Release Date: July 18, 1986
Director: James Cameron
Production Company: Brandywine Productions
In the past few years as I’ve become something of a cinephile and watched lots and lots of movies, I often have an uneasy feeling about revisiting favorites from my childhood. Will this movie have held up badly? Will it reflect my younger self’s bad taste? Often, I end up delighted that I still enjoy a film I remember fondly. But what’s even better about revisiting movies is getting an entirely different perspective on a favorite movie.
As the parent of a 9-year-old girl, I was not prepared to be overwhelmed by the centrality to Aliens of the character Newt (Carrie Henn), a child who is the sole survivor of a human colony that is decimated by the parasitic xenomorphs. Kind of like rewatching E.T. as an adult, the depiction of a child in extraordinary circumstances resonated with me more than it did when I was a child. Henn’s performance is very Spielbergian, and she joins Judith Vitter in my Hall of Fame of Child Actors Whose Great Acting Performances Somehow Didn’t Lead to Lengthy Acting Careers.
Newt plays of Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley developing the star character’s maternal role in what shapes up to be a battle of mother versus mother, human versus alien queen. It’s not subtle, but it’s fascinating that in 1986 this idea of motherhood had never really been explored in an action film. It’s one of the many things that makes Aliens one of the great 80s blockbusters and one of the greatest sequels of all time.
It helps that Aliens is an entirely different genre than its predecessor, moving from thriller to action adventure. Ripley is joined by the rambunctious Colonial Marines as they investigate what happened to the human colonists on the terraformed planetoid where the Nostromo’s crew found the derelict alien ship in the previous film. Bad things happen. And as the title promises, there is more than one Alien. The great cast includes Paul Reiser (then primarily known as a stand-up comedians) as the sleazy company rep Carter Burke and Bill Paxton steals scenes as Private Hudson who sensibly panics when they’re overrun with xenomorphs. Game over, man!