Director: James Cameron
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, Carrie Henn
Have I Seen it Before: It is one of the greats..
Did I Like It: It is one of the greats…
*I viewed the 1990 special edition, which is notedly preferred by director James Cameron.*
There can be a problem with director’s cuts, especially when the vast majority of additional footage is lumped into the first forty-five minutes of the movie. Hard to front load a story like that, but Cameron is right in his introduction. This movie has 40 miles of bad road before things go truly pear-shaped, but when it does, that first bunch of the film is necessary. Without them, the film would be less. It would be more like most of the bland movies that exist now. Most writing advice would have you start your story as close to the meat of the action is possible, and I’m glad that Cameron ignored—at least in one format—that advice.
This first sequel in the Alien series is a master class in floating opposites, and miraculously, it makes a strong argument for itself as the superior film. Where Alien (1979) is steeped in subtext within the relationships between the characters.
The original film straddles between a space-based haunted house movie, demonic possession movie, slasher, and monster man-in-suit shocker, all while staying firmly weighted in Horror. This one embraces a full-throated action vein by becoming a Vietnam War picture in space, but still feels of a piece with the original film. It’s a tricky thing to do, as most movies in a series that try to jump genre usually have to jettison much of what made the earlier films work.
The people of the Nostromo in the original film don’t particularly care for each other or the work they do in the cosmos, but they’ve been on the job for so long that they would never dare speak about it. In this film, the marines have much more clearly defined relationships. The subtext is gone, but the motivations are far clearer, and richer for the specificity. In the original film, Ripley’s (Weaver) mission to recover the ships cat is a gaping flaw in the work, if for no other reason than not one character appears to have any particular attachment to the cat up until that point. Here, Ripley’s forming of a surrogate family makes her quest to recover Newt (Henn) makes perfect sense.
Is this sequel superior to its progenitor? I’m not sure there is an objective answer to that, as it will almost exclusively (as with a great many things) be a matter of taste. It’s certainly in the running, and it isn’t exactly like any other film in the series can compete in that fight.