I didn't see Aliens when it came out originally in the theater, I saw it about a year later on video, when a friend of the family couldn't believe we hadn't seen Alien and Aliens and lent them to us to watch. I loved them both. Alien is creepier and more suspenseful; Aliens is neither, though I suppose that might depend on what you find creepy and suspenseful. Let's just say, for me, watching Alien alone at night can make me jumpy, but I have no problem watching Aliens by myself in the dark. It is just exciting, action-filled, satisfying entertainment that hits so many items on my Sweet Spot map. It remains my favorite James Cameron movie.
Why? Because I love the characters. Man, do I love the characters. Every single one of them. Ripley, of course, is amazing, but those Colonial Marines are also awesome and fun. I've watched quite a few large cast movies, particularly newer films, and come away not knowing the names of any of the characters. Cameron doesn't let that happen. Even the first time I saw the movie... Hicks, Hudson, Vasquez, Drake, Apone, Ferro, Spunkmeyer, Bishop, Dietrich, etc.... I could name them all. That doesn't seem to happen that often anymore. And this movie spends time with them, lets you get to know them. Let's you invest and become friends with them. Sure we get to know some better than others, but almost all of them have distinct personalities. It's so rare to have a movie with so many characters that manage to all feel real, not just cardboard cannon fodder. Even the ones without much screen time still feel like they have a life when the camera cuts away. I love that. I can't tell you how much I love that.
And then there's Newt. Newt's far and away my favorite movie kid ever. Newt's smart, brave, wary, and intelligent. "Why don't you put her in charge?" Hudson says, and he's not half wrong. It's Newt who knows how to get out of the complex through the air ducts. But she is still very much a young girl. As resourceful as she is, the movie never loses sight that she's still just a child. I love that about the movie too. She's not some miniature adult. She's just a girl who figured out how to hide and survive.
And I love the plot. The plot pleases me greatly, as things go from bad to worse to terrible, and the characters constantly work to think up solutions and a way out. They never give up, and they never lose hope that they will make it out somehow. People do a lot of thinking and planning in this movie trying to stay alive, and it just all works so perfectly. It's the kind of plot I'd write... Of course I love it.
And I even love the aliens. They're fascinating. (Or as Bishop says about one, "Magnificent, isn't it?") They're intelligent. They're deadly. "They cut the power." "What do you mean 'they cut the power'? How could they cut the power, man? They're animals!" The facehuggers are far, far creepier than the adults. I'd far rather face a room full of adults then just a single facehugger. They're nightmare-worthy.
Aliens was the first James Horner score I personally owned. Star Trek II and III, Cocoon... my parents owned those on record, and I made tapes of them, but Aliens, I bought on LP myself. Which I promptly recorded onto tape so I could listen to it in my walkman (watching out for Sublevel 3's stab, so I didn't jump). Then I got it on CD. Then the deluxe edition... One can't own too many versions. It still gets plenty of play time, all these years later. (And I still remember seeing Die Hard in the theater when it premiered, and going "What the????" at the end, when the start of the "Resolution and Hyperspace" cue kicked in.... which music isn't actually used in Aliens, oddly enough, but I knew it all too well from the album.)
Favorite scene: the robot sentries! The sheer speed at which those guns go empty. Not even 35 seconds for A and B guns to expend 500 rounds each. (Yes, I timed it once.) "They're wall-to-wall in there!" And then, the sound of the aliens attacking the pressure door. Makes me grin just thinking about it. Also, Ripley's rescue of Newt, for so many reasons, not the least of which is because that whole end and the station's countdown is filmed in real-time.
Favorite character: Ripley. I want to be just like her when I grow up.
Favorite marine: Well, Hicks, Hudson, and Vasquez all tie. Kind of hard to choose which flavor of awesome I like better. I love that Vasquez gets to take point. I love that Hicks looks out for Ripley. I love Hudson always mouthing off. (Although Ferro was always the marine I related to the most. I love her.)
Favorite cue: "Ripley's Rescue"
Favorite quote: Oh man, don't get me started. The whole movie is quotable. Anytime Hudson opens his mouth is quotable. "Yeah, man, but it's a dry heat" is my all-time favorite, just because it gets said or thought constantly. And "Game over, man, game over!" But I'm extremely fond of Ripley's, "Did IQs just drop sharply while I was away?"