Being the 35th anniversary of Ridley Scott’s horror sci-fi classic Alien it’s easy to overlook that James Cameron’s follow up, 1986’s Aliens is also a badass piece of sci-fi cinema in its own right. If you need a reminder of that fact—you probably don’t need anyone to remind you about how awesome this movie is—just check out this vintage behind the scenes look at the film from the original release.
Aliens picks up 50 years after the events of the original. Heroine Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has been asleep the entire time, haunted by dreams of what happened on the Nostromo, which, we all know, would be more than enough to traumatize every last one of us. When she wakes up, she finds herself in another kind of nightmare, one where no one believes her and acts like she’s crazy. There can’t possibly be an unholy army of armor plated alien killing machines with acid for blood lurking out there in space, can there?
This video intercuts information about the actual movie, which sounds like it could be lifted directly out of a trailer, with interviews with some of the key players. Weaver gets the bulk of the screen time, especially in the early going. As the voiceover recounts a bare bones version of the plot of Aliens, she digs into her character, and Ripley’s state of mind after her experience in the first film, having slept for five decades, and having her story dismissed. That’s a lot for anyone to take in all at once. She even recounts the tale of the chest burster scene to the gang of colonial marines, and examines Ripley’s relationship with the young orphan Newt.
Cameron, who was coming off of his first big success with Terminator, talks about making what he calls a, “dark action piece with a warm human center.” He goes on to discuss how all of the terror, horror, and monsters are all completely meaningless if the audience isn’t invested in the story and the characters. If there’s no human connection and emotion, then all of the visual pyrotechnics and action doesn’t add up to anything. It’s this element, the connection that Cameron and company work to create, that is the biggest reason why we’re still talking about, and terrified by, these movies so many decades later.
Another part of why we still love Alien and Aliens is the monsters, designed by surrealist H.R. Giger and created by legendary special effects icon Stan Winston, who also stops by for a chat. He talks about upping the ante from the first film, and scaring the audience out of their seat by showing them things that they can’t see in real life, but also that they don’t want to see in real life.