Computer Generated Imagery. We seem to have reached a point now where we can’t live with it, and we can’t live without it. Every film that wants to make money exploits this miraculous technology, and anything we can imagine is now possible to create on screen. Some good has come from this, such as the first Jurassic Park and the Disney/Pixar films, and some bad has come from this, such as Michael Bay’s seemingly endless output of repetitive and formulaic crowd-pleasers like Transformers and that film about giant talking turtles. Either way, you can’t make a blockbuster without it, right? Wrong.
A lot of people seem to have forgotten that one of the greatest (if not the greatest) sci-fi action movies ever made had no CGI whatsoever. Yes, that’s right. What movie am I talking about? Why, James Cameron’s Aliens of course. This film, starring Sigourney Weaver, came out before the days of computer animation and yet managed to be more epic and exciting than any modern Michael Bay flick merely through the use of guys in rubber suits, well crafted models and highly sophisticated animatronic puppetry… and also a hefty dose of extremely good writing, acting and direction (which god knows are in short supply these days). It’s everything you could want from a film of this genre; it’s chock full of enjoyable, believable characters, the story’s well conceived and structured, the action’s great, the set pieces are unbelievable… it just has the lot. And if you’ll pardon my French, this b**ch looks more badass than any computer animated monster I’ve ever seen:
As a sequel, the most notable thing about the film is that while it continues the same story, it has a completely different tone to the original and this really works to its advantage. While Alien showcased suspenseful horror, essentially being a “slasher” film in space, Aliens went for full on action and sci-fi spectacle, showcasing an epic war between a small group of humans and an army of extra-terrestrial beasts. This different approach enables the film to be fresh and entertaining while not duplicating the stuff we saw in the first film. However, the narrative of the first film is still continued in a logical way and the basic plot structure of Aliens mirrors that of Alien while still adding a lot of new, exciting elements. Because of the above, one might go so far as to call it the perfect sequel.
So why does the film get virtually no attention these days? Everyone has a fond remembrance of the first film and it’s not like the director fell into obscurity; in fact he’s become one of the most renowned directors in Hollywood and most of his films are cemented and remembered as benchmark cinematic achievements. But then, most of his films make use of CGI. Terminator 2 and Titanic were both pioneering incorporators of the technology and the less said about Avatar the better. Does this mean that Aliens gets overshadowed as a blockbuster in the eyes of the general public purely because it goes “against the grain” by modern standards? At the time of its release, it was a massive deal and got all the praise it deserved. But today, CGI heavy action films are the “big thing” and many may view Aliens as outdated, regardless of its quality. This is a terrible shame, as I think Hollywood really needs to be reminded that there are other, often better ways to make a blockbuster.
If I’m honest, I probably prefer the first Alien as a film overall mainly because of it’s quiet, unsettling, yet strangely poetic feel (I’m a former film student, we’re just suckers for that stuff). But just because the first film was a brilliant piece of cinema doesn’t mean that the follow up should be forgotten. On the contrary. Give it a watch (or a re-watch if you’ve already seen it) and compare it to similar films today. How well does it hold up? In my opinion, it’s still a masterpiece.
Posted by Frank Short