Performance of the week: Sigourney Weaver in Aliens (1986)

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Sigourney Weaver made history when she became the first performer to be nominated for the best actress Oscar for a sci-fi action horror film performance.

Although Aliens is a very iconic and widely loved film, I personally think that the very first Alien (1979) by Ridley Scott is by far the superior film. To me, Alien is THE science fiction horror film of all time. Everything about it is perfect: the dark, gloomy, claustrophobic interior of the spaceship, the creepy sound effects like the dripping noises, the alien who lurks in every dark corner of the ship as it insidiously stalks the next victim, and the realistic characters. The characters in the original Alien aren’t the most interesting and complex, but that’s what makes Alien even relatable; the crew is made up of ordinary people like you and I, and they weren’t there to be heroes, but to fight for their survival after a work mission gone wrong. Everything about them is very well written, from their flaws, misjudgments and their fear of the murderous creature.

In a way, I can understand when people say that James Cameron cheapened the original film by turning the sequel into a conventional action flick. I guess conventional movie viewers must have found the first film “slow and boring”. “Screw subtlety and suspense!” Gone are the creepy sound effects and instead you get the usual booms, bangs, crashes and explosions from a typical action film. No more sneaky alien in dark corners, as you get Xenomorphs charging at you in full force. Also, instead of realistic characters, you get a bunch of stereotypical marines whom you know are pretty much going to end up as Alien chow the moment they macho talk about their “state of the art weapons” that can defeat all the Xenomorphs. I mean, that Hudson character (Bill Paxton) is so PREDICTABLY annoying it didn’t even take me any effort to guess that he was a wimp behind that macho facade the moment he appeared that. Burke is the typical idiotic villain who wants to make use of the monsters for his own profit, and Hicks is the typical good guy whom the main character can rely on even though everybody doubts her.

Having said that, even if I were to question the artistic value and originality of this movie (and James Cameron films in general), there’s no doubt that like all other Cameron flicks, the movie is fine entertainment. In my humble opinion, James Cameron is really a talented storyteller who can find the right combination of CGI, sound effects and actors to turn the most predictable plots into entertainment gold. He really knows how to develop his stories at an appropriate pace that can engage his audience without dragging out the explosions and CGI. Of course, some other things about Aliens other than the technical aspects are very admirable too, such as the theme of motherhood that is very well explored, and the brilliant leading performance.

I’m not the biggest fan of Sigourney Weaver because I haven’t watched a lot of her films, but I can see that she’s a really great and versatile actress, who can be badass in Alien and then be a feminine love interest in The Year of a Living Dangerously a few years later (shaky accent aside). She plays such interesting characters, be it the bitchy boss in Working Girl, or the real life Dian Fossey, a scientist who fought to protect mountain gorillas from poachers (she was a double nominee for Gorillas In The Mist and Working Girl in 1988).

Sigourney Weaver plays Ellen Ripley, the only survivor from the first Alien film. After drifting around in hyper sleep for 57 years, Ripley is once again summoned to provide her “expert” opinion about the aliens when the marines were sent to wipe out the breed. Obviously, like all other movie marines (idiots), they don’t trust her despite her experience and pay a heavy price as they one by one get slaughtered. Finally, Ripley steps in to save the day and that’s where Weaver gets to shine.

Simply put, Sigourney Weaver nailed this very iconic part, which is so because of her incredible performance. The very first thing I admired about her performance here is how subtly she portrayed Ripley as an ordinary human being. Yes, she’s the heroine of the film but Weaver still showed how Ripley was left vulnerable and scarred from her previous experience, such as the constant nightmares and her distrust of an android due to a previous incident involving her getting almost killed by a malfunctioned robot. She really displayed Ripley’s internal struggle with her past, and how she finally summoned the courage to face her demons by agreeing to join the gang.

Weaver also portrayed Ripley as a motherly figure to a little girl (Newt) whose entire family was wiped out by the aliens. Ripley’s real daughter died while she was drifting around in space during the 57 years of hyper sleep, and Weaver effectively showed how Ripley wanted to ease her guilt by taking care of this girl. The interactions between Ripley and Newt are probably the most moving aspects of the film, serving as the story’s emotional core. Weaver really displayed the tender side of Ripley very well, and that underneath the tough facade was a warm and loving human being who desires a family and companionship like anyone else.

Of course, the most memorable aspect of the performance would simply be how badass Ripley is. Yes, she’s scared like everyone else but among the marines, she’s the most quick thinking and strategic, like when she decided to take charge after the unbelievably incompetent captain freaked out as he saw his team members slowly slaughtered one by one. And of course…who can forget that badass fight scene with the Xenomorph Queen (aka source of my childhood nightmares). That bitch glare she gave before roasting the Queen’s eggs with a flamethrower deserved an Oscar by itself.

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And of course, the iconic “Get away from her, you BITCH!” line. Nuff said.

All in all, this is a fantastic, Oscar-robbed performance (although I quite liked Marlee Matlin as well) by a really great actress whom I want to see more of. I’m highly interested to discover some of her acclaimed works like The Ice Storm and Prayers for Bobby. Anyway, I can’t believe Meryl Streep (Weaver’s classmate in Yale) was considered for the part! I mean, Meryl and tough I can visualize, but Meryl and badass? Nah. I’m sure she would have given a technically perfect performance, but this role IS Weaver’s to play.

I’m going very slow for the 70s best picture project because I’m currently addicted to The Sims 3, which is by the way a standard post exam ritual for me. I also want to de stress by watching brainless action flicks (case in point) so I’m not really in the mood for heavy drama. Yet. I’m probably going to watch Dog Day Afternoon soon.

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