Aliens, Pop Culture and You!
Remember the time, when Director and Screenwriter James Cameron was fucking brilliant?
In my case, I must think back well over 30 years ago since the 1984 breakout film called The Terminator which had springboard his career leading to more projects including one in particular. This little film called Aliens! James Cameron’s Aliens was not only one of the best sequels of a franchise but also one of the best SciFi Horror films, ever!
Fresh from coming off the huge success of his dystopian cult classic, (The Terminator) Director James Cameron along with his then wife Gale Anne Hurd has been offered a rather lucrative gig to write produce and direct the sequel to the classic Sci Fi Horror, Alien. Cameron at the time was working on Terminator but manage to write a draft for the sequel and sometime afterwards, began work on the sequel.
Aliens takes place immediately after the events from 1979's Alien in which the protagonist Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) became the sole survivor of a Xenomorph attack on the cargo ship Nostromo. Ripley's escape craft has been seized and after spending 50 years in cyrosleep, she has awakened in a new nightmare. To go back to the planet LV-426 which is now -Hadley's Hope, a Colony inhabited by Humans and no surprise, the Xenomorphs, ergo "this time, its war" as the tagline says.
I was very impressed by the overall design of the vehicles, weapons, props, gear and of course, the practical mechanical effects courtesy of the and of course, the late but so great, Stan Winston.
The other "Special Effect" would be James Horner's incredible soundtrack. Horner had captured the intensity of certain scenes with his score from the ambiance solidity of Ripley's hibernation, the militaristic vibe of the Space Marines preparation and arrival on LV-426, and of course the high tense scenes of Ripley taking charge during two rescue missions.
As of recent, many filmgoers have forgotten that Aliens was one of the first top fantasy films to include an action heroine in a major role as Women from this genre were usually placed on the sidelines or at most, a supporting character. The hyperbole about Wonder Woman and now Captain Marvel comes off as revisionists’ history since there were women in action roles all along and Aliens is a primary example to the extent of Ripley being dubbed "Rambolina". And prior to Ripley there was Maggie from John Carpenter’s Escape from New York- a film that Cameron had helped to make ironically.
I fell in love with the character's progression from a frightened Ship pilot, to an Ass kicking One Woman Army who singlehandedly took on an army of Xenomorphs including the Alien Queen herself!
Cameron's use of character development was aptly utilized especially when you weigh in an ensemble cast who each Marine having such distinct personalities. Bill Paxton's wisecracking Pvt. Hudson was one of the few who really stood out among the cast of characters. At first, he came off a bit too cocky, then after experiencing the loss of his fellow comrades, became this whining bitch only to "Man up" during the third act even if it meant his unfortunate demise.
Another supporting character who redeemed himself was the inexperienced Lieutenant Gorman whose attempt at rescuing Valdez was in vain but not without a final sacrifice.
I can go even further by mentioning Bishop the Android whose role served as an analogy of prejudice, embracing "technophobia" and to an extent; Racism. Ellen fearing Bishop because of her unfortunate experience with Ash, an "Artificial Human" who went rogue, is akin to a Caucasian female being mugged or assaulted by a person of another Race or skin color. Bishop not only garnered Ripley's respect in the end, but practically was the real hero in this sequel and this is how it should be in a perfect world that to judge is from content and not skin color or gender. Man has a long way to go before total progression.
And speaking of “color” and supporting characters, If there's one gripe I have with this amazing sequel, is the short lived characters performances of Rico Ross and especially Al Matthews as Sergeant Apone who were killed off during the first 25 minutes (or more should you include the director's cut.) and although its used for the purpose of the film's narrative, I took a liking to Apone who had such a commanding militaristic presence with dialogue such as;
“ All right, sweethearts, what are you waiting for? Breakfast in bed? Another glorious day in the Corps! A day in the Marine Corps is like a day on the farm. Every meal's a banquet! Every paycheck a fortune! Every formation a parade! I *love* the Corps!"
"All right sweethearts, you heard the man and you know the drill. Assholes and elbows! Hudson, come here! Come *here*!"
and of course, "Look into my eye.."!
Apone was shown to have this ball busting yet approachable demeanor who commanded a squad of elite soldiers who had idea what the fuck they were in for!
Despite others supporting players being killed off too easily, it was of no surprise that a black man would survive the entire horror or Science fiction film. It’s part of the good ol trope in Hollywood. Thank god both Dawn of the Dead and Blade had bucked that trend.
Now, one individual who is far from redemption was Carter Burke, a shill for the Wayland Yuitani corporation who after having his "grand scheme" exposed, planed on having both Ripley and Newt impregnated by the Xenomorphs for company research and of course, weaponization.
Which brings me to yet another obvious metaphor within Cameron's script which pertains to Burke, being this unscrupulous, opportunistic corporate stooge uses not only Ripley, but the Colonists on Hadley's Hope to benefit a major corporation like Wayland Yutani
The metaphor is comparable to many soldiers were needlessly squandered from previous wars in history be it Vietnam or especially the “War on Terror” as in Iraq, which the ulterior motive could have possibly came from corporate greed, as in Haliburton or Blackwater.
"At least you don't see them fucking each other over a goddamn percentage"!
Then there is the other metaphor like overcoming loss as displayed during the three arcs of the film:
In the beginning, Ripley with deepest regret, learns of her daughter's passing then as the film progresses, she forms a close bond with the sole survivor of Hadley's Hope- Newt, concluding to Ripley using her motherly instinct to protect Newt after she has been taken by the Xenomorphs.
But is she too late to save her?
What's cool about Aliens, is that still, it hasn’t aged poorly compared to a handful of Sci Fi contemporaries from that decade of groundbreaking Pop Culture, the 80's. And despite Cameron references things the Vietnam War and Robert Heilien's Starship Troopers as the film's template, Aliens without a doubt is known for being highly influential from videogames such as the Contra, DOOM, Gears of War and the HALO series, (Yes, there’s even an Apone within the first three games!) to Anime like Blue Gender. Often duplicated in various films such as 2004's Dawn of the Dead and prior to that the first Resident Evil movie. This is a strong testament of Aliens’ impact on Pop Culture and in some cases, today’s political climate.
To perfectly sum things up, Aliens is a mashup of science fiction, horror, drama enriched with comicbook style sequences backed by a powerful soundtrack! It's highly influential and has stamped it's legacy on pop culture as we know it!For those reasons alone is why it's my favorite sequel next to Empire Strikes Back and of course, best James Cameron film that did not need to be some pretentious epic shitshow as with his succeeding film, Avatar to project a massive impact within the world of cinema. Do I remember Cameron being great? Yes, and it's mostly because of Aliens!
In memory of Bill Paxton and Al Matthews