Just to make a point and prove that this blog is not dead I will post an awesome picture that ties in with the unofficial theme of this blog – the alien franchise, mind you – and sweeten all of our days.
Enjoy the gloriousness of Ellen Ripley and baby Alien byzantine icon style:
This gem can be purchased over HERE. The illustration was made by artist Jska Priebe, whose website you can visit by clicking THIS LINK.
I cheat a little, I admit. I’m just gonna pretend today is the 29th of February, so I can get away with posting my last Alien entry today. If you click HERE you get to the Alien master index, linking to all Alien posts of my “February is Alien month series.” Since the issue of feminism has popped up several times throughout my discussions of the various Alien movies I decided to close this series with talking about Ellen Ripley and her status as a feminist icon. Is it justified, and if so, why?
Looking at the various Alien movies one thing becomes very obvious: the miniscule presence of female characters, crowned by the major Bechdel-test fail in Alien³ where the only female character is Miss Ellen Ripley herself. However, I’ve said it before, I consider it to be an advantage for the overall plot structure and forgive it on the premise that it was a deliberate decision to create a specific dynamic. And that it does in my opinion, so, okay. In Alien we only have one other woman aboard the Nostromo and she gets killed, and I’d argue that part of the reason why she is on there anyways is to provide a sort of anti-thesis to Ripley. She is afraid, indecisive, and ultimately unable to defeat the Alien, while Ripley is all of this sort of not (yay, grammar!).
In Aliens we have two other female characters and they provide some interesting insights too. There is tough Rambo-woman Vasquez who not only saves GI asses several times but also blows herself up heroically in the end, and who serves as a backdrop to what Ripley once was while she becomes something else: a mother. Cause the other female in the movie is a girl and she primarily serves to awake the nurturing instincts in tough cookie Ripley. She still kicks ass, but she does so, cause she has a quasi-daughter now. Which is about to change radically with the beginning of Alien³.
Alien Resurrection is the first film to present a wider cast of female characters. Among them are scientists (who are stupid and afraid of what they’re actually doing), androids who wonder what it is about being human, and captain’s girlfriend who enjoys foot-massages and breaks down badly once her sweetheart is gone. (I will grace the AvP films only with a bracketed comment: those female characters –tough or not – existed only cause they felt they had to provide Ripley substitutes, and we all know it)
So what about Ellen Ripley herself?
She is the sole survivor, multiple times, and she is because she does not bow down to alpha-male-ish nonsense. She is pretty spot on about what is right and what should be done and about what defo should not be done, like e.g. getting quarantined crew members on board, rescuing the cat, blow a colony up, and kill herself. Ripley, just as the Alien, is a metaphor besides being character, and as such she passes through several stages of female experiences. There is the factor of proving one’s own position and qualifications in a sexist hierarchy, there is the issue of becoming a mother, struggling with the feelings this entails, and also the rejection of motherhood (if we consider her to be pregnant with an alien and deciding to, well, abort the “child”). Questions of female solidarity are touched upon, as is the dealing with sexist remarks and objectification by men. And of course Ripley is more than her gender: the issues she deals with are the acceptance of one’s life story, one’s destiny so to speak, embrace it or reject it, and she remains a self-confident and independent spirit til her very end: she ends her own life, cause it is the only solution she deems acceptable concerning to overall situation and developments. Even as a new and “improved” Alien-hybrid clone Ripley stays true to these traits: she remains in charge of her sexuality (even if it means we have to suffer through abysmal one-liners), she is level-headed in situations of massive crisis, she feels empathy with people even if she does not know them and has no immediate profit in caring about them, and she learns what being human means. The hard way. I guess killing your clone-sister isn’t the easiest thing to do. And well, accepting that the being you fought against the last years of your life is now an inextricable part of you, in the literal sense, even. She once more becomes a mother figure, albeit to an alien this time, and once more she rejects the role, with yeah, terribly racist undertones.
I feel I have to point it out once more: I am not against motherhood, no effin way, mothers rule. But I am against the depiction of female journeys as being complete and meaningful only when they are topped off with becoming a mom. Cause ultimately it means that society tells you that you as an individual are pretty worthless, you only gain worth when having kids. And if we follow the thought through it basically means only being a man really counts, cause a as a daughter the same destiny of having to become a mother awaits you. That is why the glorification of motherhood (meaning that all other conceptions of femininity are rejected or deemed of less value) is often ultimately anti-feminist, or let’s just say it: downright sexist. For all the flaws of the Alien Saga in not only the gender department I truly applaud the series for getting the basic conception of a female and truly feminist heroine right. So: Yay! Feel free to disagree with me tough, but then I challenge you to comment! Muahaha.
Admittedly the headline is somewhat misleading, cause this post is more about the overall feminist message of the Alien Saga than just the character of Ellen Ripley. And one super-important yet thus far undiscussed issue is of course the alien.
The depiction of the aliens is highly interesting from a gender-issues-perspective. For once, the alien society is strictly matriarchal. No matter how many the host to a queen might take down, she is still host to a queen, killing her is not an option for the regular alien, since it of course endangers the survival of its species. The whole imagery of having an alien queen, together with her laying eggs (and the complicated mode of reproduction), serves to remind us of some mutant insect rather than an intelligent being or even something resembling human. But this premise is subverted, because in the course of Aliens we witness the alien queen becoming protective of her descendants and finally furious with those who killed them (and yeah, wouldn’t you be?). Alien Resurrection picks up on this, the alien queen literally becomes a mother when she gives birth to an alien hybrid (that is fucked-up-edly white *headdesk*) and experiences what it means to be rejected by your offspring.
While the AvP movies retreat to picturing the aliens as mere killing machines, the overall Alien Saga hints at there being more. They are social beings, and while their whole existence differs considerably from the human experience they are not entirely dissimilar. I’ve talked about the inherent racist implications HERE, but it is less obvious what the message concerning feminism is. In contrast to what the overall series does with the character of Ripley, the alien as a female queen is only valuable because of her function as a mother. However, we never really know about the gender of the other aliens or facehuggers. Do they even have one? Aren’t the facehuggers some sort of omni-gender in that no matter what gender the host, they still always succeed to implant little baby-aliens? Interesting, methinks.
Okay, I’ll wrap it up! The short version of this post could have been: Yup, Ellen Ripley is a feminist heroine for a variety of reasons. I just went out of my way to come to a point about the series as a whole, kinda.
And yeah folks, that’s it for Alien month. I guess we got it covered, huh? Maybe, with future films…. and the comics….. ah, never say never.
Hokay, we’re close. Let’s have one more review and then some discussion, and then Alien month on Me, all over the place will be over. Don’t cry just now, we’re not done yet. For all Alien Goodness on this blog please click HERE to get to the Alien master index.
Soooo, Alien vs. Predator and Alien vs. Predator: Requiem. I should just say it right away: I think that both of them kinda suck. The first one less than the second, but still, you know, they suck.
Alien for me is all about the movies. I know that there is a whole army of comic fans out there that will cry in agony (oh and hey, yeah, the gamers, at least I played the alien video game too, back in the 90s…) but somehow the medium of comic never convinced me when it comes to Alien. I think that somewhere out there is the perfect comic, cause I know they exist for Batman, but what I need is darkness, grit and alla that, and comics are often just too shiny and flashy to convince me of the inherent Alien darkness. So, when I judge Alien vs. Predator, I judge the movies. Just like they deserve it.
The whole idea of having Alien prequels and having Alien without Ripley caused a massive outcry, and I guess producers and everyone else involved noticed, that is why they tried to give us a first AvP that held up some of the tradition. Seclusion, Alien, Weyland industries, and a Bishop prototype. And of coursely: a female hero kicking Alien butt.
This all kind of reconciles me with the overall concept, plus the fact that I just don’t consider it to be canonical. So AvP is kind of ok. Granted, the cast is practically forgettable except for Ms. Superheroine Woods, who is really just memorable because she survives and gets some Predator-loving. But then again it is aptly named Alien versus Predator, since it is really all just about the Alien fighting the Predator. It is all about action, the whole premise is based on fanboys wanting to see Predators killing the Alien, while the Alien takes down some Predators along the way.
It is sort of cute how they try to introduce some depth and mythology by making the Earth a playground for Predators who are basically bringing Aliens to other planets so that they can travel there and kill them, some sort of initiation ritual for Predator adolescents to come of age I guess. I say it is cute, but of course it is really just ridiculous, because really? That is what it has come down to? There is of course an inherent problem with the whole meeting of Aliens and Predators: Predator is kind of this hunting shoot-them-all-down being that primarily exists to provide some testosterone-ridden action. Alien on the other hand is the ultimate creep, lingering around in dark corners, waiting for us humans, being more of a menace than a real opponent. Of course it is also a killing machine, but when it is reduced to that…well, it just loses the implications that it comes with, and I find that to be sad.
Hey, at least we have a female heroine and she is black. As Alien movies go, black characters usually die somewhere along the way (and that actually holds true for many of those action flicks) so that is actually one really big plus, and a surprising one at that. Admittedly, she too sucks as a character, because she is so obviously the oh-so-independent Ellen Ripley rip-off that it hurts, but still. Focus on the positive, right?
And then there is Alien vs. Predator Requiem. What the fuck, right? The first one was bad enough, but they still manage to deliver even worse. The most tragic aspect of the whole movie is that it is actually a zombie movie, they just substituted the zombies with aliens and Predators and it does not work. At all. I say zombie movie cause it is the good old “monsters invade suburban American neighbourhood” plot with a cookie-cutter ensemble cast that I really don’t care about the slightest fuck (seriously, before writing this and researching some I couldn’t remember in the slightest if there were any human characters continuously present in the movie, I just had some vague memories of dumb jocks lusting after dumb cheerleaders), and they have to hold together, flee into a building and defend their pathetic asses. Just like in zombie movies the people who survive are usually the worst jackasses that you would never want to meet in real life (and yeah, protective mom belongs in the same category this time), and they basically only survive by chance. And usually because the zombies are slow and stupid, but this is the fucking Alien. To reduce it even further (not just Predator prey anymore) to zombie status is an insult to what it potentially stands for, and it doesn’t even work, cause it’s kind of a no-brainer that zombies are stupid, while the alien really is not. The whole move felt like another Resident Evil instalment too me, with just the mistake that they cast the alien instead of zombies. And I probably wouldn’t get so worked up if it didn’t shit so thoroughly on the Alien Saga legacy. I’m really just being overly dramatic, is what I’m trying to say.
However, even in AvP Requiem some interesting things happen, like the Predators having a little mishap, which sets the whole plot in motion, but even more importantly they just nuke out the city (mmmh, or was is the military?) and everybody dies. BUT! But there is this little leftover Predator weapon that they present to a Ms. Yutani – and again my little fan-geek-heart rejoices in the nod, cause as we all know. Ms. Yutani rules a corporate empire that will eventually fuse with the Weyland corporation and create the evil company that we encounter in the first Alien movies. Plus, nice prequel-ly twist, having her have Predator technology to imply this is how it is all coming to space-travel and world domination and stuff. And nice that Yutani is a female company president, cause we really need more of these in real life.
There is really not that much to say about the AvP movies IMHO. That’s probably because the story is just there to justify the whole shoot-em-up scenario and it shows. One interesting thought, stimulated by my dear flatmate, is the idea that the whole fighting has S&M overtones, with the alien and the Predator being both these dark leathery creatures that are all about torturing each other. And then there is the “Predalien,” the Predator/Alien hybrid from AvP Requiem that is basically their child. Ha, nice thought. Don’t ask about the genetic underpinnings, cause you’ll run against a wall, but we already saw in Alien Resurrection that having Alien hybrids is less of a good idea than some people might think.
You really don’t have to watch them, is all I’m saying. Just to think of all the wasted money they could have channelled into a good Alien sequel…. Too late, I guess.
This is not a post about three aliens in one movie, but it is a post about one alien film times three, logically leading us to conclude that we deal with the third instalment of the Alien-Saga. Which is really just a lot of blabber to welcome you to another review in “February is Alien month.” If you want to read the other stuff posted in relation to Alien month, click here to get to the master-index.
Two of the most memorable moments in the Alien saga happen in this instalment: Ellen Ripley, our own very favorite female superhero of choice, gets to have some sexy-time with a man (who doesn’t get to let this experience sink in for too long), and our beloved Fiorina161 resident Alien gets an up close head-to-head shot with a very scared and bald Sigourney Weaver.
Ellen Ripley shaved her head before G.I. Jane did (and yeah, where did Demi Moore’s career go?), and I’m glad she did, because it adds much to the movie in that it reveals how people might look very alike and be in very similar circumstances, but are nevertheless individuals and thus react and behave very differently.
But let us enter into this discussion with a little more grace and get done with the technicalities first, hokay?
Alien³, opting for some typographical terrain nouveaux, was released to theaters in 1992, so in real-life-time, the third act arrived 13 years after the whole thing started, which seems like an awful long time to wait for me. Then again, the stories are pretty much self-contained, it is not like there was this huge cliffhanger that kept us all waiting for how it is going to get resolved.
By now one thing becomes crystal-clear: Sigourney Weaver IS Ellen Ripley (yeah, I think being an actress is actually her role) and the Alien series attracts director-talents. David Fincher took the job, who also directed music videos and movies like Se7en, Fight Club, Benjamin Button and most recently The Social Network.
I’ll be upfront about it: for a long time I considered this movie to be the weakest of the original three, and practically on par with the fourth film Alien – Resurrection. But the tides have changed, folks, nowadays I appreciate it much more than I originally did, although I still don’t think it lives up to the standard that Alien I and II have set. Lemme ‘splain, will ‘ya?
Much criticism back in the day, from such prominent likes as previous director James Cameron, was directed at the decision to kill of the three characters (Newt, Hicks, and Bishop) that survived Aliens with Ripley. I strongly disagree, in fact I’m happy for the decision, cause I think it makes Alien³ a stronger film. Watching Alien movies I have certain expectations, and I feel that if we would have witnessed Ellen Ripley with new quasi-daughter Newt and potential military husband Hicks it would have been, ermh, problematic. Too much melodrama is never a good thing (which is where some of the problems of Alien 4 are located), and I’m glad we got around it.
Alien³ is a harder and tougher film for it. Given, it wants to be, with all the macho-males in prison blah, but the grit and roughness stems much more from the cold-heartedness of events and Ripley’s character. The prime example is her basically ordering the autopsy of Newt, having the doctor cut up the girl and searching her intestines for an alien-parasite. It upsets everyone around her, and they don’t understand. Ripley does, but she’s not dramatic about it.
The cold-heartedness lies at the very center of Ripley’s character. I’m glad we got to see the softer side of her in Aliens, when she kind of adopted Newt, but ever since the original movie Ripley has been the pragmatic type. She appreciates you more when you’re level-headed and girl is out to survive. And give her a break, will you? She sums it up so perfectly herself in this movie: her life has been dominated so much by the existence of the aliens that she cannot even remember how it was without them. And it is hard to imagine an Ellen Ripley with a life devoid of Alien-struggle. Ever since the Nostromo woke her from hibernation she had to fight for survival. There is nothing (or at least not much) else.
The little else we get this time around is getting cozy with the prison-doctor Clemens. They have sex, share intimacy in an environment that is highly unlikely for any sign of affection, and while it seems to relieve Ripley somewhat from all the struggle, we also get the sense that she is detached from it. She is not falling in love here. She takes a little break from fear and anger and both of them know that this is pretty much it. Plus, Clemens does not stick around for a love affair, the alien makes sure of it.
The approach to the topic of sex in Alien³ is one of the fresher aspects of the movie, specially in terms of feminist readings of it. For the first time (and the only among the first four) an Alien movie does not pass the Bechdel test, since Ripley is the only female character alive in this picture. While that is somewhat lame, it is also explicitly deliberate: it’s not like in other movies that the singularity of female presence just happens by chance (yeah, right…), but it is the premise of the narrative. The ship crashes down on a prison planet with only male inmates and Ripley suddenly finds herself in an hostile and sexist environment. Interestingly, the movie thereby highlights our position as viewers: the female character, envisioned and directed by male writers and directors, consumed by us through this male gaze is being watched, evaluated and desired by an ensemble of male characters.
It makes us realize once more how bad Ripley can kick ass, but it falls a little flat because most of the prisoner-characters (including the religious revival thing and the deliberate seclusion) are rather one-dimensional and ultimately uninteresting. They’re alien-fodder and we know it, it’s not like we expect them to outshine Ripley or even survive (though some actually do). The idea of the prison planet Fiorina 161 is amazingly neat though, cause once more the SF-reality feels more real for all the grit and human darkness that we are presented with. And it is Australia. ?, I know. But once more the colonialism-idea is taken up and we witness a planet being colonized for the sole purpose of dumping convicts there. Wicked, sez I. The whole industrial-complex-ness of it makes for some amazing images along the way, including chopping up of people by large fans, drowning the alien in liquid lead, and finally those huge ovens that serve as the grave for someone we know.
In retrospect it is fascinating to see, how much the whole Alien saga surrounding Ellen Ripley is connected to the issue of motherhood. It is of course not unproblematic, especially if one wants to argue for the feminist position of Alien movies.
The interesting thing about the third Alien movie is how it puts a spin on the whole motherhood issue. If the series had ended here we would have been left with an indeed feminist stance on womanhood and the rejection of motherhood – because Ripley’s children (her biological and adopted ones) all are dead by the beginning of Alien³, and she decides not to “give birth to” the alien queen, a quasi-abortion by killing herself (though technically you could also argue for child-slaughter). On the one hand the whole thing is terrible, because Ripley is dead, but the justification lies in the fact that she erases the alien queen that would bring more terror to the universe. But if we remind ourselves how hard the whole franchise plays on the motherhood imagery that comes along with being an alien-host, there is this other ring to it. (Oh and let me clear it up here, before shit hits the fan, I don’t consider motherhood to be detrimental to feminism, but glorifying female-ness and consider women to be complete only when mothers, that is something I consider to be very unhelpful to the feminist cause).
Having Ripley finally being the victim of face-hugger-y that “impregnates” her with a chestbuster rounds up the whole issue of constantly crossing paths with the deadly being. It’s cool, but what is kinda sucky IMHO, is the whole chosen-one crap about it. I get it, Ellen Motherfucking Ripley, special connection, yadda yadda, but did it have to be a queen she’s got in herself? Like, the ultimate antagonist, there’s nothing less to settle for? While it’s thrilling the first time around, thinking about it reveals the inherent lame-ness of the concept. Way better is the encounter with the one alien of this film, though only enabled by her being with a queen (yeah, my dilemma, I know), when they are literally face to face and Ripley is in terror. For all her kickass-toughness, she is afraid of these beings and that is what drives her. She ultimately overcomes the fear, and it makes her stronger, but only to the extent that she knows about the desperate situation she is in. She will die, inevitably, by the hands of an alien, one way or the other. The only thing she can do is to take matters into her own hand and end her own life. And that is what she does. Ellen Motherfucking Ripley, heroine of all universe, jumps into molten steel and dies a tragic, quiet death on Fiorina 161. No press, no parade, no friends nor family. The alien exits her body – literally and figuratively – but she takes it down by killing herself. Bam, devastation hits us in the face.
Some unresolved issues to talk about are our favorite corporate friends from Weyland-Yutani, who are still only interested in the alien for the profit it might generate, and their wicked little realization that extremely friendly Androids could be more efficient in getting human beings to do what you want. We thus encounter a “fake” Bishop who stands in stark contrast to the broken version she talks to in the prison-dumpster, who is all the more human for his pragmatism and honesty.
Also extremely fascinating, at least to me, is the realization how little human beings mean to the aliens: the alien they fight in part three is one who was “born from” a dog. Whatever, it seems to say, I just need a host, why not use the dog. Do you wonder, too, what being connected to the organism of a dog does to alien psychology? I see a whole field of research lying right in front of us…
I’m kinda glad I didn’t see Alien 3 when it came out, cause I was just too young and innocent. It probably would have killed me to know: this whole thing is over. Ripley is dead as can be and so is the last Alien the human species knows of. Case closed. As intriguing as it is to see something really end (cause as we’ve witnessed by now, franchise extensions are not always for the better), I’m glad there was – and hopefully is – more.
Who is this James Cameron guy again? Yeah, you might have heard of Titanic, the movie ‘bout the boat? No? Maybe you came across Avatar, the Pocahontasy smurf adventure on another planet? No? True Lies maybe? Terminator (either one or two)? No? You might have never heard of James Cameron, which is very unlikely, but now you should start remembering his name, because he gave the world Aliens. And I thank him for that.
What is this fuckery, asketh-you, Aliens? Did not Mistress Ellen Ripley erase the one Alien that killed all her crew on that beautiful spacecraft Nostromo except for the awesome cat? Yes, my friends, so she did, but.
We are talking Science Fiction here, dear reader, so naturally Ellen Ripley, badassest woman of all galaxy, went into hibernation and hoped for being rescued at some point. That is where the sequel takes off. She does indeed get “rescued” or rather found, only to get hit in the face by reality real hard, cause our favorite flamethrowing heroine was in hibernation for 57, yes, fifty-seven fucking years.
That is where Alien 2 that is really named Aliens starts from. It was released in 1986 and saw Sigourney Weaver reprising her role as Ellen Ripley. And that is wonderful, of course.
So Ms. Ripley was in hypersleep for 57 years. That’s pretty long and the Alien was pretty dead, so who do we have to blame for another Alien battle? You guessed it: Weyland-Yutani, our favorite evil corporation. Cause that is once again and actually some more the theme in this movie: There are huge corporations dominating our lives, and what they want is money, they don’t care about your life. Therefore we have to revisit the homely planet of LV-426 again, where the Nostromo-crew landed in the first movie and encountered all those eggs. Surprise y’all, those eggs have hatched, and they have found some unwilling hosts.
Who are those unwilling hosts exactly? Another major theme just about to hit your head: Colonialism. Bam. Just like that.
Because although Aliens does not make it explicit, the history of colonialism on our planet had a lot to do with people wanting to make a profit and detaching themselves from the inhumane aspects of it by creating companies to approach the subject matter in a more practical manner. Market oriented. And Weyland-Yutani cetainly is that, cause they wanna make sure that their colony-equipment (atmosphere-converters? Hello future, you look grim and gritty) and colonists aka their investments are safe, and even if not, that they can at least still get their hands on the alien to profit from its extraordinary physique. Which is most likely the reason they sent those colonists there in the first place. This whole thing with the colonies is an interesting issue, really. Like, what is the movie even trying to get across as a message (on an unintentional level, methinks)? Colonialism is bad because ultimately the planet/species conquered will strike back an kill us all? That is kind of the terror of the whole Alien universe: We leave the Earth and get out there just to encounter something that is going to wipe us out. Though curiously, this really is usually what the colonist does. Human history lesson one: Colonialism, we all know, is not terrible because wah-wah, poor colonists, but because colonists destroyed millions of lives and wiped out entire cultures. And may I add: this happens here as well. Ellen Ripley, though I root for her, wipes out the little home the aliens have built for themselves. Given, those aliens killed all the humans first. Honestly, I can’t even really make up my mind about that point. But interesting to keep the colonialism-thing in mind (specially if you encounter the wonderful phrase about us living in postcolonial times….).
Speaking of colonialism, where would we be without our dutiful soldiers in Aliens? Nowhere that is. In good old Blackwater-fashion we have a company that is by the looks of it dominating the globe and probably dictating politics, with its own little army of GI beef to see their interest protected. Yup, they all turn out to be cannon fodder, but even though they are basically that, the few brushstrokes that the film uses to make them characters are eerily efficient, cause after the first initial killing in the tank-car is over, I find myself caring about those GIs. And yep, good old Ellen Ripley needs them, but haha, turns out, they need her even more. We need them this time around specifically because civilians won’t cut it anymore. There are more aliens now, all the eggs seem to have hatched, with basically all colonists dead by chestbusting, thus leaving us and Ripley with her soldier-crew with a multitude of aliens that are not happy about the violent visit.
This is where the movie could have gone terribly wrong, cause the first Alien movie was so efficient and forceful since there was just one terrible creature taking them all down, but this time, the interesting thing is when we get to realize that they took the colony over, made it their own and have a social structure. The alien is not a mere killing machine, it is a living organism, a being that cares about its reproduction and the safety of its existence. And that is one awesome twist for it gives the aliens an aura of realness, all the while having terrible implications about how interstellar racism could turn out to look like.
So with the aliens being a species with social hierarchies all of a sudden, we hit another major theme. Let us label it: Mothers amongst themselves.
The aliens have a queen. She is huge and scary and constantly laying her eggs. She is also furiously protecting them, but that does not sit well with another mother in this movie, namely: Ellen Ripley. Wait, whud? Ellen Motherfucking Ripley is not technically a mother (although she apparently was, but her daughter died while she was in hibernation), but finding the colonist girl Newt she takes personal responsibility for her and places the protection of her life above all else. That directly leads us to the showdown of mothers, meaning Ripley protecting Newt and the alien queen protecting every alien and egg on that damn station. And the tricky part of it is: I’m not even sure who I’m rooting for. Granted, it is great to see Ripley single-handedly bringing down the deadliest beings in the universe, but then again, those beings are so central and interesting by now, that everytime the alien queen appears on screen I’m totally excited for what awesome plan is sitting in her ginormous head. Elevator rides? Sneaking into spaceships? Fighting against giant robots? Miss Queen is not above those things, in fact, she fucking rocks at all of that
But once more some intellectual exercise: We, the feminists we are, wonder of course: what is the message? Mothers fight mothers? That is the driving force of the universe? Whatever happened to female solidarity? Letting the kids play together? Here it is either you or me with a lot of dead babies on team alien and raging fire from intergalactic superwoman Ripley. Does that make her a feminist hero? Or does it make her an anti-feminist warrior?
Interestingly, and again barely I’d say, we have Aliens passing the Bechdel-test (Ripley and Newt) and featuring super-butch Jenette Vasquez. So basically the characters who kick ass in the baddest way possible in this movie are a) Ellen MF Ripley, b) muscle-GI Jenette, and c) Alien Queen Herself. Making it a testosterone driven action vehicle that is actually more of a chick flick.
We haven’t even talked about the good Droid yet. Bishop is a robot who, unlike his predecessor, is actually caring about the human beings surrounding him and protects them, even if it means going against the profit interests of the corporation that sent him on that mission. Ripley hates him/doesn’t trust him, but ultimately finds out, that artificial intelligence is also intelligence and not too bad. Cookies and milk for everyone, thanks to resident robot Bishop we even have four surviving characters this time around. Okay, one is terribly hurt and in a coma, the other one is an Android and broken in half, but hey, the two girls made it!
Wonder what’ll happen to them….
Did I already mention: Aliens is a fucking fantastic film. So if you haven’t seen it yet, or it’s just been too long, go and re-watch!
It’s hard to believe, but it’s already been 32 years since the original Alien movie hit theaters all over the world. It’s a classic. And it is one hell of a classic, at that. You might consider the original Star Wars movie (now Episode IV, ha!) to be a classic, but me sez: Alien fucking takes Star Wars down with a bang. Fear not, I will elaborate.
In German there was a fun subtitle to the Alien release: “Das unheimliche Wesen aus einer fremden Welt,” which sounds totally cool in German IMHO, and which translates roughly as “the uncanny being from another world.” Where Star Wars really is a space opera that seems to be much more of a fantasy quest, Alien is science fiction, practically as sf as it gets. It is set in the future, dealing with interstellar travelling on spacecrafts, computing technologies and encountering alien life forms. Granted, you could bring forth all that for Star Wars as well (which I’ll abandon in a second, promised), but where Star Wars steers off into romance/melodrama territory, Alien takes an altogether different route and decides to go all horror genre on our asses.
Horror, these days, sounds like we’re talking high school jocks and their scantily clad girlfriends getting slaughtered by chainsaw-mutants, but the horror of Alien is more of a traditional sort. While we also see some blood and buckets of human organs, much of the horror in Alien is about the fear. Somewhere on that vast spacecraft there is one being that is going to kill all others. Where is it? Where will it hide? And will the human (or feline) protagonists be quicker?
Alien was directed by Ridley Scott, who deserves all the praise imaginable for this movie alone, but he is also responsible for Blade Runner, which is also a really really good movie (though not among my favourites, gasp). Some people also like to talk about him as the director of Gladiator, but I’d rather pretend that movie never happened and act like the person who directed Alien in 1979 cannot be the same as the one who did Gladiator. Maybe his body was replaced with an Android during the shooting of Blade Runner? Now there’s an explanation I can live with.
The movie can be summed up with two words: Alien and Ripley. There is one of each, and that is a good thing. Later instalments of the franchise (except for Alien³) come with an abundance of Aliens who develop all sorts of gimmicky tricks, but in the original movie it is basically one on one, if we ignore the fact of the rest of the crew for a moment. Because let’s face it: it is ever so creepier that one single being can take down a crew of seven, one by one and resists almost all their attempts to kill it. And of course there are other factors that add to the creepiness of t it all, which is the claustrophic and dark atmosphere the vast spacecraft Nostromo provides us with, there is the uncanny birth and growth of the Alien itself and its design that seems to have creeped out of the weirdest dreams anyone (or H.R. Giger for that matter) could have.
And then there is Ripley. I’m going to get to the rest of the cast in a minute, but Ripley, I mean, Ellen Motherfucking Ripley, is one hell of a character to come up with in any sort of movie. Sure, she is skinny and pretty, but she also looks like she could just be working on your next car-assembly line, and she is for the major part of the movie a character we as viewers are not told to symphathize with. Actually, she kinda comes off as a bitch in some of the major scenes, although we admittedly understand early on that she is not a smartass and totally full of herself, but actually smart, confident and genuinely worried about the whole situation. Plus, she takes the Alien down. And likes the cat. The then practically unknown Sigourney Weaver could not have asked for a better head-start for an international movie career or a better role for a female lead in 1979 in a major Hollywood production. Lucky gal got both.
What a lot of movies get horribly wrong, is that they think they have to throw in an ensemble of characters that have some sassy dialogue and get killed off one after the other. What this movie gets wonderfully right is understanding that we have to care about these characters. And in Alien the whole crew, alongside Ripley, gets introduced and established in a way that not only gives the impression that these are real people, but what they do and say and worry about actually feels real. Because the shortcoming of a lot of science fiction movies in my opinion is the reliance on shiny electronics and management-level service jobs. But these people work. They are on this fucking huge spacecraft, cause they’re mining another planet. They need money, and they’re afraid they might not be getting it. They are employees, all caught in a hierarchy set up through their respective jobs within the company (Weyland-Yutani, yay) that creates tension within the crew. And some of the guys make sexist remarks, which is totally fine with me, cause they act like people do, while the women on the Nostromo respond as most women would and do (hell yeah, Alien, surprise y’all, passes the Bechdel test, if just barely. Oh, and the central operating system goes by “mother”).
No discussion of the Nostromo-crew is complete without mentioning Jones, the cat, of course. If Laika can go space-travel with the Soviets, why should there not be a cat on the Nostromo and provide some comfort to the space-laborers? A cat is so much more random than say, a dog, less instantly likeable for all her independence and strong will and far more eerie when it comes to reacting to humans or aliens. In short: the cat is awesome. And how awesome is it, that Ripley could practically take off and leave the alien behind on the about to explode ship, but runs back and grabs the cat, cause she can’t leave without Jonesy, the only other “crew-member” alive? That, my dears, is the human touch. In your face!
There is one lesson about Robotics we can learn from Alien: Androids are made by human beings, even though they are not human beings. They are created for specific purposes, and they usually outsmart (computer brain) and outwrestle (steel-skeleton) you. I’m reading Isaac Asimov short stories at the moment, with the three laws of Robotics that state that robots can’t hurt or kill human beings. Well, clearly, no one in the Alien universe heard of that law. Cause our favorite resident Droid Ash, played by Bilbo Baggins Ian Holm, is designed to make sure that Weyland-Yutani, the charming company, makes a decent profit with possible bio-weapons Alien-style, and does most certainly not care too much about the lives of you human beings, sorry. But of coursely it is not that simple: the nuanced performance confronts us with a character that seems torn. After all it is not just “a robot is a robot is a robot,” but it is an artificial intelligence that is capable of coming to its own conclusions. So while for a long time we and the rest of the crew do not know about Ash’s android-relations, when we do, we encounter a character that seems to have doubts about his actions, but pursues them nevertheless. The company made sure that its interests will be protected. And thus, human greed can easily be transferred into non-human (or semi-human? or meta-human?) androids.
The android and the questions that he creates take us deep into the science fiction aspects of the story. Being there, let’s take a look around: the year is 1979 in real-earth-time, and computers are loud and big and exhibit the graphic abilities of a three-year-old child (blinking lights and green writing appearing painfully slow on flickering screens). However, in contrast to other SF movies, Alien’s technology holds up surprisingly well, which has a lot to do with it being less of the slick and clean type a la Avatar and more of the gritty dirty reality that people are likely to encounter when they have to work. And on this interstellar freight-ship these computers look like they belong there, even in 200 years from now. Ok, people will have their iPads, iPods and iPets (instead of Jonesy? Aaaargh!), but although the computers are kind of amusing, they still feel real. Then again that might only be me thinking that because I was born in the 80s and thought SimCity2000 was an awesome game, being so big to need TWO floppy disks and running on Windows 3.1. So if you were born mid-90s chances are considerably slimmer to find this type of technology relatable. Don’t smirk, two floppy disks were a lot.
Do I really have to talk about the meta-level and comment on the superb filmmaking going into this one? The awesome minimalist score? The conceptual artwork that translates beautifully into the creation of the Alien itself and all the surroundings? The wonderful cinematography and lighting? And last but not least that incredible pacing: taking its time, building things up and then have horror unfold itself far out in space? No, right? Cause we all know how fantastically the movie is crafted. We’ve seen it, duh!
Three things remain to be commented on.
First, we have an almost exclusively white cast, and I can imagine there being more diversity, that being said, the movie is pretty perfect as it is, and I’m barely bugged by the lack of people of color, but, you know, still.
And then second and third – the other ship and many eggs. Yep, there was one Alien, but there are going to be many many more Aliens, just you wait. Cause hey planet where they landed on to trace the signal, we’ll be coming back to you in the sequel. Unfortunately we don’t get to see the other spacecraft and the giant jockey anymore.
But then, there is talk of a possible prequel being produced. Ridley Scott is allegedly interested, and Sigourney Weaver most certainly is, although she does not fit well into a prequel…. And prequels – or re-boots – can be fun, but in the case of Alien, where especially the first movie is such a singularly stellar piece of work, there is always the danger that a prequel takes away from that, in that a new interpretation of events gets established, one that kind of predetermines what we see happening here and one that possibly diminishes this feeling of witnessing a first contact – and a horrible one at that.
Not only floppy disks mentioned here, no, I’m actually holding up a VHS tape. Can you even believe it? Go and watch Alien now!
“This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.”
Alien is one of my all time favorite movies. Actually, all of the first four Alien movies are among my all time favorites. So we’ll be heading towards a month full of reviews and recaps of Alien stuff of all sorts.
In addition to looking at the movies we’ll talk about some deeper social issues connected to the Alien franchise (like feminist heroes and the depiction of the Other), and heck, I might even throw in some Alien fashion, decoration and/or architecture.
This post will serve as a directory of sorts, I’ll link back all Alien related posts to this one, so you have a master index to get to all the posts in case you’re interested. Stay tuned for more!