I recently made mp3s of a few James Horner tunes so people could compare and contrast his soundtracks to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) and Aliens (1986) — they’re very similar. As a result, I have had the ‘Genesis Countdown’ tune running through my head a fair bit lately, and today, during a moment of boredom, I found myself thinking about the climax to this film, and what makes it so interesting and distinctive.
There is a cliché that runs through many, many, many movies in which the hero defeats the villain, and then, just when you think everything’s safe, the villain rises up again and lunges at the hero, only to be destroyed immediately by the hero or one of the hero’s friends. The first examples of this sort of thing that come to my mind are in Scream, Red Dragon and Fatal Attraction. Even Aliens plugs into this cliché, sort of — instead of an alien lying on the floor, presumably dead, and then suddenly jumping up and lunging at our heroes, the film shows the aliens’ lair being destroyed in a nuclear explosion, and then settles into a lull as our heroes return to their spaceship, safe and sound … and then, suddenly, oh no! the tranquility is shattered when one of them is ripped in two by the Queen Alien, who snuck onto the ship as a stowaway on the heroes’ shuttle! This shocking discovery is then followed by a fairly extensive one-to-one battle between the Queen Alien and Sigourney Weaver. In this regard, Aliens is quite different from the typical film, where the villain is killed as soon as he or she jumps up. But the basic paradigm is still there — the villain is presumed dead, is then shockingly discovered to be alive, and is then really put to death.
ST2:TWOK is quite different. Yes, on one level, it presents a defeated villain who makes one last stab at killing our heroes. But he does this in a rather unique way, and the heroes survive in a rather unique way. Instead of the villain directing all his energy at the hero, and instead of the hero shooting back — that is, instead of a villain and a hero who both seek victory by trying to destroy the other — ST2:TWOK presents a hero and a villain who both seek victory by destroying themselves.