Get Away From Her, You Bitch!
Wednesday, February 18, 2009 | Author: Mad Typist
Those of you in the know probably instantly recognized that quote in my post title. For those who are wondering what that's all about, it's a line from my favorite movie of all time, Aliens. I decided to write this post in response to a challenge posted over at Open Salon, asking bloggers to name their #1 movie of all time.

Let's start out with the overall reason Aliens is my favorite movie. Hands down, it's one of the finest action movies ever made.The movie clocks in over 2 hours long, but the pacing is fantastic, and the movie just seems to fly by. The storyline pays respect to the continuity of the first Alien film, but then takes the mythology and runs with it, rewarding fans with gobs of excellent information about how the aliens work. It's exciting, it's well written, and it's infinity re-watchable (I watch it at least 1-2 times a year).

Even today, the production value looks sharp. Part of this is probably due to the fact that James Cameron always consults with military experts, so the weapons and vehicles designed for the movie still look realistic, because they are based on real-life tech. They also did a great job improving on the alien design. In the first movie, it's pretty clear it's a dude in a clunky rubber suit that can't move that fast. In Aliens they looked real and moved like some kind of terrifying cross between a cobra and a mountain lion. They looked like they could practically FLY across the room to snag their victims.

Of course, none of that would matter if we didn't care about the characters. And the character of Ellen Ripley is exactly why Aliens is my favorite movie ever. Ms. Ripley has apparently come to do only two things on LV-426. And guess what? She's all out of bubble gum, alien bitches. In the first film, Ripley spends most of her time running from the alien creature, which was fine, because hey, her arsenal was limited and she wasn't exactly a soldier. However, in Aliens, she gets a full tutorial on the flamethrower and pulse rifle, and she straps up and faces the creature that's been haunting her since the incident in the first movie, out-soldiering the soldiers she's with in the process.

Any feminist can detail all the countless ways that the portrayal of females in action movies is usually lame. Even when the woman is designated as a heroine, a lot of times, she can only kick ass if she shows some skin (Tomb Raider) and/or uses her sexuality to save the day. Contrast that with Ripley, who dresses quite sensibly the whole time in a plain blue jumpsuit. Yes, there is the requisite underwear shot while they're in their sleep chambers, but in fairness, even the dudes are in their skivvies. But for most of the movie, Ripley is the take-charge heroine of the piece, stepping in when the lieutenant cracks under the pressure, single-handedly rescuing the marines herself and then leading them to safety (well, those who avoid being alien fodder anyway). Sigourney Weaver isn't just another pretty face and she clearly wasn't cast just for her looks. Rather, with her natural height and her sharp features, she's a formidable looking woman.

In fact, fans of strong women get two bonuses characters: the female pilot Dietrich, and Vasquez, the ass kicking Latina marine. Vasquez in particular is worth looking at as a model of how to show a female in the military the right way. Her gender is mentioned briefly at the beginning, as Hudson (Bill Paxton) teases her with the line "Hey, Vasquez. Have you ever been mistaken for a man?" But Vasquez gives it right back, in the tradition of great male ball-breaking trash talk, with a "No. Have you?" burn that earns her hoots of appreciation from her fellow male marines. After that, the fact that she's a female becomes a total non-issue in the movie. Vasquez is entrusted with one of the two huge machine guns, she gets to take point, and she generally is a complete bad ass. Cameron respects his strong female characters by simply not pointing out their gender. He lets them integrate with the rest of the cast and have the same exciting battle scenes and heroic death scenes as the other marines.

Avoiding another classic movie trap, none of the women are burdened with a romantic subplot. The only emotional moment for Vasquez is when her partner Drake is killed, but it plays much more like a traditional "noooo!!!!" moment in a buddy war film. Ripley shares only a chaste glance with Hicks, but promptly returns the discussion to the pulse rifle he's demonstrating for her. The movie wisely keeps focus on the action at hand.

One could argue that framing Ripley as the mother figure to Newt is sort of playing into that stereotype that all women are mothers at heart, who will ferociously protect their young. However, if you watch the director's cut, you see in a deleted scene that Ripley actually had a young daughter, who had aged and passed away while Ripley was floating out in space in stasis. This changes the tone of the story completely when looking at the Ripley/Newt relationship. Ripley isn't just any woman and Newt isn't just any girl - Ripley IS a mother, and Newt is the same age as the daughter she just lost. This explains Ripley's semi-suicidal need to rescue Newt, when logic would have dictated that she be left behind. Similarly, when Ripley faces off with the Alien Queen at the end of the movie (an epic battle kicked off with the quote from the title of this post), it really is a battle to the death between two mothers.

It is a testament to this film, and its treatment of its female characters, that the movie is still held up as one of the great action films of all time, resonating with male and female fans alike. In fact, in the recent panel I attended at the NY Comic Con, Ellen Ripley was named the #2 Greatest Movie Badass of All Time.
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On 9:12 AM , foolsjourney said...

No argument here. I frickin' love this film. What's your Alien Film Ranking, by the way? I go by the somewhat contraversial:

#1: Aliens
#2: Alien^3
#3: Alien
#4: Alien Resurrection

And there is a huge gap between #2 and #3.

On 10:49 AM , Mad Typist said...

My rankings are even more controversial, I think

#1 Aliens
#2 Alien: Resurrection
#3 Alien
#4 Alien 3

I like the weird french sci-fi vibe that A:R was rocking, plus I thought where they took Ripley as a character was pretty nifty. Plus, it's worth the #2 slot just for the scene where Leland Orser dies in a most excellent fashion.

I appreciate the impact the original Alien film had, but for me, it doesn't age well, so I had to bump it to #3.