Alien (1979) vs Aliens (1986)

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
ALIEN RT Critics Rating: 9.6/10
ALIENS RT Critics Rating: 10/10 (Full Score)

ALIEN Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 10/10 (Full Score)
ALIENS Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 10/10 (Full Score)

ALIEN (1979) - Ridley Scott
ALIENS (1986) - James Cameron

"In space, no one can hear you scream…."

Known as one of the most famous taglines of all time, the tagline for Ridley Scott's Alien captures the precise atmosphere that the actual film is composed of. Alien follows Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and her crew of the Nostromo ship which, during its course for Earth, changes directions to an alien planet after receiving a transmission there. The title refers to the film's main antagonist, a deadly extraterrestrial creature that stalks and kills the crew of a spaceship, a crew of seven. Now meet the eighth.

The film begins with a really slow-pace, similar to Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and in some way, drags far too long before the plot really begins to build. However, at the same time, the pacing of the film remains as its strength. It knows how to truly build tension, an element that recent horror films fail to deliver. Alien takes its time. Perhaps inspirational to M. Night Shyamalan, Alien takes advantage of pure silence as well as the musical score by Jerry Goldsmith, slowly descending the audience into a vortex of fear. Throughout the entire film, there is always the ominous sense of "Where is the Alien?", where we know that something bad is going to happen. It is just a question of where, when, and how. It waits in the void, almost like the Alien itself is waiting for the right moment to kill each passenger one by one.

The Alien was designed by H. R. Giger, an icon of fear in space, a unique paranoia. At the same time, the creature itself is a clever plot device. The film steadily progresses the appearance of the Alien, creating the ambiguous feel of what it really looks like or what it is capable of. Never having a taste for horror, Ridley Scott once claimed that, "The most important thing in a film of this type is not what you see, but the effect of what you think you saw." Here in Alien, Scott takes this philosophy to a filmmaking level. He purposely obstructs part of the alien body. He never shows the Alien in its full scope. This presents a true combination of science fiction wonder and chilling cold horror. To this day, the Alien in Alien has become one of the most iconic movie monsters of all time.

Surrounding the alarming events, the vast reaches of space and the confined setting of the Nostromo ship enhances the atmosphere of the film entirely. Ron Cobb, one of the main art direction designers for Alien, described that the setting of the story should be "[done] as convincingly as possible. That way the story and the characters emerge and they become more real." Indeed. The film exhibits the characters within the bowels of the ship, sweating and occupied with their chores. The technology, as futuristic as it is, still bears a sense of oldness to it, as if it has already been used a lot. Director Ridley Scott has connected the future of technology with the present as close as possible here, similar to what he has done in Blade Runner. The environment holds a mix of science fiction gothic and a series of furnitures and devices that we see in our everyday lives.

The cast in Alien is one of the greatest casts of all time, comparable to the cast of Coppola's The Godfather. Since Scott wished to emphasize on the visual style of the film, the need for strong performances was crucial. Here, it was surprisingly easy. The main core of the emotional persuasion is the maturity of the characters. We as audience members are not given young rookies to follow, no naive men like Luke Skywalker or even Han Solo. We are given sensible workers, not heroes, simply doing their jobs in space, mining ore. Similar to World War II movies, Alien strives with each specific character in the cast. Each one with its own personality, we are again given the realistic interpretation of how an event like an alien attack would possibly unfold. Along with compelling acting from Yaphet Kotto, Tom Skerritt, and Ian Holm, the heart of the cast is Sigourney Weaver. Despite Alien being her first leading role, Sigourney Weaver fleshes out Ripley with great precision. Assisted by Scott's talent and playing a central role usually offered to males, Weaver created one of the most memorable female leads in movie history.

Alien remains as one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time, still sharp and elegant to this day for its simplicity and dread. As we see Ripley blowing the Alien into the cold vacuum of space, our hearts have finally found their beats once again, and our breathes have finally been caught.

After drifting for fifty-seven years in stasis, Ripley is finally rescued and revived. Here is where the incredulously equivalently excellent sequel Aliens comes into play. Due to the financial and critical success of The Terminator, director James Cameron was given the chance to direct the sci-fi masterpiece's sequel, this time packing an action punch rather than horrifying the audience.

Aliens begins with a panel of executives refusing to believe Ripley's claims of the Alien. After losing her space-flight license, Ripley learns that LV-426, the alien planet where her crew first encountered the creature, is now occupied and home to terraforming colonies, a settlement of sixty to seventy families. She is then visited by the Lieutenant of the Colonial Marines, who informs her that contact with the colonies has been lost. The company that previously hired Ripley's crew this time dispatches an entire unit of marines to investigate, and offers to restore Ripley's flight status if she comes along as an advisor. Among the marines, we are introduced to most notably Corporal Hicks (Michael Beihn) and Hudson (Bill Paxton).

One of the greatest reasons why Aliens is superior over its predecessor is because it took everything we loved from the first, and stretched it into a larger scale here. Before we even see a single Alien, James Cameron first invites us into the daily routines of the marines, introducing each member of the squad, showing their badass-ness with great pride. With the concept art designed by Syd Mead, who previously worked on Blade RunnerAliens presented new spectacles to behold. We have already seen the huge ships similar to the Nostromo, so why not create other forms of transportation? Here, we are given the APC (armored personnel carrier), a seventy-ton aircraft tug tractor, the ultimate armored car of destruction. For all the military war film lovers, we are also given fictional yet radically impressive weapons. We witness the military training, lifting weights, salutes, and even hear their common jargon, similar to the characters inStarship Troopers. This time, the humans are lean and mean, but is that enough?

The title for this film is Aliens, note the "s" at the end. If the title is not obvious enough, there is more than one Alien this time. This time there's more. "This time it's war". They are angrier, fiercer, and deadlier. Furthermore, Aliens answers any questions that viewers might have had in the previous entry. Digging into the mystery of the Alien's origin, we only find ourselves in a bigger pit of danger. Imagine the Alien five times bigger in size. The Alien Queen is notorious, lethal in combat and simply disturbing to look at. The source of the eggs, the Queen is the penultimate surprise to what is already a long sequence of fighting the normal Aliens we have already seen before. Thus, despite us having marines with guns, is that enough? Of course not.

Sigourney Weaver, this time with Aliens, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. This was the first time a science fiction film was nominated in the acting department. I can confidently say she deserves it. In our previous engagement with Ripley, Weaver, despite her talent, still displayed signs of inexperience. She was one of the youngest actresses in the cast and Alien was the first "big movie" for her. In Alien, Ripley's character was simple and straightforward. Here in the sequel, Weaver has taken her character to a new height. Ripley is now more sophisticated and bears greater character depth than before, now with the help of a little girl to create chemistry. Ripley in Aliens is probably a greater female lead than Ripley in the first Alien

The script here is compelling and well-written. It precisely catches what each character needs to say and it assists in making the characters feel more realistic. In the original film, Scott did not need to worry much, because the majority of the cast was experienced mature actors. Here, more than half of the actors we see on screen are young minors, playing the marines, but with the help of the script, they are just as powerful as the crew of the Nostromo we followed before. Michael Beihn, previously in Cameron's preceding film The Terminator, is irresistible to root for. His performance in Terminator is superior though, since Terminator possessed a larger scope for Beihn to expose his arousing emotions. Nevertheless, Aliens uses terrific marine-developing characterization and helps Beihn's character come out full force. Bill Paxton is a severely underrated actor, and this film is proof that he is fantastic. His hard-headed jerk personality makes him determined yet dumb, similar to Biff Tannen from Back to the Future. His classic gimmick of using the word "man" marks him as one of the most hilariously annoying characters. In several monster movies involving a group of survivors, there is always the one who panics, the irritating formulaic character who becomes dull and bland through time. Here, everything that Bill Paxton says is still clever underneath all his silliness. It is an annoyance that I have an affection for. In fact, Bill Paxton's character is my favorite character in Aliens. The cast here is just as captivating as before. They are not heroes, just here to simply do their job. Only this time their job is to shoot hostile aliens.

Aliens is one of the greatest movie sequels of all time and I have constantly referred to it whenever I review movies that successfully or try to build tension. Unlike its predecessor, Aliens uses action-packed suspense, a rather briskly paced narrative in contrast to Alien's slow dread-building horror. James Cameron has taken everything he knows about escalating suspense and amplified it here. To this day, Aliens is still one of James Cameron's best films. There is no question about it. Aliens is a prime example of everything a science fiction thriller needs to be. It spaces the epic scenes out so the viewers have time to breathe. During these serene moments, the film uses these times to build the characterization and fully flesh out their personalities until the plot climax. In spite of its heart-stopping intensity, it knows when to slow down so we can, mentioned before in my Battle: LA review, "shake the dirt off our shoulders and say, 'Okay, they're safe. Now what?'" Along with the help of well-crafted set pieces, we progressively become fully immersed into the environment, becoming even more scared when each scene of anxiety comes into play.

Behind the praise of both movies, the crux of this review is to compare them, which brings me back to the burning question: Which movie is better?

In all honesty, this comparison is a rare case. We are given a slow science fiction horror that relies on excellent pacing and vision along with an action-packed thriller that extends the elements of the first film with a new style to it. The answer to the burning question is incredulously two words: It depends. If one is looking for horror and pure suspense manipulating, Alien outranks its sequel on every level. However, if one is looking for twisting entertainment yet still maintains tension throughout, then Aliens is far superior over its predecessor. It depends on the mood of the audience. What do they want? What are they looking for? If looked at the literal sense, it is still difficult to compare Alien with Aliens, similar to comparing an apple to an orange. The proper element to emphasize on for these two films is that they widen the scope of enjoying the Alien universe. The first film supplies the first half of the audience who seeks steadily moving conflicts, while the second film supplies the second half of the audience who are looking for a combination of pressuring excitement and gripping action. In a way, Alien and Aliens deserve to be analyzed together as one complete film, like a Part One and Part Two, masterpieces in their own way in the genre of science fiction.

The third and fourth Alien film? Irrelevant.

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