If I didn’t absolutely adore Sigourney Weaver before, I’m in love after watching her play Ripley in Alien (1979). Written by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett (who also wrote Total Recall (1990). Highly recommend if you haven’t seen that one. They remade the movie in 2012, starring Ryan Reynolds. I’m going to have to check it out!), Alien rode the sci fi wave created by Star Wars. But instead of just hanging out, it improved it as a popular genre.
Alien won an Oscar for visual effects (before there was CGI, so that’s cool. In fact, they were forced to have a man in costume play the alien, instead of using effects because effects would have turned out cheesy. To keep the alien from looking too human production hired Bolaji Badejo, a six foot ten inch Kenyan discovered in a bar in London. He was studying graphic designm but took the part. He was sent to take lessons in mime and Tai Chi to learn how to move slowly. That must have been fun to put on his resume after finishing graphic desing school).
The movie won an award for its effects, but the story and characters were great too. The studio intentionally sought out a diverse cast. In the imagined future the movie was set it, the corporation would want and have the ability to hire the most qualified crew, despite race or location. So they casted a crew that was African American and British, as well as male and female (because that is all the diversity there is in the world, ladies and gents. I’m reminding myself it was 1979 and am moving on).
The captain, Dallas, was a nothing special (I’ll get more into him later), but there were some distinct personalities among the rest of the crew. Kane and Brett had fun banter, worrying constantly (and annoyingly!) about their share in the job. They were buddies who must have been the life of the party when going for a beer after work. Ash was the academic, constantly observing (and, in hindsight, very robotic). Lambert was not my favorite. She gave me flashbacks of Dakota Fanning in War of the Worlds, just there to whine and scream.
Ripley made up for Lamberts weak character, though. Fox studio head Alan Ladd made the decision to make Ripley’s character female. The director, Ridley Scott (not to be confused with the star character Ripley), agreed, believing the change in gender would distinguish the movie from so many with heroes. Ripley became a heroine by casting alone. Nothing in her character was changed beside her gender to avoid any gender stereotyping.
I think it worked out wonderfully! Ripley was quick on her feet and tough. She had this RBF and confident attitude that kept her in charge on a ship full of men (even before the captain was killed and she became officially in charge). I felt an inner feminist I didn’t even know existed inside of me come out during this movie. I was infuriated when the men didn’t listen to her. Especially Ash. I really didn’t like him (and it turns out that was how I was supposed to feel). Even Dallas sided with the scientist over Ripley’s warranted caution. She was right on all counts (except when she sent Brett off by himself to look for the cat. Come on! Rule number one in a horror movie: stick together!).
I heard Sigourney Weaver’s character in Holes the whole time. When Ash opened the ship doors to let Kane in with the alien stuck to his face, I wanted Ripley to put her hand on her hip, lower her sunglasses (because space is so bright) and say with all her attitude, “Excuse me?” In short, I loved Ripley. I want to be her best friend.
The setting and premise of the film was great too. As a nerdy, sci fi fan, I loved that the ship was just a run of the mill transport vehicle. I admit, I had to look this up because I couldn’t remember what they were transporting, but the crew picked up 20 million tons of ore. The ore obviously came from somewhere far, far away from Earth because after collecting the ore, the crew went into those pods that seemed to freeze them as is, keeping them from aging or needing to eat during the long journey.
This all happens before the movie starts, so you just have to pick all that up while they are trying to figure out why the ship woke them early. Mike McGranaghan puts it perfectly in his article for Screen Rant. They were the truckers of the future, the embodiment of average joes (and janes). I wouldn’t have been surprised if Brett ran into the Doctor (from Doctor Who, in case you don’t get my reference) while searching for Jonesy, the cat, and David Tennant ran around with his trench coat billowing behind him while pointing his sonic screwdriver at the mess the alien left behind (but I digress).
If the Doctor did show up, Ripley probably wouldn’t have been the only survivor (and Jonesy! That was a sweet addition). Movie reviewer Roger Ebert (great reviews by the way. Check him out), compared the premise of the movie to the 1940’s magazine Astounding Science Fiction (Did read Ebert’s review and then go to ebay and buy an anthology of the magazine? Maybe…) This isn’t a story of space explorers or adventurers; it’s the story of future working men and women caught in the twisted agenda of a corporation. What’s not to love?
Fun fact! The scene where Dallas’s fate was revealed was re-added in 2003. It was originally a deleted scene because director Scott believed it broke the tension of Ripley running for her life. The fact that Dallas was killed was a great twist for the time. The leading man was killed off, leaving Ripley to be the heroine. I thought it was poetic justice. The fact that he kept disregarding all of Ripley’s ideas and suggestions (the right ideas and suggestions) was so frustrating!
For a movie boasting of forward thinking in casting and story, James Cameron made a point of criticizing Ripley’s strip scene towards the end of the movie. This was the scene where Ripley had made it onto the escape pod and began to peel off her gear until she was only wearing her underwear and a tank top. The scene was criticized for sexualizing Weaver in a film that supposedly empowered women. Weaver argues for the scene. She disregarded the criticism saying, “Are you kidding me? After five days of blood and guts, and fear and sweat and urine, do you think Ripley wouldn’t take off her clothes?” That left me thinking about my routine after work and how quickly my pants come off when getting home. I have to agree with Sigourney on this one. Rancid sweat soaked clothes would be off me as soon as I could!
Back in 1979, the movie was a hit. Early screeners were mortified by the alien bursting out of Kane’s stomach (the graphic nature of the scene wasn’t even revealed to the actors in an attempt to get a genuine reaction out them. The scene was done in just one take, so I think Scott achieved the reaction he was looking for). The movie made a total of $60 million dollars. Today that would be $272 million. It’s not up there with today’s high grossing movies like Avatar and Jurassic World, but still pretty good. I wonder how it would compare to those movies when it came to how much it cost versus how much it made. If anyone has an answer to that, let me know.
I asked Boyfriend what he thought of the movie. He didn’t like how Ripley defeated the alien, thought it wasn’t exciting enough. He wanted a full on fight scene. I point out that the alien is supposed to be this perfect weapon. It has no weakness (except for open space apparently), so any fight it were to have with Ripley it would win. We decided to agree to disagree before it turned into an argument. Other than the ending, he enjoyed the movie.
What did you think? Should there be a final battle between alien and Ripley? Should there have been an alien strip tease instead of Ripley’s? I read that the quality of the sequels are lacking. Are they worth a watch anyway? Let me know what you thought of Alien in the comments below!
Next movie up is another blast from the past, about twenty years earlier than Alien. Who knows, maybe I’ll be inspired to go to law school after this one (probably not…)