Warning: spoilers ahead
I went to see the double feature of Ridley Scott’s classic “Alien” and its sequel, James Cameron’s “Aliens” at the Alamo Drafthouse. The planet where Ripley and her crew first encounter the aliens is named LV-426, so April 26 has since been deemed “Alien” Day. I had seen parts of the franchise when I was younger, but this was the first time I sat down to watch them all the way through. What better way than on the big screen?
The Drafthouse gave out limited edition Ripley t-shirts and the presentation included a small urban legend on how James Cameron pitched the sequel (wrote “ALIEN,” added an “S,” and then turned that into a dollar symbol), and asked everyone, by show of hands, which of the two was everyone’s favorite. “Aliens” won by a landslide.
I was really impressed by “Alien,” considering it was from 1979, it held up fantastically. “Alien” is a work of art. It is dark, gritty, and more of a thriller than a straight sci-fi movie. You get a great sense of the crew early on, even before the team lands to investigate the mysterious signal that finds them on LV-426. After the power struggle between Ripley and Ash, the science officer wanting to help save Kane from the face-hugger, you really start to feel the tension aboard the Nostromo. The pacing is amazing and the “Jaws”-style of not showing the full monster lets the viewer’s imagination run wild with ideas of what this alien could fully look like. There are things that date the movie: how frequently everyone smokes, the monitor getting information from MOTHER, and eventually seeing the full alien at the end, but this movie was near-perfect.
I turned to my friend when it was over and asked if it was too late to develop a crush on Ripley–a character that has already gone through four encounters with the xenomorphs over a span of almost 20 years.
I made a joke about “Aliens” and how it would be great if it picked up right where we left off or if there was some sort of dream sequence, and lo and behold, there it was. We start immediately with Ripley getting picked up from her shuttle after destroying the Nostromo and the first time she wakes, there’s a dream sequence.
We’re introduced to a smarmy businessman, Burke, trying to convince Ripley to go back to rescue colonists who are trying to create a society on LV-426, but haven’t responded to any communication, and the rescue team of Colonial Marines, which seems to come off a page of ‘80s movie military tropes. There appeared to be more high-fives with the marines in the first five minutes on screen, than any one year of middle school across the country.
We see this crew has an android, then called a “synthetic,” named Bishop, who actually prefers the term artificial person. With the fact that it was shown early instead of revealed as a twist like in the previous installment, I thought perhaps Burke would eventually be revealed to be another synthetic just taking orders. But nope, he was just a slimy businessman through and through.
“Alien” plays like a slasher thriller, but “Aliens” is definitely an ‘80s action movie with big guns, flamethrowers, and a ton of aliens to kill. I noticed similarities to Cameron’s “Avatar” with the design of the ship that drops the crew off on the alien planet and the mech suit exoskeleton. The difference was that “Avatar’s” exoskeleton was actually a military mech suit, where in “Aliens” it’s just a well-used super forklift. This does lead to some cheesiness, but still a fantastic movie.
The movies were excellent, especially when you get to see them back to back, but I have to say the original has all my undivided love. There’s a clear jump that came with the budget and production value that you can also see in movies like “The Terminator” and “T2: Judgement Day,” or “Pitch Black” and “Chronicles of Riddick.” The original movies are darker, lower budget and the directors were more creative. Sequels can get too big or too many “yes men” on the set to question any creative processes. All six of the aforementioned movies are among my favorites, but I think there is something about the pressure put on a director and writers to really enamor an audience with something brand new that produces cinematic diamonds.
You can catch “Alien” movies all week at the Alamo Drafthouse and there’s a small pop-up shop at the South Lamar location for all your “Alien” merch.