Alien and Aliens - Aparently two movies do a franchise make

As monster movies go, there's one franchise that absolutely deserves mention if any do: the Alien series.

Now, oddly enough, the only ones of that series that absolutely deserve a mention are the first two. But they're so good and well-loved that they've been able to carry the rest of the series for the past 25 years. I had originally hoped to review them each in their own hubs, but considering how many scary movies there are to review before Halloween, and how many I'm having to leave off of my list, I figured combining the two would have to do.

In 1979, the world got their first taste with Ridley Scott's classic Alien. It follows a crew of seven, manning the commercial space towing ship the Nostromo. Following an unusual signal, they land on a strange planet and encounter a unique and dangerous lifeform that soon starts killing off the crew.

Then, in 1986, seven years later, the world got the James-Cameron-helmed sequel, Aliens. Ripley is found after 57 years in hypersleep and, after contact is lost with a teraforming colony, she heads back to the planet in the first movie along with a platoon of colonial marines. They're ready for anything. Anything, that is, except the truth.

The movies have different directors. Different writers. Different composers. Entirely different casts with a single exception. And still, they go together quite well.

The first one is definitely a monster-in-the-dark horror. The second one starts out largely as military sci-fi or action, but soon devolves into horror. Together, these two movies are a great study in how differing directors with differing approaches can work within the same universe.

Alien

Ridley Scott is patient and methodical. The pacing is deliberate and the atmosphere he ceates is effective.

And he pulls no punches.

In the scene where the alien emerges from John Hurt, he did not tell his actors everything that would happen. That's why, when the first spray of blood happens, Veronica Cartwright freaks out and squeels. She had no idea she'd get a spray in the face.

Jerry Goldsmith's score is spartan and eerily lilting.

The monster-in-the-dark setup works excellently here. They even have an "Oh, it's just the cat" moment. They're in friggin' space and there's an "It's just the cat" moment! But it works.

Aliens

Cameron isn't as patient or methodical, but he does know spectacle. There's plenty of story here and it definitely moves along quickly.

There's also plenty of action and alien-killing. While the first movie revolved around the existence of a single alien and the difficulty they had in killing just one, Cameron now gives us the satisfaction of having weapons with which to kill tons of aliens, and yet it still devolves into a rather hopeless situation.

James Horner's score is thrilling and militaristic. However, he scored this movie just a couple years after having scored two Star Trek movies and several sections sound very similar to what he did in those movies.

Cameron's screenplay does a good job of expanding on the mythology created in the first movie. When one thinks of the alien species, there are four primary images that come to mind: the facehugger, the chest burster, the xenomorph warrior and the queen. The first three were all present in the first movie. Cameron added the queen and it fits here seamlessly.

Cameron's fingerprints can be seen throughout the design of the movie, but it works:

  • The drop ship is reminiscent of the Hunter Killers in his Terminator movies.
  • The loader suit is visually reused as the tank suits in Avatar.
  • He also uses Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton and Michael Biehn who had all been in The Terminator. Cameron would end up using Biehn again in The Abyss and deleted scenes from Terminator 2, and Bill Paxton in Titanic and True Lies.

So while each movie very much reflects their director, they both work together very well to define one of the most distinctive and beloved monster franchises out there.

(It also makes me really curious what the Alien prequel was going to be like before Scott branched off to develop Prometheus.)

Oh, there's also extended, directors' cuts of both these movies. Personally I prefer the original release of both. The additional footage in both adds some interesting aspects, but there are a couple scenes that rather change the movies in ways that I don't exactly care for.

Both movies get a nearly perfect 9 / 10 from me.

Both Alien and Aliens are rated R for language, violence, disturbing imagery and a little bit of nudity.

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