James Cameron directs Aliens (1986), sequel to its singularly-named predecessor Alien (1979) adds his own style to the film, making it unique and different in comparison to its predecessor and further develops the “Aliens” universe along with a new war setting. Aliens starring Sigourney Weaver, follows Ellen Ripley as she faces off against the hostile alien species who wiped out her previous crew, this time accompanied by a group of space marines. Ripley and the marine unit, including Bill Paxton as Private Hudson and Michael Biehn as Corporal.
Hicks, are sent to investigate the mysterious loss of contact with a terraforming colony and discover its inhabitants gone—taken down by the aliens. The group along with Carrie Henn’s character “Newt”, a child and the sole survivor of a space colony, try to find their way off the planet overrun by the aliens. Cameron’s take on Aliens creates a thrilling and unique pseudo-war film keeping the audience in suspense with his use of cinematography and editing, and the reversal of usual film roles.
Cameron creates an intense feeling with the use of various camera shots and angles.
The use of the camera to follow behind the marines as they march out to exist the dropship onto the suspicious colonial planet gives feeling of urgency and motion. This technique involves and integrates the audience into the universe and gives the feeling of running alongside the soldiers into battle. Additionally as the marines search the colony station, the camera frames switch to viewing the video feed from the soldier’s body-cams which also creates suspense.
We begin to view what the soldiers are seeing as if through their own eyes as they scope out the empty station in search of life. The audience also starts to look through the station and holds on to the anticipation of finding something and waiting for something to pop out, whether it be an alien or colonist. During the remaining group’s final escape, Newt falls underneath a grate into the sewer system and Ripley and Hicks are unable to reach her in time while an alien creeps up on her. The following shot is an excellent example of Cameron’s use of camera angles. It views from in front of Newt, showing the girl while an alien comes up from the water behind her without Newt knowing.
The shot being done from that viewpoint is done in order to have a greater impact on the audience. Viewers are left with the foreboding knowledge of what is to come during the few seconds it takes for Newt to look over her shoulder, creating a sense of suspense and filling us with fear for the girl. Throughout the film, Cameron plays with the reversal of typical film character tropes, which creates a new feeling of suspense because of the unexpected twists. The development of Ripley as the main character among a mostly male, rough, militaristic group challenges the typical views of females in any film role. When the marines’ infiltration of a power station in search of the missing colonists goes wrong, the appointed lieutenant freezes and loses control while Ripley takes charge and drives into the station to rescue the remaining soldiers. She becomes their small group’s leader; she starts making plans to barricade and escape the station, issues orders, and later on enters combat against the aliens alongside the marines. Where Ripley becomes the main authority figure within the remaining group, Private Hudson takes the traditionally female role of damsel in distress.
Despite his big talk at the start of the mission, when faced with confrontation against the aliens Hudson becomes the one to panic and freak out against their increasingly devastating situations. For example, in response to the crash of their dropship and chance of immediate escape, Hudson immediately sees it as the sign of their end and gives one of his most famous lines, “That’s it man. Game over man. Game over!” The repeated hysteria of Bill Paxton’s character in the face of hopeless situations adds a comedic element but also introduces the feeling of helplessness and nerve wracking tension that Hudson feels. Lance Henriksen’s character Bishop, the synthetic human is portrayed and treated specifically by Ripley as untrustworthy. Since the beginning of the film we are steered in one way, with the Ripley’s experience in the previous movie with a traitorous android. However, Henriksen’s character becomes whom the group ends up relying on and trusting the most in order to leave the alien infested planet and even becomes the self-sacrificing hero in the end. The change in the norm hooks the audience with the uncertainty of what happens next.