VHS Revival chronicles the heroic journey of a bona fide badass
I remember the first time I saw Alien. It was late at night on cable and I was an impressionable young woman of fifteen.
Not only was Ridley Scott’s film a horror/science fiction masterpiece in my budding cinephile mind, but it was the first time I met one of the strongest female characters to ever grace the silver screen, Ellen Ripley.
Ripley is in one word, Iconic. She can stand toe to toe with Clint Eastwood and John Wayne as far as I am concerned. Part of the reason that makes her so compelling is the actress who plays her. Sigourney Weaver is not only knockout beautiful, smart and talented, but she kicks major ass in every role she plays! Sigourney was the beginning of a woman crush for me. Plus, an added bonus, her given name was Susan, so enough said!
Up until Ripley there were strong women onscreen. However, they were not playing with the boys so to speak. For example, to some people Scarlett O’Hara is seen as a strong female role model, who despite the misfortunes of the Civil War rose above to be the conquering victor. The woman who will take Tara into the future. To me, she was always the antithesis of a heroine. Using your feminine wiles to secure a husband who will provide does not make you an independent force.
I realize that she was coping with the mechanisms of a bygone era, and that was what she had at her disposal, but seriously? Give me a woman who chooses to be alone in the face of adversity and I will show you a genuine heroine. That is why Ripley appealed to me. She wasn’t the only female on the Nostromo. However, she was the one who figured out that the distress call from the ship they tried to rescue was in fact a warning. Hell was breaking loose around her, but she didn’t look for someone else to throw her a lifeline. She made her own.
When Kane (John Hurt) came back from the ship with the alien attached to his face, Ripley was the one who cited protocol, stating that he should be placed in quarantine. Even when her Captain, Dallas (Tom Skerritt) ordered her to open the doors, she refused. She knew what was right and chose to defy her commanding officer. In my book, that takes guts, to stand up for what you believe in, no matter what the consensus. She would also stand up to duplicitous science officer Ash (Ian Holm) after the droid disobeyed her command and allowed the alien onto the ship. Ripley confronted him on his decision, asserting her authority in a manner that makes her even more of a boss.
The most impressive thing about Ripley is that she is fearless. She offered to hunt the creature in the shafts of the Nostromo. When Dallas was set for a chestburster, he begged for Ripley to kill him, and although hesitant she did so, with a flamethrower no less! It was this kind of attitude which enabled her to remain alive and defeat the seemingly indestructible creature.
Ripley would continue to bust heads and take names in the Alien sequels. In Aliens, she would team up with a group of marines who would take the Xenomorphs just a little too lightly, and it would be Ripley who would take command, becoming the brains behind the entire mission as her band of muscleheads fell thick and fast. In the end, she would be one of only a few left standing, risking her own life to save that of Newt, a young girl who would wake her maternal instincts and see her in a standoff with the alien queen. “Get away from her you, Bitch!” she would scream, donning an exo-skeleton suit and proceeding to beat the living daylights out of her opponent, and in doing so she was able to shepherd the survivors to safety.
In the next film, Alien 3, we find Ripley on a penal colony with a shaved head due to a lice problem. This is a very bold look, but one that Weaver’s Ripley is able to pull off. The environment in which she finds herself is rather hostile. She is the only female in an institution housing only XYY-chromosome murderers and rapists. Ripley is almost sexually assaulted by some of the prisoners, but the religious leader of the colony Dillon comes to her defence. Although she is rescued in this instance, she certainly isn’t afraid, and even punches one of her attackers in the face. Clearly outnumbered and in a dangerous situation, she holds her own and is able to defend herself.
Another reason why Ripley is the queen of female protagonists is that she sacrificed herself for the good of humanity. When Ripley “gives birth” to the little chest buster at the end of Alien 3, she plummets into a furnace holding onto her “child” and the two are engulfed in flames. When called upon for the greater good, she is brave and selfless, sacrificing herself for the well being of the many.
Alien: Resurrection is the last film in the original quadrilogy. Ripley is such a tremendous force that two centuries later she has been cloned. At the time of her demise in Alien 3, she was pregnant with a Xenomorph. The hope was to clone her and harvest the creature. They manage to separate the two, but what they didn’t count on was Ripley acquiring some of the alien’s DNA. The result is a strong and powerful woman warrior.
My favorite moment in the fourth film occurs in a scene with Ripley and Johner (Ron Perlman), the space pirate leader of the ship, The Betty. Johner is trying to put the moves on her while she’s playing basketball. She dribbles the ball and sends it through her legs, smashing Johner right in the crown jewels. She then heaves him across the court, before taking out another crew member who attacks her with weights.
The best part of this encounter (and I am a former basketball player so this is particularly sweet) is when Johner asks her who she is. Ripley’s response is to toss the basketball over her shoulder, and it ends up going straight through the hoop. Nothing but net! Ultimately, Ripley is called upon to battle a newborn Xenomorph. Although having a peculiar bond with the creature whose DNA she shares, the clone Ripley is cold and calculated ends, emotionally tricking the alien in a scene which preserves her noble status.
The character of Ellen Ripley will forever hold a special place in the halls of great movie heroines. She is formidable, capable, intelligent and beautiful, and for me. that pretty much sums up the power of being a woman.