) of all showdowns. If there's one image that we take from Aliens, it's two guardians squaring off each other, faces boiling over with equal hate. The atmosphere can be cut with a knife.

Impressive and inexpensive visual effects open out the film as much as Ridley Scott's stunning prequel, but Cameron's early fondness for guerilla filmmaking shines through. It's rare the kind of film where the climax can be nearly measured in hours (James Cameron's Titanic is another), and still keep the audience absolutely enraptured throughout. Even rarer is that which blends a premise of high-tech firepower, adventure, excitement, terror and a human story, and makes all the threads gel.

Aliens easily takes a spot of one of the greatest popcorn movie rides of all time.

Reviewed on: 01 Sep 2007
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Ripley is back in another alien-killing spree.
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Gator MacReady *****

Director: James Cameron

Writer: James Cameron

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, Paul Reiser, Bill Paxton, William Hope, Jenette Goldstein, Al Matthews, Mark Rolston, Ricco Ross

Year: 1986

Runtime: 154 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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