The recently released Prometheus, directed by Ridley Scott is a strange and baffling mix of deep questions, sublime art direction and set design, superficial plot and amateurish screenplay and casting. It is yet another riddle of its director. Ridley Scott has created both great wonder of cinema and great clunkers, sometimes both in the same films.
At first glance Ridley Scott seems to be a man’s director. He is interested in manly subjects like outer space, horror, ferocious bloody death, war and conflict, action and mayhem. He has a large and devoted following in the male sphere, probably only third after The Star Wars and Star Trek sagas.
But he has shown an astonishing sensitivity towards women. You could say that with Alien in 1979, he broke the mold of women never being cast as action heroes, or having the courage and vitality of a man. He proved that a leading lady did not have to be glamorous but could still be riveting and sexy.
Except for Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia, in the Star Wars series, (which was still kind of a girly role), women were in action adventure films merely for sexual titillation. Usually, because of their physical weakness or penchant for glamour the woman was either caught by the villain and had to be rescued by the hero, or sprained her ankle when running and had to be carried by the hero. Women in adventure films were either trouble or boring.
The two women in Prometheus played by Noomi Rapace and Charlize Theron are the strong, vibrant, tough survivors we now take for granted in adventure films. No more sprained ankles or lost earrings.
In Alien, Ridley Scott cast the sublime Sigourney Weaver. She played Lt. Ellen Ripley, a sweaty, hard-working, hard-fighting foil to the Alien invasion – the only one who could take the creatures on. She went on to appear in all the Alien sequels and had herself major stardom and an important career.
Ridley Scott’s next film in the history of women’s evolution was Thelma and Louise in 1991. The leads were 2 wounded-by-men women, who in their flight from men across the country became heroes to male and female audiences alike. The stars, Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis were both nominated for Best Actress Oscars.
Next was G.I. Jane in 1997, starring Demi Moore as Lt. Jordan O’Neil. This had a mixed box office and critics’ reaction. Although ground-breaking in its story of a woman training to be a Navy SEAL, the film may have been too much for audiences to take. Demi Moore was renowned for her beauty and asking an audience to pay to see a film with a shaved head while she struggles to compete for a place in a military unit that most men would not be able to get into was not very appealing. Ripley was forced by circumstances to react to the Alien. No one could blame her for dropping her femininity. But Jordan O’Neil chose to compete with men directly, to out-man them so-to-speak, on their own terms, for no specific reason other than she wanted to. Audiences were uncomfortable and stayed away.
Ridley Scott went on to greater things with his best-received movie, Gladiator. He sank to his greatest low with Robin Hood, oddly enough starring the same actor, Russell Crowe. However,Hollywoodcaught on to what he innovated and women stopped being portrayed as empty-headed distractions for guys doing guy things – at least in films that want to be taken seriously.
And now Prometheus, launched in 2093 is responsible for a woman and a robot going on to search for the origins of mankind. Lt.Ripley on the Nostromo is set to follow Prometheus’s path and discover the Alien some 10 years later.
Krystyna Hunt is a film critic who explores how women are portrayed in the movies on her blog, Cherchez La Female
One thought on “Ridley Scott: A Champion of Women, from Prometheus to Alien-Guest blogger Krystyna Hunt”
I agree, Krystyna! One of the stand-out themes running through these Alien pictures is the strong women who defy the odds. I still believe that Charlize Theron would have been the better choice to take the role that Noomi Rapace had in “Prometheus”, as she was not as compelling or interesting as Theron has been in so many other films. But the thread of the strongest woman surviving is so powerful in so many of Ridley Scott’s films.