Review: Aliens LIVE: This Time it’s War

James Cameron’s action-packed sequel returns to the Royal Albert Hall

By Harrison Majithia

Ellen Ripley: quintessential 80’s action heroine, last survivor of the Nostromo, and for the first time since 1986, back on the big screen. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of Aliens, James Cameron’s action-packed sequel to the fantastic Alien returned for one weekend only at the Royal Albert Hall, accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Ludwig Wicki.

Admittedly, I did think this event was a little strange; Aliens certainly is not known for its musical score – often it is the pregnant pauses that build the tension to an all-time high, but I must say, I was proven wrong. The presence of the orchestra contributed so much to the overall feel of the film: the harsh, fast-paced strings and overwhelming brass escalated the action to an outrageous level of urgency and provided some of the most effective jump scares since the film industry decided that every horror film required a minimum of ten to qualify. By the intermission (yes, there was indeed an intermission, coinciding with Newt’s iconic: ‘They mostly come out at night, mostly…’) I was fully sold on the orchestra. It was like I was watching the film again for the first time, and getting to watch it on a huge screen in a darkened hall was just the icing on top of the cake.

The performance was dedicated to James Horner, who scored Aliens and sadly passed away last year. Horner was one of the most prolific composers in the industry, with over one hundred and fifty credits, including Braveheart, Titanic and Avatar, to name but a few. Known for his stylistic diversity, Horner no doubt will be remembered as one of the greatest composers of all time.

As for the film itself, my opinion remains the same as it always has – Aliens is absolutely, by far, the best science fiction film I have ever seen. It is fantastically well-paced, directed and acted, managing to maintain a key balance between hectic action and slow, excruciatingly tense horror. Sigourney Weaver’s stellar (Oscar-nominated) performance as Ripley carries the film throughout (her identity now far more pronounced than it was in Alien, where she was essentially the final girl of a slasher flick in space).


Now fifty-seven years into the future and with a serious case of PTSD, Ripley is forced by circumstance to return to LV-426 – the planet on which she and her crew discovered the alien – to find colonists who have mysteriously disappeared. Accompanied by a team of colonial marines, Ripley at first insists on staying aboard the ship to advise, but soon has no choice to join the fight when things very quickly go wrong and she is left with only a few marines – Hicks, Bishop, Vasquez, Hudson (known for his ad-libbed, oft-quoted: ” Game over, man. Game over!”), as well as a young girl, Newt – the survivor of the colony. Ripley’s interactions with Newt serve to develop the protagonist further, and her clear need to protect Newt drives the latter part of the film.

The film’s climax, made even more dramatic by the intensity of the live strings and drums in the auditorium, still puts me on the edge of my seat. If you have not seen the film, and want to avoid spoilers, skip this section, but also, if you have not seen the film, come on, it has literally been thirty years. Seeing Ripley’s confrontation with the Alien Queen remains as tense and harrowing as ever. Furthermore, I could have sworn that the shrieks of the Queen as Ripley torched her eggs were enhanced by the violinists in the orchestra, and the power loader scene still wildly excites the inner child in me.

Aliens LIVE is one of the best cinematic events I have ever attended, but then again, combining an utterly brilliant film with one of the most talented orchestras in the world was always going to be a winning formula. The next film to be shown with a live orchestra accompaniment is Steven Spielberg’s E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial on the 28th of December, and for me, the opportunity to hear a John Williams score live is a very tempting one indeed, and one I will certainly not shy away from missing.


Harrison Majithia

This article was published in our November 2016 issue.

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