Alien vs. Aliens


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.


10 thoughts on “Alien vs. Aliens

  1. I’ve not seen either film for a very long time, but I remember as a kid enjoying Aliens far more than Alien. Yes it’s hammy and far from subtle (though compared to the 4th film in the genre it’s the height of sophistication) but I still love it.

    That said, it’s been ten years since I saw Aliens and even longer since I saw Alien. I really should watch them again…

    • I would concede that Aliens is a bit more fun than Alien. I tend to go far more towards the serious/heady SF/F films than I do the action ones, but I do enjoy the action parts. But even then, it just felt like too much. It’s a great amount of fun, but if given the choice, I’d go for Alien.

  2. I remember reading in this book:

    a wonderful explanation of why Alien and Aliens aren’t sci-fi at all – their basic, tongue in cheek, argument is that the biology of the alien(s) is so ridiculous that it can only be called fantasy.

    Whereas they write a very interesting explanation for why the tribbles from star trek are good scifi. Really worth a read, a very fun book.

    • Interesting – that’s always a fun debate, what really constitutes Science Fiction. Given that there’s so little science in any movie, it’s hard to classify any as science fiction. Granted, seeing that we don’t know anything about the existance of any sort of extraterrestrial life, I’m always a bit skeptical about any sort of ultimatum on what aliens will look like.

      • The book I linked to is lots of fun and doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it is written by a genuine biologist so it kind of makes sense.

        The authors also wrote a sci-fi novel called ‘Wheelers’ in which a race of aliens that live on/in Jupiter have evolved to excrete small robots.

        But yeah, there’s so little film sci fi that pretends to be plausible that it’s best to sit back and not worry about it too much.

  3. Interesting. I don’t think I’ve watched either one of the films completely from beginning to end. Aliens I just didn’t like at all, while Alien just hasn’t caught my attention too much to actually sit through it all.

  4. Don’t get me wrong, they’re both well worth watching. Aliens is certainly a foundation for most of the action films out there today, and most likely as far as the business model that most studios use. Of the two, I just like Scott’s approach over Cameron’s.

  5. I’ll agree that Alien is the more “thoughtful” of the two, but I think that both films are fully-realized w/r/t/ what they were trying to accomplish. Of the two, Aliens is the one that continues to give me deep and vicious nightmares — even 15 years after the first time I saw it. What I think is under-appreciated about Aliens is the strong statements it makes about evolution in the sub-text. Frenetic and over-the-top is absolutely essential to framing up the humans/Marines in their attempts at a tech-heavy solution; meanwhile the xenomorphs are perfectly adapted to their environment (be they parasitizing it or not).

    • Huh, I hadn’t considered that aspect of the film – the juxtipostition between nature and machine with the marines vs. the alien nest. I do have to say that puts a bit of a different feel to the movie, and I’ll have to watch it again at some point with that in mind – thanks!

      Aliens creeped me out more, I think, because they really added in a feeling of the unknown to the story – the crew was facing something that they had never, ever heard of before, and it was picking them off one by one, with no way to stop it – I can’t imagine anything more terrifying than that.

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