The Summer of 1986, I was 13. At that age, kids are only ankle deep into the teen years, just testing the waters, watching the big kids in the deep end, still very childlike (or at least they were back in ‘86). The personality that would shape me as an adult was far from set yet, still very malleable. I was, as we all do at that age, just beginning to form my own strong opinions on things, yet still looked to adults for answers.
As with most kids, I was at the age where I believed the adults in my family knew nothing. They were clueless creatures and I was surprised they managed to survive past breakfast on a daily basis. So, I looked to celebrity idols, as many kids do. But, I was not your run of the mill 13 year old. I didn’t idolize Kirk Cameron, River Phoenix or any of the other teen heartthrobs that existed in the 80s.
My female idols didn’t include the Brat Pack members of Demi Moore, Ally Sheedy or Molly Ringwald. They didn’t hold my interest, I found them boring. I loved science fiction. Mr. Spock was my heartthrob. My female idols were Uhura, Wonder Woman and Jamie Sommers (The Bionic Woman). My school binder had pictures of Spock glued to it.
So, that was me, the misfit child roaming the world in 1986, trying to figure out who I was and who I was going to become while making the Live Long and Prosper sign at people. The epitome of cool.
|Wanna be friends?|
So, back to the Summer of 1986. I was 13, and staying at my Aunt and Uncle’s home in rural New Jersey. I loved my Aunt and Uncle very much, and during previous summers had always had fun there with them, but I was at an age where hanging with grown-ups was boring, no matter how much I liked them and a few weeks in the mountains of Jersey away from my friends was not as much fun as it used to be.
So I was bored. Bored, bored, bored.
One evening, my Uncle, who I loved very dearly, took me the movies to alleviate my perpetual
|Fun for the whole family!|
teenage boredom. I was actually excited, as I didn’t remember the last time I’d had time with just he and I, so I leaped at the idea and was stoked to go to the movies. I got dressed and I still remember what I wore (pink shirt, rainbow striped shorts, scrunch sock and Reebok high tops…hello 1986), and set out for the movies. It was July, and pickings were slim for a 13 year old. A quick Google search shows that none of the movies out at the time were really appropriate for a kid. I’d already seen “Labyrinth” and movies like “Big Trouble in Little China” and “Vamp” weren't exactly family friendly.
My Uncle was by no means a puritan, but he was mindful of the content he would expose his niece to and he was a science fiction fan himself, so he bought two tickets a little flick you may have heard of. We sat down in the theater and my life was forever changed.
|Some life changing shit right here.|
As I sat and watched the movie, I was only marginally aware of my Uncle cringing at the plethora of f-bombs that were dropped throughout the movie by everyone but the kid and the cat. (Although as an adult, I can form an entire sentence using the word as a noun, verb and adjective, and do so, often).
I was enthralled. I was mesmerized. This movie was amazing. Beyond amazing, it was like nothing I’d ever seen before in my young life. I stared at the screen, enamored by every single actor that appeared.
My heart skipped a beat for Michael Biehn’s “Hicks”, a strong, tough solider who showed
|How YOU doin'?|
compassion, fear and humanity as an action hero that didn’t exist in 1986. His interactions with the leading lady made my heart flutter in a way that no teen romance film ever did. He was tough and but not overly muscled or stupidly macho. Hicks was also impressed and attracted by Ripley's bravery and determination.
|Game over...in my pants!|
I fell instantly and hopelessly in love with Bill Paxton, a love that lasts until today (I will watch anything he is in). His character of “Hudson” was loud, crude and scared shitless through out the film. But his big, blue eyes stole my weird little heart and I was heartbroken when his character died (spoilers!).
And then there were the women! Women like I’d never, ever seen before! The Marines…there was Vasquez, a tough Latina who was butchy yet kinda hot at the same time. Vasquez had a strong physique (this was before Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2) yet was feminine and carried the biggest damn gun in the whole movie. Dietrich, the medical tech, who died early in the film but was just as much a bad ass in her own right, hanging with the boys and still showing the compassion of a doctor towards Newt and only loses her cool later, as one of the victims of the aliens dies before her eyes, and she, as a doctor, must stand by helplessly. Ferro, the pilot, who was cooler than Tom Cruise in Top Gun, with her mirrored shades and helmet that read “Fly the Friendly Skies”, unflappable. Even in the face of a drooling alien jaws and death, she kept her cool, never screaming, just efficiently reaching for her gun, albeit too late.
|You do NOT wanna be around when they PMS.|
And then there was Ripley. Sigourney frickin’ Weaver. I’d never seen anything like her. She was so tall, with expressive eyes, a fine, strong jaw and a “don’t fuck with me” posture. She was in her mid-30s and I remember being able to see fine lines around her eyes and laugh lines around her mouth, just ever so slight, and I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world. I couldn’t wait to be her age. And that hair! That short, curly, wonderful hair, that was the antithesis of what was popular in the 80s. (I actually went out and permed my hair later on, I loved her curly hair so much.)
In the movie she wore little make up and her costumes consisted of jumpsuits. She was 36, tall, lanky, small-breasted and to me, beautiful just the way she appeared on screen. More beautiful than any of the “idols” teen magazines told me I should admire.
|Okay, maybe the hair was a little big at times.|
|I'm gonna outlive all your asses.|
You all know the plot of the movie (or at least I hope you do), so I won’t dwell on that. It’s safe to say that after the movie was over, my mind was whirling and I was processing what I had just watched. Moreover, I was processing my feelings towards the women I had seen on screen. They were so strong and powerful, all of them. Not one of them was a victim, every one of them strong and capable, even tiny little Newt was able to save herself and was pro-active in the escape from the aliens.
|My original from 1986.|
Summer went on and Aliens, and only Aliens was on my mind. I wanted to see it again in the theaters but for some reason I cannot recall, couldn’t. So I bought the novelization. And read it over and over again until the spine needed to be taped together and every page was dog eared. When it came out on VHS, it was “priced to rent”, an obsolete concept that basically meant it cost about $119 if you wanted to buy it, which might as well have been a million dollars at 13 years old in 1986. But rentals were $2 for overnight, so every Saturday morning, at 10 AM, when the video store opened I was there, waiting with my $2. I would watch the movie multiple times and return it Sunday afternoon. I did this every weekend for months until the movie was available to purchase previously viewed for the bargain price of $30, which I begged, borrowed and stole.
|Specializes in "Rapey Dude #2|
Finally, my own copy of Aliens! I watched it so many times I can’t count. I memorized the dialogue. I learned the names of every actor in the movie, even the once who died in the first alien encounter and rented every movie they were in.
I rented “Weeds” starring Nick Nolte and Mark Rolston was in it. It was a great movie but Rolston plays a child molester and disturbingly shows his penis. Not that I have anything against penis, but I wasn't prepared to see "Drake's" flopping around in the context that it did. He was later cast in Shawshank Redemption as the leader of the "Sisters" that assaults Andy Dufresne. Poor Mark Rolston....
Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton movies were in heavy rotation in the VCR. (A year later, when Near Dark was released starring Aliens alumni, I had many a nerdgasm). I searched in vain for Carrie Henn movies but never found any (she never starred in another film). I watched every Sigourney Weaver movie that had been released up until that point.
When I returned to school, I had pinups of Aliens characters from Starlog magazine glued to my denim binder. I carried the novel everywhere I went and read my favorite parts between classes.
Looking back, and typing this out, it all sounds really obsessive. I suppose I was no more obsessed with Aliens and Sigourney (and Jenette Goldstein AKA Vasquez) than anyone my age with any idol. My idols were just odd. They were in their 30s and science fiction stars. But, my idolization and “obsession” stayed with me for many years (to this day) and shaped me in the kind of way that you can only understand when as you approach 40 and look back at your youth.
As I mentioned earlier in this entry (which has become way longer than I thought it would be), I was 13 and just forming my personality. As I was searching, reeling, finding out who I was, I found Ripley. She was my anchor. I began to mimic Sigourney’s speech patterns, I wore a red bandana like Vasquez. I wanted to be strong, like these women. I toyed with joining the Marines. I wore an army jacket with the Aliens Marines patches that I bought at a sci-fi convention sewn onto them. I wanted to marry Hudson or Hicks.
But, Aliens also taught me lessons, lessons that were rare in 1986, lessons that stayed with me throughout the years.
That you could be strong, physically, as a woman and be still be a woman.
Vasquez was strong, physically. Throughout the movie she rarely wavered, she was all about action, getting the job done, while a man, Hudson, freaked out. She carried the biggest gun, and was the most threatening and dangerous of the Marines that survived the initial alien encounter. And, gray panties aside, none of the women in Aliens were overly sexualized. There were no heaving breasts or gratuitous nude scenes. These women could stand on their own feet and be women without being sex objects (thank you James Cameron.)
|How lovely is this petite badass?|
It was because of her (and later Linda Hamilton) that I embraced the gym, weights and working out, striving to be as strong as I could be. I’ve never been afraid to show physical strength. I’m by no means an Amazon, but I’m naturally strong anyway, due to Armenian heritage (good farm stock). At the office, if I need a case of paper, I pick it up and carry it my damn self. I never play the damsel in distress physically or let men do the physical work if I can do it myself.
It’s helped me on many occasions, living in New York City. Being okay with my physicality has given me confidence to stand up for myself when I was alone and needed to. No, I didn’t kung-fu fight my way out of situations, because I didn’t have to. Physical confidence and standing tall goes a long way when someone wants to harm you, if it’s some creepy guy following you home or some drunk in a bar.
That beauty comes in all forms and I didn’t have to conform.
Sigourney was (and still is) beautiful. She lacked the big hair or rainbow eye shadow that was popular in the 80s (I’m looking at you, Melanie Griffith). She was taller than some of the men. She had smaller breasts and a lanky figure, yet she was the leading lady that the handsome Hicks admired and protected. Vasquez was smaller, with a military haircut and wow, what a figure, with biceps to boot! She was surprisingly feminine and I loved her. I always thought that by the way Hudson leered at her clearly he had the hots for her, but knew she was way out of his league. Dietrich and Ferro were pretty without makeup. Strength is beauty.
|Still a stunning beauty to this day.|
When I got older, I danced to the beat of different drum when it came to beauty. Of course, I had and still have the usual hang-ups, but for the most part, I’ve always dressed in a way that I’m comfortable with, and by the time I was past the awkward teen years, embraced my own personal beauty. I never compared myself to models or A-list actresses. For the most part, I’ve been comfortable in my own skin.
Don’t be afraid of The Company.
Ripley fought the Company in the beginning of the film. She went up against an all-powerful corporation and she was just the little person. She stood up against them because she knew what was right, even though she was flat broke and powerless.
|Take your 401k and shove it.|
Over the years, I’ve had some hard times. I’ve been in situations where things were bad and I was up against the wall. Once upon a time, I was facing wrongful eviction. The landlord had done things like turn off my heat, an illegal move, and had to go to court. I had no money for a lawyer. So, I channeled my inner Ripley, did research at the library, went up against the lawyer in court all by myself, presented my case and the judge granted me six months, rent free, to find an apartment and dismissed the back rent claims of the landlord. Years later, I was out of work, having been fired by my company while out on short-term disability. I sued them. I didn’t win thousands, but I won. Take that Company!
There’s a Burke in every bunch.
Ah, Burke. Burke, Carter J. The man we loved to hate. Played so masterfully by comedian Paul Reiser. He was such a weasel, sliming up beside Ripley and being her friend, only to betray her at the end.
I’ve worked in a lot of industries, as an Executive Assistant, and in the corporate world, the person that is most eager to be your friend in the beginning is most likely to lock you in a room with a face hugger. Burke was my first look at corporate greed.
Sadly, Burke is not fiction. He’s just reality, exaggerated. When I got my first office job, there was a man that worked there that immediately reminded me of Burke. I was on guard the day I met him and sure enough, one day he threw me under the bus, but I was prepared for him. To this day, I mentally refer to certain types of people as “Burke”.
Take charge of your own destiny, you don’t have to be a victim.
Ripley took charge of the situation when the rest of the male Marines were freaking the fuck out. Hicks, although competent and capable, was shell-shocked having just lost the majority of his squad. Hudson was wide eyed with terror and useless. Vasquez just wanted to shoot something. Ripley knew her shit, rank and military be damned, and wasn’t about to relegate her destiny and Newt’s to someone else.
She learned how to use a gun, fought. In the end, it served her well, and saved lives. And she was
unapologetic for it. She even got the guy, (remember Hicks’ smile when Ripley declared she could handle herself?). You just knew that Hicks, Ripley and Newt would end up as a family. And they lived happily ever after. (Fuck you Alien 3.)
In my life, I’ve been through it. There have been a lot of tough times, hardships and challenges. As an adult, I’ve never left my destiny in the hands of others. Subconsciously, I think I always reached for my inner Ripley (and Vasquez). No matter what the challenge, I tried to rise and overcome. I may not be a success, rich or famous, I still struggle in life, it’s not always easy for me, but I’m a survivor.
I fight as hard as I can. I always give as good as I get. Like Ripley.
So, in the end, looking back, this movie had a huge impact on my life. And it still does. I have the framed movie poster on my wall. I'm still madly in love with Bill Paxton and Michael Biehn. I still believe that Sigourney Weaver is the most beautiful and talented woman on the planet. I watch the movie several times a year.
It still has an impact on me and every so often, I reach down and grab the hand of my inner Ripley, she rises up and yells "GET AWAY FROM HER YOU BITCH!" at who ever is screwing with me. She gives me strength.
I even dressed up as Ripley for Halloween four years ago, relegating my younger friend, who also loves the movie, to the role of Newt.
|I swear I don't wear the wig at home. Really....|
Over the years, there have been other role models, Sarah Connor and Xena most prominently, but they came into the media mainstream when I was older. None compared to the impact Ripley had on me as a child. The positive impact it had when I was so very impressionable.
James Cameron has done some wonderful things with strong female roles over the years (he even casts smart children), but none compare to how he took the character of Ripley, who was already groundbreaking in 1979, and just made her so incredible that to this day she’s considered one of the top action heroes. And Sigourney Weaver, well, I can’t think of a more positive role model for a little girl. Some people read a book that changes their life, that effects them forever, some hear a speech, see a play, meet a politician, spend a vacation abroad. I spent 137 minutes in a theater watching a science fiction action movie.