June 25, 2007

Aliens (Director's Cut)

A couple of months ago, I wrote a less-than-flattering review of Alien. Many of the comments on that review suggested that I just didn't get the film, or was expecting it to be something it wasn't. Even more of them suggested that I take a look at the sequel, Aliens, to get more of what I was after.

And I did. Though I didn't love Aliens, I did prefer it greatly to its predecessor, and I very much preferred Ripley's expanded character in Aliens to her muted one in Alien.

A couple of weeks ago, Dan at Cinemathematics wrote a really interesting piece on "The Two Ripleys". Had I read this piece before I saw Aliens, I might have viewed it differently. I definitely agree with Dan's irritation that the Aliens Ripley puts mother-instincts before her own survival. I didn't need to see mama-Ripley. Personally, I get tired of action heroines having to be mothers (same thing irritated me about The Long Kiss Goodnight).

That being said, though, I don't agree with the rest of Dan's assessment. Mother figure or not, Ripley simply kicks more ass in Aliens than in Alien.

She's a civilian woman who takes over a military operation, makes plans to destroy many millions of dollars worth of the Company's stuff, and runs around shooting and blowing things up. She spends most of the movie in charge, pissed off, and fighting, rather than blathering about rules and regulations. I'm all for that. This Ripley isn't as goody-goody as the first film's character, and she's more likable and funnier that way.

As has been mentioned by others (including Dan), part of the change in Ripley's character between the two films is because Alien is more or less a horror movie, while Aliens is an action film. In the first film, there wasn't really sufficient room in the plot for Ripley to really shine as heroine, and in the second one, there is.

In Aliens, I finally saw the Ripley people are talking about when she comes to their mind after I explain to them what we're doing here at Heroine Content. Though not, in my mind, quite as perfect an HC poster girl as Tank Girl, who doesn't need a kid to inspire her, Ripley definitely takes a deserved place in the Hall of Fame beside The Long Kiss Goodnight's Samantha and T2's Sarah Connor. Four stars.

More Commentary:


I agree that we need a diversity of motivations for action heroines - it shouldn't always be about the kid. Out of the movies we've reviewed so far, it is interesting that many of the "standout" roles for women in action films are mama-centric.

But I have to disagree with one of your comments. Throughout most of Tank Girl, she's trying to rescue the little girl Sam. You may think that her exuberance surpasses that motivation, but there is a huge element of mom motivation at work.

Gah! I need to re-watch Tank Girl. You're totally right, of course. Which only makes the scenario even worse, as now I'm hard-pressed to think of a SINGLE top tier heroine that doesn't have mama-motivation. Buffy, maybe?

Hi There!

I have to admit, while I know you guys gave The Cradle of Life only 2 stars, I have to admit when I think of the quintessential heroine movie to me, the second Tombraider comes the closest; there are so many great scenes in it.

But I bring it up now to say that Lara is a person who escaped being hobbled down by the whole "strong-to-protect-her-children-be it real or adopted vibe", and they tried REALLY hard in the first one. They not only gave her the mysetrious ghost girl (whatever that was about!), but since she couldn't really be pegged for that, she in essence became the girl child, with her dad in some ways as the hero. That's kind of a stretch, but I could see it somewhat.

But that totally goes away in the second one. And in Cradle of Life she has a basic motivation that most male heroes have: avenging the death of the character's good friend(s), which was refreshing. In fact, friendship plays a big role in this particular one, and while she did have mostly male friends, she did have a brief scene with the woman in China. And if she held much of her weaponry that implies a very strong relationship.

They did have the little girl scene, but by showing the parents, and having her seem fascinated by Lara more than Lara to her, I got less of a maternal force than a role model - perhaps that girl will grow up to di great things because she was inspired by a strange woman from Europe.

But back to Ripley... my favorite film is actually the 3rd one. I appreciated the first one, but it was too much like a horror film, and I am not such a huge fan of horror. The second one left a bad taste in my mouth precisely because of the whole simulated mother instinct that was a part of it (though to Cameron's credit it wasn't so heavy handed. And Cameron does add some nice touches for women in the second one: Newt actually eventually learns to survive on her own, and Vazquez is an action heroine outright (although wome of color get a bit more latitude in this). But those things were nice).

But 3 was nice because it brought back the suspense and methodical nature of Alien, as well as some of the action & physicality of Aliens. And not only that, but it loses the whole "I have to be strong to get Newt" factor. I haven't seen it in a while, so I am sure there are problematic issues with it - but, for me, it seemed to take the best of the first two movies, while omitting some of the more problematic stuff. Perhaps that had something to do with her increased role in the process by the time the 3rd one came around.

thanks! d

If rating only on gender issues, I would have given Tomb Raider four stars - and indeed Lara was the first one who came to mind when I was thinking about standout roles that don't involve mothering.

I would also include Selene from Underworld on that list.

I'm afraid we'll just have to agree to disagree about Selene, Skye. :)

The third Alien film is coming right up on my Netflix queue, d. After reading what you have to say, I'm looking forward to it.

At least we can hopefully agree that Selene didn't have any children. :)

Selene had sex with her child. (She turned Michael into a vampire, which is the vampiric equivalent of procreation. Though his having been bitten by a werewolf meant he became a hybrid instead of a pure vampire.)

There are problems with the third Alien movie -- the attempted rape, the fact that it doesn't pass the Dykes to Watch Out For test because Ripley's the only woman, the horror-pregnancy angle, and Ripley's final solution -- but Ripley's motivations *don't* have to do with mothering in that one: she's trying to survive, trying to find a way for others who are *not* related to her to survive, and trying to stop the Company from turning the aliens into bioweapons at their service.

Amazing, not one mention of Vazquez? The female marine that breaks all stupid, Hollywood molds that a female heroine has to rather be sexy than powerful. Vazquez is the greatest, movie heroine of all times and it is sad that actors like the her arent picked over "pouty-lips" Angelina and "skeleton" Kiera Knightley.

I think it's especially important to discuss Vasquez as well as Ripley when evaluating Aliens. Jenette Goldstein is not Hispanic but was made up to look Hispanic for the part. On the other hand, touching on a topic we discuss here, she was a competitive gymnast and lifted weights, so the "little girl who doesn't look like she could carry that gun" issue is not present. So it's a mixed bag.



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