[“After The Terminator‘s success] my new agent and all the people around me all said, ‘Oh you can’t do Alien 2, you can’t do Alien 2. That would be career suicide. Don’t do Alien 2. It’s a no-win situation: If it’s good it’s just because Ridley Scott’s classic was so good. And if it’s bad it’s because you’re not Ridley Scott and you can only be held up in a negative comparison, blah blah blah.”
~ James Cameron.
One of the prime reasons I started this blog was because I had heard many things about the series that I later learned were wrong, and yet still persisted among the fandom. One of those things was the claim that James Cameron was the first to bring an insect influence upon the Alien, against the original creative team’s wishes and intentions. I addressed this claim in The Insect Influence. The other false claim was the assertion that Alien‘s core creative team held Aliens with contempt.
“Aliens made Alien look like a cucumber sandwich,” Sigourney Weaver stated in 1997. “I like the second [sequel],” said Veronica Cartwright in 2013, “I like the second one very much.”
Some of the satellite contributors have also voiced their opinions. Set decorator Roger Christian said in 2010: “Cameron’s second one was brilliant. He took it in his own direction and just made an amazing piece of work. It was the right thing to do. You just couldn’t repeat what Ridley had done. Ridley had the advantage that he was able to create the tension, because you really didn’t know what was coming. Cameron was faced with that possibility and turned it into war, and really, really pushing this female heroine idea before anyone else did it. So I think he did a brilliant job.”
Alien and Alien 3 editor Terry Rawlings also chipped in: “They had Alien 2, which was a completely different movie, a great movie I think, but a completely different style [than the original].”
Lastly, Alien and Aliens special/visual effects supervisor Brian Johnson said: “[Aliens] was a good movie too, wasn’t it? The great thing was, it was completely different from the first one. It was a real shoot-em-up job. And just when you think it’s over … I was actually supposed to work on Alien 3, but honestly speaking, I’m quite pleased that I didn’t now.”
Paul Sammon quotes Ridley Scott on the topic of the second movie in Aliens: The Illustrated Screenplay. Scott starts by bringing up his criticisms: “I suppose my main criticism of Aliens would be that there were too many of them. You were exposed to too much of the warriors and even mother Alien, which, by the way, I thought was a very good idea. Therefore there was no catatonic fear. And you know Sigourney’s going to win. So right there you’ve saddled yourself with a problem.”
Barring that, he summarised: “It’s always a tough job to follow a successful film with a sequel to it … so what I think James Cameron did was an excellent action picture. It really was amazing what he accomplished. There’s also no question that Cameron made an excellent film with Aliens. It really is an achievement.”
In 2012, Scott had either overcome his issues with the movie or simply set them aside, stating that, “Jim loved Alien, adored it … I would never, ever critique or criticise [Aliens] because I think it was very successful and what he did was really good.”
It’s no secret that O’Bannon loathed the Alien series being taken from him and spun out into numerous sequels – a sentiment no doubt fostered by the fallout between the film’s producers and himself. However, he at least appreciated Cameron’s direction: “[Cameron] just about pulled it off. It was a separate movie in its own right. [It’s] a good answer to the problem, which is how to sequelise this. Plus, he was very wise not to try to handle it as a fear-evoking horror suspense tale like the first one. He was able to turn it to something he could work with to advantage. And you know, it was pretty good.”
He added that he regarded Aliens as the only angle left to the series, in his mind, so long as Fox stayed the course. “Cameron, in the first [sequel], did about the only thing you could do,” he said, “which was that he changed to a different genre, from a horror movie to an action film. But once he had done that, there really was nothing left to do [in the further sequels].”
Speaking to Cinefantastique in 1988, Giger was quite downbeat regarding his opinion of the film: “Actually, I expected more after all the enthusiastic reviews,” he began. “It’s a bit too American for me – too much action. I prefer suspense. Half of the action in Aliens would have been sufficient for one film I think. Far too much is happening. Its a bit like Rambo. As far as the designs are concerned, I have no criticism. Only the film’s pace bothers me. And I believe a lot of Europeans react like that. They would rather see a series of slow buildups towards climaxes instead of one immense buildup towards a single climax.”
Years later, Giger gave the film a second chance, and stated that he liked it more with every viewing: “Aliens was also terrific. I am sorry I was not asked to work on it. At first I thought, ‘This is like a war film,’ but it is really powerful.” He expressed the same sentiments elsewhere: “James Cameron’s sequel, Aliens, was a great film, but I wasn’t invited to work on it. My designs were already done, so they didn’t need me.”
Regarding the design for the Aliens in the film, Giger disliked showing off the ridged head which had been covered in the first film. “It’s all beautifully done, everything, the designs and the way they’re executed. The Alien Queen is also nice. She’s a bit smaller in the face than my Alien, but my basic design was very well studied. She was frighteningly well animated.” The same sentiments elsewhere: “The Alien Queen is very complicated, like the way I would have done. I like how she moves.”
Finally, in a statement made to Cinefantastique, Giger said: “When Aliens came out I questioned the change in tone and pacing from the original. It was an unexpected surprise to me, as it was for everyone. When I was able to put aside my personal disappointment in not having been asked to work on it, I soon realised that it was the change from the first film which made it an excellent and original movie, not another predictable sequel. It is a movie I’ve enjoyed more and more with every viewing and I consider it among the best action films ever made. And when I heard James Cameron himself designed the Alien Queen I was even more impressed by the talents of this versatile director.”