Aliens won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1987, beating in order Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, The Fly, Little Shop of Horrors and Labyrinth, in that order – a year when all the contenders were cinematic. Weirdly, I’m not entirely sure that I have seen Star Trek IV; I have definitely seen Little Shop of Horrors though. IMDB users rate Aliens ahead of the other contenders, top of the year on one ranking and fourth on the other. I’d certainly rate it ahead of Little Shop.
Two returnees from Hugo or Oscar-winning films. Most obviously, Sigourney Weaver is back from Alien as Ellen Ripley, having also briefly appeared at the end of Annie Hall as Woody Allen’s latest girlfriend.
And Alan Polonsky, the unnamed insurance attorney in an early scene in Aliens, apparently played Paxton in Chariots of Fire; but I have been unable to work out who Paxton is in the earlier film. Here he is in Aliens.
This film does only one thing, but it does it very very well for two hours and seventeen minutes. It’s not quite as good as the original – few sequels are – but the whole thing comes together on a single trajectory to a very gratifying conclusion. It looks good, it sounds good, and it very nearly smells appropriately disgusting. I’m not a big fan of military fiction in general, or of MilSF in particular, so I find the early scenes of the marines getting it together irritating rather than entertaining. But then their discipline and experience turn out to be worth very little against the implacable xenomorphs. In case you have forgotten about it, here’s the trailer.
A lot has been made of the film’s approach to womanhood and motherhood. Others have gone into this in greater detail, for instance here. I must say I haven’t given it a great deal of conscious thought, but the resonances certainly enhance the viewing experience, compared to the average action/horror film where the heroic men protect the wimminfolk. I have watched very few horror films, and not read a lot of the genre; the best counterpart I can think of where the horror is continually ratcheted up until almost the final page is H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. The final sequence in particular is a masterpiece of tension.
I’m putting this in my top ten Hugo-winning films. There’s not a lot more to write about it – as I said, it only does one thing – but I’m putting it ahead of The Empire Strikes Back and behind Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Next in this sequence: The Princess Bride.