Tuesday, May 7, 2013

ALIENS: Sci-Fi Mama Drama

She's my favorite action movie hero in one of the best horror sequels to be made since James Whale's classic, Bride of Frankenstein (1935).  Rarely is a sequel as good or even a bit better than the original.  Aliens was an excellent sequel to the groundbreaking Alien (1979).  Alien was groundbreaking in the same way Whale's 1931 Frankenstein was by introducing movie-goers to a new monster, a monster that became part of our pop culture.  Alien was also groundbreaking gender-wise.  Sigourney Weaver, as the intellectually and physically strong Ripley, showed Hollywood that a woman can be the action movie hero -- and make the movie a box office champion.
Her reprise of the Ripley role in Aliens brought her a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Actress. This 1986 roller coaster ride of a sci-fi horror action movie is one you should consider for Mother's Day viewing.  Unusual choice, right?  But look again at this movie.  First of all, as I've blogged before, Aliens is one of the most feminist action make-believe adventures since 1939's The Wizard of Oz.   Next, the main battle is between the light and dark of the maternal instinct.  Just because Ripley can be tough doesn't mean she's not compassionate.  She cares about her crew.  She cares about her world.  She is a responsible person in society.  In Aliens, the little survivor nicknamed "Newt" enables us to see the gentle maternal Ripley under the military exterior.  "Newt" prefers her nickname.  Only her brother called her Rebecca.  Space creatures killed her family.  There's an immediate bond between Newt and Ripley.  Ripley becomes her new parent.

Her new mission is to protect Newt and to keep her from having bad dreams.

Newt:  "My mommy always said there were no monsters.  No real ones.  But there are."

Yes, Newt, there are.  But sometimes they resemble regular people you see everyday.  Like the corporate character onboard played by Paul Reiser.

He looked just like your average 1980s yuppie in love with the financial joys of Wall Street.

Ripley is the light force of the maternal instinct.  The dark force is the Alien Queen.  She's been busy laying eggs.  They will hatch and endanger the human race if they grow.

Her eggs are being destroyed.  The Alien Queen is a protective, evil mother.  She is angry that her young are in danger.  She wants to destroy the little human child she sees.

That ain't gonna happen on Ripley's watch.

Ripley:  "Get away from her, you bitch!"

The packed New York City theater audience broke out into wild applause and cheers at that line when I saw this movie.  We were set for one of the fiercest female versus female smackdowns  in Hollywood film history.  Opposite sides of the maternal instinct in a battle to the death to protect offspring.  This was serious Mama Drama.

Like Dorothy in 1939's The Wizard of Oz, she wanted to be rid of a deadly female presence and return safely home.  I saw Aliens recently on late night cable.  Man, that sci-fi horror movie still holds up.  It's so good.

Sigourney Weaver was one of my favorite guests on my VH1 prime time talk show back in the '80s.  Funny, smart, gracious, interesting.  I absolutely loved talking to her and listening to her.  Here we are in a VH1 publicity photo for my talk show.

Her career fascinates me.  We talked about this on my show.  I usually sit through the end credits of a movie.  I saw her name in closing credits and remembered it because...well, very few actresses are named "Sigourney." Her name was near the bottom of the closing credits.  She was in Woody Allen's classic comedy, Annie Hall (1977).  She had no dialogue.  She didn't get a close-up.  For a few seconds in the Best Picture Oscar winner's final scene, she was seen as his character's current girlfriend.

There she is , hand extended, in the beige trench coat under the movie marquee.  That's about as close at the camera got to her.  She got a close-up in her next theatrical U.S. production.  That movie was Alien -- and the rest is Hollywood history.  From a few seconds as basically an extra in Annie Hall to a futuristic outer space horror movie that made millions remember the new actress' name and face.  Wow.  Did you see Annie Hall?  In our VH1 interview, Sigourney told me that Woody Allen auditioned her to play the humorless girlfriend who couldn't understand why Alvy was too skittish to just pick up the lobster on the kitchen floor.

The next time I interviewed the actress was on WNBC's Weekend TODAY in New York when she was promoting her film with Ben Kingsley, Death and the Maiden.  She and I talked about her teacher at Yale who told her that she had no talent.  He suggested she withdraw from her drama classes.  She was stunned at what he said and thought, "How dare you."

I often wonder how that instructor felt when she became one of the few actors in Hollywood history to get two Academy Award nominations in the same year.  For 1988, she was Best Actress Oscar nominee for the dramatic biopic, Gorillas in the Mist:  The Story of Dian Fossey.  She was also a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for her comic turn as the over-bearing boss in the big hit office comedy, Working Girl.  Those two came after her Best Actress Oscar nomination for 1986's Aliens.

I was new in my professional broadcast career when 20th Century Fox publicity announced that Alien would be going into production.  There was an item in the entertainment news columns.  The item reported that Paul Newman was slated to star in it.  He was quite the hot star at the time and would've wanted a big fee.  Things changed.  There was a gender switch.  A newcomer got the part.  A star was born.

She's such a versatile screen and stage actress, now getting laughs on Broadway dressed up like a Disney character in Christopher Durang's Tony-nominated Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike .  I had been a devoted fan ever since I saw her kill her first space alien.  There's a great lesson to be learned from the Sigourney Weaver story.

Especially if you go to Yale.

Happy Mother's Day.

1 comment:

  1. I have always loved Sigourney Weaver. ALIENS is one of my favorite action movies of all time. It is a heart-pounding, unbelievably terrifying thriller. I wish I had seen it in theaters, but I saw it on video when it came out on VHS. I imagine the audience just cringing and ducking in their seats during the intense action scenes involving the aliens. Sigourney is perfect in the role and just gives a magnetic performance.

    She was wonderful in WORKING GIRL and deserved that Oscar nomination. She can do it all - from action films to comedies to dramas.

    My favorite Weaver performance was in a little 1999 indie film called A MAP OF THE WORLD. She really showed me her depth as an actress with this film, playing a woman who is falsely accused by the local townspeople of being responsible for the death of a friend's child. She goes from being sad to funny and back to sad with such honesty and emotion. It is a GREAT Weaver performance. She got a Golden Globe nomination for her role in this film but she was unfairly overlooked when the AMPAS failed to give her a nomination at Oscar time. If you haven't seen it, it is a definite must rent.

    Also, I don't think she gets mentioned enough as a beautiful woman but I think Sigourney is gorgeous...and she is aging gracefully and naturally, which is rare for older actresses today in Hollywood.


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