I just recently viewed Aliens for the first time over the past couple days (I would call it long term procrastination). Alien is a film that I watch at least once a year. It is a film that no doubt gets better with each viewing. It’s entire atmosphere demands the viewer to suspend all belief for a subconsciously sexual look at killer extraterrestrial life forms. H.R. Giger provided the disturbing sexual aesthetics that give Alien a good portion of it’s nightmarish and dark fetishistic appeal. Had he not been involved in the imagery in the alien film franchise, the films would be crucially lacking in both appeal and power.
The phallic headed Aliens found in the Alien films are the ultimate enemy of ambiguous lesbian and virtual mother Ripley (quite an odd dichotomy). Ripley acts as a mediator and leader to even the most authoritarian of male personalities found in the films. In Aliens her motherly intuition becomes even more apparent with her rescue of a lone little girl (as her colony had been slaughtered by the Aliens). Ripley lacks the stereotypes types generally attributed to Hollywood heroines. She is stoic, clear minded, assertive, and fully capable of controlling her own life (while also guiding others).
One aspect of the alien films that obviously had an affect on the difference in films is the change in directors. Ridley Scott was the director of the first film. This is no surprise when taking into consideration that Scott is known for his heavy emphasis on aesthetics and set design (look at Blade Runner for example). A good percentage of the cinematic power Alien has is the result of Ridley Scott’s eye for set design. Ridley Scott is notorious for directing films that are heavily weighed down by his obsession with aesthetics. Scott’s films are generally overwhelming in that regard. You can’t help to focus on the visuals and almost forget the film actually has a story.
Aliens director James Cameron is best known for his ability to make tons of money with exciting and fast paced action films. For the most part, with Cameron’s cinematic visuals, what you see is what you get. Aliens lacks the subconscious sexual elements so strongly prevalent in the original film. Aliens is an exciting action film that only requires attention. The film also plays with reflexive elements of the original film (as most sequels do). A token and unnecessary dream sequence features an alien popping out of Ripley's abdomen and gives the audience what they expect. The human robot found in Aliens conflicts with that found in the original film. This robot becomes a hero and an important asset to the rescue team. The original robot of course lost his manmade mind and decided it was time to kill. Both of the robots, of course, have semen like blood. The ending of Aliens also heavily parallels that of the one found in the original. The cinematic comparisons go on and on.
In conclusion, I find Alien to be a much better film. As much as I enjoyed both films, Alien had a much stronger impact on me and the cinema world in general. Aliens is still an exception in that it contradicts the stereotype that sequels are god awful (which most are). Now I just hope I don’t get death threats (it’s long overdue) for my conflicting film preference.