Conversely, the cast of characters in Alien feel painfully real. Created during the tailend of New Hollywood’s golden age of ‘70s cinema, there is nothing false or showy about any of these performances. They’re all underplayed to a degree, even talking over each other, but that is by design. Going into Alien in 1979, you wouldn’t know who the “hero” of the story is and might very well assume it is Tom Skerritt since he’s the captain and had appeared in popular ’70s TV shows. By contrast, Weaver was a complete unknown when she played Ripley, a survivor who persevered before “final girls” became a convention unto themselves. However, she is only a survivor in the first movie, not an action hero. She’s even-handed and levelheaded, and a woman from the jump who appears to be the most astute and thoughtful of the crew.
Still, right down to the legitimate grievances between this group’s “upstairs and downstairs” dynamic, with Yaphet Kotto’s Parker and Harry Dean Stanton’s Brett complaining about the bonus situation, there is a much more tactile conflict among the cast that makes this a fuller ensemble and thereby more immersive. They may not be marines, but they are tragically human in their reactions to the unbelievable—and that is not even getting into the brilliance of Ian Holm’s Ash, who might be the best representation of the insidious implementation of capitalistic control over labor ever put to screen. The traitor in these blue collars’ ranks is an honest to God robot who is literally there to divide them for conquest and the company’s bottom line.
Don: I’ll concede the more realistic development of the characters in Alien, but I enjoy the camaraderie and banter among the Colonial Marines. While it’s true that some of them really don’t amount to much more than cannon fodder (or is it xenomorph fodder?)I feel like there’s more going on there than Cameron might get credit for. I also do like the ensemble feel of it all, and the fact that these characters all go into this situation having no idea of what’s ahead of them, with most of them meeting it courageously (with notable exceptions, of course). There’s something about seeing characters in a film charge headlong into an impossible situation that always pulls at this viewer.
Some of the secondary characters go on little journeys of their own too, from Gorman (William Hope) to Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein), and even Hudson has a moment or two to shine as he finally finds his courage toward the end of the film. Watching Aliens, it feels like most of the major or secondary characters get some kind of payoff. If there’s one major flaw I find with Alien, it’s that the second half of the movie basically just mows everyone down, one after the other, which is, I suppose, suitable for the overall tone of despair and nihilism but makes for a less satisfactory film in some ways.
And I agree with you wholeheartedly about the brilliance of Ash, which is why I’m glad that Cameron went in a different direction with Bishop (Lance Henriksen). The character is just ambiguous enough to keep one guessing throughout the film whether he is true to his word that he cannot harm humans or whether it’s all an act—a nice twist on the evolution of Ash in the first film.
The More Perfect Organism
David: You are right, Don: Vasquez is a wonderfully badass character, and so are most of the Aliens troupe. In fact, it’s hard to overlook just how badass Weaver’s Ripley became in the film, beginning as a woman suffering from trauma and ending with the cinematic embodiment of Mama Bear ferocity. “Get away from her you bitch!” had to be why Weaver got an Oscar nomination for an action movie sequel, right?
Source: Den of Geek