In 1986 James Cameron’s ALIENS was released, and I was one of many in theatres around the world engaging the action/sci-fi/horror. Though it received several Academy Award nominations, and is adored by many around our little blue ball, I always hated the damn thing – even before I saw poor Lance Henriksen pop out of his hole, revealing the lower half of his body to catch that screeching urchin, Newt.
Yes, the original ALIEN is my favorite film, but don’t think I’m knocking on Cameron’s second installment simply because it’s a sequel.
The year is 2179, and Lieutenant Ripley, the sole-survivor of the Nostromo, has been rescued by a salvage team. Brought back to Earth, she learns that she’s been floating in space for 57-years, and in short order, the planetoid where the Nostromo crew had picked up the alien now has a small colony on it – and “the company” has lost contact with the place. Of course her employer’s ticked that she blew up their ship because they don’t buy her story (it’s amazing how Cameron left out any civil ramifications for her implied murder of six crew members. However, Ripley eventually sets off as an advisor with Colonial Marines, aliens run amok, and the only question is: “Who will survive?”
After the opening with the salvage crew (the best part of the movie), we soon discover that Ripley’s Colonial Marine buddies must have been magically transported from 1968. Instead of coming up with clever slang and such, Cameron fell back on Vietnam War speak and characterizations that are all sad caricatures, whether they’re discussing cornbread based cuisine, how “short” some of the “grunts” are with enlistment, or scoring some “poontang.” Again with the element of caricature, we have a rag-tag group of rejects (Vasquez and Drake), including a nutcase (Hudson), and other passive-aggressive or “soldiers on the ball” (Hicks, among other red shirts). They are led in command by their big daddy sergeant, Apone, the spokes model for the Corps, and what would be called a “90-day wonder” in Vietnam: Lieutenant Gorman. The lieutenant is the new “by the numbers” guy who’s had all the training but none of the practical experience. Oh, and “the company” (now named in the sequel as the “Weyland-Utani Corporation”) has sent along their own representative in a snake oil man named Burke.
None of the dialogue is new or special for the age, though STARSHIP TROOPERS screenwriter, Edward Neumeier had no trouble employing new lingo, something author Robert A. Heinlein had even failed to do. But when Hudson makes an illegal alien joke about Vasquez’s ethnicity, I find it hard to believe that we’d still have that issue almost two centuries from now.
To date, the only horror movie I can think of that presented a military unit in its best trained and most logical form is Neil Marshall’s DOG SOLDIERS. But in ALIENS, they are loose, cliquish, and silly. Besides their Pulse Rifles (which includes parts of a Franchi SPAS-12 shotgun), Hicks carries an Ithaca Model 37 pump shotgun “for close encounters”, while Private Frost whips out a Heckler-Koch VP-70, and Vasquez sports a Smith and Wesson Model 39 automatic. Now, we’re about two hundred years in the future, and these marines carry weapons from the late 20th century? That’s ridiculous. That means my personal back up on the field would be a 1793 Versailles Flintlock Cavalry Carbine. I don’t think so. I guess they raided a museum on the way to the planetoid.
So the company apparently wanted to send the worst, most ill prepared group to the colony. Once again, as in the original, they send along a “goddamned robot” with Bishop, who can’t harm humans. Of course, this kicks Ripley’s PTSD into high gear, and it’s clear that she’ll eventually trust him over time. Yawn. We also learn that the only survivor of the colony is a squealing little runt called “Newt.” And in an instant, Ripley becomes her surrogate mommy, and we know beyond a doubt that absolutely nothing will happen to the squirt (though I truly wanted an alien to tear her to shreds). Another yawn.
The worst part about ALIENS, however, may be the transformation of Ripley as intelligent survivor of an alien attack to an obnoxious, bitchy, know-it-all. What we loved about her in the original has been stripped away as she becomes what many theatregoers at the time labeled as “Rambette” (Sylvester Stallone’s ludicrous “Rambo” crap was big at the time). Her ugliness shines through in the scene where the marines are below the nuclear engine that drives the colony. When it’s made clear that the ammo the marines use can damage the tanks, which would end in a thermo-nuclear explosive of epic proportions, Gorman orders Apone to collect ammo yet continue with the sweep. In short order, the aliens unleash themselves, and the near defenseless marines are either dead or dying. It’s full combat, and Gorman freezes, but Ripley’s suddenly in full mental awareness and tells them to get out of there. One: did anyone need to tell them to pull out? Two: If one listens to Gorman’s wimpy dialogue about “laying down” suppressing fire and to withdraw, his plan’s pretty solid, but no one can hear the whispering pinhead over the carnage. Third – and most crucial – this is a nuclear power plant without the capability of exploding in mass megatonnage. Sure, a meltdown could happen as well as intense contamination, but a nuclear explosion? Never. It’s clear that Cameron didn’t give a damn about any semblance of reality and simply wanted to create a mindless action romp.
Other stupid stuff:
In the original, when an alien bleeds acid, it burns through a few decks. However, although marines are affected by acid splashes, when the aliens are initially attacked under the power plant, acid doesn’t burn through floors or walls.
How the hell did little shit Newt survive all that time? If these aliens are so damn smart – intelligent enough for the queen to not only get on an elevator but pick the right floor – how come none of these creatures ambushed her outside of her hiding place? Better still, all Newt does is scream, which gives away her position time and time again. Nope. She would have been nothing but food or a place to lay an egg.
Speaking of which, Burke apparently wanted to impregnate Ripley and Newt to get them back to Earth for the bio-weapons division. But if his plan had worked, the marines would have seen the facehuggers stuck to their faces because they like to hang on for a while. Plus, they would have known something was up because the two had been locked in the med lab and Ripley’s Pulse Rifle had been removed. You think the company would have sent a sharper scumbag along.
After the first dropship exploded, why didn’t Hicks get Bishop to bring down the other dropship right away so they could escape? Nope, they had to wait until almost all hope was lost to get the hell out of there for good. This is pure idiocy, and more bad writing on Cameron’s part.
Best of all: who knew that Ripley was so ripped? Just think of the finale, which doesn’t do much to deviate from the original, because the only way to get rid of the queen is make sure the vacuum of space gets her. Yet, even with Ripley’s “loader” (the mechanical suit I’m still surprised we don’t have yet – and no, that’s not a nod to Cameron, but a nod to Heinlein), space, and the alien queen tugging on her, she gets away, and even climbs a ladder to shut the doors. Incredible.
So don’t be suckered. ALIENS may look good, and even sound cool, but the narrative is weak, and the plot is full of enough holes to make that planetoid a piece of cheese. A marine unit, or any military unit for that matter, wouldn’t last a day if they acted like they’d never been trained. And for Hudson? It would have been “game over” long beforehand because guys like that wouldn’t qualify for a mission.
If you’re a military/horror fan, watch DOG SOLDIERS. And if you love a great sci-fi horror, check out Ridley Scott’s ALIEN and enjoy the character interactions and claustrophobia. As for Cameron, he does choose visuals over story, but I do have respect for the man. Watch his documentary on the sinking of the Bismarck and you’ll find something truly worthwhile.
one star out of five
(Photo from Avi.Wikia.)