*Just so you know, major spoilers for all four movies lurk ahead.*
I'm a child of the VCR generation and proudly so. Christopher Hitchens suggested in his book The Portable Atheist that future generations may wish to exchange religious texts for literature and I think that he's being a bit short sighted there because film is just an apt vehicle. You wouldn't get the impact of Bogart if you read Casablanca! To me the heroes of film and literature are just as inspirational as any god thought up... most of them are even a lot more moral. And one of my absolute favorites is Ellen Ripley.
My relationship with the Alien series started off a little backward. I watched the sequel, Aliens, first.
This was probably due to the fact that the second movie was more Sci-fi action than Sci-fi horror and I was probably six or seven years old. My dad let me watch it. I'm sure it was because Ripley was such a 'kick ass and take names' chick and he wanted me to be exposed to badass women.
I was enraptured. Never before had I actually seen a heroine that wasn't bouncing around with big hair and constantly swooning over men. Ripley was tortured, she was independent and she was real. I so wanted to be Newt in that movie. I storyboarded the whole thing in my head with me in the child role. Of course the dialog was changed up a bit and I wasn't such a whiny baby, but I was there at Ripley's side.
I wouldn't even want to hazard a guess as to how many times I've seen Aliens since that first time almost twenty years ago. I just know that it has to be nearing the triple digits. And who knows how many times I'll watch it in the future. To me, Aliens is about as near perfect as a movie can get. Cameron got this one, as well as most things he does, totally right.
But simply watching the sequel wasn't enough for me. I knew Ripley had a back story and I also knew that it was available on a big, black plastic brick.
Convincing my parents exactly how much I needed to see it was a little tricky. My dad figured I'd be fine, but if memory serves correctly, I think it took a few weeks to wear mom down. They were already divorced at the time, so that worked in my favor. If I watched it at his house and had nightmares, then he'd have to deal with it, not her. My logic worked, and the next weekend with my dad I got to sit down for nearly two hours with my beloved Ripley.
Alien was way more intense. Like 'Holy shit, there's blood everywhere and Ripley isn't half as confident about her chances' kind of intense. My dad was hilarious about how he handled the situation. He made me watch it in the morning; that way I'd have the whole day to get my mind on something else before the dark of night started to creep in. Then he left me alone with the movie so he could take a shower... He left me alone right after everyone in the God damn film had been axed with the exception of Ripley!
I wish I had footage of the little me during those last 15 minutes of film. I can only imagine this little blonde girl with her chest heaving, eyes trying to stay open, clutching a pillow for dear life. I was scared shitless. I probably looked like Ripley, only slightly less sweaty. But I couldn't turn it off. I knew that I had to stay with her, had to make sure that she made it out ok even though I knew she'd be coming back in the sequel. If Ripley could summon up her courage to face the Alien, I could scrounge up mine to watch her do it.
The sigh of relief I felt when she made her final log for the Nostromo was epic. But it wasn't till she laid down in the cryotube with Jonesy that I knew everything would really be ok. She would wake up fifty years later, mad as hell at The Company and ready to kick ass.
By the time the movie was over my dad was finished getting ready. He asked me if I was ok and, of course, I replied positively but I think he knew I was totally freaked the fuck out. It was the grin that painted his face after I'd answered.
But it didn't matter how freaked I was by that movie, I was hooked. I simply couldn't get enough of the franchise and watched them anytime I could convince everyone else to sit through it.
So when Alien 3 came out in 1992 guess who flipped their shit and had to see it as soon as possible? Yeah, that'd be me.
I was nine at the time of release.
Alien 3 was probably one of the first truly disturbing films I'd ever seen in my life. It wasn't necessarily scary; it was visceral and dirty. And being a product of David Fincher (Director of Seven) it would be. But I'm fairly certain that my Dad and Rita (my wonderful stepmom) weren't prepared for how severely R rated this one was going to be. And frankly neither was I.
Within the first twenty minutes I watched the autopsy of a little girl (the same little girl I wanted to be) and saw her body committed to the flames. I'm not gonna lie here, I still flinch when her ribcage is cracked and I know it set me off my popcorn so many years ago. Luckily I got to forget how traumatized I was by the beginning of the movie because one of the worst possible things in the history of the entire world happened at the end.
Ripley died! Like seriously fucking died!
I remember the car ride home and how Rita was asking me if I was ok with the movie. I think I remember her saying something about how it was way worse than she'd expected and that maybe it was too much for me. I bypassed that part completely, stating that I was fine. But what about Ripley!
She was my hero and now she was completely vaporized. Fuck the fact that she sacrificed herself to save the rest of humanity, fuck the fact that it was incredibly poignant that she be the vessel for a Queen Alien, fuck the entire film! How the hell was I supposed to cope in a world that now did not include a Ripley! When that Bishop look alike pleaded with her to go back with him, I was on his side. I didn't care about the possible Alien outbreak on Earth, as long as we had Ripley around to fight that battle the ends justified the means. But this... my heart was broken.
Then my wonderful Rita became psychic. I shit you not she said something to the effect of "Maybe they'll bring her back by cloning her. They did that with Spock in Star Trek."
My mind raced with this idea, that is after I got a brief explanation of how cloning worked. I fantasized about how they might bring Ripley back and what the circumstances would be. Would the Aliens have made it to Earth and scientists, in some last ditch effort to save it, brought back the one woman who could do what needed to be done? Would she be on another planet with good alien creatures who are also being attacked by the teeth tongued mongrels? The circumstances didn't matter, because even if Hollywood never did anything about it, Ripley could live on in my mind.
Then, in 1997, they made my dreams come true yet again.
Ripley was not only back, she was under a script cultivated by Joss Whedon; a God among men. She was fighting beside Winona Ryder, who had become one of my 'less kick ass, more witty' heroes of the nineties in Reality Bites.
People, for the most part hated Alien Resurrection. I loved it. It was cute, quirky, witty, and, if looked at it in the right light, had some definite lesbian undertones going on between Ripley and Call. I have a strange relationship with this one though in the sense that I only truly want to watch in in November. I assume it's because that's when it came out in theaters.
The point is Ripley was back in my world. And though she wasn't exactly the same, I'd still take her.
As I've aged I've learned to appreciate the subtle perfections of the first installment more than all the other, but every single one of them holds a special place in my heart. And even though I'm older now, I still tend to drift off into space sometimes and place myself at the side of one of the greatest heroines of all time. Ellen Ripley is most definitely a part of me, and she will remain so until it's time for me to be 'signing off.'