I’m not covering new ground here. In fact, I’m re-treading very very old ground that we all know the story to. But how better to start Face It, Tiger’s weekly film review than with one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time, which just so happens to be led – nay – dominated by a woman?!
I begin with a confession. Until a few weeks ago, I had never seen Alien. In fact, I didn’t even really know what it was about. Sure, there was a stomach churning belly-bursting scene, and I was pretty sure it had something to do with space, but that was about it. To geeks, sci-fi enthusiasts, and film buffs everywhere, I apologise. But the entire experience was a sheer thrill-ride for me. It instantly became firmly lodged in my all-time favourite movies list, and I felt an instant compulsion to put the second one on straight away – which I did. And I loved that too, though I felt it lost its edge slightly: and for that reason, Aliens will feature in a second post some point in the future – but maybe not 57 years from now…
Because this is such a classic, I won’t bore you with ‘here’s what happens, this is who made it, yadda yadda yadda’. Instead, I want to focus on precisely why Alien resonated so strongly with me: why is it so important? So, let’s begin.
Is there no sound in this film?
Alien seriously creeped me out from the get-go. I was (stupidly) sitting in a dark room, at night, on my own. But the overbearing intensity of the opening scenes, silently panning around key areas of Nostromo created a knot in my stomach as I realised what I’d let myself in for. Atmospheric horror. The kind that lingers, stays with you. I expected the creature to jump out at me instantly – I wanted it to, to relieve the aching silence. Instead, the silence stayed, and the tension grew. As we met the characters and learned their traits, the anxiety receded, but I was still very aware that it wasn’t the end.
No – don’t go near that thing! Run away!
It was all too obvious that Kane was going to get an alien to the face. To be honest, he kind of deserved it for his blatant stupidity. Rule number one: don’t investigate pulsing egg things on an alien planet, especially if they’re inside a giant alien skeleton. This is where watching through fingers and shouting at the screen began for me. It was also where I realised that Ellen Ripley was hugely important: listen to the woman who wants to keep the man with an alien stuck to his face in quarantine!
I honestly thought this would be where hell broke loose. Aliens would come screaming from the rafters, and guns would be blazing – clearly showing that I’ve grown up under the influence of Michael Bay’s era of cinema. But instead, silence. That quiet tension. Building.
Stop looking for the damn cat!
Honestly, if an alien breaks out of my co-workers belly, runs off, and turns into a seven-foot creature, finding the ship’s cat would be the least of my worries. But this crew is LOYAL. They will find that cat and save all nine of its lives!
I think Alien ranks as one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen. I watched it through my fingers, scared but captivated. The cinematography was fantastic. Slow, but gritty. The sound was perfect: silent and ominous, with subtle builds at the right moments. I loved the quickening heartbeat as tension would gradually increase. And I was genuinely scared of the creature itself. I obviously knew what it looked like – it’s iconic. But, every time it lingered on screen, I felt myself recoiling.
The special effects have even aged well. There’s something truly magical about the movies of the 1970s and 1980s where the effects were real. Android Ash was super creepy when he was torn apart, dripping milky goo stuff (also: major twist! Who saw that one coming?!). However, I did laugh when Dallas ran into the creature in the air vent. It was less ‘menacing monster scare’ and more ‘eeeey, how y’doin’, buddy?’
But that was the only flaw I could pick with the movie. It was tense, terrifying and terrific.
The Ripley Effect
Now, the most significant reason I wanted to begin with Alien.
Here we have one of the most beloved, critically acclaimed movies of all time – and it is carried by a woman. A magnificent, strong, determined woman. When you think about it, we’ve seen Alien‘s basic premise a thousand times in movies: a monster tears through an isolated group, leaving one helpless female until last. But Ripley isn’t helpless. She’s anything but. She’s a leader. If they’d listened to her from the beginning, all of the crew would be alive (well, maybe not Kane). Ripley not only saves herself, but manages to outwit her predator – AND save her cat.
Let’s take a slightly closer look at Ellen Ripley. First off, she’s an astronaut! How cool is that!? Okay, okay, technically a warrant officer, but she can fly, control and command a ship – in space! Second – she’s a complete badass. She immediately earned a place on my zombie apocalypse team. Having no qualms about facing unknown creatures, firing guns and wielding axes, and blasting an alien out of a shuttle, it’s fair to say she’s happy to get her hands dirty if it means survival for her and her crew. Which also means she’s not driven by romance and relationships. At no point throughout the entire film is she busy sucking on some guys face: “I’m doing this for you, bae.” Ellen Ripley is being an amazing badass for herself. She doesn’t need to prove anything, to anyone. And that is so important: she is not defined by her male peers. She defines herself. She’s not the damsel, the sidekick, or the hot object. She’s the hero.
Which leads me to conclude with a question. Why aren’t there more Ellen Ripley’s in cinema? Only around 15% of Hollywood protagonists are female and, more shockingly, only 30% of female characters have speaking parts in film. We have stories to tell too, so why aren’t we telling them? We aren’t all like the chick-flick diva, always the bridesmaid and never the bride; the style-savvy fashion goddesses a la Sex and the City; the sassy sidekick to the muscular male superman. We can be fighters; we can be heroes; we can be leaders. We can be Ripleys. We are Ripleys. We just need someone to tell our stories.