My parents were very, very Christian. The first time I saw an R-rated movie, I was 17 years old. They didn't want to let me see Back to the Future because they heard that the mom has a crush on her son (which was true, but it was 1950s mom and 1980s son, so that was OK). I once had to leave a party because my friends decided to watch Commando, and I was not allowed.
But my old man had a weak spot - kick-ass sci-fi. The exception to the R-rated movie thing was when there was an awesome science fiction flick we could rent from Wherehouse (you might remember Wherehouse as the place where you got videos before Blockbuster put them out of business. You might remember Blockbuster as the place you got videos before the Internet put them out of business). So even though there was copious profanity (or, as one guy says at the beginning of the movie, harsh language), I got to watch Aliens on VHS. Though by the time we could rent it, I was already 17, so I still didn't really get to game the system.
Aliens is one of the greatest science fiction movies of all time. Ridley Scott kicked off the phenomenon with ideas he cribbed from HR Geiger, but it was James Cameron who made the movie fans wanted to see. Hard-assed space marines battling acid-blood bugs in a derelict planetary colony? Yeah, like you could pass that up.
It's almost a moot point to review Aliens. If you haven't seen Aliens, a movie that has been available for more than 25 years, then I'll send the nerd police around to repossess your nerd badge. The original was a sort of high-concept horror-in-space flick, and while it was OK, it was largely unremarkable. The sequel put it on the map, and marked it permanently in the collective sci-fi geek consciousness.
In case you're one of the very few actual nerds who has not seen this absolute classic of space movies, I'll run it down for you. Ripley, the tough broad who managed to eject the creepy alien from her ship in the first movie, gets recruited to return to the planet where the first bugs were found. Predictably enough, things go poorly, as the hard-hitting marines are under-equipped to deal with a threat of this magnitude. There are excellent explosions, thrilling gun battles, moments of tension and suspense and outright fear. And then lots of people die.
The brilliance of Aliens is not just in the great plot and excellent camera work. The action scenes are spectacular, but the stars of this movie shine brighter. Some of the lines in this movie are etched into my brain like alien acid - 'It's game over, man! Have you ever been mistaken for a man? In case you haven't been keeping up with current events, we just got our asses kicked!' OK, most of the best lines belong to Hudson, but there's still the eternally memorable, 'Get away from her, you BITCH!'
The story has betrayal and greed, heroism and redemption. Characters who seem like cowards turn out to be loyal and brave. While virtually nothing goes right for the marines and their civilian escorts, their strength in the face of adversity is inspirational. Corporate greed is overruled by human compassion and grunt common sense. And as I may have mentioned, there are more explosions than a Michael Bey movie.
Aliens was so good that it spawned lots of great material. The creators of Space Hulk, for instance, should be paying royalties to James Cameron, instead of trying to shut down every reference site that dares to post a rules summary for a game that's been out of print since the Clinton was president. There were comic books, video games, and a whole slew of sequels (and if you've seen the third movie, you know the only smart thing to do is pretend it never happened at all. You know, the way we do with the Star Wars prequels).
You might be wondering why I'm reviewing Aliens at all. It is a rather old movie, and most of us have seen it already. But it was at the top of my mind because I watched it this evening, and was amazed that after 20 years, it's actually better than I remember. After all that time, I still remember the names of the marines, even the ones who got killed early like Frost and Spunkmeyer and, of course, Drake. I anticipated all my favorite lines, laughed at Paul Reiser's ridiculous 80s haircut, and was on the edge of my seat even though I've seen the movie a half-dozen times.
Aliens is just as fantastic as it was the first time I saw it. I don't care if it's been out for two and a half decades, it's a magnificent movie, and if you don't like me reviewing old classic nerd flicks, ask the guy with the gun to your head if you can read something else. If you haven't seen Aliens, you need to correct that oversight as soon as you possibly can. Maybe right now.