Wednesday, December 9, 2009


Writing that list yesterday of the movies I watched most frequently in college got me thinking. With only a couple exceptions, those films all came out when I was in college. I listed 1986's Aliens as #1 because it's the one film I'm always in the mood for.

I don't know how many times I've watched that flick (or parts of it on tv) since it first came out, but it's a ton. I was too young (10 years old) to see it in theatres, but I remember when I first laid eyes on it. It was at our annual summer trip to an r.v. vacation spot on Mission Beach in San Diego known as "Camperland." Every once in a while, they would wheel out a vcr and a tv onto the big lawn there and show a movie. I sat in a folding chair in the back row, a blanket clutched around me, and watched with enraptured wonder at the images that flickered across the 25" screen. I had simply never seen anything like it.

It was funny. It had salty language. It had suspense, drama, action, monsters with two mouths, an android, a giant queen, and most importantly, awesome guns with digital readouts of how much ammo was left. By the time the Queen appeared from underneath the shuttle to rip poor Bishop in half, I was completely overstimulated. This was basically an 11-year-old's wet dream.

I watched a lot of action flicks in my teen years, and loved most of them (after all, most are made with an adolescent boy's intellect in mind). Save 1988's Die Hard, none of them have held up remotely as well as Aliens. In a pinch, I'll even give it a nod over Die Hard in that it has the sci-fi element going for it as well. You wouldn't think it would be that hard to pull off a great action sci-fi flick, but consider the obstacles Director James Cameron had to overcome:

He didn't direct the highly-regarded original, which itself was known for its never-seen-before innovation. Alien is essentially a slasher movie set in space. I saw it after I saw Aliens, and I was pretty underwhelmed. I know there are those who prefer it to the magnificent chaos of Cameron's epic, but I just can't understand it. It feels like snobbery.

This is a long movie. The special edition I first saw (and now thankfully own) is over two-and-a-half hours. If you don't watch the special edition, you won't see the auto-turrets. I don't want to live in a world without auto-turrets.

The hero of the movie is a heroine. Sure, Sigourney Weaver's Ripley was the lone survivor of the first one, but she was more resourceful than a badass. Cameron actually does a brilliant thing by juxtaposing her character with the tough machismo of the marines (of which a couple are also women). As these trained soldiers lose their shit, Ripley seizes control and command. She even demands to learn how to use the automatic rifles and attached grenade launchers. "You started this. Now show me everything."

Cameron also made the movie without any other real stars. But thank God for the high comedy of Bill Paxton doing Bill Paxton things. The dude is not a leading man. But damn, does he have some iconic roles. Chet in Weird Science is great, but nothing tops his whiny, panicky performance as Hudson in Aliens. How many great lines does he get off?

-After the transport ship crashes: "Game over, man! Game over!"
-To the masculine female marine: "Hey Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a man?" She retorts, "No, have you?"
-After another marine's observation that it's "Hot as hell in here," Hudson adds, "Yeah, but it's a dry heat!"
-"Hey, I don't know if you're keeping up on current events, but we just got our asses kicked, man!"
-After Ripley tells him that "This little girl survived longer than that with no weapons and no training" Hudson wails, "Then why don't you put her in charge?!!!"

The film still looks great. It's amazing how much better models stand the test of time as opposed to cgi. The scene where the aliens come in through the roof as the marines are reading them on the motion tracker is one of the all-time great heart-pounding set pieces in cinematic history. The movie could've ended when Ripley escapes the planet with Newt, and it still would've been a classic.

But then Ripley has to operate that robo-lifter thing to battle the Alien Queen. She growls, "Get away from her, you bitch!" and it's nirvana. I love it just as much now as I did on that cold grass field when I was 11, and how many films can you say that about?

Nolanometer Final Grade: A+

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