Today marks the 30th anniversary of the film Aliens, directed by James Cameron, sequel to the massively influential, Ridley Scott directed original, Alien.
Bigger, bolder, and much more action oriented than its “haunted house in space” predecessor, it is widely regarded as one of the finest sci-fi action films ever committed to celluloid and for very good reason. Clocking in at a meaty 137mins running time in its original cut and even longer in it’s superior Special Edition, it perfectly paces exposition, slow building suspense and intense action perfectly. From its bombastic James Horner score, to its groundbreaking Stan Winston effects, This is how a sequel is done.
Released on this day in 1986, Aliens was a massively anticipated proposition, a sequel to one of the best received horror films of the late 70’s being directed by the hottest director on the block, Cameron, fresh off of his success with the first Terminator movie and bringing some of its cast with him in Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen & Bill Paxton namely, expectations were through the roof to see what he would do with the subject matter.
Ellen Ripley has been drifting in space for some time after the events of the first movie, picked up in her drifting escape craft by Wayland-Yutani, the ever present, shadowy “Company” and tasked with returning to LV-426, now a terraformed colony, with which all communication has been lost. Accompanying a squad of kick-ass colonial marines, they need to establish why contact has broken down.
Boasting an amazing cast featuring a returning Sigourney Weaver and the new additions of Michael Biehn as Cpl Hicks, Bill Paxton as motor mouthed Pvt Hudson, Lance Henriksen as ships android Bishop to name but a handful, it’s like a genre-film dream cast, because it WAS!
Filmed over the best part of a year at Pinewood studios on a remarkably small budget of $18 million, the production was notoriously fraught. The U.S & U.K crews would butt heads over, of all things, the mundanities of the Great British tea break bringing production to a halt. A very much ‘us & them’ attitude punctuated the production, many of the experienced crew believing Cameron too young and inexperienced to carry so large a film. With such an atmosphere, it is a wonder the film turned out as well as it did. Praise has to be given on the magnificent sets that were built by those crews though, who converted part of a disused power station in Acton, removing harmful asbestos prior to shooting to become the alien nest and an interesting fact, the set that was used for the atmosphere processor was reused some time later as The Axis chemical factory in Tim Burtons Batman, I was never aware of this until recently and must confess to geeking out a little.
Stan Winston handled effect work on the film, elaborating on the designs of H.R Giger and creating his own distinct brand of Xenomorph and his crowning achievement, the still jaw dropping Alien Queen, a 14 foot tall creation requiring multiple forms of manipulation from hydraulics to a crane to bring to life.
The Alien franchise is still rolling out today with Ridley Scott handling prequel duties with his follow up to Prometheus and Alien 5 being lead by District 9 & Chappie Director Neill Blomkamp. It’s clear that the Xenomorph is a species that cinematically refuses to die, and with plenty more stories to be told, it could be a franchise still kicking around in the next 30 years.