Monday, June 4, 2012

Movie Review: Aliens

While Alien had all the elements of a spectacular horror/thriller, the sequel entitled Aliens really raises the bar by being more action-packed, with a whole lot more at stake.  In addition, the opening doesn’t drag on like it did in Alien 


Aliens opens on the escape pod shuttle Ripley used to escape from The Nostromo in the first movie.  Inside the escape pod shuttle, we find Ripley is still in stasis.  Thus, she is not able to see it when the shuttle’s computer notifies of a proximity warning as a mysterious spaceship connects with the shuttle.  After some sort of robotic probe enters the vessel and does some kind of scan, some guys in hazmat suits step in and discover Ripley and Jones the cat in their stasis tubes.  The hazmat suit guys bring them to a space station, where Ripley is placed in a recovery room that looks like your typical hospital.  Right when Ripley wakes up, some bloke, who clearly is the reincarnation of Paul Buchman from Mad About You, comes in with Jones the cat.  The Buckman clone introduces himself as Burke, and he breaks the news to her that she was in stasis for 57 years.  As Ripley tries to grasp this information, she starts to react to a sudden pain in her chest.  To Ripley’s horror, she sees her chest start to expand as a Xenomorph baby tries to force its way out.aliens_mq_076cd

Psych!  It was all a really bad nightmare Ripley was having.  She’s perfectly fine.  However, the part about how she’d been drifting through space for so many years was actually true.  Anyway, an undetermined amount of time later, Burke meets with Ripley to discuss some important family matters.  Ripley had asked Burke to help her locate the daughter who had been awaiting Ripley’s return to Earth during the events of Alien.  At first, Burke tries to dodge Ripley’s questions by telling her to worry about some sort of hearing that’s approaching, but Ripley insists to hear about her daughter.  Thus, Burke has to deliver yet another bombshell.  Ripley’s daughter, Amanda, had passed away two years earlier, at the age of 66.  This is a rather heartbreaking scene, especially when Ripley remembers how she’d promised Amanda that she’d be back home in time for her 11th birthday.
Sadly, Ripley isn’t given much time to grieve, which is a shame because not only has she just been told that her ten-year-old daughter has just passed away from old age after spending her entire life waiting for a mother that never returned, but she’s also never really been given the opportunity to recover from seeing her former crewmates massacred by the alien.  If anyone deserves time to recover from such grievous emotional wounds, it’s Ripley, but she is nevertheless denied the chance to have a proper mourning period because of that hearing Burke mentioned.  A bunch of committee folk for the company called Weyland-Yutani Corp, which was also the company that sent The Nostromo off to the planet where the alien creature was first encountered, have decided to investigate how Ripley initiated the self-destruct mechanism at the end of Alien.  The committee folk are pretty much dissing her for blowing up The Nostromo, an expensive M-class star-freighter, ‘for reasons unknown.’  Ripley again tries to tell them about the alien that killed the rest of the crew, but because the committee folk have located no physical evidence or record of the alien, none of them believe her story and refuses to listen to her warnings about the hundreds of alien eggs Kane saw on the planet, which is now referred to as LV-426.  They therefore revoke her flight officer license and sentence her to attend a series of psych evaluations.  Ripley tries one more time to warn the head chairman by telling him to look on LV-426, but he once again dismisses her warnings by informing her that there’s a human terraforming colony there now, and no one has ever reported coming across any alien ship or lifeforms in the twenty years since the colony was established.
We now cut to LV-426, where the colony called Hadley’s Hope is located.  Here, we also meet a family of four, who are heading off to some middle-of-nowhere quadrant on Weyland-Yutani Corp orders, in order to see if they can find something.  And find something they do.  They stumble across the very same alien spacescraft Captain Dallas, Lambert and Kane discovered in the first movie.  The mother and father go off into the spacecraft, instructing their young son and daughter to stay in their truck-like transport.  After a considerable amount of time passes and the parents still haven’t returned, the little girl starts to worry.  The instant her brother tries to reassure her, the door flies open and the mother hurries in, grabbing the radio to call for help.  The little girl screams in horror at the sight of her father lying on the ground, a facehugger alien attached to his face.
Back on the spacestation, Ripley is visited by Burke and another man named Lieutenant Gorman.  They inform her that they’ve lost contact with the colony on LV-426.  Understandably, Ripley is not pleased, and is partially offended that they’re coming to her for help now after they dismissed her warnings and virtually questioned her sanity.  Burke offers to restore her flight officer license if she agrees to go to the planet with the military forces as a consultant, but Ripley refuses, stating she will not set foot on that planet again.  However, after she has another PTSD-induced nightmare that night, she contacts Burke and tells him she will only go along on the condition that they agree to wipe the aliens out once and for all, and that no alien specimen is brought back for study.  Burke gives Ripley his word that the company will agree to her terms.
Ripley accompanies Burk and some handpicked soldiers to journey to LV-426 aboard a spacecraft named The Sulaco, with them spending most of the journey in stasis.  When they’re woken up, we get to meet the members of the rescue team, but there’s so many of them, I can’t really remember most of their names.  For that reason, I usually only focus on the core bunch: Hicks, Hudson (whose claim to fame is his almost-incessant whining), a butch Rambo-esque female named Vasquez, and a guy named Bishop, who is shown to be extremely skilled with a knife.  When it’s revealed that Bishop is an android, Ripley, whose experience with Ash left her with a firm prejudice for androids, is immediately disgruntled.  She demands that Bishop stay away from her.
Before they arrive at LV-426, the soldiers are debriefed and filled in on the specifics of the mission.  It’s in this scene that the alien is officially referred to as a Xenomorph for the first time.  Ripley retells the soldiers about her history with the Xenomorph.  When the soldiers start to act cavalier about the whole thing, Ripley is not impressed in the slightest, and angrily tells them that it only took one Xenomorph to wipe out her whole crew in a single day, which seems to sober them up a bit. (But not enough to stop Hudson from making cocky, smart-alecky jokes.)
Click to view full size image 
Next, we get a rather boring scene of them loading up one of The Sulaco’s drop ships .  This scene exists for two reasons.  The first is to introduce the Power Loaders, a kind of mechanical suit of armor/forklift combo, which will later play a part in the movie’s climax.  The second is to throw in some product placement by showing off Ripley’s Reebok sneakers.  Once that scene’s done, the soldiers, Ripley and Burke file into the drop ship and released down to the planet’s surface.  When they’re dropped off at the colony, the soldiers head inside while Ripley, Burke and Lieutenant Gorman stay behind to monitor their progress.  The soldiers find the colony completely deserted, with the only sign of life coming from someone’s pet gerbils.  Through the live video feed sent back by the soldier’s cameras, Ripley notices some huge holes in the floor, and ceilings which appear to have been created by some sort of corrosive acid.  However, it’s decided that the place is secure, and Lieutenant Gorman heads into the colony with Burke and a still-worried Ripley.
As they continue to search the colony, they stumble across a laboratory that contains facehuggers that are being kept in large glass tubes, two of which are still living.  Immediately afterwards, they discover a lone survivor, the same little girl we saw earlier.  The girl is understandably petrified and distrustful of them, and slips off into an airduct, but Ripley follows her and manages to calm her down.  They discover the little girl’s name is Rebecca Jordan, and the soldiers try to convince her to explain what happened, but Rebecca refuses to talk until Ripley connects to her on an emotional level, using the motherly instincts she must have used with the late Amanda.  When this connection is made, Rebecca starts talking, starting off by telling Ripley she prefers to be called by her nickname of Newt.  Ripley assures Newt that she’ll be safe with them, and that the soldiers are there to protect her.  Newt responds by saying it won’t make any difference.

Meanwhile, Burke and the solders have decided to locate the other colonists using the personal data transmitters that every colonist had surgically implanted.  They discover that all the colonists appear to be gathered in the processing station.  They head out to retrieve them.  (While this is going on, there’s a brief scene with Bishop performing an autopsy on a dead facehugger and calling it magnificent.  This scene was possibly designed to make us wonder if Bishop will turn out to be just another Ash.)  The soldiers go into the processing station.  When they get to the place where colonists should be located, they find a very dark and organic looking ambiance which is reminiscent of the alien spaceship where they Ripley’s deceased comrades found the alien eggs.  As the search continues, Ripley brings a huge oversight to Lieutenant Gorman’s attention.  The soldiers, who are armed with guns that fire off explosive cases, are right under the processing station’s primary heat exchanges, meaning that if they fire their guns, they could rupture the cooling systems, which would trigger a thermonuclear explosion.  To avoid this, the soldiers are ordered to surrender their rifles and grenades and only use their flamethrowers.  After they give up their guns, and commence searching, the soldiers find the colonists.  Unfortunately, everyone has been cocooned and are all clearly dead.  All except for one young boy, who begs the soldiers to kill him.  Before anyone can do something, a chestburster errupts out of the boy’s chest.  The soldiers immediately torch the boy and the newborn alien.  This act alerts the adult Xenomporphs, who have been hiding in the ceiling.  As the soldiers notice the movement on their sensors, Ripley tells Lieutenant Gorman to call them back, but Gorman freezes up as the Xenomorphs start their attack and kill a good number of the soldiers.  Taking matters into her own hands, Ripley takes over the truck-like vessel and drives it into the processing station to rescue the remaining soldiers, namely Hicks, Hudson, and Vasquez.  During the rescue and following escape, Gorman ends up getting hit over the head and suffers a concussion
When they get back to the colony enclosure, Ripley suggests that they cut their losses and just nuke the entire plant, to ensure that they wipe out the Xenomorphs.  However, Burke is reluctant to do so, since the station is worth millions for the company.  He tries to get them to consider the fact that the species in question is an important one, and that they shouldn’t just wipe it out.  The soldiers, on the other hand, all seem to be on Ripley’s side. Burke finishes off by stating he cannot authorize the course of action they’re set on, but Ripley reminds them that this is a military operation, and therefore, with Gorman currently out of commission, Hicks is the highest-ranking officer there.  Hicks agrees to Ripley’s plan.  They signal the The Sulaco to pick them up, but tragically, a Xenomorph has somehow gotten inside the drop ship as it approches and kills the pilot, causing the ship to crash and stranding Ripley, Burke, Newt and the surviving soldiers.  Newt tells Ripley that they should get back inside the colony enclousure, since night is approaching, and the Xenomorphs typically come out when it’s dark. 
On a personal side note, this reminds me of a little observation I made during the first movie.  With the exception of Kane, who was the baby Xenomorph’s host, the crewmembers of The Nostromo who were killed by the alien were attacked in a dark room.  I can’t help but wonder if this is just coincidence, a choice of artistic direction, or if Xenomorphs actually do have an adverse reaction to bright lights, like Gizmo the Mogwaii and his Gremlin offspring in Gremlins.  Then again, perhaps I’m trying to read something out of nothing.
Inside the colony enclosure, the survivors take stock of what they’ve managed to salvage in terms of weapons.  It’s then revealed that it will take 17 days before a rescue ship will be sent to pick them up.  Hudson starts whining again, but Ripley tells him to shut up, relax and do something useful.  To keep the Xenomorphs out, they set up traps at every possible entrance, complete with guns that have been programmed to shoot at anything that moves.  As they continue to get ready to hold the fort, Hicks gives Ripley something that looks like a wristwatch.  He tells her that it’s a locator, and that he can use it to find her if they get separated.
What follows is a rather sweet, touching scene of Ripley putting Newt to bed, with Ripley once again showing her motherly nature.  Here, we get the following poignant exchange:

Newt: My mommy always said there were no monsters - no real ones - but there are.
Ripley: Yes, there are, aren't there?
Newt: Why do they tell little kids that?
Ripley: Most of the time it's true.

            Ripley then gives Newt her tracking device, promising her that she won’t ever leave her.  She then steps out of the room to discuss things with the others.  As they talk, Ripley brings up a vital question.  If all the colonists, sans Newt, are now dead, there is most likely one Xenomorph egg for each colonist.  So who is laying the eggs?  Hudson suggests that they may be like ants, in the sense that there’s one queen who runs the show.  Before Ripley leaves, she tells Bishop she wants him to destroy the facehuggers once he’s done examining them.  Bishop informs Ripley that Burke has given instructions that they’ll be kept alive in stasis for the trip back to the company’s labs.  Ripley, as you might imagine is extremely ticked, especially since Burke had given her his word that they wouldn’t bring any living specimens back with them.  When she confronts him about this, she informs him that she also checked the company log and discovered that Burke was the one who sent to colonists to the original nest site, and therefore was the one who sent the colonists to their deaths with absolutely no warning to them.  Ripley vows to tell everyone what Burke has done when they return home.
            Just as Ripley starts to storm off, the alarms start going off, which indicate that the gun traps that were set up to stop the Xenomorphs have been activated.  However, the guns don’t have enough bullets to stop them all, and they quickly run dangerously low on ammo.  Thankfully, the Xemomorphs appear to fall back, but Ripley realizes that they’re simply trying to find another way in.  To make matters worse, Bishop notifies them that he’s discovered that the nuclear processing station is overloading and will blow up in four hours.  After some brainstorming, the heroes realize their only hope of survival is to use the colony’s transmitter to pilot the second drop ship from The Sulaco down to the planet’s surface through the use of a remote control.  However, due to the damages to the uplink tower, the only way to do this is if someone ventures outside to manually align the satellite dish.  With the Xenomorphs on the loose, this has all the elements of a suicide mission.  Bishop, despite admitting that he doesn’t want to go, still volunteers without hesitation.
            Following a bonding scene between Ripley and Hicks, in which Hicks instructs Ripley on how to use one of their grenade launchers, Ripley heads to the infirmary to check on Gorman, who has just regained consciousness after his concussion, but when she goes to see how Newt is, she finds the small girl curled up under the bed.  Ripley decides to lay down and take a powernap next to Newt.  Ripley wakes up sometime later, and is alarmed to see the tubes that held the facehuggers are lying on the floor close by, completely empty.  In other words, there are now two living facehuggers loose inside the room.  Ripley and Newt are both in extreme danger.  The facehuggers start their attack, and Ripley and Newt find that not only have the doors been locked from the outside, but there are also unable to break the glass.  Ripley tries to get help by making urgent hand gestures at the security cameras, but the only one who sees this is Burke, who responds by turning the video feed off.  Thankfully, Ripley manages to set off the emergency fire sprinklers in the room, which automatically alerts Hicks and the others, who come charging in and manage to save Ripley and Newt just in time.
            Ripley, Hicks and the others realize that it was Burke who set the two facehuggers loose, and as they confront him at gunpoint, Ripley starts to figure out what Burke’s master plan was.  He was planning to let Ripley and Newt get impregnated with Xenomorph embryos in order to ensure he could get an alien specimen past quarantine.  Not only that, but to ensure that none of the soldiers would talk and reveal what he’d done, he’d kill the soldiers by sabotaging their stasis tubes.

 Before Ripley, Hicks and the others can decide what to do with Burke, the lights in the colony go off.  Ripley realizes that the Xenomorphs have managed to cut the power.  When they check the motion sensors, they see that the aliens have gotten into the complex.  And they’re not just inside the complex, the readings indicate that they are actually in the same room as them.  Instantly, they realize the horrifying truth: the Xenomorphs are in the ceiling.
            Ripley and the others all make a run for it, firing their guns as they go to try and ward the aliens off.  During their escape, Burke manages to slip away, but is cornered and attacked by a Xenomorph soon afterwards.  Likewise, Hudson is also killed.  As Hicks, Gorman and Vasquez try to break through a door in their attempt to escape, Newt gets an idea and tries to lead them through the air ducts, the place where she’d successfully hidden from the aliens before Ripley and the soldiers discovered her.  With Newt guiding them, the heroes head though the air ducts towards the airfield, where Bishop is trying to land the drop ship he’d successfully managed to bring down. 
            Vasquez, in her attempt to fend off the Xenomorphs that had followed them into the airducts, ends up getting her legs drenched in the alien’s acid blood, which inhibits her ability to walk.  Gorman goes back to get her, but the pair quickly find themselves surrounded by Xenomorphs.  To try and kill as many as they can, and possibly because they wish to avoid a long, drawn-out death, Gorman and Vasquez use a handheld grenade to blow themselves and the nearest Xenomorphs up.
            Meanwhile Ripley, Newt and Hicks have reached a shortcut to the airfield, but when Gorman’s grenade goes off, the blast ends up knocking Newt into a vent, and she falls down a chute.  Ripley calls down the vent to her, assuring the young girl that they’ll come get her.  Hicks and Ripley track Newt’s location using the wrist-tracker device that Ripley gave her in an earlier scene, but right before they can get to her, a Xenomorph appears behind Newt.  Within seconds, she has disappeared.
            Ripley refuses to give up, insisting Newt is still alive, but Hicks tells her that they have to get out of there because there are more Xenomorphs on their way.  They manage to make it to an elevator that brings them to the airfield, but Hicks ends up getting injured when he fires at an alien and its acid blood sprays onto his arm.  Ripley helps the injured Hicks get onto the drop ship that Bishop has brought down, but Ripley insists on going back to get Newt.  Before she leaves, Bishop tries to tell her that if they’re not off the planet in 19 minutes, they will all die when the processing station explodes.  Ripley still insists on going back for Newt, and Hicks promises he won’t let Bishop leave until Ripley and Newt return.  As they part, Hicks and Ripley completely lower their barriers and basically give each other permission to use their first names from now on: Dwane and Ellen.
            Ripley tracks the freshly-cocooned Newt down in the heart of Xenomorph territory, managing to save her just in time before a facehugger can latch itself to her face.  As Ripley tries to bring Newt to safety, they suddenly find themselves face-to-face with the Xenomorph Queen, who is in the process of laying more eggs.  Ripley manages to ward off the Queen and her bodyguards by threatening to destroy the eggs with her flamethrower, but when the eggs start opening, Ripley torches the eggs anyway, and destroys the entire nest in the process.  This naturally enrages the Queen, who starts to pursue Ripley and Newt.  Thankfully, they make it back to the elevator that will bring them back to Bishop’s drop ship in the nick of time.  But when they get to the airfield, Ripley is furious to see the drop ship is gone.  But, just when the situation appears to be at its most dire, the airborne drop ship suddenly appears behind them.  Turns out, Bishop only took off because the platform was becoming too unstable.  Thus, Ripley, Newt, Hicks and Bishop all escape before the processing station blows up, and return to The Sulaco.  When they go to fetch a stretcher to bring Hicks up to the infirmary, Ripley starts to make peace with Bishop, indicating that she’s letting go of her prejudice towards androids. 
But at that moment, Bishop is literally torn in two by the Queen, who had managed to hitch a ride in the drop ship by hiding in the landing gear.  Ripley tries to lure the Queen away from Newt, but the Queen soon discovers Newt’s hiding place.  Right when it looks Newt is done for, Ripley reappears, donning the Power Loader we saw her using much earlier.  With the Power Loader, Ripley is on equal footing with the Queen in terms of strength.  Ripley forces the Queen into an airlock, but the Queen manages to pull Ripley in with her.  However, Ripley gets out of the Power Loader and, when the Queen grabs onto her foot, she is forced to open up the airlock.  Once again, the explosive decompression starts to pull everything out, including the Queen with Ripley’s shoe comes loose.  Thankfully, Ripley manages to hold onto a ladder rung by her elbow somehow (suspended belief time, perhaps?) and Bishop’s upper half manages to save himself and Newt.  With the Queen now gone, Ripley is able to comfort Newt, (who touchingly calls Ripley ‘Mommy.”)
            In the epilogue, Bishop and Hicks are placed into stasis for the return trip home, and Ripley and Newt prepare to do the same.  Before doing so, Ripley tells Newt that she can now be allowed to dream. (Earlier, Newt had voiced her desire to keep from dreaming, no doubt to keep from having nightmares.)

                Out of all the movies in the Alien franchise, I think this is my favorite.  It really builds on the original movie and answers a lot of questions about the Xenomorphs.  Plus, unlike Alien, the characters in Aliens are a bit more fleshed out and it’s easier to become attached to them.  And as much as you grow to like Ripley in the original, in this movie, she becomes a more sympathetic character, as you see her actually grieve for her deceased daughter, and even forms a bond with the orphaned Newt.  While it is possible to think Ripley is merely displacing her love for her biological daughter to Newt, I think it’s a bit more than that, since Ripley and Newt share an important trait: they have both lost their entire families because of the Xenomorphs, and the loss has left a permanent scar on their psyche.  In a way, Newt is practically a much younger Ripley herself.  And taking a step back to look at Newt from the production level, they made a really good choice when they picked Carrie Henn to portray Newt.  For starters, this particular child had a father who was involved in the military, so considering the character Newt spends most of her screen time interacting with soldiers, this probably gave her a significant advantage.  Plus, it has been noted that most of the other children who auditioned for the role of Newt had only appeared in commercials and had grown too used to smiling after saying their lines.  Given that Newt has borne witness to the deaths of everyone else within the colony; it probably wouldn’t have made sense for her to smile in this movie.
            This movie also displays an interesting subplot about prejudice. The instant Ripley sees that Bishop is an android, she immediately decides that he can’t be trusted because her only other encounter with an android was with Ash, who had plotted to kill her and the rest of the crew of The Nostromo.  However, as strong as Ripley’s hatred is, she manages to let it go when Bishop proves his trustworthiness by saving their lives, and it appears as if they might actually be on their way to becoming friends.
            Like in Alien, this movie shows us once again the corruption of Weyland-Yutani Corp.  This time though the character of Burke.  While Ash was an android who was programmed to follow the corporations orders, Burke was a human who purposely chose money and power over the lives of his fellow man.  This makes him an even worse antagonist then Ash was.  And not only is he motivated by greed, he also shows no hesitation in endangering the life of a small child to obtain his goal.
            Finally, while there are some parallels between Alien and Aliens in the ending, with the Xenomorph making a surprise appearance right when it looks like the alien was destroyed in an explosion, finally being defeated for real by being launched into space and the surviving heroes entering stasis to return home, in this movie, it looks like Ripley’s story has reached a more concrete conclusion, and you’re left with the feeling that she will not only continue with her new role as Newt’s adoptive mother, there is also the possibility that Hicks would one day accept the job of becoming Newt’s father-figure, making the three of them a complete family.  Of course, things sadly do not end up like that, as the final movie in the original trilogy, Alien 3, will later reveal.