Audiences launched into outer space with Ellen Ripley 30 years ago in “Aliens,” facing off against the iconic, titular extraterrestrials.
UCLA students can take that journey again Thursday at the 30th Anniversary screening and Q&A hosted by the Bruin Entertainment Network and Graduate Students Association’s Melnitz Movies.
The screening, which will take place at the James Bridges Theater, is a testament to the science fiction horror film’s enduring relevance, said Dallas King, president of BEN and UCLA Extension instructor. The film’s strong female protagonist, modest budget and reliance on practical effects serve to separate “Aliens” from more modern space films, making it a film that manages to maintain popularity even today, King said.
In “Aliens,” the sequel to the Ridley Scott film “Alien,” protagonist Ripley returns to the planet where an alien life-form previously murdered her entire crew. She finds that the species has overrun the human colony established on the planet.
The screening was conceived as a way to bridge the gap between BEN, the official alumni network for entertainment, and GSA’s Melnitz Movies, which hosts on-campus screenings of films. Working together, the two organizations planned the screening, and invited alumni such as Ricco Ross, who plays Private Frost in the movie, to take part in a Q&A after the film.
BEN and Melnitz Movies selected the film to screen because it coincided with the 30th anniversary of the film and because of its commercial appeal and cult-classic status. The screening will allow students to watch an older, story-based genre film in the hopes that they learn more about filmmaking technique, King said.
“Hopefully it will inspire them to create worlds, to think outside the box, to think things are bigger than life, because even then they were doing things that were revolutionary,” King said.
For some students, like first-year film and television student Nora McCoy, the screening will be the first time they watch the film. McCoy said she planned to attend the screening after hearing that it was one of the best science fiction films ever made.
“I feel, as a film (student), I have disrespected my community for not having seen it yet,” McCoy said.
For others, the screening marks the first time they will see one of their favorite films on the big screen. Fourth-year English student Joshua Harding cites it as one of his top-10 favorite films because of its use of practical effects and allegorical storytelling.
“I discovered it in high school, my freshman year, when I started getting into film,” Harding said. “It stuck with me ever since.”
Advance tickets for the free event have already sold out, in part because of the continuing popularity of “Aliens” as a classic genre film and as a solid action film, King said.
“Not only is it suspenseful, dramatic, visually stunning – but it’s entertaining,” said film and television alumnus Sahirr Sethhi, who plans on attending the event. “Very few action movies entertain and hold you until the very last minute of the movie.”
Sethhi also believes “Aliens” has been able to withstand the test of time because it features a progressive female protagonist, placing her in a position of power that breaks societal norms, he said.
“It’s interesting because the movie is so old and we still have these to-date issues of gender representation on-screen,” Sethhi said. “When a movie comes out today, there are so many rave reviews about, ‘Oh finally, here’s a female leading character in an action movie,’ whereas ‘Aliens’ did it ages ago.”
Ripley is often hailed as a historically significant character and the evolution of many modern-day female characters can be traced back to her, Harding said.
“James Cameron took Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, and he made her this badass action heroine that has had repercussions to today,” Harding said. “If you look at someone like Katniss Everdeen (from ‘The Hunger Games’) the origin of that was with Ellen Ripley.”
The importance of Ripley’s character, both within film history and in pop culture, is a part of the film’s enduring success. Seeing a strong female protagonist in films is inspiring, particularly in a film from the 1980s, McCoy said.
The film serves as a contrast to modern day science fiction films, particularly because of its modest $18.5 million budget. By working on a more confined budget, “Aliens” focuses more on simple and effective storytelling, something student filmmakers can apply to their own projects, Sethhi said.
“The filmmaker very strategically and skillfully utilizes the limited resources to make it look much bigger and scarier than it was,” Sethhi said.
When flipping through channels a few years ago, Ross was struck by how well the film had aged, due mainly to its use of practical effects as opposed to optical effects. The realism prevented the film from becoming dated, Ross said.
The momentum that “Aliens” continues to have is a sign that it is truly a classic film, Ross said.
“For it to be a film that was out 30 years ago and fans talk about this movie as if it was made last year – it definitely is something special,” Ross said. “This film has already shown that it has stayed the test of time and that it has the same influence on new generations.”