I've long been lobbying for Ms. Weaver to be given the ol' Woman of the Week treatment, so I was glad when BJ-C gave me the opportunity to do it myself. In the role of Ripley, Weaver is one of the most memorable--and one of the first--of the "final girls".
Not a final girl, you say? Let's focus on the first film, shall we? In Ridley Scott's Alien, Ripley is a character of middling rank in the crew of the Nostromo. She is far from cut out for greatness, but possesses great strength of character. And so when the entire crew of this interstellar garbage scow comes apart at the seams when put upon by a hostile alien threat, she must find it in herself to outlive her crewmates and find a way to somehow defeat the killing machine. Which, in the end, she does, in the process becoming the "last survivor of the Nostromo."
Sounds a hell of a lot like a final girl to me.
Sigourney Weaver was a virtual unknown when she landed the key role in the 1979 space horror/adventure, having only previous enjoyed a few barely seen bit parts in films like Annie Hall. This was quite literally a star-making turn for her, and deservedly so.
In those days, and come to think of it, in these as well, it was next to unheard-of to have a film of this kind with a female central protagonist. Needless to say, producers were concerned. But in the end, not only did she pull it off, but it's safe to say that Alien probably wouldn't be remembered as fondly as it is today without the main character of Ripley.
Her presence, her intensity, and not to mention her impressive physical stature, make Sigourney Weaver a striking actress, and never moreso than in her most famous part. Ripley (we don't learn her first name until the James Cameron sequel) is a very identifiable character, yet she pulls off her "everywoman" persona without falling into the stereotypical tropes of female protagonists in horror films.
More than merely a final girl, Ripley is also a heroine in the truest cinematic sense of the word. Taking on a traditionally male role, she steps up to the plate after the men around her--and a fellow female who has the more stereotypical female reaction--collapse under the pressure and are picked off one by one. Ripley takes a proactive stance, and takes the battle to the monster.
This role is reinforced in the sequels: Her no-nonsense presence amongst the far-less-prepared Marines in Aliens; her even harder, gruff and battle-weary exterior amongst the prison inmates in David Fincher's Alien 3; even her grim and stoic portrayal of the character in the otherwise awful Alien: Resurrection, though reduced to a certain degree to cartoonishness, is memorable. Simply put, Ripley is a great movie character.
But for me, it is in the horrifying original, that haunted house tale in space, that Sigourney Weaver shines the most. From the beginning, we see that she is more fit to lead the crew of the Nostromo than its captain, Dallas. But for whatever reason, her skills are not put to their greatest use--until the crisis arises.
It's a landmark in screenwriting, because Ripley is a character almost devoid of sexual identity. Honestly, it wouldn't make a difference if she were a man or a woman--but that's precisely the breakthrough here. This isn't a female character whose importance and heroism is wrapped up in her female-ness. Much like so many male heroes who are simply heroes, and not summed up by their male-ness, Ripley is merely a human character. She is a strong, resilient, powerful person--and the woman part is incidental.
I love being able to feature Sigourney/Ripley as Woman of the Week, because she is, to me, the fully evolved version of what a female character can be. Meaning, she is more than a woman--she is a person.
But you don't have to take my word for it. Listen to Ms. Weaver: