ALIENS (1986)

Ridley Scott's superb Lovecraftian Alien can sometimes drag, and David Fincher's ambitious Alien 3 is too choppy to follow the first time around (let's not even mention Alien: Resurrection), but, like Little Bear's porridge, James Cameron's Aliens is juuuust right.

In this, the second installment in the Alien series, the malevolent Company sends Lieutenant Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), sole survivor of the first film, once more into the breach to investigate the remains of a colony festering with the dreaded extraterrestrial critters. She is backed by a rough n' ready platoon of space marines, who, unsurprisingly, are ill-prepared for the coming melee. Soon enough, it's up to Ripley once again to take charge of the survivors and keep them from being gruesomely impregnated by alien larvae.

Cameron's other genre films -- The Terminator, The Abyss, and T2 -- work as both compelling sci-fi and human drama, and Aliens is no exception. Aside from the moronic, misogynistic True Lies, Cameron has an uncanny knack for fleshing out his action epics with well-developed characters. Aliens boasts such clever creations as Burke the unctuous Company man (Paul Reiser), Bishop the poker-faced android (Lance Henriksen), and Hudson the agitated grunt (Bill Paxton). Above all else, this is Ripley's show -- Sigourney Weaver's portrayal of the scarred, haunted, yet nonetheless tough as nails Lieutenant earned her an Oscar nomination, unheard of in the science fiction genre.

The DVD Special Edition includes seventeen minutes of new footage, the best of which includes an excised hallway skirmish between the attacking aliens and a set of automatic pulse rifles stationed outside the humans' security perimeter (and which also includes this classic exchange -- Cpl. Hicks (Michael Biehn): "They're retreating.", Pvt. Hudson (Paxton): "Maybe we've got them demoralized.") Cameron has also added an archaelogical expedition back to the alien ship from the first film. The excitement at seeing the ship again is diluted by the excessive length of this diversion. Nevertheless, the new scenes should make the DVD special edition a thrill for even the longtime fan.

[First Draft appeared in Harvard Independent, 1996.]

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