Aliens – The Ultimate Action Film

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Is Aliens (James Cameron, 1986) the ultimate action film? It’s pretty damn close! Here’s why. Sorry fi the sound is a little echoey, I’ve just moved house and haven’t been able to fix up my recording area yet.

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I am a full time video editor who has worked in the past as a director and editor on a number of small films, and have experience on films of all sizes. Over the years I have been lucky to meet and spend time with industry veterans and up and comers alike, and have learnt a lot about action filmmaking. Here you can learn with me more about action cinema.


Bastian says:

T2 and Aliens are my top 2 favorite movies. I definitely like Aliens much more than the first Alien, but I think this comes down to the fact that I’m way more into action and adventure movies than I am of horror genres movies.
I can watch Aliens over and over. Alien, not so much. Though it is a good movie too.

Ryan Colligan says:

For me, Terminator 2 will likely always hold the top spot for an action film, but Aliens is a damn close second.

Johnny Fiction says:

Phenomenal video

Henrikk svensson dalgren says:

So just to make sure I got this right:

Action is like a rollercoaster, thrills of speed, turns and chaos

Suspence is not knowing what turn the rollercoaster is going to take, because it has multiple pathways, not unlike a video game

fwwaller says:

I think a big counter argument towards people criticizing the film not having any action for a good hour is that you have to remember the wait. This film came out 7 years after the first one, people are going to want to know what happened with Ripley, and since this film is set more than half a century after the first, some world building is kind of necessary.

I agree the first Hadley’s Hope scene was unnecessary, but the turret scene wasnt. It was great context as to why the Aliens didn’t just charge at the command deck to kill all the survivors at first. I love the fact that just before the last turret empties Hicks’ nerves get to him and he grabs his rifle in an anxious rush right before the Aliens stop, superb direction on Cameron’s part, and excellent acting on Michael Beihn’s part.

Bruno Ogawara says:

The Ultimate Action Film for me is Rambo III.

Lance fisher says:

You spelled Starship Troopers wrong

Derek Moore says:

One of the best analysis of a great film that I’ve ever heard.

dark killer says:

Game over man.

Diogo Gomes says:

One of the most perfect movies of all time. period! it will pass 100 years and this movie will still be studied and appreciated

MrH0tBeats says:

30 years later and we’re still talking about this film. It’s a masterpiece. This is my favorite movie with Die Hard a close second. Both excellent character driven movies.

Kenny D says:

That’s just great….THAT’S JUST GREAT MAN!!! Game over man, GAME OVER!!!!!!!!! What are we supposed to do now? WHAT ARE WE GONNA DO?

jordel2010 says:

This film definitely is one of the best sequels ever made (there are not a lot worthy of such distinction); as an action film, it’s also one of the finest made in the 80’s. Not quite sure calling it the ultimate action film though, but most certainly it’s one of the greatest films ever made.

Felipe Turriago says:

Great movies, both. I love Alien 3 too (I know, it’s not such a shared sentiment).
I would say the Vazquez’s problem was darkening her skin, because she could be a light-skinned latina, but 80’s I guess. You do know the story behind her casting, right? That she thought it was about illegal aliens and went full latina gangsta when nobody asked for it and she was so great the wrote the character like that. And the mother thing, I think Cameron just explored a theme that was left there in the first movie, sacrifice. The mother, even if now it’s not the only way to show a woman’s strength, will always be a very solid and empathizing choice to show it. And something unique to the female gender.

make it so, number one says:

I looooooove this film, my fav film all time, your get lip cancer smocking those.

Will Gold says:

Best movie ever.

Stranger than Fiction says:

well to all those who want to fast Forward the beginning… watch the mavie on a projector. All the Setup is incredibly detailed and interesting…. and this masterpiece can only unfold on the big Screen. I love the beginning of Aliens, even if it cant hold a candle to this crazy 40 Minute Showdown…

BattaSSL says:

Great video as always can’t wait for the next one

John Cox says:

I agree with Rossatron on the importance of the ‘slow’ non-action opening hour. I’ve usually considered “Aliens” a “war movie” (with horror, action, etc suffusing it). I think for Cameron non-action and action is a dialog. In Rossatron’s clips, he shows Ripley and Hicks in the elevator as he shoots the monster to bits, the elevator closes and they start down. But following this there are moments of quiet (just as before the monster appears in the doorway) where one thinks “this is over.” But Cameron uses the quiet, non-action to set up further action. This “inter-action” is part of Cameron’s storytelling. For lesser directors, they end up (I think) relying on mere action technique and tropes. Also, the Marines as stereotypes: this seems inherent in the idea of genre, yes? What Cameron did in “Aliens” is to turn stereotypes into archetypes by humanizing them.

Livio says:

Aliens had awesome soundtrack, to me though, Alien 3 had the best soundtrack out of all of the movies. It is mesmerizing to say the least.

Chandasouk says:

Your love for action movies is infectious

waste of time says:

_FINALLY_ the Ross has come _back_ … to youtube.

D3sToD3s says:

I don’t get the “Cannonfodder” argument so many people throw around.First movie had one alien and a bunch of space-truckers.
This movie has a platoon of marines. Trained soldiers (sort of) that would make short work with the one alien, no matter how good a stalker it is. But on the colony? There is an entire Alien 1 movie woth of stalking that already happened and lead to the army of Xenomorphs. So the playingfield is stacked against the marines from the start.

Gua says:

I’ve never considered Aliens an action movie. For me it was always pure sci-fi horror.

gutz1981 says:

See Marvel. This is how you do badass women characters. Some of the female leads of today have no right to call themselves by that title as they assume one earns it by being “Tough”. Bullshit. It’s earned by doing what is right and fighting without praise or demand of praise.

Tim Schmidt says:

​@Rossatron You state that ALIENS “led to the ruination of the creatures true horror and mystique”. I don’t feel that the sequel ruins the creature, on the contrary, it enriches its mythology. Your statement deserves a longer, measured response, because ALIENS is one of my favorite movies. I appreciate the effort it took to make this video and hope to reciprocate the favor and give you some food for thought, maybe it will soften your stance in this regard. So here we go:
Before PROMETHEUS and COVENANT ruined the mystery (is there a less exciting explanation for the creature’s origin than an android with daddy issues?), I always assumed that the alien was a genetically designed, perfect apex predator – maybe created by the navigators as a weapon of mass destruction in war, or to cleanse planets they wanted to colonize of indigenous lifeforms, maybe created by the predators as challenging game in a hunt. Weyland-Yutani, too, tries to get its hands on the creature in every film to study its possible military applications.

I see the creature as engineered and not as a naturally evolved apex predator. It couldn’t sustainably exist in a real, natural ecosystem. It would consume every other animal and then die out due to lack of hosts. Its invulnerability, short life cycle and method of procreation would be its doom. Assuming an engineered origin, the xenomorph must be highly adaptable to achieve its goals regardless of what environment it is put in. Ridley Scott’s ALIEN is alone, therefore it acts like a solitary hunter – similar to, say, a birdeater spider. It stalks its prey, sneaks up from behind and strikes in a surprise attack. That’s why juxtaposing it with Jonesy the ship’s cat (also a solitary hunter) during its very first kill is such a sublime detail: To the ALIEN, we are the bird.

The ALIENS in Cameron’s sequel have no reason to act like the solitary stalker of the first film. They are many (the population of Hadley’s Hope was 158) and can overwhelm their prey by strength of numbers, by throwing bodies at the humans to rob them of their one advantage – big guns with finite ammunition. They have a queen, so their losses can be replenished. It makes perfect sense in-universe that the a whole battalion of alien warriors in this film act more like the soldiers of a bee hive reacting to an invasion of hornets (our colonial marines barging into the cozy home the aliens made for themselves), just like it makes sense that the solitary xenomorph of the first film hunts like a birdeater spider because it’s hungry and wants to grow. A real-life assassin, too, kills differently than a platoon of US Marines.

Notice that this difference is also reflected in the creature design. The ALIEN looks creepy and deeply unsettling on a subconscious level with its smooth, phallic head. It looks just humanoid enough that we can relate to it, but with characteristics borrowed from animals like spiders, snakes and scorpions, traits that are still instinctively recognized by the lizard part of our brain as a mortal, primeval danger. This is what makes ALIEN the most anxiety-inducing creature (and film) in movie history – it invokes a visceral, primal fear in us that harkens back to the distant ancestors of our evolution: What unseen horrors may lurk in the dark? Is it really safe to stay in this cave for the night? The ALIEN doesn’t just slaughter its victims with swift, uncaring brutality like the bugs in STARSHIP TROOPERS do, it violates them a personal, almost intimate way with more than a little innuendo of sodomy, invasion and rape. Remember Parker and Lambert? It toys with them like a cat does with a mouse, stroking them with its tail, embracing them with its claws.

The ALIENS in contrast, the alien warriors of the sequel, look far more martial, they are wearing a kind of armour or carapace reminiscent of the armour of a Samurai warrior. Compare their ridged heads and more massive bodies to the smooth head and spindly, gaunt creepiness of the original ALIEN. They look, act and kill more aggressively. It is heavily implied that the queen commands and directs them in a strategic way that suggests self-consciousness on her part, an intelligence with intent beyond the capabilities of the most evolved communaly hunting predator animals on earth. She directs the warriors to tear down metal barriers, removes the threat of the gun turrets by throwing bodies at it, commands them to cut the power because that gives them an additional edge over humans with our poor nightvision, and she keeps them back when Ripley is showing up in her birthing chamber, because she doesn’t want her eggs to get fried. The ALIENS on LV-426 are every bit as relentless and terrifying as their lone counterpart on the Nostromo, they’re just achieving it in a different way, because they’re in a different environment with other means at their disposal.

The ALIENS can’t be the creepy, rapist stalkers in the sequel that our ALIEN is, there are just too many of them to deliver the same intimate horror. It’s an action film, the byline “this time it’s war!” was used for a reason in the marketing. This change in genre from horror to action – while retaining as many horror elements as possible – is one of the most ingenious ways of approaching a sequel I have ever seen. The queen slowly emerging from the water behind Newt is no less riveting than the xenomorph surprising Parker and Lambert. This film goes well beyond the mere “bigger is better” formula that is at the heart of almost every sequel – and here is where I make my final point: In order for ALIENS to work, the film needed that change in genre, and this change also necessitates the creatures to look and act differently than the original ALIEN.

Let me use another sequel in comparison, also directed by Jim Cameron – TERMINATOR II: JUDGMENT DAY. Both ALIEN and THE TERMINATOR are perfectly fine standalone films that did not need a sequel. The premise of both films doesn’t lend itself well to a franchise treatment, to endless sequels and prequels, because it is very narrow and specific: Creature(s) follow their programming to hunt down and kill our hero(es). They’re stronger, they’re relentless, and they can not be reasoned or bargained with. Our hero(es) can only survive through extraordinary bravery and ingenuity.

Making a sequel to either of these films that was merely bigger with more action and more setpieces wouldn’t have worked as well and probably resulted in another THE MATRIX RELOADED, a film derivative of and inferior to the original with drawn out action scenes that lack tension. So why do both of these sequels work so well, what makes them classics in their own right that are both familiar enough to build on the original and unique enough to stand on their own? Well, Cameron does two things differently than most sequel makers.
First: The twist that turns the premise upside down and rejuvenates it for one more ride. In ALIENS, that twist is the change in genre from horror to action. In T2, it’s turning the villain of the original into the hero. Imagine how much less cool that film would have been if Skynet had sent Arnold again to kill Sarah Connor. Wait, you don’t have to imagine, that is what TERMINATOR: GENISYS did.
Second: Sending our hero(ine) on a more emotionally engaging character journey. Both Ripley and the Terminator become surrogate parents in the sequels, which makes them more relatable. It gives their character a deeper motivation and a fierceness of their own in protecting their surrogate child regardless of their own safety that matches the bigger threat of their sequel adversary.

With such a narrow premise that could so quickly fall into the pitfalls of repetitiveness , delivering just one great sequel to each of these films is a huge accomplishment. It also explains why every new film in these “franchises”, that never should have been franchised, becomes a textbook study of the law of diminishing returns. TERMINATOR 3: RISE OF THE MACHINES and ALIEN³ are okay films that provide an overall satisfactory conclusion of our hero(ine)’s journey, but they’re also derivative, didn’t need to be made and aren’t considered classics for a reason. Every film coming after the third is a gratuitous cash-grab that adds nothing to the mythology, and in the case of PROMETHEUS and especially ALIEN: COVENANT, downright butchers it.

Making a sequel and creatures more similar to the original would have given you ALIEN³ instead of the superior ALIENS as a follow-up. It’s a decent film like I said, with some good cinematography and atmospheric set design, a few truly cool scenes (“the kiss”), and the dog-like xenomorph is a fun variation of the first film’s creature. It’s also nowhere near as fresh and unique as ALIENS, and doesn’t build on its predecessor like ALIENS did – unceremoniously killing off Newt and Hicks off-screen was a huge mistake! It feels smaller with lesser stakes and like a drawn-out epilogue of its predecessor. ALIEN³ hasn’t had any cultural impact or influenced moviemaking like the first two films did with the horror and action genres, and there’s a reason why no one but absolute die-hard Alien nerds could tell you the names of the characters played by Charles S. Dutton and Charles Dance, while everyone knows who Vasquez, Newt and Hudson are. Game over, man, game over!

I really, really hope that Ridley Scott finally stops butchering his own legacy, and the legacy of the late H.R. Giger, with more cash-grab prequels or sequels. ALIEN, ALIENS and even ALIEN³ in its own right, can still be enjoyed by every new generation of horror and action film fans to come. They do not need to be demystified and deconstructed any further. Let sleeping dogs, and xenomorphs, lie.

Chuck Amuck says:

This is the movie that present day female hero movies should tip their hats to and learn from, not the dumb, overbearing, and nauseatingly Feminist garbage that’s forced down our throats these days in the name of political correctness.

Get Outta My Mama's House or Die Trying says:

Great work as always Ross, you really should do something on Police Story if you are interested.

voodoochile333 says:

I remember saying “why isn’t everyone not covered in acid?”

kato fiad says:

Added nothing new to the analysis. Boring and uninformative.

jamie kendall says:

That shot of the lit, but unsmoked, cigarette in Ripley’s hand, establishing character through a single second of implication, is one of my favorite scenes ever in film. Cameron liked it too. He reused it in Terminator 2.

khartog01 says:

It’s my favorite military movie and it shows an absolute failure of the military. Which I think was the point as Cameron was going for a Vietnam theme. A single squad of marines on a ship big enough to hold perhaps hundreds. Using automation instead of a dedicated naval crew. Even the squad tactics are flawed. The two heavy gunners go in first and together. And most importantly, an inexperienced leader. I wonder if military units use this film as what not to do.

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