Thursday, April 24, 2008

Alien Thoughts

In honor of Passover, a local movie channel has been airing science fiction movie series, and this evening it was the Alien quadrilogy. I've just finished watching the first two films (I could be watching the third film right now but really, why would I?). It's been ages and ages since I saw either one, so I may be stating the bloody obvious, but I was utterly floored by how unglamorous Sigourney Weaver is in both of them. It's not just that she's conforming to late 70s and mid-80s styles and fashion, though this is also a factor. I can't, for example, remember the last time I saw a female lead with curly hair in a blockbuster film. These days they all have shiny, silky perms--but then, as I've noted in the past, sometimes it seems that Hollywood has only one, very narrow, standard of female beauty. It's not even a question of production values, though the color palette on both films felt drab and washed-out compared to modern standards, to a degree that I suspect isn't entirely intentional. Mainly, it's the fact that, though Sigourney Weaver is a beautiful and sexy woman, the films aren't very interested in her that way. The camera doesn't fondle her. Her clothes are utilitarian, neither skintight nor revealing. There are no glamor shots of her, and when she's sweaty and dirty she looks just that, not attractively mussed. The same holds for Sarah Connor. I couldn't stop thinking about Trinity in her pleather catsuit, or the trailers for Doomsday and Resident Evil: Extinction, and wonder if things were actually getting any better.

This is not to say that there aren't troubling aspects in both films' treatment of Ripley's body. There's plenty of body-fondling towards the end of Alien, when the camera practically drools at Weaver in her too-low underpants. Meanwhile, though Aliens keeps Ripley fully dressed at nearly all times, it's hard to chalk this as a win when one considers that the film views Ripley's femininity strictly as it relates to her being (or becoming) a mother, and thus sexless. She even has mom hair.

Something else that occurred to me while watching Aliens was that I wouldn't be surprised if, in the wake of the film's release, some military hardware engineer sat down and started designing an APC that could be loaded onto a plane, or fully-articulated body armor. And then I thought about this article, which cropped up on the net a few weeks ago and finally confirmed what so many columnists and bloggers have been postulating--that the US intelligence apparatus is modeling its behavior towards terror suspects and its techniques in preventing terrorism after the actions of characters from 24. I started wondering--what's the difference? Science fiction fans have always known that imaginary futures can predict the real one by making it, by implanting images in the minds of movers and builders, telling them that this is how the future is supposed to look. Why are we surprised to discover that 24 has the same effect when it comes to the present?

5 comments:

Mae Travels said...

OK, I'm clueless: how does a Sci-Fi series honor Passover? Or do they just want to fill time for viewers with days off?

I hope you all had a good one! Ruby told us about Evelyn's in STL... Mae

Anonymous said...

I'm thoroughly confused. Why in world should Ripley be glamourous? If she was glamorous, it would thoroughly undercut the premise that she's struggling for her existence.

The movie's strengths include its gritty realism (i.e., the sweaty and grimy, the crap job, the weird). If Ripley had time to stop and straighten her hair, to put on sexy underwear for the camera fondling in the escape pod, etc, it would degrade the movie, redirecting it from classic toward traditional B-movie. B-movies are not the stuff of high cinema...

Anonymous said...

Argh. -> "gritty realism ... and its suspense."

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Mae:

Local movie channels usually pull out all the stops on holidays and special occasions (in spite of the fact that one would hope most people have better things to do over Passover than watch TV - my own example notwithstanding). The channel I was watching specializes in SF and action films, so they decided to show lots of series.

Anon.:

I agree that Ripley shouldn't be glamorous, but if you've seen any action films lately you'll have noticed that very few people in Hollywood share that opinion. Look at the two trailers I linked to. Look at the Matrix films. Look at the women on Lost.

Part of it is that Hollywood tends to make everything glamorous, and even Ripley or Sarah Connor probably aren't realistic depictions of how someone who's gone through the kind of punishment they've endured should look, but female action heroes tend to be even further sexualized and prettified, and I was both surprised and pleased to see the Alien films avoid that pitfall.

http://pigeonhed.livejournal.com said...

The original Alien film is all about Ripley overcoming masculine assault.  It begins with the penetration of the ship by the face-hugger against her wishes/orders.  The attempted murder is by means of choking with a rolled up porn mag rather than a much easier means.  In this light the camera's fondling of Ripley at the end can be seen as highlighting an ongoing theme.

Post a Comment