Newest in my venture to watch my movie collection in alphabetical(ish) order. To see other posts in the series, click here. As always, potential Spoiler Alert.
And we’ve made it to the first movie in my collection that I’ve been genuinely excited to watch again.
I’ve got a lot of history with Aliens. It came out when I was 15, and I desperately wanted to see it. But I had no way to get to the city, and even if I had, you had to be 18 years old to get into the theatre. I was way too much of a rule-follower to even dream of sneaking in.
I hadn’t watched the original Alien film, but had seen the famous chestburster scene. I’m not sure if it being out-of-context made it better or worse, but either way, it was enough to make me not want to watch Aliens by myself.
One night after the movie came out on video, my brother and I were hanging out together in the basement, as my parents had company, so the living room was occupied. My brother asked if I wanted to rent a movie, and I suggested Aliens. I figured it would be perfect – not only would I not have to watch it alone, I knew he’d already seen it and could reassure me during the bad parts. (Yes. I’m a wimp.)
My brother popped out to rent the movie, came home, handed it to me … and then left for the night.
The basement in the house where I grew up wasn’t the nicest. It was partially finished, yes, but it flooded often, and there was a dankness to it that a dehumidifier just couldn’t keep up with. It was also dark and cold and bug-infested, and the sump pump made pretty much continuous schlurping noises. I was terrified of it as a child. (According to my mother, the only time I was spanked was in the basement. The whole family was working downstairs, and my mother brought me down where she could keep an eye on me. I wouldn’t stop crying so my father, using that exquisite “I’ll give you something to cry about” logic, spanked me.) As a teenager, I wasn’t full-on terrified of the basement anymore, but it still scared me.
Between the environment, my expectations of the film, and the fact that I was alone, it’s no wonder I didn’t make it through more than maybe 15 minutes on first viewing. I noped out before Ripley’s nightmare was over.
Luckily, my brother watched it with me the following day before it had to be returned. I say luckily, because I absolutely loved it. I loved the characters. I loved the story. I loved the dialogue. I loved the ambience. I loved the special effects. I loved the action. I loved the xenomorphs and their queen. I loved the music.
I even started to wear a red bandana as a headband in a bid to be like Vasquez.
At this point, I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Aliens. Dozens is the best I can come up with. Enough that, while watching it in prep for this article, Ron gave me a long-suffering look because I was saying my favourite lines out loud along with the characters again.
And there are a lot of them, from “I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure,” to, “Y’know Burke, I don’t know which species is worse. You don’t see them fucking each other for a goddamn percentage,” to “You always were an asshole, Gorman,” to “Game over, man! Game over!”
But when it comes to great lines, I can’t write about this movie without including the most badass moment ever in a science fiction movie.
This is where we get to my personal takeaway from Aliens. Ripley, played by the always brilliant Sigourney Weaver, planted a lot of seeds in my teenage head that have grown as I’ve gotten older: like standing up to authority when authority is in the wrong, and standing up for others, and doing the right thing regardless of personal cost, and facing one’s fears.
Because Ripley was a very different action hero for the time. When Stallone and Schwarzenegger and Van Damme were kicking bad-guy ass, their characters were mostly emotionless automatons who might have one scene where they showed a little humanity to make them relatable to the audience.
Ripley, meanwhile, is fucking terrified the entire movie. And she’s angry, and grieving, and in pain. Her humanity, and the vulnerability it exposes, isn’t a one-scene deal. It’s the base upon which the whole film is built, and it turns what could have been just another shooty-uppy sci-fi action flick into so much more.
For a long time, starting all the way back with my fear of the basement, I would think of Ripley when I was scared or presented with a challenge that seemed beyond my ability to handle. It wasn’t in a What Would Ripley Do? kind of way. It was more like, “Ripley would handle it. And so will you.”
Nowadays, I’ve grown out of thinking directly of Ripley when I face life’s challenges, perhaps because I’ve been through enough of them that I no longer need to make the comparison. But I’ll always be thankful to this strong and complex character, and the highly entertaining film that introduced me to her, for engendering in me many of the ideals that I still hold true today.