By Josh Williams It is in our blood to debate. Humans are genetically wired to bicker about specific topics. Whether that be if pineapple actually belongs on pizza, Coke or Pepsi, whatever the discussion may be we are born to pick a side and make a stand. This has easily transitioned into the world of movies as well. “Star Wars” or “Star Trek,” the original or the remake, the book or the adaptation. There are a copious number of topics we can debate within cinema and one that is often discussed, even without the upcoming release of “Alien: Covenant,” is “Alien” or “Aliens?” Ridley Scott’s minimal science fiction horror film or James Cameron’s over the top in your face science fiction action film.
We recently discussed it on the podcast but which do you prefer?
Let’s find out. Each film has flawless elements about it and each film has flaws about it as well. The most important thing is that each film will undoubtedly stand the test of time. Both “Alien” and “Aliens” completely transformed the science fiction genre when released and each film would go on to inspire most science fiction films that would follow. Whether that be through the camera moves, the sound design, the overall set up of the films, the “Alien” franchise has inspired countless films since their release. We shouldn’t compare the two films because they don’t necessarily fall under the same category, but like I said it’s in our blood to debate. So without further ado, let the cage match begin!
In the red corner, we have Ridley Scott with his 1979 science fiction horror release, “Alien!” The plot for “Alien” is as follows: “After a space merchant vessel perceives an unknown transmission as a distress call, its landing on the source moon finds one of the crew attacked by a mysterious life-form and they soon realize that is life cycle has merely begun.” The first element of “Alien” that makes it such a timeless classic is its scale or lack thereof. When first released it was viewed as this science fiction epic and don’t get me wrong the film definitely is larger in scope. But comparing the scale to “Aliens,” “Alien” is rather simplistic. The film only takes place in a handful of locations and Scott utilizes these locations as a part of the story. The locations play a role into the overall feeling of claustrophobia that the film emits. Scott utilizes the space to his advantage, almost making the audience feel like the walls are closing in around them.
Another tactic that Scott uses to amplify this claustrophobia are his camera angles and the editing. Each shot in the film is meant to make you feel uneasy and the editing is meant to offset that. The dutch, crooked angles offset the usual comfort we find within films and then the quick, jarring editing style forces us to rise from our seats and live every moment of the film on the edge. Channeling the styles of Carpenter, Cronenberg, Friedkin, and other horror masters, Scott manages to create a science fiction tale with some tastes of horror. Keeping us entertained while simultaneously frightening us, “Alien” is effective on all fronts.
And in the blue corner, we have James Cameron with his science fiction action hit the acclaimed sequel, “Aliens” in 1986! A whole seven years pass before we received a much-anticipated sequel. The cult created with the first film was re-ignited and the hype train was full steam ahead. And with James Cameron attached, who already had a smash hit with the first Terminator, the film world could not be more excited. Despite not receiving a film that felt incredibly similar to the first installment, Aliens still managed to change the way we approached a science fiction film that had action elements.
Cameron has already practically mastered the action sequence, so of course him channeling this ability into the world that Scott has already created was a perfect approach. Cameron does, however, take a similar approach with his locations like his predecessor. The locations of “Aliens” play a big part in the action scenes. Versus using camera angles to make the audience feel claustrophobic, Cameron puts multiple physical beings into these tight enclosed spaces. He then forces these beings to interact in a high tension action packed way. This amplifies the action, making it feel even more high stakes than it already is.
The obvious high trait of “Aliens” is its action. Versus taking the less is more approach with the Xenomorph’s like Scott does, he puts them in our faces. Cameron forces us to face our fears and come out swinging. Instead of taking a minimal approach Cameron takes a large scale approach, amplifying the first film, cranking everything Scott put in place up to eleven, “Aliens” is over the top and in your face. With perfect sound design with the marines weapons, how the Xenomorphs move and attack, Cameron utilizes his sound design to create an even higher tension action sequence.
“Alien” and “Aliens” are both masterful films that have revolutionized the science fiction genre. Ridley Scott delivers one of the best films of his career and so does James Cameron. This debate can literally go on for centuries. Do we necessarily need to compare the two films? Not necessarily but it is a fun way to take up some time and also find out who your true friends are.
Do you prefer “Alien” or “Aliens?” Let us know in the comments below! You can follow Josh and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @josh_williams09