If Alien was considered a classic of horror, James Cameron’s Aliens was pure action and adventure. Although it still held elements of horror, Aliens offered up a action heavy film which — I believe — perfectly complimented the original and successfully expanded the story.
One of the chief purposes of a sequel, creatively, should always be to expand and develop what was established in the first film. In the case of Aliens, everything is expanded. We learn more about the creature, the story is bigger and moves the overall story of the humans experiences with the alien creatures forward. It literally continues the tale begun in Alien, following up on the company’s greediness and giving Ripley a sense of resolution to her previous encounter.
Cameron’s approach with Aliens was similar in his later approach to Terminator 2. He develops a new story with a new set of dangers and characters, but borrows elements from the previous film. One shining example is the character of Private Hudson, played by Bill Paxton. His character is basically Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) from Alien. Emotional, scared, the most vocal of the group. There are also other things — a traitor among the group who wants to profit off the alien, the film ends with an alien sneaking onto the escape ship, the creature is blown from an airlock.
These elements all present themselves in ways that make them unique, and I’m in no way slighting Cameron for making these connections. I think they are brilliant, and work beautifully to compliment the original by mirroring it in a sense but in a new and exciting way.
The action in Aliens is top notch. The fighting sequences are exciting and edge-of-your-seat thrilling. The visual style is very different from the original, but like in the story, there are several moments where the visuals compliment the original.
I recently watched the “Special Edition” of the film which was done in 1992. I thought this version proivded much more motivation for Ripley, developing the idea of her having a daughter who died while she was in hypersleep. This provides much more depth to her relationship with Newt (Carrie Henn). There are several other scenes, but much of that is rather unnecessary fluff. It’s cool, like the sentry guns the marines used while trapped on the planet, but other than that the added stuff was not anything the audience needed. In some cases, such as the added sequence that shows us the fates of Newt’s parents, is completely unnecessary. It also managed to damage some of the mystery surrounding the fate of the colonists. We don’t need to see the bustling colony to feel and understand the tragedy that befell them.
This film is by far my favorite of the Alien films, chiefly because its the sequel that dared to expand the story. To make it more than just a horror series. Unfortunately, the films that followed — while good — failed to follow in its footsteps.
The documentaries that were included with this film are terrific, but not as detailed as the one for Alien. However, the biggest surprise was that the actor who played Hicks was not the person originally cast. And I was kind of surprised to see who actually was. The documentary does offer some insight into Cameron’s approach to the film, but most of his interviews are old, compared to the new ones conducted with the actors and producers.