From: Subject: Date: April 21, 2005 3:53:51 PM CDT Hankblog

Monday, April 12, 2004

Movie Retrospectives: Chicks Kick Ass

While the original Alien was a wonderfully scary sci-fi mood piece re-released as a really terrific director's cut last year (reviewed at the old site here), the sequel was born from a pedigree as different as Aliens' director James Cameron was from the original's director Ridley Scott.

In the original Alien, Sigourney Weaver's character of Ellen Ripley was simply a survivor. The impression given in that film was that Ripley was definitely one of the sharper knives in the Nostromo's drawer, but she had no interest or desire in being a leader of any sort. As her crewmates are slowly taken out by the creature, her self-preservation instinct kicks in and she manages to save the only lives she can: her own, and that of the ship's cat Jones.

In the sequel, Cameron runs Ripley along a very different path. Upon being saved by a salvage crew after drifting in space for 57 years, Ripley is brought back Earth an immediately condemned for having destroyed her ship for "reasons unknown". No one wants to believe her story. All she has left to speak of her time in space is her recurring nightmares of the alien. However, the since during Ripley's time in hypersleep, a colony has been established on the planet where the Nostromo first encountered the creature. All contact with the colony has been lost. Ripley's former employers ask her to return to the scene of all her troubles to aid a squadron of interstellar Marines in defining the problem. When they arrive, all hell breaks loose, as the alien problem has increased by several orders of magnitude. Ripley learns, however, that her courage and fortitude have grown proportionately to the impending threat. And thus the roller coaster ride of Aliens rushes forward to a grand duel between Ripley and the most fearsome alien yet.

Cameron has long featured strong women in his films. Linda Hamilton's two turns as Sarah Conner in The Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day highlighted her transformation from frightened waitress to the mother of the savior of humanity. The Abyss featured cast iron bitch Lindsey Brigman, played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio. And then there was Cameron's short lived TV series Dark Angel, featuring the beautiful but deadly Jessica Alba as a genetically engineered super soldier gone AWOL. But in my mind the greatest female character he's ever written was his take on Ripley. Although originally a creation of Dan O'Bannon, as a character, Ripley was limited due to being part of an ensemble cast. It was Cameron's screenplay that fleshed out Ripley completely and gave her some depth.

Although still part of an ensemble cast, Ripley is always the center of the action. It's Cameron's screenplay that teaches us she was also a mother (part of the story that was cut from the theatrical release, but restored in the laserdisc and DVD versions). We also learn that she's mechanically adept, in a scene where the Marines are preparing to descend on the planet, and she contributes through the operation of a futuristic forklift/payloader. And we see that she's a very capable leader. Once she sees the operation jumping the tracks, and the commanding officer Lt. Gorman is incapable of getting things done, Ripley immediately steps into the breach and does everything she has to in order to save as many lives as she can. Then the maternal instinct kicks into overdrive as she bonds with Newt, a young girl who is the sole survivor of the colony. When we get to the climactic duel at the end, as Ripley comes forward to save Newt once again, there can be no questioning that she is the toughest person in the room.

It's not that this movie is trying to deliver a particularly feminist message, although the women are in every way equal to the men in this picture. Indeed it's hard to imagine a feminist screed coming from a man (Cameron) who has been divorced four times, having met or worked with three of his last four wives on movies while married to one of the women prior to that wife. But Aliens makes it clear that there's a woman in charge of what's going on without really drawing attention to the fact that she's a woman. Ripley isn't a "chick" who kicks a little ass. She's a bonafide ass kicker, who just happens to be a chick. And she does a damn good job doing it.

Tomorrow we get old school, as we talk about Pam Grier kicking some ass as Foxy Brown.