Review: Alien: Resurrection

200 years after her suicidal plunge in “Alien3 Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is back. Scientists led by Brad Dourif and J.E. Freeman aboard a militaristic scientific research ship have revived Ripley in a most unique manner. In order to revive the Xenomorph that was inside her, they first need to revive Ripley…or more precisely, clone her. After 7 unsuccessful attempts, they manage to do it. The plan, overseen by military general Dan Hedaya, is to try and domesticate the alien, in the hopes of eventually turning it into a useful weapon. As for Ripley, she’s…changed somewhat. Due to having Xenomorph DNA intertwined with her own, Ripley is now more animalistic and a little more cold-blooded than she was before. Instead of being horrified by the plans of trying to use the Xenomorph, Ripley is more bemused by the ridiculous idea. However, when a bunch of space mercenaries (led by Michael Wincott) come aboard the ship to drop off some cargo, they are obviously none too pleased with what is going on and need Ripley’s help in simply staying alive. Ron Perlman plays the most macho and uncouth of the mercenaries, with the others being played by Kim Flowers, Gary Dourdan, disabled Dominique Pinon, and Winona Ryder.

Like the previous “Alien3 most critics (especially American critics) weren’t very kind to this 1997 sequel from Jean-Pierre Jeunet (“Delicatessen”, “Amelie”). Also like “Alien3 a certain someone didn’t have a happy time and doesn’t like the finished product. This time around though, it’s not the director who was displeased, but screenwriter Joss Whedon (No, I still haven’t forgiven you for killing off Tara on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”). And yes, like “Alien3 I happen to like the film quite a bit, and I reckon Whedon’s complaints are more because the film very much looks, sounds, and feels like the director’s vision and not his own. All four of the films, whatever you make think of their individual quality, have a very clear and distinct vision, I think. Yes, even with all the studio interference and problems, the grim and industrial-looking vision of “Alien3 does stand out (Whose exact vision it is, I suppose could be debated but it’s not a million miles from Fincher’s subsequent output is it?). This one definitely has the quirky fish-eye lens, strange and unflattering close-ups, striking steampunk production design, and oddball humour of its director (who, depending on what source you read, seems to have had pretty much full creative control, though he left Hollywood subsequently to go home and make the popular “Amelie”). Many have suggested that the film is in fact a comedy (ironic given Whedon’s main complaint was that the comic tone of his script was erased. Perhaps he just doesn’t ‘get’ dark, deadpan humour), but I think that’s overstating it quite a bit, it would be too jarring if that were the case. This still fits in with the “Alien” series for the most part seamlessly.

For me, this is thematically the most interesting film in the entire series. It has a slightly conservative or at least cautionary view on issues like cloning and scientific experimentation. There’s two scenes that stand out as some of the best stuff in the series: A horrifying scene where Ripley encounters all the genetic failures before her. It’s quite confronting for her and the audience (Apparently it’s the one scene in the film that Weaver was most interested in filming). The other standout scene is completely indescribable. All I’ll say is it involves Ripley, Xenomorphs and Brad Dourif. You’ll know it when you see it.

I really can’t understand why there are so many people who dislike this film. It’s clearly not just an empty-headed jump-scare film. That would be closer to the original “Alien” if you ask me. Yeah, I said it. “Alien” was a pretty empty, straight-forward slasher movie with an alien and not even an especially good slasher movie at that. The others have gone further, reached higher. The masterful “Aliens” was partly a story about motherhood, “Alien3” pretty much dealt with a rape and unwanted pregnancy (albeit falling back on the jump-scare theatrics as well), this one is about science going way too far. This one has something to say, and unlike “Alien3 this one’s not entirely nihilistic. I could at least understand the hate for that film even if I didn’t share it for the most part. It was a very dark, depressing film that killed off some well-loved characters before the damn thing even started. I think this might be a slightly better film than “Alien3, actually. It has Xenomorphs that can swim. How can you not like a film that features Xenomorphs swimming? It makes sense that they would evolve, too.

The chief asset this one has (as was the case in all previous films in the series) is, Sigourney Weaver as Ripley. Her fascinatingly predatory performance in playing this slightly different, altered Ripley is some of Weaver’s best work to date.  Being the intelligent actress she is, she’s really got a handle on this particular version of Ripley, which is a Ripley that is a mixture of a clone of the Ripley we know and love, but also traces of alien DNA due to the alien that was still inside her (Even though I’m pretty sure it burst through her chest at the end of “Alien3 if you ask me…). So now Ripley has powers and sensory strength beyond what she had before, as well as somewhat of a jaded, fatalistic streak. But the old Ripley is still definitely in there, and Weaver manages to juggle it all seemingly effortlessly.

The supporting cast here may be the most cult-ish of the entire franchise, with uber-macho Ron Perlman and slimy Brad Dourif scoring particularly well. Dourif is perfectly cast as the kind of guy who would try to experiment on a Xenomorph and try to domesticate one. Nice, panicked performance by Leland Orser too, who looks like he might’ve had it better with the bladed strap-on in “Se7en”. J.E. Freeman also gives an impressively smug performance as ‘guy you want to die as soon as possible and as horribly as possible’. And when are Michael Wincott and Dan Hedaya bad to have around? The director gets quite a bit of mileage out of Hedaya’s facial expressions and distorting his mug in weird ways. One of Whedon’s apparent criticisms of the finished film is that they cast the film wrong. As far as I’m concerned there’s really only one casting misstep and that’s Winona Ryder. A fine actress in the right role (particularly “Heathers” and “Beetlejuice”), she’s just out of her depth here. She doesn’t convince as a space pirate, and you don’t buy her at any stage in the film. I have to wonder what the thought process was there in her casting. Along with some unconvincing model and matte work (poor even for 1997), she’s the only flaw here and it’s a fairly important role too. I would’ve cast someone more convincing as a grunt and less…Pixie-ish.

A fascinating continuation of the “Alien” franchise with interesting themes, a mostly interesting supporting cast, a pretty gorgeously ugly look, and most importantly Sigourney Weaver leading the charge as feminist icon (and just plain iconic) Ripley…as you’ve never seen her before. Worthy of another look if you dismissed it at the time. 

Rating: B-


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