1. You can definitely feel the different direction taken by James Cameron as opposed to Ridley Scott. Whilst it fits snugly beside Ridley Scott's masterpiece in lore and continuity, Aliens is a different creature altogether, with a heavier emphasis on action and a much leveller playing field between the humans and the aliens.
2. That is not to say that the humans aren't in constant peril. In 1997, James Cameron would create Titanic and make us feel like we were on that sinking ship with a feeling of perpetual dread and helplessness. He does the same thing here, with a small group of humans trapped on a hostile planet without a dropship to get off. Cameron knows just when to use the acid blood to spray back on the humans and remind us of the high stakes, or to cut power or drop something horrifying in our midst. Credit should also go to the highly intense music of James Horner and the cinematography of Adrian Bibble (The Mummy).
3. Sigourney Weaver does just as good a work here as in Alien. We get a much better sense of her character, such as her maternal instincts and natural leadership. Her chemistry with Newt (Carrie Henn) is what sells the movie, especially after her grief-stricken reaction to having missed her own daughter's death in her absence.
4. The character of Gorman, played by William Hope, is a bit of a pimple. He's important to show Ripley's natural leadership and to rack up the intensity of the civilian cocoon scene, but after that the screenwriters seemingly run out of things to do with him. He gets a knock on the head, then completely concedes to Ripley and Hicks taking his leadership. Then he dies in a way completely out of character for him. That bump on the head must have awoken another personality.
5. I always appreciated Michael Biehn's performance in Terminator, but here he shows what range he has because Hicks is more rugged and down-to-earth than the slightly wild Kyle Reese. I also really enjoyed the performances of Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein and the brief appearance by Al Matthews. Carrie Henn surpasses the "screaming child" phase that so tanked Dakota Fanning in the 2000s. Lance Henrikson is great as Bishop, with his gentle and lined face and the way he politely gives a proffered gun back.
6. The moment those doors slide open and we see the acid-ravaged colony's interior I became unsettled. The outstanding production design and dark lighting really make the mood grim and carry over those hints of horror that Ridley Scott built into Alien.
7. Did anyone really not see Burke's betrayal coming? They tried to distract us by having Ripley suspicious of Bishop, and by having Burke help her out throughout the movie, but come on. Everyone knows the slippery corporate type is the bad guy.
8. The editing is great for the most part, making a two and a half hour film breeze by. However, there is one glaringly clunky edit where Hicks and the others appear to rescue Ripley and Newt from the facehuggers and we don't even see them enter the room, they're just all of a sudden pressed up against the glass. It is hard to explain but you'll notice it. I also didn't find the aliens aren't as scary this time, partly because we don't see them (i.e. miniguns shooting at darkness) or we see them coming too far in advance (when they are in the ceiling). Finally, I found that whole "Ripley is crazy we don't believe you" subplot for the first half an hour necessary but ultimately redundant. It was very awkward getting to the planet and having everyone (especially Burke) believe her after those scenes of disbelief on the trip there.
9. Ripley's rescue of Newt is fantastic. Courtesy of Weaver's slightly desperate anguish, we can see that Ripley knows she could very well die or find Newt dead, but we also see, thanks to the way they've bonded throughout the movie, that Ripley has no other choice. The decision to make the final fifteen minutes actually fifteen minutes was inspired, and the tension as she descends single-handedly into the Alien hive is fantastic.
10. The Alien Queen does in fact make for a phenomenal adversary to Ripley, even with quite limited screen time. The look on Ripley's face as she burns the Alien Queen's eggs says so much - she gets closure on her guilt of missing her daughter's death by extracting revenge on the creatures that caused it. The absolutely sensational line "get away from her you BITCH" is the single most badass thing a female character has ever said, and seeing Ripley throw down that Alien Queen is impressive. That being said, however, the fight on the ship was not wholly necessary. I had closure from their escape from the planet and the look Ripley gave the Queen who thought she had caught up to them. I didn't need it to copy Alien and have the fight through the airlock all over again, even if it did mean we got that awesome lifter moment.
Count the things that inspire Halo, I dare you. If you've read the extended universe novels, you'll find even more.
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