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25 Years Of Aliens

Tim Matthews is back with another Genre. This week Tim chooses his five favourite James Cameron films, in honour of the 25th anniversary of Aliens.

This week sees the 25th anniversary of one of the most iconic sci-fi movies of all time, James Cameron’s 1986 sci-fi/action hit, Aliens. There isn’t much new that can be said about Aliens, thanks to a huge devoted fan base, countless making of books and documentaries and home video releases; the story behind Cameron’s mega hit has been told and retold exhaustively. In light of this, this week Hopelies in Genre is, instead, going to take a look at the work of the man behind the movie, James Cameron and proudly present this writer’s Top five James Cameron Sci-fi films.

5. Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)

At first glance, this may seem like an odd choice for this list and many of you may point out that Battle Beyond the Stars is in fact, a Roger Corman film. On both points you’d be correct. It is by no means what could be considered a ‘classic film’ or indeed, a very good one and it was certainly directed Roger Corman. It is however, a very important film in that without it; we may never have had The Terminator or Aliens. This was the film that introduced the world to Cameron’s talent, even if they didn’t know it, for it was on Battle that Cameron cut his teeth as an art director. Legend has it that Cameron was responsible for the design of the main ship in the film, giving it a distinct ‘bosom’ shaped silhouette in an effort to appeal to Corman’s baser tastes and get it is work front and centre of the film. It was also here that he learnt how to direct; watching Corman closely and gathering up all the information and inspiration he could.

4. Aliens (1986)

Many claim it to be Cameron’s crowning moment and not only the best entry in the Alien franchise but also one of the best sequels of all time. It is certainly a great movie and should not by any means not be considered a classic. The rest though, is hyperbole. Lazy titling aside (pluralising the original title merely shouts ‘ooh look how much bigger this film is!). In eschewing the horror movie trappings of Ridley Scott’s 1979 original in favour of a louder, brasher, action movie take on the tale; Aliens loses a lot of the tension, terror , class and subtlety that made the original so brilliant and memorable. Cameron also made the mistake of not using H.R. Giger on his production design team. Yes, the alien queen is one of the all time classic movie monsters but the film and its creatures lose some of their other worldliness in the process. Where the film does succeed however, is in how well it carries on Ripley’s story and develops her character arc. She is still the hard as nails, survivor from the first film but we also see her more sensitive maternal side come to the fore in this film as she takes the orphan Newt under her wing and stop at nothing to protect her.

3. Avatar (2009)

Yes, Avatar has been placed above Aliens. Why, you might ask? You might also accuse me of having taken leave of my senses and while Aliens is indeed a much better film than Avatar, Avatar is certainly a more important one. Cameron has always been a pioneer in the world of special effects and film making technology and with Avatar he makes no exception. The motion capture technology that was used to create the Na’vi is revolutionary. It enabled the crew to see the cast as their alien counterparts almost in camera as they were filming. It also helped facilitate more convincing performances from the cast as well as the human characters that interacted with them. It is a technique that other filmmakers are adopting all over Hollywood; its next big exposure will be in Steven Spielberg’s and Peter Jackson’s Tintin later this year.

2. The Abyss (1989)

Following the success of Aliens, Hollywood went crazy for films where humans are pitted against ferocious creatures from outer space (see Predator, Leviathan and Progeny).  None of them could ever quite match up to the quality of Aliens. Everybody expected Cameron to return to these type of films himself. Instead, he went in another direction; while it was still a return to man making contact with beings from another planet, The Abyss showed us what happen when we meet a potentially friendly extra-terrestrial race. This time the threat and danger lay in the actions of those meeting the aliens; Michael Biehn is a revelation in this film, playing the polar opposite to the heroic Hicks as insane NAVY SEAL Coffrey. The Abyss was another of Cameron’s pioneering films, it was here he developed the CGI morphing effects that would go on to create the iconic liquid metal T-1000 of Terminator 2: Judgement Day.

1. The Terminator (1984)

Arguably Cameron’s finest hour and one of the finest Sci-fi thrillers of all time, The Terminator was the director’s debut and it shot him to super stardom. Telling the story of Sarah Connor, a woman who would be future mother to a war hero who is on the run from an unstoppable killing machine, The Terminator is one of those films that was released at exactly the right time. By this point in the eighties, sci-fi audiences had become bored with the optimistic fantasies of Star Wars, E.T. The Extraterrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. They craved more of the gritty realism presented in films such as Alien and Blade Runner; The Terminator provided just that. At this point in time, huge advances were being made in the fields of computer technology and the cold war still presented the threat of nuclear war; The Terminators’ themes of computers becoming self aware, machines rising against their human masters and an apocalyptic war perfectly reflected the current societies hopes and fears of the future and brought them to the fore. The film was a runaway success and lives on as one of the all time classic Sci-fi pictures. It’s a perfect blend of paranoid sci-fi, chase thriller and highly charged action thriller. Even though it has been followed by three sequels of diminishing quality and talks of a reboot are being bandied about, it stills stands up against the modern CGI-fest blockbusters and has lost none its power to both terrify and thrill.

Tim can be found on Twitter.

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