In 1979, director Ridley Scott brought us “Alien“, a horror/sci-fi film revolving around the crew of a space freighter Nostromo battling a merciless extraterrestrial being wanting to use humans as “hosts”. The alien being “attached” to the face of the victim, and implanted its egg down the victim’s throat. The egg would grow and eventually a new “baby alien” would announce its presence by bursting through the victim’s chest. Oh, and the blood of these aliens appears to be a highly corrosive acid, so please don’t let any of it get on you.
The film provided a rarity … a female lead character (Ellen Ripley, portrayed by a then-barely known Sigourney Weaver) that didn’t launch into a “Perils of Pauline” dialogue during a crisis. The movie was an unexpected hit. Seven years later, James Cameron, fresh off his massive hit “The Terminator,” gave us “Aliens”. Rarely has a sequel measured up to its predecessor, let alone surpassed it.
As the film opens Ripley, (the only human survivor from the destroyed Nostromo of the original film) is rescued and revived after drifting for years in a space shuttle while in a form of “hypersleep”. Her employers, a corporation named Weyland-Yutani, do not believe her tale of the “alien” encounter as no physical evidence of the creature survived the destruction of the Nostromo. She has her space flight license suspended as a result of this, and learns that LV-426, the planet where her crew first encountered the Alien eggs, is now home to a terraforming colony.
Ripley is later visited by an employee of Weyland-Yutani, Carter Burke (Paul Reiser, in a rare dramatic turn) and Lieutenant Gorman (William Hope) of the Colonial Marines, who inform her that contact has been lost with the colony on LV-426. The company decides to dispatch Burke and a unit of marines to investigate. Ripley is given the chance to restore her flight status and have her work contract picked up if she will accompany them as a consultant. Naturally shell-shocked by her previous encounter with the Alien, Ripley initially refuses to join, but finally accepts as she realizes she can face her post-traumatic fears. Aboard the warship Sulaco she is introduced to the Colonial Marines, including Sergeant Apone (Al Matthews, who it turns out actually was a Marine for six years), Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn, working with Cameron again after starring in “The Terminator”), Privates Vasquez (the wonderful chameleon of an actress Jenette Goldstein) and Hudson (Bill Paxton, another Cameron holdover from “The Terminator”), and the android Bishop (Lance Henriksen, and yes, he appeared in “The Terminator” as well).
The Marines are dropped onto the surface of the planet and find the colony seemingly deserted. The gungho troops, pumped up by Sergeant Apone but led by the soon-to-be-revealed very inexperienced and over-his-head Gorman, have never encountered anything like this. Their entrance into the colony’s main building is at first executed with typical military precision, but when things start to turn against them, and members are picked off one-by-one by Aliens, Gorman freezes, and Ripley takes over.
A little while later, two living Alien creatures (having hatched from the eggs that had been inside their human hosts) are found in containment tanks in the medical lab, and the only colonist found is a traumatized young girl nicknamed Newt (Carrie Henn). Henn, no more than eight or nine when the movie was shot, gives a wonderfully nuanced performance. It is an exquisite look of utter blankness and shock upon her face as she is discovered, initially resists being “captured” by the Marines, and finally allows Ripley to hold her and calm her down. (Interestingly, this is Henn’s only acting credit in her life . . . she grew up to be a schoolteacher).
Flashing forward a bit, Ripley discovers that Burke hopes to return Alien specimens to the company laboratories where he can profit from their use as biological weapons. She threatens to expose him, but Bishop soon informs the group of a greater threat: the planet’s energy processing station has become unstable and will soon detonate with a catastrophic impact. Now it becomes a race not to save any survivors on the planet, but to just get off the planet.
Ripley, with her maternal instinct dial now at “full”, and Newt fall asleep in the medical laboratory, awakening to find themselves locked in the room with the two facehuggers, which have been released from their tanks. Ripley alerts the marines, who rescue them and kill the creatures. Ripley accuses Burke of attempting to smuggle implanted Alien embryos past Earth’s quarantine inside her and Newt, and of planning to kill the rest of the marines in hypersleep during the return trip. The electricity is suddenly cut off and numerous Aliens attack through the ceiling. An extended and tense battle scene ensues, with Hudson, Burke, Gorman, and Vasquez eventually all killed and Newt captured by the Aliens.
Ripley and an injured Hicks reach Bishop and a rescue dropship, but mama Ripley refuses to leave Newt behind as the countdown to planet extinction nears. She locates Newt, and torches the Alien queen’s hive of eggs, enraging the queen. In the film’s climactic scene, we see Ripley’s transformation from simple “employee” to “soldier”. She dons an “exosuit” normally used for loading heavy cargo, and utters to the Alien queen the catchphrase of the movie, summarizing her maternal instincts and pissed-off attitude in six simple words.
“Get away from her you bitch!”
Grab your popcorn, settle on your couch, and hold onto a pillow … tight. You are in for one scary adrenaline-fueled ride.