The 13th Floor

The Evolution Of Ellen Ripley!

With this past Tuesday being officially christened ALIEN DAY, we’ve all had the franchise on the brain pretty much all week. Everyone’s doing their part to celebrate in their own way, whether it be by hosting their own ALIEN marathons, attending screenings or indulging in whatever new collectibles were created specifically for this new “holiday.” But really, with the news of Neill Blomkamp’s eventual ALIEN 5 still looming and the director revealing an art production piece of a grown up, bad-ass Newt, it’s got me thinking about Ripley and just what an amazing character she’s been over the course of the quadrilogy. It’d be great to see her again, regardless of whatever alternate timeline or universe that would be. Above all, it’s a testament to how great Sigourney Weaver is in the role and what she was able to bring to it for each subsequent film. Let’s do a run down.

In Ridley Scott’s classic ALIEN, upon initial viewing, and if you look at it as a traditional horror movie or even a “slasher” as Greg argued earlier this week, it’d be pretty hard to pinpoint which of these characters would end up being the “final girl.” That’s probably because in Dan O’Bannon’s original script, all the characters, including Ripley were written to not be gender specific. Ripley could’ve been read as a male character when first picking up the script, but upon revisions, Scott saw Ripley as a female character. Portraying her would be Weaver, who among a cast of names such as Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, Harry Dean Stanton, Ian Holm, Veronica Cartwright and Yaphet Kotto, was the least experienced and known member of the cast. And yet, by sheer fate of the story, she ends up being the final survivor.

I think its post her attack from the android Ash that she really kicks into traditional horror survivor mode and becomes very determined to live through this ordeal. Her only mistake is going back for that blasted cat, but thankfully her luck held up during that whole diversion and she made it back to the escape ship in time. Well, then there was that unlikely castaway just chilling and sleeping in the corner. That’s right, the xenomorph managed to make its way on board, but after a brief confrontation with Ripley, it’s blasted out of the air duct and into the cold regions of space. The end. Or so we thought!

By the time ALIENS rolled around, Ripley was a different person. She’s been asleep for several decades and has missed out on the life she left behind before setting foot on the Nostromo. Her daughter has long since died, she has no family left and she’s a stranger in a strange new future. Of course, she finds purpose when a military team is recruited to attack the alien threat on one of Earth’s many space colonies. This one in particular is where Ripley and her original crew found the hostile organism, aka the facehugger and egg. It’s absolutely amazing to see the growth and no bullshit stance that Ripley now takes. She’s faced one of these things before and she is ready to fight a whole damn herd of them. She wants to learn from her military companions and at one point has Hicks showing her how to use his pulse rifle. Once they find Newt, an orphaned little girl, Ripley immediately takes the role of surrogate mother. And she also won’t take crap from Bishop, although he genuinely means no harm. Or Burke, the corporate sleazebag that’s there with his company’s best interest at mind.

By the end when she faces off against the Alien queen in an attempt to save Newt, you wouldn’t recognize her as the same character from the end of the first ALIEN, and yet, it’s so common place when you hear the name Ripley to immediately think of her, stepping out of that cargo bay in that suit saying, “get away from her, you bitch!” With that single line of dialogue, she became one of the most bad-ass action stars of that decade.

When we get to ALIEN 3, Ripley is truly defeated, both in spirit and in mind. She has crash landed on an all-male prison planet. Her only surviving companions from her most recent escapade, Newt and Hicks, have both perished, making all of the previous movie feel like it was all for nothing. And she’s impregnated with the egg of a queen alien. Ripley is definitely at her darkest, most intriguing, and most interesting in ALIEN 3. There’s a moment when we join Ripley and Clemens post-coitus getting out of bed! A bit random after having only just met the good doctor, but then again, considering the tremendous amount of pain Ripley is in at the opening of this story, I imagine she just wanted to feel something.

ALIEN 3 was meant to be the end of Ripley, not just for the character but because Sigourney Weaver really wanted to put her to rest. But several years later, a script was crafted by a guy named Joss Whedon that found a compelling and interesting way to bring Ripley back into the ALIEN franchise, even though it had appeared in the conclusion of ALIEN 3 that she most certainly met her demise. In ALIEN: RESURRECTION, Ripley is brought back as a clone. In order for scientists to extract the cellular DNA of a “queen xenomorph,” they needed to bring back its previous host. And so, through several attempts, they manage to resurrect Ripley successfully and separate her alien egg from her body. The strange side effect? This version of Ripley has alien DNA, just as the queen alien also has human traits now.

I’m sure for Weaver, this must have been one of the most enticing aspects of coming back. She wasn’t just continuing with the Ripley we last saw. There was now a trace of darkness inherent in her, solely based on her DNA make-up. Almost a strange affinity for these creatures, which is probably the way it’d been for Weaver herself as the lead of this franchise! In particular, her rapport with Ron Perlman’s Johner is a highlight of the movie. And her alien DNA also makes her stronger and more focused than she’d ever been as a human. In one humorous moment, she tosses a basketball behind her without looking and it perfectly goes in the net. (Something Weaver actually did as you can see from the excellent documentaries on the Blu-Ray set!) By ALIENS she was a bad-ass. In RESURRECTION, she’s a bad-ass with a razor sharp edge to her.

So if ALIEN 5 does happen, and by all intents it is meant to happen after Ridley Scott finishes his latest PROMETHEUS sequel (to his prequel), now titled ALIEN: COVENANT, it’ll be interesting to see how Weaver attacks the character all these years later. Will she pick up right from where we left her at the end of ALIENS? Will she imbue some of that darkness of the character seen in PART 3 or some of the fun mischief she displayed in RESURRECTION? Only time will tell. But we welcome the return and ever-changing evolution of Ellen Ripley!

*All Images: 20th Century Fox