Alien Resurrection: Ripley in wonderland?
In 1997, for the first time, an Alien sequel came out in the same decade as the previous movie. And just maybe that was part of the problem.
In general, the fourth movie in the Alien series simply plays out a bit ... weird. It's not particularly surprising when you look at who wrote the screenplay: Joss Whedon.
After writing the movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which would later become a very successful TV show called Charmed ... I mean, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and doing some work on the screenplay for Toy Story, Joss Whedon's third screenplay-turned-feature-film was Alien Resurrection. Now, I'm quite a fan of Whedon. He is one of the great dialog writers working today and he's got some very unique ideas. But he may work best with fewer limitations.
But we'll get to that later.
[Probably some spoilers, as usual.]
But first, the story
Our movie starts two hundred years after the evens of Alien³. A team of scientists—including the somewhat mad Dr. Gediman (Brad Dourif)—are doing something, as scientists are wont to do. And as is customary in movies, scientists seem to always be pawns of the military (David Marcus was right), this time under General Perez (Dan Hedaya).
Anyway, it turns out that these scientists are using blood samples—apparently taken and stored during the last movie—and cloning a new Ripley, complete with queen alien accessory. They remove the queen and suckle it until it becomes a full-grown queen, laying eggs and breathing heavily.
Turns out the cloning process left both females with slight genetic mixing, and our heroine has increased strength and agility, mildly acidic blood and quite the 'tude.
Oh, and memories for some reason. They try to say it was genetic memories inherited from the genetic crossover, but why the heck would alien genetic memories include Ripley's life story?
Anyway, a team of mercenaries shows up with a selection of unwitting hosts for alien embryos. They're quite the rag-tag team—which I assume means they play tag with rags or something—led by Frank Elgyn (Michael Wincott) and his partner, Christie (Gary Dourdan). There's the sociopathic Johner (Ron Perlman), mechanic Vriess (Dominique Pinon), the lovely Sabra (Kim Flowers) and the youthful Call (Winona Ryder). They're tough and armed, but have no idea what they're in for.
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Except for Call. It turns out she came specifically to stop this particular science project before they can turn it in for the science fair. But she's a bit too late to stop anything.
The now grown aliens, of course, escape and put the whole ship in a panic.
Our heroes spend most of the rest of the movie trying to get back to their ship and escape, with little adventures and excitements along the way.
But we can't stop there.
It turns out that the human DNA that the queen got from Ripley allowed her to develop an actual womb of her own, rather than only lay eggs. So, obviously she gives birth to a full-grown giant albino psychopath.
(Maybe he's played by Jonathan Winters? "Mama. Ripley. Shoe!" Points to any of you who know what I'm referring to.)
And it all leads up to a final scene where, yet again, Ripley confronts the alien and ejects it into space. (Though in a slightly more ... disturbing way this time.)
Dot dot dot
Maybe they should have waited just a little longer in order to rework this one to help the elements gel a bit better. Maybe just let the idea for this one mature a bit. But let's get into some specifics.
As I said before, I'm a fan of Joss Whedon in general. Not a die-hard fan, but I do like a lot of his work. That being said, I can see his influence throughout this movie, but it's not the best example of his work.
(Whedon even has a character in his series Angel who mentions that her husband loves the Alien movies, except for that fourth one.)
I think the problem is that Whedon works best in situations where he has more freedom to be himself. He can do whatever he wants with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, or Firefly because they're all his characters to begin with. But with Alien Resurrection, he's working within a universe created by Ronald Shusett and Dan O'Bannon, about twenty years earlier. There's only so much he can do with the characters and tone before the movie no longer feels like an Alien movie.
I'm sure you might be thinking "What about Whedon's work on The Avengers?" It was pretty successful and had Whedon's fingerprints all over. The difference is that (1) Whedon's style naturally fits more with comic-book action than horror in general, and (2) the world of the Avengers is already littered with so many different artists and writers placing their own style within their works already that the world of the Avengers-verse is already prepared for a fair amount of personalization in the story telling.
Okay, enough about Whedon, already.
More specific to how the movie plays out, as I said before, it just seems to get a bit weird at times.
Also, building on the last movie, Alien Resurrection takes artistic direction even further. In particular, I'm thinking of one scene where Ripley is basically pulled into a giant alien orgy. It's just a little confusing.
But at least they don't seem to be upping the blood from the last movie. As I said in my previous hub, Alien³ seemed to like the blood much more than I. And this one does seem to use more blood than Aliens, but I don't think it's more than Alien³.
Alien Resurrection - trailer
But what about the monster?
For the most part, these aliens are much like what we've seen before. Special effects have improved greatly since the original movie, so they're able to make the creature more realistic in close shots, but the behavior is still pretty familiar.
But one thing that does look a bit weird is the facehugger eggs. Running with the idea that these aliens have a little human DNA in them, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet—who had previously worked with Dominique Pinon on the very bizarre movie Delicatessen—specifically wanted the "egg flaps" to have a much more fleshy look to them. A bit odd, but not necessarily a problem.
Mostly, the alien weirdness comes in toward the end of the movie, when we get a front-row seat to a giant albino Skeletor climbing out of a gelatin-filled medicine ball.
Seriously, the creature is just bizarre. And he really doesn't add much to the movie as a whole. The final confrontation on the mercenary ship could have been done—with a few simple changes—with a traditional alien. There isn't really much reason to create this monstrosity in the last act of the movie. Maybe if it had been introduced earlier in the movie and had been chasing the group the whole time ... at least it wouldn't feel so tagged-on.
Personally, I think they were really hoping to recreate the feel of what had happened with the alien queen in the second movie. She was introduced just before the final confrontation, yet she totally works.
The biggest difference, however, is that even though we never see the queen alien until most of the movie is already behind us, earlier in the movie, our heroes are seen talking about where the aliens come from, and that something they haven't yet seen must be laying the eggs that start it all off. The reveal of the queen answers a question that our heroes had been asking.
Also, the chase scene through the reactor building and the battle on the ship were very well done and iconic. This pale monstrosity comes about with absolutely no foreshadowing, and the final "battle" consists of Ripley hugging and fondling him until she can get him sucked through a hole the size of a softball. Not particularly gripping.
Where does that leave us?
There are moments that work well enough. Though I double dog dare you to hold your breath throughout the whole underwater attack scene.
The team of mercenaries feels very much like what you could expect from Joss Whedon, and there are bits of dialog that do carry his style.
But on the whole, the movie just feels a bit muddled. And it's a bit of a missed opportunity. The idea of crossing the DNA of our heroine with an alien feels like it should give you a whole lot of fun. This one doesn't really feel as cool as you might expect. I don't want to say that Whedon and Jeunet completely botched it. Maybe they did as much with that concept as anyone reasonably could. It just feels like there should have been more.
But what do you think?
As a monster movie, it works okay, but gets a bit weird. Personally, I give this one a 5 / 10 overall.
Alien Resurrection is rated R for strong sci-fi violence and gore, some grotesque images, language, and a bit of nudity, both sexual and decidedly non-sexual .