It wasn't quite so appreciated in the year of it's release. The 51st Academy awards, the year it was released, only recognised Ridley Scott's Alien for Best Art Direction and Best Visual Effects.
In a year when the Vietnam experience finally broke through into Hollywood cinema I can see how The Deer Hunter and Coming Home would clean up the actual awards, but here are the 1979 movies nominated for Oscars instead of Alien in various categories
- An Unmarried Woman (best picture)
- Heaven Can Wait (best director)
- Same Time Next Year (best actress)
- An Unmarried Woman (best actress)
- An Unmarried Woman (best original screenplay)
The Swarm (Best costume design)*
Changes are minimal, even the inclusion of the Dallas cocoon scene is truncated and explains little.
But even even the fantastic model work is looking creaky, and the stars on stripes the 'US Colonial Marines' looks very out of place. It looks like very conventional 80s action film.
Some of this must be down to the medium on which we now what these films. In the 80s and 90s, seen on VHS and DVD usually on small screens, Aliens is comfortably a better movie than the original. Today, on HD full size screens, Alien looks like the grand gothic space opera that it is, and Aliens looks like a fun tv show in comparison, even when it has perhaps the greatest pacing and character interaction in movie history.
It's a shame Cameron's classic looks so flat and conventional compared to Scott's film but ironically it may be enhanced long term by way it set's up the once much reviled Alien3. Seen between two restrained atmospheric suspense films, Aliens is a cathartic monument to thoughtless uncontrolled violence. This is ironically is the downfall of the characters, setting up the tragic events which begin the next installment.
I am positive that James Cameron did not intend this ....but when watched and accepted as a long narrative Ripley Newt, Bishop and Hicks are effectively doomed in Aliens, in the first confrontation with the Alien Queen. Ripley has rescued Newt, and should hurry back to the Dropship knowing the imminent destruction of everything around her is about to happen in a nuclear explosion. This would obviously destroy the nest and dormant Queen she leaves behind.
Instead, when backing out of the egg chamber, this most controlled of female characters loses control of her emotions and stops to open fire on the egg chamber with flame and gunfire. The Queen survives this of course, and by provoking it and turning it into an enemy that pursues her into the Sulaco she almost certainly sets up the tragedy at the start of Alien3.
I explained my theory of Ripley's tragic loss of control to a friend of mine in the pub the other day - his response was "That's easy for you to say, you weren't there"
Before James Cameron's Aliens it was naturally assumed that any movie sequel would be inferior to the original, Four years later the Special Edition of this movie also proved that a later release with added scenes could also improve on the original (notably the Special Edition of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind had not been been an improvement).
This version includes several scenes which enhance the original release, we get to see the fate of the world Ripley left behind, 60 years in the past, and a mini introductory battle featuring drone sentry weapons which really puts the scale of the threat in perspective.
* The Swarm is a notorious stinker but I love it
Alien3 Assembly Cut and Alien Resurrection Special Edition