RIPLEY’S HEROIC LEGACY LIVES ON
Talk about girl power. Almost four decades after the original Alien film, where Sigourney Weaver famously played the female action lead, her legacy has never been stronger
Ridley Scott never thought it was particularly remarkable that the hero of Alien, Ripley, was a woman. “I thought, ‘Why not? Good idea. Let’s go’,” he admits.
This was 1979, when female heroes were unthinkable in genre films. Yet Scott didn’t think twice. He simply thought it made sense.
Of course, it turned out to be one of the most inspired decisions in science-fiction or, indeed, movie history.
The decision to go with a female lead is generally credited to Alan Ladd Jr, the then CEO of 20th Century Fox.
Dan O’Bannon’s original script had been written with an entirely male crew.
Then when producerwriters David Giler and Walter Hill gave it an inspired rewrite they introduced two female crew members. Almost as an afterthought, Laddy, as he was known, said why not switch the gender of the hero?
They didn’t change a word of the dialogue. There was no need. The brilliance of the shift was that Ripley’s gender both defined her and was entirely beside the point. She would simply be the one who proved to have the instinct to survive.
Although, Scott liked the idea that the audience would assume, as she wasn’t a man, she was sure to die around the next corner. And there was an added dimension in the nature of this creature, and how it looked, confronting a lone female.
Much to Scott’s delight, Freudian-inclined critics would go to town on the symbolism.
However, Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, proved elusive.
Three weeks out from shooting, Scott was down to two last possibilities. Sigourney Weaver and Meryl Streep had been contemporaries at Yale Drama School.
It’s fascinating to imagine what Streep might have done with the role, but she had suffered a recent bereavement and didn’t want to work. Weaver and Ripley are now inseparable.
“Ripley feels she is doing the right thing, but she doesn’t know she’s right,” explained Weaver, trying to capture her essence.
“She has to hope she is.” There is a flintiness to Ripley, she isn’t automatically likeable, but we relate to her.
The actor loved how she was ordinary. This working-woman on her way home, “dealing with people in a crisis”.
She was obviously beautiful, but that wasn’t key. There wasn’t time for romance – this was survival. The legacy of Ripley has been a positive force throughout Scott’s career.
He has been drawn again and again to strong, selfdetermining, impeccably cast female characters, but never in a pointedly, or showily feminist way (although you could argue this makes them all the more so).
To Scott, they were just good ideas, so why not?
The latest film in the Alien franchise is in cinemas today, and while female heroes are no longer a rarity, this one continues the theme of strong leading ladies. Alien: Covenant screens in major cinemas from today
Director Ridley Scott explains a scene to actress Katherine Waterston on the Sydney set of sci-fi film Waterston in a scene from the much-anticipated movie. Alien: Covenant and (below)