I had other things lined up for today; but then this article from Kotaku and this from Topless Robot (see #3) told me that the universe wants me to ponder the importance of Xenomorphs in our daily life.
So is this article a straight-up fight or just another bug hunt? Read on to find out.
I remember being scared shitless by the first Alien movie. The claustrophobic hallways, the sudden, seemingly random violence, the flatness of Sigourney Weaver’s ass, all came together to absolutely blow away what I’d learned to that point about the potential of cinema. I discovered that movies could make sure you didn’t sleep for a week.
Enter James Cameron’s 1986 sequel, Aliens. Expecting more of the moody, reserved tone of the first, I was instead catapulted into a cigar-chompin, pulse rifle-wieldin’, hard cussin’ platoon of fucking Space Marines. When I first watched it, I’m not going to lie to you, Marge, it grabbed my psyche like a facehugger. These were the kinds of heavy-geared hard-asses (Vasquez included) that adolescent me imagined he would grow into someday. The ostentatious display of power did its job and convinced me that these were people who Could Not Fail.
James Cameron had made me his bitch. I just didn’t know it yet.
I was about to learn the first rule of the action horror genre – no one is Untouchable. Once the dropship had peeled off and the pilot dispatched, and that fan-freakin-tastic APC was ground into so much scrap metal, I started flipping on lights in the living room in anticipation of things *really* coming off the rails. And come off the rails they did. The biggest, toughest Marines were chewed up and spit out the other side of the Alien Assimilation Machine. They didn’t show up on any of the tech the Marines had (unless they wanted to); they didn’t care about bullets, or fire, or machetes (since there were thousands of them and just a dozen marines), they bled FREAKING ACID! At this point Hudson (the cock-sure one) becomes the voice of the viewer and just freaks the fuck out to the delight of every adolescent male watching. In a poll of fifty 30-40 year-old males (that I just made up in my head right now) 90% of them have used the phrase “That’s it, man! Game over! GAME OVER, MAN!” at least once since 1986. Watching this supposedly rock-solid Space Marine, with enough hardware to drop a T-Rex, turn into a wide-eyed expletive-spitting pansy made me sit right up and take notice – this might be a bug hunt, but the Space Marines weren’t the ones doing the hunting (dun, dun, DUUUUUUUUN).
Once the Space Marines are consumed as the plot device they are, we’re able to sit down and get comfortable with the real heroine of the movie – Ripley. She exudes a confidence and calm that’s partially the result of being time-shifted enough that everyone she knows has died since she left Earth. She’s unconnected to anything, except these creatures that slaughtered her crew. She’s able to make amends with androids and their ilk (Bishop’s knife trick is also something that every one of us has tried to imitate, however slowly, at least once), she patches up the only surviving Marine (Cpl. Hicks, who manages to “stay frosty” even after half his face is burnt off by Xenomorph acid blood), and maintains a presence of mind to end an eeeeevil corporate plot (Paul Reiser in his douchiest role ever), destroy the Alien Queen (kind of), and get nearly everyone left out in one piece before the entire colony goes up in a nuclear chain reaction. She proves that you don’t need special hardware or training to persevere in the face of Aliens who want nothing more than shellac you into their hive and implant their young in your esophagus.
Visually, Aliens was one of the most striking movies I’d ever seen. Not yet familiar with the kind of world-building that James Cameron was so accomplished at; the realism of the distinctly unreal took me by surprise. H.R. Giger’s techno-organic aliens took on a presence that far surpassed the guy-in-a-rubber-suit feel of the first movie. The tech that the Space Marines wielded didn’t feel like props, but like real gear that they’d customized and fought with. The alien queen was a strikingly visceral design that borrowed just enough from nature to make her squeamishly disturbing.
Aliens has remained one of those movies that others attempt to imitate or emulate; but as one of the first, best sci-fi military action horror mashups (say that five times fast), this remains one movie that I can still quote 20 years since my last viewing. The fact that it’s still a hot property in video games, comics, (far inferior) movies, etc belies the fact Aliens is a mash-up that has something for everyone.