Aliens Films (1979-1997)
What is the significance of events in films? Are all the bits and pieces in films intentionally included by directors? These are some of the questions I asked myself as I set out on a comprehensive analysis of the audience message in the Aliens Films (1979-1997). According to film analyst Greg Smith, different events in films are not to be treated as accidental encounters of random occurrence and spontaneity. They are instead purposefully planned series of events with cause and effect and with nothing left to chance (Greg 128). Greg explains that Hollywood films are inadvertently one of the most carefully constructed, highly scrutinized and least random works existent. It is with this mindset and understanding that I embark on this expository of the ‘Alien Films (1979-1997)’. Officially released in 1979, The Alien Film hit the market entertainment scene with a blast, movie previews were underlined with the ringing tagline, “In space no one can hear you scream”. Its critical and commercial success birthed the development of three other Alien sequels by different directors, Aliens by James Cameron in 1986, Alien3 by David Fincher in 1992 and Alien Resurrection by Jean-Pierre Jeunet in 1997. Alien gained momentum months after its release and it became widely respected within the film community as one of the most engaging, thrilling and scientifically imaginative monster films of all time.
Originally written by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett and produced by Walter Hill and David Giler of the Brandywine Productions, the film title, ‘Alien’ refers to an extremely aggressive and intelligent extraterrestrial creature that silently haunts stalks and kills the crew of the spaceship, Nostromo. Alien (1979) revolves around the commercial spaceship, Nostromo on its way back to Earth. Following a cryptic signal from a desolate planetoid, the spaceship with seven crew members in stasis diverts its initial trajectory and embarks on an exploration of a derelict alien ship with the expectation of discovering extra-terrestrial life form. During the exploration, one of the crewmen, Kane discovers gigantic skeletal remains of the ship’s supposed captain with another large chamber containing thousands of eggs. When one of the eggs hatches and releases a creature that attaches itself to his face, a danger alert is alarmed and quarantine administration ordered to kill the creature. The crew however later on discovers an impending alien invasion when the ‘dead’ alien bursts out of Kane’s chest and begins to grow rapidly to a terrifying eight-foot. One by one the lethal creature terminates the crew men as Ripley is left alone with the ultimate responsibility of securing the escape shuttle and killing the alien.
Alien (1986), was produced seven years later where Ellen Ripley the sole survivor of the Nostromo awakens after 57 years of hyper sleep. She is aboard a health space facility that is orbiting the Earth. Here she learns that the LV-426, the alien planet is home to a terraforming colony. Although her survival story is unbelieving, she must set back to the planet for investigation purposes after contact with the colony is lost. She is accompanied by a high tech squad from the United States Colonial Marines aboard the spaceship Sulaco. Their discovery reinforces Ripley’s encounter when they find the colony was wiped out completely after encountering with the alien ship with its deadly cargo.
Six years later in 1992, Alien 3 was released as a continuation of the second film where the Sulaco crashes on a prison planet called Fiorina "Fury" 161 due to a fire hazard. The escape shuttle is severely damaged and Ripley is once again left as the sole survivor only that this time she is in the company of an Alien that was unbeknown to them aboard the Sulaco. All the inmates are killed by the adult Alien as Ripley comprehends a shocking discovery of an alien queen growing inside her. She has to make the ultimate sacrifice of terminating her own life to save humanity.
Alien Resurrection (1997) was the last film in the series released 5 years after Alien 3. Set a time two hundred years after the Alien 1992, Ellen Ripley is cloned together with the Alien queen she was carrying. The queen is surgically removed from Ripley by the United Systems Military that plans to breed the Aliens for study in their spaceship, USM Auriga. ‘Alien Resurrection’ revolves around the scientific excursion in the Auriga that uses human hosts who are kidnapped by mercenaries and delivered to the Military. The film focuses on the attempts by the Aliens, Ripley who now has Alien DNA and the mercenaries to escape and stop the final destination of the Auriga to Earth.
This paper is going to undertake a critical analysis of the thematic and conceptual concerns presented throughout the film. Some of these conspicuous features include the Alien organism, the Alien planet in comparison to the Nostromo and perhaps most notably the significant emphasis on the female domination integrated in the Alien Film through the main protagonist Ripley. In the ‘Alien film’, the role of the female protagonist is utilized to not only develop an interesting storyline but to create an emphasis on the significance of women empowerment in the society.
The Alien films were debuted in America at a time when there was a significant amount of cultural movements and recognition. The economy during the 70s and 80s was at a rapid downward spiral as the rates of inflation, unemployment and recession were at high peaks. As a result there were enhanced programs aimed at combatting poverty. Feminist movements were also on the rise as women in the workforce were increasing in numbers as they demanded equal rights with men. All these were interlocking in a pool similarly filled with sexual experimentation and freedom that contributed to the rising cases of sexually transmitted diseases during 1970s and the rapid and exponential technological change. It is no surprise that some of these changes were intentionally captivated within the film.
During the screening of previews there was a detectable sense of anxiety and interest drawn from various states as many looked forward for the evident horror film. On its release, reception varied from different quarters as religious groups ‘protested against the film calling it ‘the devil’s work’. Alien was rated X in the United Kingdom, R in the United States and M in Australia. Some classified it as AA and suitable for 14 years and over though there were concerns over the sexual imagery in some scenes. The AA certificate was however filled against by the 20th Century Fox after the decision that it would be a commercially viable option
Critical reaction was mixed soon after release as some critics like Barry Norman were positive and merited the impeccable work of science fiction sewed in the film. Reviews by other critics like Sight and Sound, Variety, Leonard Maltin and Vincent Canby were negative if not mixed as the film was ridiculed as empty tricks of already established fiction lacking authenticity and rich imagination. Most of the critics expressed disappointment as they compared Alien to famous block busters like compared to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. What they however failed to acknowledge was the intensity of research work done in the filming, special effects, creature and set design of the files. Considering the immense intellectual input dedicated to the production of the Alien sequel, I find the film capacitated with a rich imagination that goes beyond the normal film development techniques in the mainstream media.
As mentioned earlier, this paper will deal with the perspective of gender in the film. The cultural context of feminism is the strongest message detected throughout the films. In the 70s and 80s when the films were being introduced to audiences, women in the society were undergoing a turning point. Female targeted organizations were fighting for the amendment to the United States Constitution on Equal Rights that was expected to pronounce the equality between men and women (Michael). The Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974 prohibited the discrimination based on marital status, race, sex, religion, age and national origin in consumer credit practices. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act on the other hand issued a ban on the discrimination in employment against pregnant women that stated that a woman cannot be denied a job or promotion or fired because of pregnancy neither should they be forced into a pregnancy leave when able and willing to work (Levine, 81). During 1978, one of the largest marches for gender equality in the Feminist movement on the Equal Rights Amendment Extension saw a strong women empowerment in a predominantly patriarchal society.
In Alien we are showed a clear gender role reversal with a heroine as the lead protagonist. Although the story starts with a clear hierarchy of male dominants, it progresses as the men are killed and the command left to women. The captain and the Executive Officer of the spaceship are both used for the reproduction of the Alien giving them a “mother” aspect. Kane is referenced as a mother when Ash refers to his son from the Alien. The fact that Ripley is given the role of killing the Alien monster, a presumed role of men since the medieval time indicates that the film intentionally explored an avenue of consolidating the women empowerment movement. Although the main character was made a woman by the film makers, a risky move in itself it proved successful as it created a tough protagonist who was a welcome heroine in the horror genre. This reversal of stereotype was an accepted move that set the pace and an equal platform for both men and women. This is also because Ripley seized the opportunity to show that women can be better heroines. This is seen when on LV-426 she gets a second chance to exterminate the alien world and save her crew. Despite the chaos, she remains cool and is able to deal with the alien invasion and the panics in the Marine Unit (Michael). She is also able to discover the military plan to impregnate crew members for company profits and is courageous enough to make firm decisions despite the difficulties she faces.
"Aliens," is one of the first films to utilize the feminine voice. We see Ripley speak out in incidences of unjust confrontations and when men are silencing her concerns. She defends herself in the first few scenes when during an interrogation with executives attack her participation in the destruction of the "Nostromo." She is not afraid to voice her concerns even during the Marine briefing when she is surrounded by soldiers who try to out talk her as she elucidates on the dangers of the Alien threat on LV-426. After the trauma of the first ‘Alien’ Ripley is able to narrate her painful experience an act that captures the Marines interest on the alien threat. Corp and Hicks are some of the few males that Riley develops solid relationships with that thrives more on interdependence rather than superiority. This new outlook of male/female roles is one of the reasons that ‘Aliens’ is still one of the most controversial films of all time.
‘Alien’ is a movie with multiple layers, this is because apart from being a science fiction piece of art, it has numerous subliminal themes like corporate greed, the role of the feminine voice in our culture as well as Jung's concept of the negative mother archetype of reversed roles. Betrayal, surrogacy when Ripley uses Newt as a surrogate child and ‘Alien’ monopoly are some other topic handled in the sequel. The directors of the science fiction thriller are by every means one of the best in their forte. Their focus on the themes of humanity and technology are fitting for a film of its immensity and grandeur. The character Bishop for instance displays some of the highly regarded human qualities as self-sacrifice, curiosity and personal risk for the collective group, though a synthetic human he exudes compassion and care. It is Bishop who saves Ripley’s life in the end.
Greg, M. Smith. It's Just a Movie: A Teaching Essay for Introductory Media Classes Cinema Journal. 41.1, 127-134, 2001.
Levine, Lawrence. Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of a Cultural Hierarchy in America.
Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1990.
Michael, R. Allen. Aliens: An Analysis. Retrieved from: http://voices.yahoo.com/aliens-analysis-
Description of the Corpus
The Alien sequels all released by different directors are a series of science fiction films that focus on extra Terrestrial life forms ‘Aliens’ encountered by a group of space scientist on their way back to Earth after a space cruise mineral exploration. Aliens1 is by David Giler, Aliens by James Cameron in 1986, Alien3 by David Fincher in 1992 and Alien Resurrection by Jean-Pierre Jeunet in 1997. In the first film the commercial spaceship, Nostromo on its way back to Earth diverts to an alien planetoid following a cryptic signal from a desolate ship. One event leads to the other and all the seven crew men in stasis are attacked by an alien in the ship with only Ripley remaining as the sole survivor. The following series focus on the encounters of Ripley and her war against Alien invasion.
Objectives of the Research
- What is the significant theme in the Alien Sequel?
- What is the role of Ripley in the film as a woman heroine and sole survivor of Alien invasion?