13 July 2011

Hit Me with Your Best Shot: ALIENS (1986)

"Hit Me with Your Best Shot" is an ongoing series - in which one favourite or exceptional shot from a film is discussed, praised, shown love and mulled over - at Nathaniel Rogers' The Film Experience site.

This time it's war. This time it's Aliens.

Sigourney Weaver, as Warrant Officer Lt. Ellen Ripley, is afforded many great close-ups in Aliens. And as well she should. At the point in the film when my HMwYBS pick (below) occurs, she’s just taken on another species entirely, with only limited military assistance (after being the sole survivor of another, earlier xenomorphic catastrophe), and has near succeeded in doing exactly what she, well, didn’t actually ever intend to do in the first place, but gets done anyway. Way to go. Ripley’s no slacker. She is the Alien universe figurehead. She deserves a solo shot or fifteen to cement her singular importance.

It's this shot...

...that's, to me, in a way indicative of what Aliens is essentially about. It's the look of one mother to another: your kid hurt my kid... so now it’s payback time. The shot perfectly and rather urgently (lit, as it is, with simple and dramatically moist flair by Adrian Biddle) contains, in Ripley’s battle-hardened yet (at that point) serenely accepting face, a plainly defiant Don’t fuck with me’ glare. She's thinking: ‘Oh, I am going to do this and you aren’t going to stop me’.'This' being a proper alien flame-grilling.

It’s the moment when – having just rescued her “replacement daughter” Newt right after a time of immense personal loss and struggle, and after having seemingly mentally planned a feasible escape route in her mind – Ripley decides to continue fighting instead of giving up. Everything’s stacked against her – triumph is seemingly tenuous for a spell – but our Ripley’s never been a quitter. And she doesn’t intend to start now.

What’s she got to lose, stuck in a sticky situation as she is. She can either: a) blast the alien queen and her eggs with a pulse rifle-flamethrower combo and hope for the best, or b) blast the alien queen and her eggs with a pulse rifle-flamethrower combo and expect the worst.

She’s focused, steely-eyed and, well, calm actually. It’s all in that little decisive tilt of her head. Maybe Ripley was actually going to drop weapons, grab Newt and run for her life. Maybe she was going to throw the acid-dashed carcass of a recently chest-deprived work colleague across the room in the hope that the aliens’ attentions get temporarily diverted so she could make a mad lunge for the door. But I reckon that something mysterious prior to that little head tilt decided it for her. It was Ripley thinking, ‘Fuck it – I am gonna blast the alien queen and her eggs with a pulse rifle-flamethrower combo.’

So then she does just that:

It’s ultimately all about motherly protection (Aliens’ working title was indeed ‘Mother’) and human survival. It’s entirely feasible to assume that one thing Ripley nearly does in that shot, just prior to her incinerating every xenomorph within a 20-yard radius, is back away quietly. Although she knew neither herself nor Newt (nor Hicks and half of Bishop) would survive. It's not pretty. It's not fair. But the decision was made long ago – 57 years ago, in fact. It's a human mother's story – and in the end nobody wants a facehugger accessory. And nobody puts Ripley in the corner. 

As a bonus shot (or shot series/sequence), there's also this, below, which is another favourite moment in the film. However, do keep in mind that Aliens itself, as a whole, from start to finish, is one long staggering 'best bit'.

Ripley: They cut the power.
Hudson: What do you mean, "they" cut the power? How could they cut the power, man? They're animals!


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