Monday, July 03, 2006

Aliens (1986)

Aliens (1986)
Directed by James Cameron
Starring Sigourney Weaver

I watched the Ridley Scott-directed Alien (1979) recently for the first time recently. I liked the stark, quiet quality to that film. The minimalist approach to depicting the future worked well, I thought. Cameron uses more 'futuristic equipment' in this film, a lot of which look 'early 80s.' (The less there is, the least number of chances to mess up!) I appreciated Scott's stylized approach to the cinematography.

In the first film, warrant officer Ellen Ripley seems vulnerable at times when she challenges authority and doesn't quite get through, but keeps her head and holds her ground. Toward the end she kills her special male friend (boyfriend) along with others who have been captured, cocooned, and possibly impregnated; so she does what she has to, with little emotional confusion. The turns out to be the strongest, the one that was right all along, and the one who survives...with her cat, Jonesy.

The diversity of the crew in that film, a mixture of men and women that includes a black man, indicates that in the future, humans have found a way to exist without prejudice.

Ripley finally gets rid of the alien by having it sucked out of her shuttle. She doesn't use her weapon very much. Perhaps a one on one battle with the alien, in which she actually wins, didn't seem plausible to the filmmakers at the time.

When I began watching James Cameron's Aliens, I thought Ridley Scott's was way superior. (I did not have the luxury of seeing Aliens in widescreen format, which is a crime, I know. I would like to see it again to get the full scope of all the cinematographic techniques.) Besides the set design, the acting was better in the first film. Even Ripley's assertiveness in this film seems more deliberate and contrived than in the first film. Sigourney Weaver's voice seems deeper than before. I liked how in the first film, she was a normal woman who happened to be right and in control. She didn't have to seem 'masculine' and she didn't have to be 'sexy' to be tough. In one scene in Aliens she gets into the loader and proves that she can operate it just as well or better than any man. The military officers laugh a "Whoa! Check it out, she really can do it!" laugh. I don't know that that reaction would have happened in the first film...but maybe.

Ripley in the loader. Awesome.

I hated the characters in this film at first, especially Bill Paxton's. Man, is he irritating. They seem like testosterone-charged caricatures, compared to the ones in Alien. I didn't like the hyped-up emotional quotient to this film, as compared to the first. Gone is the social ease apparent in the first film; in its place are emotionally charged swearing and cheesy one-liners. Also, with these characters, it seems as though the prejudices of the early 21st century are still around, as the ethnicity of a Mexican character is referenced a couple of times in the first few minutes the audience meets her. It seems as though Cameron is trying to make the characters relatable to the audience. Anyway, as the film progresses, we realize that they aren't bad; they're just rambunctious soldiers. They redeem themselves because they fight bravely. Most importantly, they back Ripley up when she takes control.

Yes, Ripley takes over from commanding officer Lieutenant Gorman, who antagonizes her for half the film. He dismisses her repeatedly and in one critical scene when the on-ground crew members face danger, he doesn't take action based on her warnings until Burke (Paul Reiser) explains what she's saying to him. She finally wrests control away from him and despite Burke's efforts later to sabotage her in order to retrieve alien specimens, she saves the day again with the help of a little girl named Newt.

Veteran survivor Newt looks on as the military officers try to figure it all out.

As the film went on--probably about an hour into it--I began to appreciate the heavier concentration of action than in the first. I liked how Ripley actually takes on the queen alien, almost hand-to-hand (even though she needed a robot-suit-contraption to do it). Again, though, she doesn't kill it; she has it sucked out into space. But she destroys the nest and saves the remaining commanding officer, Corporal Hicks, and the android Bishop. (And Newt...who does get captured at one point. Heeeey, did the aliens impregnate her???)

Ripley and Newt speak for the first time.

Newt in this film replaces Jonesy to show Ripley's soft side. She humanizes her. It's important that Ripley's toughness is balanced by her caring nature. I don't think it's a weakness that she is compelled to go back and risk everyone else's life to save Newt--her maternal instinct is a strength. I thought it was interesting that wanting to save Newt's life motivates her to load up with two gigantic guns (really, for the first time; she doesn't use her flamethrower too much in the first film and a man teaches her to use the other gun in this film...but she is eager and surprises him with her skills). Armed with a flamethrower AND a grenade launcher/rifle-thingy she takes on the nest site. If it were a male character saving a little girl, he'd still seem tough, not weak, for going back.

I liked one scene where a chain of the crew is making their way through a series of tunnels. Ripley is in front, directed by Newt. Vasquez, a woman, brings up the rear, holding off the aliens with her weapons. The guys are in the middle, protected and led by the women. I also liked another scene where Ripley roughs up the slimey Burke a little bit. He so deserves it.

I wonder if the alien is Ripley's alter ego, like Van Helsing/Dracula. Ellen kind of sounds like alien... Maybe that's a stretch.

Mirror image?

I think Ellen Ripley is a one-of-a-kind character in the world of female action heroes. She's held up well over the last almost 30 years, in terms of her strength as a female. Yes, she is in her underwear in a few scenes, and if you do a Google image search for 'Aliens' and 'Sigourney Weaver' you'll see lots of stills with Ripley in her underwear, but at least it's not revealing Victoria's Secret lingerie! And she's not in her underwear all that much in the first two films, anyway (though more in the second than the first). Overall, I think she kicks butt. Sigourney Weaver's Ripley doesn't rely on her sexuality to seem fierce in the same way as Angelina Jolie's Lara Croft or Anne Parillaud's Nikita. She seems more like a real woman, which is tough enough!

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