Aliens: from inspiring grit to tiresome s**t

By Lucy Smee

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In space, no one can hear you liveblog whilst eating an entire box of Maltesers.

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I run the New Cross-based film night The Bechdel Test Film Club, where we screen films that pass the test (to pass, a film must have two named women who talk to each other about something that isn’t a man. See their website.) When trying one day to find good SF films that pass the test, it seemed nigh on impossible, with Aliens being the main contender. [If you can think of any other good films that pass, please email/tweet/fb us!] Mentioning this to Laurel at a Holdfast meeting, Laurel confessed she’d never seen a single film in the Alien series. I was in no way outraged by this but seeing as most of them are pretty good and feature an interesting female lead who is onscreen most of the time, I thought it would be good to watch them together. Thus, we decided to watch all four in a row and write a condensed ‘live blog’ as we went slowly insane.

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And so… Sunday 20 October, 10am

I cycle round to Laurel’s in the rain. I get there and my bike basket detaches from my bike and my laptop crashes to the ground. Rushing inside, I attempt to plug it in to see if it’s still working but the casing has crumpled and I can’t get the plug in. Laurel fetches me a rubber mallet. I wallop the casing back into approximate position, the plug goes in, the computer turns on… it works! The live blog can commence! It goes without saying there will be spoilers.

 

Tea is made, Laurel has an insane array of snacks. She is wearing an Aliens tshirt that up until now, she was just being pretentious by wearing, as she’d never seen the films. She puts the DVD in. “I’m scared!”

 

Lucy-Anne Smee = LAS

Laurel Jo Sills = LJS

 

 

ALIEN

LJS: This opening is a bit slow. Does the cat die?

LAS: [who just went through the opening credits going, ‘He dies. He dies. She’s ok. He dies. He dies’] Shh, no spoilers.

LJS: I love how realistic the ship is! It looks lived in. Where is everyone? Oh, there they are. I didn’t know Gandalf was in this!!!!

Laurel’s boyfriend who has wandered in: That’s Bilbo, not Gandalf.

LJS: No, next to Bilbo. I didn’t mean Gandalf, I meant Magneto.

LAS: You’re thinking of Ian MacKellan. He plays both of them. That isn’t him. That’s John Hurt.

LJS: Oh.

Laurel’s boyfriend: You should watch Prometheus as part of this.

LAS: No, we shouldn’t. [idiot male leaves]

LJS: Oh dear, they should not be going down to that planet in the shuttle.  [she’s right]. She’s smoking a cigarette on the shuttle! [throughout the series, Laurel will continue to notice health and safety violations].

LAS: The computer is called Mother. INTERESTING.

Laurel: Does the cat die? Why didn’t they wait until Mother translated the beacon before they went to the alien ship? [again, she’s right].

John Hurt lowers himself down into the womb cave and starts trampling around on the eggs. Facehugger!

LJS & LAS: AAAHHH!

John Hurt is ok and is happily eating dinner. Oh, no he isn’t.

LJS & LAS: AAAHHH!

Bilbo calls Ripley “My dear”.

LAS: That was a bit ‘calm down dear’. The future is still sexist, how disappointing.

LJS: Shouldn’t they stop burying Gandalf [it isn’t Gandalf] and find the Alien? [she’s right again]. Oh they are… Jesus! Never say ‘kitty kitty’ in a horror film! [she’s right again. Harry Dean Stanton is for it.]

LAS: I dunno about this fire tunnel idea. Is it a good idea to be crawling around enclosed spaces with fire?

LJS & LAS: [as Dallas gets it] AAAHHH!

LJS: Ripley just told everyone to stick together! They immediately haven’t stuck together! They should stick together [she’s right again].

Ash flips out and starts dribbling white spunky goo and flailing around after Ripley.

LJS: [sits bolt upright] WHAT IS GOING ON IS HE A ROBOT OH MY GOD

LAS: Ooh, Ripley’s pinning her hair up. I guess she means business. Oh, she’s going back for the cat.

LJS: What! Never go back for animals! This is the first daft thing she’s done.

Ripley sets the auto-destruct sequence.

LJS: Do you think it’s ok to call my first-born daughter Ripley?

LAS: Sure.

LJS: Why isn’t the shuttle immediately next to the auto-destruct panel! It should be right next to it! [she’s right again].

The Alien gets distracted by Jonesy.

LJS: Does the cat die?

Ripley calls Mother a bitch. INTERESTING.

Ripley and Jonesy are ‘safe’ in the shuttle, so Ripley takes off most of her clothes.

LAS: Those are such tiny pants.

LJS: Bum crack!

The Alien finally bites the dust.

LJS: The cat is ok! I’m glad Ripley isn’t totally alone and has the cat.

 

Before the next film, we put some parsnip soup on to simmer. As we chop the vegetables we discuss that the film doesn’t really pass the Bechdel Test all that well as Ripley and Lambert don’t really talk to each other that much. Lambert’s a bit busy being hysterical and no one actually listens to Ripley. However, she’s a brilliant lead character and is mostly very rational throughout and really everyone should have listened to her all the time. They should have left Gandalf [it wasn’t Gandalf] out in the cold.

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ALIENS

 

LAS: I like that they are exploring the shuttle initially with robots instead of humans. Maybe in the future people are slightly more sensible.

LJS: 57 years have passed!?!? SHIT!

Burke reveals Ripley’s daughter has died.

LJS: Oh… that’s so sad.

Spunkmeyer comes up on the list of marine names

LJS: Spunkmeyer! HAHA!

The marines wake up and work out. Hudson makes a crude butch joke to Vasquez, who zings him right back.

LAS: The future is still homophobic and sexist. Disappointing.

Ripley demonstrates her ability to use a giant loading robot. “Where do you want it?”

The Marines are very impressed.

LJS: HA! YEAH!

The marines do a combat drop to the planet surface. The female pilot is wearing aviator sunglasses for no reason.

LJS: [once again in her role as health and safety inspector] I feel those would be a hindrance, if anything. And why isn’t Vasquez wearing a helmet.

Ripley gives some sensible advice and no one listens to her.

LJS: Why does no one listen to Ripley!?

LAS: That is literally why they brought her along. For advice.

The marines find Newt hiding under a pipe and call Ripley up front to talk to her.

LAS: Why Ripley!? Because she’s a lady and only ladies can talk to children?? The future is still sexist. Disappointing.

The marines go into the processing plant/womb. Ripley is the only one, despite being born 100 years before anyone else, who realises they can’t shoot their guns in there. Useless Lieutenant tells the marines not to shoot their guns but doesn’t tell them why.

LJS: He’s shit. Just put Ripley in charge [she’s right].

LAS: There are going to be an awful lot of aliens if all the colonists have been face hugger raped.

LJS: They said 50-60 families…

LAS: That’s about 180-200 aliens! Damn.

Ripley tells Useless Lieutenant to pull his team out. He doesn’t.

LJS: LISTEN TO RIPLEY!

Most of the marines are dead, the shuttle is a wreck and the Useless Lieutenant is wounded and even more useless than before. Newt says something intelligent about the aliens and Hudson freaks out and shouts sarcastically that they should put Newt in charge.

LAS: They should put Newt in charge. Only her and Ripley ever say anything sensible.

LJS: Hicks is listening to Ripley! He said her plan was outstanding! I like him.

LAS: I like that Ripley’s not the only one acting like some kind of surrogate parent – Hicks is too.

LJS: I also like that because Ripley is the main character, Hicks is a supporting character and so we have a supporting character love interest who’s a male instead of the other way around.

Ripley and Newt have a nice bonding session, although Newt asks Ripley if babies are born the same way as the Aliens are. Poor girl, scarred for life.

Hicks says, “Stay frosty”.

LAS: Marine lingo has not updated in the future. Disappointing.

Both LAS and LJS enjoy the gun training flirting between Ripley and Hicks.

Burke looses the face huggers in the med lab, next to the sleeping Ripley and Newt.

LJS & LAS: AAHHH [extended screaming for this scene].

LJS: FUCKING MULTI-NATIONALS!

LAS: CORPORATE WANKER!

Some Newt rescuing occurs. Some exploring of maternal instincts occurs.

LJS: They are once again up against a time limit, before they get blown up, like Ripley and the self-destruct sequence in Alien. Boring.

LJS: Aw, she’s said her real first name.

LAS: His first name is Dwayne though.

Ripley and Newt are in the egg field/womb/alien queen egg tube room.

LJS: Ripley is playing the Alien Queen’s maternal instincts against it by threatening the eggs, as Ripley acts on her own maternal instincts to save Newt.

LAS: Everyone is so motherly.

The Alien Queen detaches herself from her ovaries.

LAS: If only we could all do that, amirite ladies?

Bishop makes a dramatic entrance and flies them away.

LJS: They really should check the ship [she’s right]

Ripley’s Class 2 loading licence comes in handy. She calls someone else a bitch, except this time instead of Mother the computer it’s the Alien Queen.

LJS: Wow, Ripley is so strong to climb up the ladder in a space vacuum.

Newt calls Ripley ‘Mommy’.  

LAS: Sorry, James Cameron, what was the working title for this film again? I just can’t quite remember.

 

The film ends and we make some tea and popcorn and discuss the film. Laurel has enjoyed this more than Alien as it was more entertaining and the characters were rounded out slightly and at least one person listened to Ripley. Lucy is still disappointed that even though it’s the future, people are still making illegal immigrant jokes and anti-butch jokes. I guess even if it’s set in a fantasy world it still reflects the time it’s made in.

Alien 3

 

The film opens and it is revealed that Newt and Hicks died in the shuttle crash, and Bishop is probably a goner too.

LJS: WHAT. THE. FUCK. I am furious. We went through so much with them. Also, they should listen to the barking dog [she’s right].

The male prisoners have an interesting range of reactions to a female visitor. Some seemed pleased in a weird creepy way and others are annoyed a lady is entering into their peaceful male space.

LAS: Although it’s still just a mass of men, I quite like that they aren’t just a typical prison inmate collection of various thugs.

LJS: Oh my God! Tywin Lannister!!!!!

Tywin Lannister just told Ripley to shave her fanjo. He also seems to be listening to her and taking her seriously from the get go.

LJS: He’s listening to her! Someone is listening to Ripley! Hooray!

LAS: That’s nice that the prisoners are attending Newt and Hicks’ cremation.

ripley2

Uh oh, Dog Alien has happened. Also, Ripley has shaved her head, and therefore we have to assume, her fanjo.

LJS: Are they purposefully defeminising Ripley after maternalising her in Aliens? I shaved my head when I was 14 partly because of Sigourney Weaver. Also Sinead O’Connor.

LAS: It’s a good job you’re finally watching these films so you can wear that tshirt and have shaved your head without being a tourist.

LAS: The company runs the mine. This is bad. Fucking company corporate wankers.

One of the prisoners gets Dog Aliened and sucked through a giant fan.

LJS: The shit hit the fan!

LAS: [looks at LJS in disapproval]

Ripley and Tywin Lannister have totally done it.

LJS: I can’t believe that! She didn’t even kiss Hicks and to her, he only died this morning. Bit harsh.

LAS: Maybe she really wanted a bang you know. She has only been fighting aliens for days on end now.

Inevitable rape attempt scene. Nice preacher Dillon saves her.

LJS: There’s more than one person of colour in this with speaking parts. Although most of them do keep dying after they say their lines.  Most of the films have had people of colour in too, which is quite nice, although yeah, they do die a lot.

LAS: Also they were racist to Vasquez even though it is the FUTURE.

Charles Dance gets his head crushed by Dog Alien!

LJS & LAS: TYWIN!!!!!!!!!

LJS: The prison warden is a bit Dickensian, like it’s a workhouse with a comedy horrible manager.  OH!

Ha! Brian Glover dies in an hilarious way. We are still in shock about Charles Dance though. Does anyone else sing his name to the tune of Bowie’s Let’s Dance?

Nice-preacher-although-former-rapist/murderer suggests that Ripley lead them in the fight against Dog Alien. The men would prefer the preacher guy as their leader. Both seem ok suggestions.

LJS: You know, these prisoners are working together in a much better team than the marines were in Aliens. They also are better at following orders. Good for them.

LJS: Ripley keeps clutching her stomach…OMG that is why Dog Alien didn’t kill her! She’s preggers!

LAS: I like that this seems to have just made her more determined to kill herself and everyone there. They should just die to save the universe. So Utilitarian! I agree though, that Dog Alien is not cool.

LJS: I think it’s a bit of a cruel twist in the maternal theme of the series so far. Her daughter dies, Newt dies, weird Alien Queen Mum, then Ripley is pregnant with a terrifying alpha predator.

People waffle on about whether they should die or kill Ripley.

LJS: I. Am. So. Tired.

LAS: My. Bum. Hurts. So Much.

LJS: Oh, they are up against a time limit again! BORING!

Through amazing and slightly unbelievable teamwork the Dog Alien gets hot leaded/smashed to pieces. Ripley’s still alien preggers though, and the corporate wankers are trying to catch her.

LAS: Didn’t anyone bring a tranquilizer dart? Just incapacitate her.

Ripley descends into the flames as the alien queen bursts out of her stomach.

 

Our thoughts on this one are that we enjoyed it, despite it being very male. A lot of the prisoners were interesting characters.  However, it’s sad Ripley had to go that way as she’d really just suffered continually for days and then snuffed it by being ripped open by an evil baby, living her recurring nightmare.

Alien Resurrection

 

LJS: I think I’m going to be sick.

LAS: We have eaten too many Maltesers [eats Malteser].

LJS: How is Ripley still a thing? She died. Ew! Weird birthing scene!

LAS: I wonder why they are bothering to sew her back up now they’ve got the alien.

LJS: Weird embryonic sac waking up scene.

LAS: I think the mother theme might be being jammed down our throats a little bit. Ooh! Irritating space pirates plus Winona.

LAS: The computer is called Father in this one. Patriarchy.

LJS: The horrible space pirate is flirting with Ripley. I’m not sure I like the tone of this one so far.

LAS: Totally unnecessary view of space pirate pilot woman’s arse as she groans having a foot massage.

LJS: Definitely don’t like the tone of this one so far.

The stupid Frankenstein doctor licks the glass with the alien behind it, in a weird sexy way.

LAS: This is horrible.

LJS: Why is Winona wearing boxing gloves? Is she ‘quirky’?

LAS: Kooky.

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The aliens escape and it all gets insanely violent and graphic, way more graphic than the other films.

LAS: Did the captain just look at his brain after having his brain pierced by the alien phallus jaw?

Space pirate captain takes charge yet immediatlely goes off on his own and gets killed. Ripley says, ‘So, who do I have to fuck to get off this boat?'

LAS: I am really not impressed with this film so far.

Ripley pulls tiny alien phallus mouth out of dead alien, hands it to Winny going ‘nice souvenir’.

LJS: This is so crass.  This script is terrible.

Horrible space pirate is mean to disabled space pirate.

LAS: Disablism still exists in the future. Disappointing.

LJS: This is so lame! Ripley isn’t in command anymore! At least she was the clever one thinking of ideas before! Now she’s just there and weirdly part-alien and mysterious. But she also has lost all her personality.

They find the room with all the clone mutant Ripleys.

LAS: This is just weird freakshow voyeurism! It’s all just so horrible to look at and not in a fascinating way or interesting way, it’s just generally gross and crass.

Horrible space pirate says, “I don’t get it; it must be a chick thing.”

LAS: The future is now 200 years in the future from the previous films set in the future and it is STILL SEXIST. DISAPPOINTING.

LJS: The music in this underwater scene is really terrible.

LAS: This dialogue with Winny is extremely exposition heavy. Although it does mean the film passes the Bechdel Test I think. Lady robots are still ladies, right?

LJS: I’m so bored. Ripley is a useless weirdo bystander.

LJS: This scene with Ripley hugging the aliens is weird. Does she love them or does she hate them? Is the alien mounting her in some way? I can’t tell.

LAS: I can’t tell either. It’s also her grandbaby so this is weird.

LJS: Eugh, giant alien womb.

LAS: They really seem to be obsessed with lady procreation parts. That. Is the ugliest baby ever.

LJS: Why is the baby pleased to see Ripley but not its own mother?

Alien Baby eats the Frankenstein doctor’s head off.  

LAS: This is just so gory.

LJS: So is the alien baby good or bad?

LAS: How does it already understand the words Ripley is saying? It’s a baby.

The alien baby and Ripley have a weird hug and then Ripley kills it with her acid blood and a tiny hole in the window. Incredibly gruesome and protracted alien baby death scene follows.

LJS and LAS: [shocked silence]

LAS: This is the worst thing ever.

LJS: How did that go from being so good this morning to so effing bad tonight?

 

The film ends. We discuss how in the 1970s it was pretty marvellous to have a normal woman being made into the protagonist of a SF film (well let’s not kid ourselves, it would be marvellous for that to happen today), but how by the 1990s, it had got a bit post-feminism with throw away comments about using sex to get what you want. Although having watched these films again, I do think that they have a veneer of feminism. See all my “the future is still shit” disappointment comments. Just having a female lead, although for the most part I love Ripley herself, doesn’t make the films ok in that regard. Many of the other characters are chauvinists. She is really run through the wringer, and it is totally abusive to make her go through everything she has to go through, including having everyone she ever meets dying, losing her real daughter, losing her surrogate daughter, getting face hugger raped, having rape attempted upon her, giving birth to the alien queen twice and having to kill her two alien babies. Oh but they’re SF and in a made-up world so it’s ok? Instead of watching Ripley run through ships against a time limit again and again, I’d much rather watch her using her robot loader and hanging out with her crew. Basically I’d rather a SF film where the future is how I want the future to be and Ripley can be happy.  

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