Over the weekend, I watched two Science Fiction films, Alien and Aliens for the first time. In my quest to have a better sense of the genre, I've been putting together a list of older films, from the 60s and 70s, and these two were on it.
Actually, I had watched Alien once before - I had watched it once, not very closely, and was rather indifferent about it, and when the movie vanished from my collection, I never bothered to pick it up again. This weekend, with little to do but housework, I set up both films (recently aquired used from a local store) and watched both.
Alien is a masterpiece of a science fiction/horror film. Aliens, not so much. I realize that this flies against most of what other people have said about the movie, and taking in to consideration that the two films are vastly different, but I'm willing to stand by my assessment on this.
Alien is quiet, thoughtful, engaging and absolutely beautiful. Aliens is a mess of action, annoying characters and an overwhelming sense of energy. The two films could not be more different from one another, but in a way, that is why the two of them work so well for one another.
What strikes me most about Alien is the sets, look and feel of the universe that Ridley Scott and the production team set up. The Nostromo is wonderfully put together, a space ship that feels well worn and practical, the way that science fiction should be: durable.
Aliens on the other hand, feels flimsy, out of place after watching Alien. Rather than a quiet science fiction film, Aliens is a loud, fast and exciting rush that at times, drags on the plot. Where Alien succeeded as a horror film, building up the anticipation, Aliens kicks the action into high gear.
This is logical, I suppose, for the fans of the first movie, and for the franchise as a whole. The fact that the second movie is so different helps, I think, even if it does fall into the more is better mentality that seems to be the guide rule for most sequels now. A second film like Alien would be the worst thing for the franchise: it would be a dull installment.
Still, while this is good in theory, a major change and shift in tone, Aliens, I found, is let down by its execution. There's action, but it's not smart action. James Cameron has never really been a subtle director, and this is no exception. The acting is annoying, until the end, but the endless action is just repetitive and brings down the film as a whole.
Still, it's a better action film than most action films out there right now, and it's easy to see where the rest of the genre really comes from. That being said, Alien ends up on top.