Friday, 14 August 2009

Alien and Ripley

I watched Alien the other day with Mr Coffee. Ellen Ripley was voted 9th on the 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time List (compiled by Empire Magazine), the highest placing female on the list among only a handful of females, beating out Mary Poppins who trailed her in 20th position.

Basically, I thought Ellen was an ok character, but nothing to write home about. I wasn't that amazed by her and the guys who beat her out - Tyler Durden, Darth Vader, The Dark Knight, Han Solo, Hannibal Lecter, Indiana Jones, Captain Jack Sparrow etc deserved their position. I even think characters who didn't beat her such as Vito Corleone, James Bond, John McClane and yes, Mary Poppins, were more deserving.

Ellen's character was the typical gung ho person who starts off looking a little baby-faced and soft but then turns out to be a survivor. Kind of like Sarah Connor in the terminator Series except give me Sarah Connor any day. I thought she was better portrayed and the transformation was done better, and she had more of a sense of purpose, sometimes menace, and a bit of humour.

Female characters don't feature strongly on the list, not, I think, because, as some people mused, that women are incapable of portraying memorable characters or don't get meaty roles written for them. Or that Empire is basically sexist.

Some of those things might be true but I'd say the main thing is a trend that is evident in the voting: that voting on this list went in favour of action/adventure/sci-fi, and also you were more likely to get your face on the board if you were in a series or a set of sequels. People thought more of your character then. It seemed a lot of voters went "I liked that movie, what was the best character in it?" and voted, or "that character was really memorable as I've seen them in a series of movies" (which sticks in your mind more than one movie). Actions, adventures and sci-fi generally lend them more to a format of sequels, and tend to have stronger male characters in them, with a tendency to cater for more of a male audience.

Another way of thinking whether a character is good is to try to concentrate on the character regardless of whether the film was not that good - or not our favourite - and try to use criteria like whether the character was well-portrayed and evoked, and whether it was a great concept and did he/she stick in our mind, even if it was a one off film. For me many characters in comedies, romances, histories etc are characters like that. I personally would have voted in both Harry and Sally from When Harry Met Sally as fantastic characters.

Note that the listing is different for the Premiere magazine list, done in 2004 though.

Anyway, back to Alien.

At times I felt this movie was, errh, kind of boring. Maybe it's the passage of time but there was a lot of waiting around for things to happen and also a measure of predictability. I sat there thinking "Kane's going to spew a monster!" He didn't, it burst out of him but it was close enough for it to not be that exciting.

The scene here the black guy does was annoying me because he sacrificed himself for the woman who was too petrified to take the sacrifice as a good opportunity to save herself. his sacrifice was for nothing! That annoys me. At least one of them could have made it out of there and neither did. Oh damn!

Oh and that stooooopid cat! Please, I would have LIKED that alien to get the cat!

This is not meant to be a review but a vent.

To be fair, the movie is dated, like Ellen Ripley's hair. Sigourney Weaver does a fairly good job of transforming what seems to be an in-the-background Ripley to begin with to a force to be reckoned with, and does not miss out on the human touches. Unfortunately, that did mean going overboard with a cat. It's a cliche, now, having a silly pet that leads you to danger. I'm never quite sure why they have people on ships who would not breach quarantine to save their crewmate who's been attacked by an alien, who would watch their crew die, but would risk death to follow a ... cat and rescue it! And that always annoys me.

There is enough clang and action to make this still exciting towards the end, however I still feel it takes time to warm up and there are too many quite dull moments. It's amusing to watch the movie now and say "Ooooh, how young John Hurt and Sigourney Weaver look now!" but as the start is quite slow that's about all the fun you get for the first quite a few minutes.

The alien still looked pretty grotesque even now, to me - but heck, I am scared of everything. I felt it was a suitable amount of 'horror' - not gratuitous, but sent the message clearly and put more emphasis on the action, sci-fi and interaction (and breakdown) of the crewmates which is really how I prefer these movies to be constructed, rather than indulging in long shots of explicit damage to corpses and aliens eating up bodies and lots of blood and exposed organs, flesh, etc etc


Maria said...

I guess I am seeing this again from the perspective of someone who's seen Alien waaaay after it was first made, and plenty of women have got gung ho roles since. But if you look at the Premiere Magazine list, Ms Ripley rates high too (though she's not the highest rating women - Scarlett O'Hara played by Vivien Leigh and Annie Hall pleyed by Diane Keaton rate higher).

I guess I just don't see the attraction, but the character was probably quite special then. I just look at what I consider characters with a whole lot more fascination and depth for me on stage - the unnerving portrayal of Mrs Danvers in Rebecca, the sad and sick portrayal of Blanche in a Streetcar named Desire, the intriguing portrayal of Miss Brodie in the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and when characters like these are not recognised for their complexity and intrigue and mix of emotions they evoke (as well as the amazing job done by the actresses) in favour of a character who's very good at hunting a big monster, it makes feel that there's an injustice there!

I guess I have a very different list in mind and I maybe should start an 'OrangeJuiceSnobbery's 100 Greatest Film Characters of All Time Based on just the films Maria has watched in her Lifetime so stop complaining if your fave isn't there and He/She is from a film I haven't and Don't Care to Watch.'

Freddy Krueger will not feature on my list.

Maria said...

Hello all,

I wrote this and watched this thinking "oh, it's an action/sci-fi movie and Ripley is an alien-hunter".

I'm reading IMDB right now and seeing it has a very high score and is classed as a classic horror.

Ummm, hum?

Hey, i get scraed in everything. I couldn't watch House of Wax properly. I was petrified for days - weeks - after the Ring. The Skeleton Key was amazing horror.

I can even get scared in something like Gremlins or Shrek or Beauty and the Beast.

But Alien didn't do it for me. In fact I didn't really get all that scared. There was a bit of suspense but it was ruined by the fact that I knew what was going to happen (kitty-cat was obviously going to lead them to danger, Alien would be THERE, blah blah).

Like some bloggers said, you didn't get to see much of the Alien which for me works when you can pull off suspense too. For instance you don't spend a whole lot of time watching Hannibal Lecter maul people in The Silence of the Lambs, in fact you don't see a lot of gore in that movie at all, except near the end, but I still think it's chilling. What's fantastic is the way he talks to Clarice Starling and how this absolutely spooks you out.

One commenter said that this was the 'only flawless movie' ever. I wonder if this was a joke. If this is the commenter's standard of flawless, then surely many other movies qualify, but I'd hardly rate it ...

Maria said...

Here's a comment on IMDB by "Kristine": Am I the only one who questions why there was gravity in space?

Actually, I don't know that much about space travel or whatever but I always watch space shows and wonder how it works. Their stuff doesn't seem to go flying around. No orange juice in the air problems

And even if they land on a little asteroiod they never seem to have a concern that they will be doing moon jumps or anything, they just walk around out there just like normal.

It is all very convenient when you think about it. Would it be like that really in space?

I think inside a spacecraft you can create an "artificaial gravity" using certain generated magnetic forces but it probably isn't just like striding around like on Earth. And I wonder if they work so well if you strip down to just your tiny little undies and aren't wearing special space suits like Sigourney Weaver did in Alien?

TimT said...

Ellen Ripley's a pretty good character, but twenty-something years after that movie was made you can recognise a 'type'... the arse-kicking good-looking woman who holds her own with the boys. Other examples include Trinity in the Matrix, Max from Dark Angel, and Buffy. But about twenty years ago, there was a small, trivial video made by a minor American producer with a title that pretty much summed up this ethos... 'Sexy Chicks with Sexy Guns', featuring bikini-clad woman pouting at the camera, introducing themselves, and then introducing the gun they were going to be firing, and then, well, firing it.

I really like Alien but in retrospect, maybe the best character was the alien itself. It's some of the details about the alien that I still remember - it's first appearance as a kind of fleshy flower, and it's ability to wrap itself around a person's face, just like that. You might argue that it's the first movie made about nature from a Darwinian perspective... nature really does work by 'survival of the fittest' ethos in this movie. Nothing lovey-dovey about the contact between humans and aliens, like you get in ET or Close Encounters. You end up feeling about as much respect for the alien as you would for a tapeworm in your mouth. Not so much a question of 'who are you' as of 'what the f* are you doing there, get the f* out!'

Yay! A review that just started out as a comment!

Maria said...

Someone on IMDB said there was an analysis of Alien that had something to do with the horror of Alien being to do with the mothering instinct or something?

I haven't read the analysis but i prefer the Darwinian concept!

I did like the alien, well as you said Darwinian. That girl - Lambert, isn't it? - deserves to die at the end because she just stands there screaming her head off! But as some people said, when it comes out of Kane's body it does look like a sock puppet, peeping around - "Hi guys, hey there!"

As you said, TimT, the character (Ripley) may have been new in 1979 but for me it was fairly predictable. I'm not exactly sure how new it was then, don't know enough about movie history. There is not that much special about her than the fact that she holds her own with the guys - I mean people go on about how great it is that she said she wouldn't let Kane in because of breach of quarantine right at the beginning, but if a male commander had said it I doubt there would be nearly so much fuss. It was the fact that a woman had the guts to say it.

I remember the Alien was like a starfish on Kane's face. Then it died.

And then next there was the time when I think it was Brett got killed.

I remember him going after the cat and me sitting there saying "You idiot, don't go afetr the cat, you will die! Don't you watch the movies! You are on a movie, dummy! You are going to get killed!"

I think it's a good lesson to remember. We could all be on movies. We should rememebr cliches like this and remember not to be led by them.

If you ever hear da-da-da-dummmm! music as you are walking, getting louder you are walking to danger. Get the hell outta there.

If you are hunting an alien don't do domething dumb like chase after a cat or go back for a trinket. Just LET IT GO!

If you think you have an annihilated the sucker, you probably haven't. Keep your clothes on and a gun or whatever handy. You have to annihilate him twice at the end, after all your friends are dead (or maybe you and the pretty gorgeous girl).

Remember any of your friends and especially that really good looking girl, they could be robots.

Maria said...

Just wanted to say a lot of commenters seemed to think the second, Aliens, was better than the first.

I haven't seen it.

I am prepared to givde it a shot though, maybe I will like ti better and have better feelings about the character too, afer all plenty of people probably voted Ms Ripley because of her appearance in four movies not just one and I have only seen one so I'm not being totally fair in my review here.

TimT said...

I think most people have seen Aliens over and over, and Alien is the rarity. Certainly true for me, since commercial television used to have the movie on eternal repeat (maybe they still do, I don't watch much telly nowadays.)

Alien is the more groundbreaking and original movie, and works by itself, Aliens is interestingly both in itself, and as a sequel/variation on the original concept. I prefer the first myself, though maybe that's because I've only seen it once and the joys of the second have been dulled by eternal repeats.

Maria said...

Well, I'll give it a go and see if "the more, the merrier" or nay ....!

James Drax said...

"Alien" is one of my favourite movies ever, I'm a huge Sigourney Weaver fan, and I love orange cats. This movie has everything for me!

Let's face it, science fiction/horror films are generally never as good as "Alien". This really is Ridley Scott's true masterpiece. It's so classic, everyone rips it off, scene for scene, at times. It's uniquely frightening because of the creature's gestation process, starting with the Facehugger's oral rape of its host, the chestburster, and the claustrophobic setting where they're all picked off one-by-one by this slimy bio-mechanical beast.

I don't understand how you think it's dated. I can't really find anything distinctly 1979 about it at all. Just listen to Jerry Goldsmith's unnerving and atmospheric avant garde score, that's if you have the DVD edition that has the isolated music track. It really is challenging music to behold (although Ridley hacked it up terribly in the final cut).

"Alien" is awesome, and James Cameron's "Aliens" is a rare case of even more awesome.

Maria said...

I haven't seen "Aliens" but I'll try it soon and I will try to like it. Really.

Mr Coffee has the Quadrilogy box set and we're watching from that.

I don't think a whole lot is dated from the movie. Sigourney Weaver's hair is, a little, and the technology is a bit backward considering they are trying to impress us with a futuristic craft.

What is 'dated' is the external hype over Ripley's character - that is the whole excitement about the gung ho female. It may have been revolutionary at the time but nowadays it is pretty ordinary.

As I said, I am not sure how revolutionary it was at the time either, I don't think Ripley is the first female character on screen who has ever shown a bit of spine or that she can compete with men in a male world, in a fairly popular movie. Though she might have been one of the first to do it on a spacecraft fighting an alien.

I am not the expert on music scores so I won't go into a discussion re: the music with you here Drax.

I will say that I don't mind cats but in this one ... I just really wanted the cat to die. Why was it brought on board? WHy did they agree to go off in two groups but then let Brett wander off by himself and fetch the cat and then get killed and then WHY after that lesson did Ripley still try to save the cat?

I mean, after we have learnt the lesson 'cat brings danger' and you still go after the cat, it annoys me. I sat there thinking that people who don't learn this lesson deserve an alien to eat them alive.

TimT said...

Gung ho woman kicking arse is a pretty old idea in some ways. Greek tales about warrior Amazon women, Celtic warrior Queens like Boaedecia, and all that.

Folks who like to think of themselves as progressive because they create a gun ho woman kicking arse-type-character aren't being that progressive at all, really.

Which may be good or may be bad.

Maria said...

So ... let's see, maybe gung ho women are regressive?

I would like to see a Celtic Warrior or Amazon Queen woman movie. Mainly for the costumes. Any ones you can recommend where the Warrior Queen is the dominant character?

Joan of Arc is a good example of a Warrior Woman except I think her robes were pretty plain by comparison. I guess there are some people who would object to having a Joan character strip so you could see her butt-crack so they needed a Ripley character instead!

But an Amazon Queen character doesn't seem to mind showing quite a bit of flesh ...

TimT said...

That would be pretty cool.

The closest I can think of to that sort of thing would be Keira Knightley playing Guenevere in some recent King Arthur film.

Ages ago I remember coming across a 19th century portrait of a Pictish warrior woman. The Picts were an ancient people in Britain, probably there before the Celts came, even. They were in the habit of tattooing themselves.

This led to a number of amazing pictures: for instance -

And this Pictish chap shows how to decapitate while remaining wonderfully fashionable:

TimT said...

I beg your pardon, those were 16th century pictures.

JahTeh said...

I never liked the first movie but thought the second was great and Ripley really got into her stride with the alien in this one. If I remember Alien 3 was a bomb but A4 wasn't too bad.

Maria said...

I will try to like the next 3 and will report my findings! Mr Coffee has not seen 3 or 4 so it will be a first time venture for the two of us.

It may be some time before I get to them though, I've got a lot of work to do and late lectures this week. Week after I think maybe ...

Anonymous said...

I don't understand some of the comments here. "Alien" is a horror/sci-fi classic and holds up very well. The lighting, the music, more is implied than actually seen. Great film. "Aliens" also a great film, but went a completely different direction. More action, fast paced, special effects. The one common thread was the incredible performance by Sigourney Weaver as Lt. Ellen Ripley. Intentionally underplayed in the first film and then slowly her inner strength emerging in the second film. What a powerful scene as she silently takes the elevator down to attempt to rescue the little girl, the resolve, as she prepares her weapons and psychs herself up for the task at hand. It was widely speculated that the only reason she didn't win a Oscar for best actress was the snobbery of the academy against Sci-fi films regarding major awards.

Stephen said...

Didn't bother reading all the responses, but one symbolized the ignorance of a young kid reviewing a movie character from 30 something years ago. Yes she meant something significant back then and the reason you associate her with numerous other characters is because she set the stage for all that followed her. Her character is much more complex then you all appear to be able to understand so she was rightfully placed at 9 for a reason that you didn't understand, and thus make yourself look silly by disagreeing with without knowledge of why they placed her so high.