Cinema: Help! They're Back!

Aliens Storms in As This Summer's Megahit

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Glance again to the right. These are rare photos, records of something no one expects to find in a high-speed, high-tech, high-action movie these days. They are pictures of a character acting not out of the dictates of a harum-scarum plot but because she is heeding the call of a vulnerable heart. Amazing! What will they think of next?

The premise of Aliens, its emotional essence, is contained in the smaller picture: a woman, her formerly unacknowledged maternal instinct raised to full inner scream by exotic and terrifying circumstances, takes a frightened child into desperately protective custody. The payoff is in the large photo: the climactic confrontation between this woman and her chief tormentor, leader of the alien monsters and -- ironically, grotesquely -- a single mom herself. Since she is a well-armored insect about 14 ft. tall, determined to propagate her kind, and since that activity requires human lives to be accomplished -- as many as she and her innumerable brood can lay merciless pincers on -- she is not a creature to be taken lightly either by Ripley (the heroine) or the audience.

Ripley? Ripley? That name rings a bell. Why, sure. She's the woman from Alien, isn't she? Must be. That movie had practically the same title as this one. You mean to say she's gone and got in trouble again? And they've made a sequel about that? And it's good? And we're supposed to take it seriously?

The answers to those last four questions are: yes, yes, that's an - understatement and de gustibus. And they all hinge on the fact that the trouble Ripley has found this time is exponentially bigger and scarier than anything she encountered in Ridley Scott's memorably minimalist, eerily elegant 1979 film.

The wit of that picture lay in its relocation of that classic device of the horror genre, the haunted house. Instead of being a Gothic pile isolated on a bleak moor, it was a spaceship visiting an unwelcoming planet in an obscure corner of the universe. But the situation was the immemorial one: a monster, in this case an alien life-form requiring human hosts for gestation, is stalking the spaceship's endless, ill-lighted corridors, picking off victims one by one. But there was only one creature, six frightened earthlings and little more subtext (or, for that matter, dialogue) to the film than there was to Friday the 13th or Halloween. Alien lived as a demonstration of the power of style and sheer moviemaking technique to transform tosh into terror that continues to haunt the memory.

And possibly it lives also as Sigourney Weaver's debut movie, for she was wonderfully effective as Ripley, the junior officer who must finally face down the monster in single combat. Cool, intelligent, yet vulnerable (and, of course, striking in appearance), she brings all these qualities to the sequel, which, seven years later, should make her a major star. For this movie stands to be something its predecessor was not, a megahit. And it deserves to be, for it is a remarkable accomplishment: a sequel that exceeds its predecessor in the reach of its appeal while giving Weaver new emotional dimensions to explore.

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