Recently it has been announced that Neill Blomkamp will be making the next instalment in the Alien franchise, and Sigourney Weaver will be back to reprise her role as Ellen Ripley. It is also rumoured that the newest instalment will ignore the films Alien 3 & Alien: Resurrection, and instead be penned as a sequel to Aliens. Ignoring the fact that I don’t generally like it when sequels ignore previous films or aspects of previous films in the series, and that I really liked Alien 3 (and actually for different reasons liked Resurrection) this does mean that we will hopefully get the old Ripley back, and not the half Ripley, half Alien, weird super Ripley we saw in Resurrection.
The Ellen Ripley of the first 3 films is the Ellen Ripley I truly love. She is often described as a feminist film icon, but this is something that I really don’t think is true.
Just because a film has a strong female lead, people often turn it into an advocacy for women’s rights and equality, but in reality, I don’t think that Alien has anything to do with gender, and I don’t think that it should.
Alien is a sci-fi/horror film, and it’s a very good one. It also has a strong female lead, and by strong I mean played by a very talented actress, who has created a female character, who is intelligent, respected, and normal.
Ellen Ripley does not possess super human strength, she is not trained in martial arts, and she does not have magical powers, and it is because of this that she is, for me, the ultimate female heroine.
Look at the amazing female heroines we have to look up to in the Sci-Fi genre; Buffy, Black Widow, Rogue and Storm from the X-Men, Xena, Lara Croft, Wonder Woman……
All amazing in their own right, but none of them are very ‘real’. Perhaps even worse, they all represent women who not only draw their strength from unrealistic traits, but they still tend towards being super attractive, and are highly sexualised.
What Ripley gives us is the female heroine all women can relate to. Sigourney Weaver is a very attractive woman, but she spends most of the film in a jump suit, not fighting in spandex. (Ok, we have the underwear scenes at the end of the film, but at least it fits with the story…..) She is not super strong, she has a reasonable amount of strength for a women her size and age, she is obviously physically fit, but there is nothing to suggest she has above average strength. She’s smart, but not a genius, she’s resourceful, but not highly skilled in absolutely everything, she is brave, but not without fear, she is a normal woman, who is thrust into exceptional circumstances, and displays exceptional character. Ellen Ripley is extraordinary, and yet utterly normal.
What Ripley gives modern women is a true role model, someone who stands up to the likes of Xena and Wonder Woman, but who we can actually identify with. It is this normalcy of Ripley which makes her, in my opinion, the first real female heroine. That is not to say she has been the only one, but she was one of, if not the, first.
So, back to my point about these films having nothing to do with gender…. Ripley is not a side kick, she is not arm candy, and she is not defined by the men around her. She is a lead character in her own right, and yet the character could almost easily be switched out and played by a man. These films do not make an issue of the fact that the lead character is a woman, it’s not over emphasised and it’s not made to be part of the plot. It probably helps with the relationship between Ripley and Newt, but that’s not to say those scenes wouldn’t have worked if Ripley had been male. The Alien franchise is about survival, and Ripley is a survivor, her gender is almost irrelevant, and this is why I feel she is a better role model for women than those who are forced into the gender battle, just to make a statement.
I can only hope that in the newest instalment of the Alien franchise, Sigourney Weaver brings us the old Ellen Ripley back. No super fighting skills, super strength or fancy new tricks, just Ripley, that extraordinary normal woman we have all grown to love.