© 2021 WYPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
WYPR Arts

'Aliens' Turns 30: Celebrating The Iconic Sci-Fi Sequel

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's rare when a movie sequel outdoes the original. It happened in 1986 with "Aliens." It was released 30 years ago today, seven years after "Alien," the first in the franchise. And people are still talking about it, still deconstructing it, still watching it.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "ALIENS")

CARRIE HENN: (As Newt) My mommy always said there were no monsters - no real ones - but there are.

SIGOURNEY WEAVER: (As Ellen Ripley) Yes, there are, aren't there?

CORNISH: Sigourney Weaver there in her role as Ellen Ripley speaking to Carrie Henn. She played the character of Newt. And one of "Aliens'" biggest fans is NPR contributor and critic Chris Klimek, who appears on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. Welcome back, Chris.

CHRIS KLIMEK, BYLINE: Thank you, Audie.

CORNISH: So I heard a rumor that you actually went to a movie theater to see a showing of "Aliens" over the weekend. Is this true? Was there anybody else at the showing?

KLIMEK: It was reasonably well-attended.

CORNISH: OK, OK, no judgment there (laughter).

KLIMEK: Yeah, not the only one.

CORNISH: OK, remind us the difference between 1979's "Alien" and what came seven years later in "Aliens" with an s. Like, fundamentally, what's the difference in plot?

KLIMEK: Well, the difference is actually the entire genre. You know, "Alien" was this spooky haunted house movie in space. And "Aliens" starts out that way but turns into this suspense action war movie. Ripley wakes up 57 years later, like Rip Van Winkle. She's been drifting off in space having survived her first encounter with the alien. And she gets back to Earth and finds that no one believes her story. But some months later - some traumatic, nightmare-suffering cloaked months - invited to go back to the planet LV-426. And I think this is the element that makes this story universal. Even though very few of us have experience fighting monsters in space, the idea of having to go back and confront your demons is universal. And that's the story of "Aliens."

CORNISH: And you've talked about the atmosphere at the time. What was going on kind of in the broader culture that you think helped people I guess connect with this film?

KLIMEK: Well, in 1986 we are slightly more than a decade out of Vietnam, but we're just starting to deal with it in pop culture. But "Aliens" is very much channeling the fallout of Vietnam. All of the military slang heard in the film among the Marines is Vietnam-era. Kind of combined with the - you know, the rah-rah-rah (ph) militarism of the Reagan '80s. To the extent that "Alien" was about the ennui and disillusionment of the '70s, "Aliens" is the - you know, the "Morning In America" version of that, even though it is kind of a critique of military power.

CORNISH: Now, in the end, why do you think that this resonated? Like, are - I don't know, like, why are we talking about it 30 years later?

KLIMEK: I think there were a few things that just all lined up. I think the novelty of having a woman helming a movie like this and then the quality of the performance. You know, she - Weaver is so strong in this film. So it was of its time, but it was also groundbreaking. And those elements just intersected in a way that made it a big hit.

CORNISH: That's NPR contributor and critic Chris Klimek. He appears on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. Chris, thanks for talking about this with us.

KLIMEK: Oh, it was a blast. Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.