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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Horror > Thriller > Action > Aliens (1986/remastered/Fox DVD-Video set)

Aliens (also from the ALIEN QUADRILOGY)


Disc One:   Picture: B     Sound: B     Extras: C+     Film: A-

Disc Two:   Picture: B-   Sound: B-    Content: A-



Sequels are rarely worthy of their predecessors, and James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) was not when it first came out theatrically.  Those who could not handle the suspense of the first or just preferred the Action genre did embrace it however.  You can see an ambitious film in the shorter cut, though some of the subtle humor flew in the face of the more adult original, a turn off to fans of Ridley Scott’s classic.  Some TV broadcasts added some more footage and that turned out to show that this was a smarter film than first thought.  Then, when Fox did their big LaserDisc boxed set releasing the full-length cut Cameron originally wanted, it turned out it really was worthy of Ridley Scott’s original.  The longer version flushes out the characters and the situations better, has more action, suspense, great dialogue, and acting than first seen.  Since then, this has been the preferred version by most fans, viewers and especially this critic.


This brings us to the second film of the Alien series, a film that has absolutely become better with age.  This Time… It’s War was the hype-ad that pretty much spells out the tone of the film.  I give credit to Cameron for taking a classic and doing a follow-up where the many distinct elements of the first film are successfully recreated and put into an interesting new environment.  In most hands, this would have been a disaster, a big joke, but Cameron loved the first film and his love for it shows here strongly.  Also, his insistence that Sigourney Weaver had to be available or the film would have been pointless proved exactly right.


Thinking she would be picked up in a few weeks if she was lucky, Lt. Ripley wakes up to find that she has somehow been asleep for 57 years!  Her employer, Weyland-Yutani, is more concerned about what happened to their ship (and the alien, which they initially deny believing, though we know better), than anyone’s safety.  With her license revoked and doing lesser industrial work, she is eventually convinced to go to the now-colonized planet with some starship troopers and a corporate geek (played to perfection by the underrated Paul Reiser), and find the same creatures have remained and spawned all over the new human residential area.  They discover the shake-and-bake has turned its guests into hamburger helper for the new army of indestructible killers.


The most brilliant move in this film of note that no one has ever has acknowledged is what happens for most of the early part of this film.  Ripley wakes up and the film stays in its own kind of dream state of semi-sleep until the creatures go to ambush the Marines.  Flashbacks and/or dream sequences notwithstanding, watch how Weaver subtly plays Ripley as not totally awake, including a flatness in her speaking voice.  From yelling at the corporate board, to the way she tells Bishop to stay away upon their first meeting, there is an underlying struggle to also come out of a state of terror she was by conscious standards experiencing recently.  This is a woman who was asleep for 57 years!


Another issue that permeates the film and deals with the horror of the first film, even if it itself is not as much of a Horror genre film, is the issue of impotence.  Like the first film, this picture is haunted by Vietnam Syndrome and by having strong women, it comes up with some innovative suggestions (a year before Stanley Kubrick’s more intense and brilliant, but still before it) about a woman’s role in society and especially future society.  It also marks a change (intended or not) on the idea of women in the future and in outer space before Vietnam (Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, released in 1968, but conceived before the conflict and its escalation), and the Feminist and Post-Feminist aftermath idea.  That does not make Kubrick’s model obsolete by any means, but that is an issue for another essay.


Ultimately, Aliens works because the characters are fleshed out just enough for all of us to identify with them, and you have a story that never quits.  That is why I think the longer version is the one to see.  It gives us this world on a larger scale without wasting our time; it actually enhances our experience.  I will even argue that if Fox had released this longer cut slowly in certain cities for starters, the film would have been a hit the size of Adrian Lyne’s 1987 critical/commercial hit Fatal Attraction.  Now that the long version is here to stay, I doubt anyone could disagree with that possibility.


The anamorphically enhanced 1.85 X 1 image looks almost identical to the previous DVD, except the previous disc seemed a bit too blue.  The color seems better here, though there is some slight digital hazing here and there, but it is more often just the very grainy stock the film was shot in.  Cameron intended this.  The model work is still on often impressive side, and Cameron’s idea of what these should look like have a distinct look.  Even when certain things have dated a bit in the effects work, it still feels like his world.  The rear projection is one of the more obvious and the last time regular rear work was used in a major hit film.  The shots were filmed


The film itself was shot by Adrian Biddle, B.S.C., making his debut as a cinematographer.  He has never equaled his work here under the tight circumstances and jumping in at the last minute, but would later do the same on Ridley Scott’s 1991 deserved surprise hit Thelma and Louise.  This was a reunion, however, as he had done camera focus duties on Scott’s first two films: The Duelists and Alien.  Add his assistant camera work on a second unit for the James Bond epic On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969 and a career was launched.  Despite some dated effects, the world he helps to capture remains as dense as what Cameron achieved on the first Terminator in 1984.  Rear projection work was shot in 35mm, when t should have been shot in 65mm or VistaVision, as Cameron would later afford to be able to do.


Though Alien and Alien Resurrection are in DTS on DVD, this DVD is not, and that is a huge disappointment.  Originally, Fox had announced the first three films as DTS LaserDiscs, which were cancelled as DVD caught on faster than expected.  That makes this the second time the film did not come out in DTS like it was supposed to.  As of this writing, there is no D-VHS version announced, so we do not know if it may be DTS that way, so we are stuck with the Dolby Digital 5.1 AC-3 tracks that first appeared on a basic THX LaserDisc of the shorter cut of the film.  Those tracks were also on the previous DVD.  Like Alien, the film was issued at its best in 70mm blow-ups with Dolby magnetic multi-channel stereo, with the 4.1 upgraded to 5.1 here.  This is good, but still falls short of what it could and should be.


James Horner may not have been totally happy with his scoring of this film, something he has in common with Jerry Goldsmith in the previous Alien, but the music is an Action classic which imitated to death and used in countless trailers for later (and usually much lesser) films in the genre.  Horner has already done one of the great scores in the genre for Nicholas Meyer’s Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan (1982), so if that did not qualify him, then the film did not deserve to have music.  Until I saw the featurette about how much insane pressure he was really under to do the music, I had no idea of the whole story here.  Because of his commercial success, Horner still gets flack for being a broader composer, but his music is of the highest classical reaches as compared to the terrible some-assembly-required robo-scores we are now suffering through.  To know now exactly what he achieved under impossible circumstances, I have a new respect for the man, though we should also give special credit to the very talented orchestrator Grieg McRitchie.  He is one of TV and film music’s unsung heroes and obviously helped out here.  You can see more about that and much more in the supplements.


Disc One has the original, shorter theatrical version of the film (available for the first time ever on DVD for those who somehow like it more and for comparison by the rest of us), and James Cameron’s special edition version of Aliens issued on DVD before, an introduction by Director James Cameron and a brand new commentary by James Cameron, Michael Biehn, Jenette Goldstein, Carrie Henn, Terry Henn, Lance Henriksen, Gale Anne Hurd, Pat McClung, Bill Paxton, Dennis Skotak, Robert Skotak and Stan Winston  Disc Two is gloriously overloaded with the following:



… James Cameron original treatment
… Nine brand new featurettes:

1)     57 Years Later - Continuing the saga

2)     Building Better Worlds - From concept to construction

3)     Preparing For Battle - Casting and characterization

4)     This Time It’s War -­ A look back at Pinewood Studios, 1985

5)     The Risk Always Lives - Weapons and action

6)     Bug Hunt -­ Creature design

7)     Beauty And The Bitch -­ Power Loader vs. Queen Alien

8)     Two Orphans -  Revisiting Sigourney Weaver And Carrie Henn and

9)     Aliens Unleashed -­ Reaction to the film

The Art of Aliens including conceptual art portfolio, cast portraits, production gallery, continuity Polaroids, Stan Winston’s workshop, VFX gallery and premiere stills
… Deleted footage marker and deleted scene index
… Multi-angle videomatics with optional commentary by Miniature Effect Supervisor, Pat McClung
… An Easter Egg (which we will let you hunt for and not spoil your fun)



Like the original film versus the new one, these supplements are nearly as extraordinary as those for the first Alien.  It made me recall how rare a sequel used to be, when the audience demanded and got better than they do now.  Though it was not the huge mega hit it deserved to be upon its original release, it was hit enough to show Cameron’s first Terminator (1984) was no fluke.  Like Peter Hyams’ mixed and ultimately unnecessary 2010 (also 1984), none of the original artwork or models survived form the preceding film.  Fortunately for Cameron’s technical people, they were much more successful in recreating key work than Hyams’ was of Kubrick’s 2001 (1968).


Of course, the film has since been challenged by two other feature films in the genre.  David Fincher’s Alien 3 ever-shockingly divorces itself form Cameron’s version in a way intended to return to the ground Ridley Scott built the original film on it the first place, while Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers (1997) constantly does bitter and violently graphic send-ups of some of the best moments in Cameron’s film.  On Fincher, Cameron was not happy with his “twist” and stated that the film could not work without guns.  He had also said this about the Arnold Schwarzenegger bomb Last Action Hero (1993), but missed the existential dread of Fincher film apparently.  On Verhoeven, another director Schwarzenegger had great luck with, he questioned why he made Starship Troopers when he felt he had already done more or less the same film.  I wonder if he said that before or after seeing what Verhoeven did to Aliens?


No matter what those great filmmakers did or did not like about Cameron’s film, it was from a script he was working on before it was folded into the Alien franchise and it is a classic because it is one of the most well-paced action films since the early James Bond films with Sean Connery, along with its subtle-but-tense humor.  More serious thrillers had appeared since the Bond films (John Frankenheimer’s Seconds (1966), Alfred Hitchcock’s Frenzy (1972), Alan J. Pakula’s The Parallax View (1974), and several Brian De Palma classics), but Cameron kept to his ideas and we have another film that will endure for decades to come.


This set of Aliens is available as a double DVD set or as part of the nine DVD Alien Quadrilogy that includes all four films and a bonus DVD.  The reviews for those segments are available at the links that follow their names below:






Alien 3



Alien Resurrection



Alien Quadrilogy (Bonus DVD)




-   Nicholas Sheffo


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