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Aliens (How long can you hold your breath?)

If you’ve seen the 1986 masterpiece, Aliens, the answer to that question is 42 min., 10 sec.  That’s how long James Cameron maintains the intensity during a prolonged sequence at the end of, in my opinion, the best movie sequel of all time.  A case could be made for The Godfather: Part II, but (also in my opinion) The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II,  released only 20 months apart, are really just two halves of one long, perfect movie.  Same director, same cast (mostly), same vibe and an amazing singular achievement, so I don’t really think of TG:PII as “a sequel.”

Poster Pair

Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986), however, are so different from each other and were released so many years apart, it’s easier to appreciate Aliens as its own movie.  I watched this film a few days ago, which means I have now seen Aliens, oh, I don’t know…12 times?  15?  And if I live long enough, I hope to see it another 15 times before I’m put into permanent hyper-sleep.

Side note:  I live in a universe where Alien3 does not exist.  In my mind, Alien and Aliens actually happened.  Alien3 is just a depressing story somebody made up.  It’s not part of the real world.  (As long as we’re on the subject, the same can be said about about Godfather3.)


Spoiler Alert: If you’ve never seen Aliens, I’m about to tell you how the movie ends.  But, honestly, so what?  I know how it ends, and it’s still a thrilling experience every time.

When I watched Aliens this time, I started wrapping my head around the non-stop action that begins when Ripley and Newt find themselves locked in MedLab with two face huggers.  For the next 42:10, James Cameron pulls us to the edge of our seats and does not let us relax until the end of the movie.  (Granted, the scene where Ripley confronts Burke about his MedLab/alien smuggling scheme is dialogue only, but it’s a quick 78 seconds, so I’m counting it as part of the extended action sequence.)

Later, after a major shootout in Operations, the highly regrettable loss of Vasquez and the failed rescue of Newt, Bishop lands the second dropship from the Sulaco­, and Ripley announces they’re not leaving without Newt.  I started thinking, “Wow, there is still a lot of business remaining to been done in this movie!  First, Ripley’s gotta load herself up with about $250,000 worth of weapons and ammunition.  Then she’s gotta rescue Newt, torch several dozen eggs, give the finger to the Queen Mother (in her own irrepressible way), get off the planet before the atmospheric processor blows up and…I mean, gyah!…how long is this action sequence?!”

After the movie, I jumped back to the spot where this all starts and logged each heart-stopping moment from the MedLab scene to the final defeat of the alien queen.  42 minutes, 10 seconds.  Unrelenting!  Here’s the recap…

All times are based on the 1990 Special Edition.

Trapped in MedLab (1:47:30)
"It was Burke!" (1:51:58)
"They're inside the perimeter." (1:53:59)
"Six meters." / "Can't be. That's inside the room!" (1:55:37)
Big shootout in Operations (1:56:15)
Air duct retreat (1:59:55)
Vasquez and Gorman go kablooey (2:01:13)
Newt's gone (2:03:56)
"We're not leaving!" / "We're not?" (2:05:46)
Descent into the alien nest (2:08:48)
Untangling Newt (2:12:12)
An audience with the Queen (2:15:00)
Elevator race (2:19:28)
"Close your eyes, baby." (2:20:57)
"Punch it, Bishop!" (2:21:37)
"That's weird. Something's burning a hole in the floor." (2:23:29)
Queen Mother vs. Robo-Ripley (2:27:45)
Problem solved (2:29:36)