Image via WikipediaThe xenomorphs of LV426 are an iconic, terrifying bunch. I finally watched Alien and Aliens this week and I'm inspired to write after being asked which movie I like better. To begin, James Cameron has a way of taking an idea and making it a grandiose endeavor in the movie industry. "Favorite" seems irrelavant to discuss on the internet but I am willing to consider and compare the steps these movies took to be a science fiction action/horror movie.
We'll start with the singular Alien, setting; some gritty cargo spaceship and and for one part an uninhabited planet. The mystery factor a huge thrill ride when Cane discovers the field of hibernating eggs. The most important aspect is that the alien must escape from its host in a grisly manner. As much as its terrifying now, put yourself into the time period and realize that such a gruesome "birth" was a massive surprise to the first audience members.
The rest of the film follows Ripley and the crew as they try to survive against the invader. Plain and simple; human reactions to an unnatural enemy. The lack of light and space is absolutely detrimental to a human's natural abilities and scenes in the airducts ooze of claustrophobia. The only weapon available is Prometheus' gift. In addition, the discovery that "Ash is a robot" and the corporation considers the crew expendable completely destroy any sense of trust for the universe. In the end, Ripley escapes the ship with only Jonesy, a sylvan companion who will stand stand by the protag when the rest of space turns a cold shoulder.
James Cameron's sequel does not depend as much on the sci-fi setting but rather on the human interactions. Already, being 50+ years older can wreck havoc on your perspective of the galaxy. Using the allegory that the xenomorphs represent the feral, inhuman aspect of rape, the beginning scenes represent Ripley's inability to forget the terrifying monsters of her past. In addition, with the company ignoring her initial reports, she has no where to turn and lives a isolated life in an apartment complex. Agreeing to go on the expedition is only after trusting that she can get her old career back and hold hope of an attempted normal future.
Enter the marines. Classic science fiction reminiscent of Heinlein's troopers. On the planet, after a couple of interesting technology cinematics and the first alien encounter it becomes clear that training alone will not save you. It returns to ingenuity, Ripley's best resource. This time around, she is not as alone because of the discovery of Newt and the mother-daughter bond created. As the survival aspect of being locked up in the colony increases, the interactions between the humans becomes more important. Ripley needs to trust Bishop for the escape route (I would also say he represents a religious cleric who can help Ripley deal with all the rape, on a side note). Burke realized as a greedy corporate puppet and his supposed betrayal. And that one marine, the name evades me, who keeps having a break down about the inhumanity of their enemy and the hopelessness of the situation. Of course there is Ripley's lone venture into the hive center in the end but its the middle of the movie that comes alive with character development.Image via Wikipedia
As a conclusion, both movies follow the SF interaction between humans and nonhumans. Alien follows a more precise sci-fi "if-then" statement, "if an alien was in the ship what would the humans do?" with a great deal of unknown and darkness thrown into the mix. Aliens on the other hand, seems to have better character interaction, and slowly gives Ripley strength to save Newt and destroy the cause of her suffering and dreams alluded to in the beginning. Because of these redemptive qualities, Aliens is a more humanist approach of science fiction while Alien is content with discoveries and scares.