Mar 3, 2015

Review: Alien: Resurrection (1997)

Alien: Resurrection has always been a chapter of the Alien series that I wish didn't exist. I know that's a pretty harsh line to open a review, but it's the unfortunate truth. While Alien 3 for me is OK despite having a whole slew of problems, there are some elements about it that I actually like. I can't bring myself to say the same thing about Alien: Resurrection though. Even just the title bothers me in its attempt to educate film goers that everyone's favourite alien killer Ellen Ripley is back in action.

It's nice all the same that Sigourney Weaver is back and she is surrounded by a pretty competent team. French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet had done two impressive films in Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children as a co-director before he was offered the job to directing Alien: Resurrection and I think there's a pretty good match there. He also brought along his director of cinematography Darius Khondji who had worked with him on those films. With Joss Whedon, one of the screenwriters for wildly successful Toystory along for the ride, what could go wrong? Apparently a lot.

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Genre: action, sci-fi, thriller
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Produced by: Bill Badalato, Gordon Carroll, David Giler, etc.
Written by: Joss Whedon
Music by: John Frizzell
Running time: 116 minutes
Production company: Brandywine Productions, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Distributed by: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, 20th Century Fox of Germany, Hispano Foxfilms S.A.E., etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $75,000,000
Box office: $161,376,068 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Dominique Pinon, Ron Perlman, Gary Dourdan, Michael Wincott, Kim Flowers, Dan Hedaya, J.E. Freeman, Brad Dourif, Raymond Cruz, Leland Orser

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Synopsis

200 years after Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) died on planet Fury 161, she has been successfully cloned by military scientists intent on exploiting the xenomorph queen inside of her. The extraction is successful and a breeding program begins. Ripley is healthy after the procedure and a surprising side effect of the cloning process is that she begins to show xenomorph traits in terms of her strength and her reaction times. Ripley even has a psychic connection with other xenomorphs.

Review

An important distinction to make for this review is that I watched the Special Edition version of Alien: Resurrection which adds an additional seven minutes to the run time. These seven minutes mostly add some meat to Ripley's end of the story by making references to events in Aliens. That's totally fine with me because Ripley is a pretty different beast in A:R and needs a bit of explanation.

Because of her DNA merging with the xenomorph queen's, she's become quite aggressive, sarcastic and suggestive. This can all be seen in how she interacts with her fellow humans and is one of the many sources of discomfort for me in Alien: Resurrection. Sexual symbolism and tension has always been a part of the Alien series and Ripley has always found herself on the receiving end of that. Not so much in Alien: Resurrection though where her physical prowess finally puts her in the driver's seat.

While I do think Sigourney Weaver does a great job at filling up the screen, it's too much. I don't like this new Ripley and even though her character is fleshed out a little bit in this Special Edition version, I don't feel for her as I did in any of the preceding movies in the Alien series. Ripley has always balanced vulnerability and general badass-ness, but she's pure badass-ness now with a one-liner ready to go. I'll admit that some of these are actually kind of good, but it's not the Ripley that I know and love. 

Where we do find female vulnerability in Alien: Resurrection is in Winona Ryder's character Annalee Call. It's there for sure, but because she's more or less co-starring with Sigourney Weaver there really isn't that much time to dedicate to her story which to me isn't all that interesting anyway. I like Ryder a lot, but I'm not convinced that she really belongs in an action/sci-fi movie such as this. Sigourney Weaver is apparently one of her idols though so I can understand wanting to work with her. Besides Ryder's character, everyone else is pretty much a throwaway and wouldn't be missed if they disappeared.

I mentioned sex before and I can tell you that Alien: Resurrection is absolutely rife with it. Sexual energy is literally dripping off of this film and I don't know why. H. R. Giger's design of the xenomorph from Alien is supposed to evoke sexual imagery and it does just that. The same goes for his designs for the fleshy nesting area where victims are cocooned. Evoke is the key work though and that's not what Joss Whedon's script does. It punches you in the face with its heavy handed idea of symbolism and I can't help but really miss the subtlety of past movies.

One thing I do like about Alien: Resurrection though is how it portrays science as a "monster." You might have the ultimate killing machines in the universe running amok, but you also have these cold, heartless husks of humanity who would do anything to further progress. Brad Dourif is mostly known for his role as Wormtongue in The Lord of the Rings, but his character Dr. Jonathan Gediman is my favourite of the scientific bunch. He's coldly calculating and only ever shows any hint of humanity when he talks about the xenomorphs who he deeply admires. 

The horror in Alien: Resurrection sadly doesn't work very well. The aliens just don't seem all that scary here and that's really sad for me. Alien and Aliens do such a great job at making this species terrifying and even Alien 3 has a little bit of that in certain places. A:R doesn't have any of that unfortunately. Ineffective jump scares have become par for the course and the aliens never succeed in being what they should be. Don't even talk to me about the Newborn either. Few things have ever made me as disgusted and horrified in all the wrong ways as the Newborn has. 

The action sequences are also quite disappointing, mostly ending up looking messy and weirdly comedic. Joss Whedon apparently wrote Alien: Resurrection as what you could call a bit of a black comedy and that's where most of it seems to show up. It's not really all that funny though and the common thought here is that Whedon and Jean-Pierre Jeunet just don't understand each other which is perfectly plausible. All I can say is that as an action film, A:R never thrills and it doesn't look good as it tries to.

When it comes to A:R, I suppose I like the sets, the metallic tinge to everything, the score in certain places and I even think that the CGI has aged relatively well from 1997. There isn't much more that I can say about Alien: Resurrection that's positive though. It's a film that has a lot to live up to and fails in pretty much everything it sets out to do. It's far from scary and probably only boasts a single scene (the underwater kitchen scene) that gets the blood pressure up a little bit. One can only hope that Alien: Resurrection is a lesson for everyone on what not to do in an Alien sequel.

Rating

5/10

Related Reviews:

Alien (1979)
Aliens (1986)
Alien³ [Alien 3] (1992)

AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004) 
AVPR: Aliens vs Predator - Requiem (2007) 

Prometheus (2012)