Sundance Channel tonight is showing the 1979 sci-fi/horror classic Alien back-to-back with its equally outstanding 1986 sequel Aliens, which offers a chance to compare how these two movies, made just seven years apart, took different-but-fruitful approaches to the same basic premise. The Ridley Scott-directed, Dan O’Bannon-penned Alien is atmospheric and nightmarish, showing the influence of both post-2001 brainy outer space movies and the then-popular wave of gory stalked-by-a-psychopath thrillers. James Cameron’s Aliens, on the other hand, is a brawny, balls-out action movie, soaked in sweat and stocked with big guns. One constant in both films is Sigourney Weaver, who evolves from the tough-but-vulnerable character of the first film—one that’s not even revealed as the lead until the third act—to the strongest, smartest, most empathetic person in a room full of musclebound military grunts in the second. Other constants? Inventive special effects and visionary set design, which in both Alien and Aliens establishes a plausible, monster-ridden future. Alien airs at 8 p.m. Eastern, with Aliens following at 10. (And for those who want to keep considering the many possible approaches to this story, Sundance is showing David Fincher’s arty Alien 3 on Thursday at 10:15 p.m.)
Or: For yet another approach to skittering alien beasties, Encore is showing director Paul Verhoeven and screenwriter Ed Neumeier’s brilliant, satirical, smart-ass adaptation of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers at 9:30 p.m. Eastern. Viewing guarantees citizenship. Would you like to know more?