Retrospective Reviews: “Alien: Resurrection;” Theatrical and Special Editions

A personality clash between writer and director gave the films sense of humor a split personality, but the strengths of both parties ensure RESURRECTION is a movie you'll never forget.

 

ALIEN: RESURRECTION

1997: dir. Jean-Pierre Jeunet (2003 Special Edition)

Writer: Joss Whedon

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Michael Wincott, Ron Perlman, Dan Hedaya

 

I’ve always liked this film. Something about it so pulpy and weird, funny yet grim. It wasn’t until I did a little bit of research that that tone is in no small part due to Joss Whedon’s script, which balances out terrific action and a minimally fleshed out cast of badasses that eerily remind of another crew under Whedon’s pen.

 

Parody or Irony? Who’s voice dictated the Resurrection?

 

It’s tough to say who was at faulty for how RESURRECTION turned out; Jean Pierre Jeunet was still learning how to speak English and needed a translator on set, so between miscommunications and a lesser draft from Joss, the film feels like a battle between two dominant voices – sometimes, they’re in sync with each other. Other times, they’re at odds. This win/lose combination unfortunately cripples a project that can’t decide between being a sequel and a spinoff, between exploring its own lore and calling back to its roots.

The cloning of Ripley is a success, but not without its consequences.

Whedon’s script is pretty self aware at how absurd the premise is. It never once tries to play itself seriously in spite of its overt silliness and pseudoscientific bullshit; using blood samples for Fury 161, Ripley is cloned and so is the Queen inside of her. That right there is where the film shits the bed, but the story only doubles down on this ridiculous twist from there on; Ripley and the Queen swap genetic traits as a result, so she is able to recall memories passed down by genes and has concentrated acid for blood. The Queen then receives a womb with which it is able to give birth to an Alien/Human hybrid that is sure to haunt your subconscious forever.

Every rose has its thorn, and the ragtag crew of the Betty stumble into the cloning room that houses the horrors of genetic failure. Ripley-8 was only conceived after seven failures, all laid bare for her to witness. So, the pseudoscience isn’t a matter of convenience in story; there were significant consequences in trying to bring Ripley – and the alien – back from the dead.

Jeunet takes Whdeon’s script at its full irony and plays it straight with a French twist. Characters are over-the-top, either oozing charisma or practically twirling an invisible mustache to accentuate their evil with. Because of Jeunet’s direction, the film feels super serious when it needs to and delicately whimsical at others. This process works mostly well, except it winds up distancing itself far and away from its heritage – the very one it can’t decide if it wants to honor or not.

Because all scientific endeavors of untold horror need a little artistic merit to round things out. Looks badass, though.

As a result, there’s a decidedly vast lack of emotional affect in RESURRECTION, and it’s not because the characters are barely fleshed out. There’s a serious lack of horror besides obvious shock value (until the films close with the birth of the newborn, that is). The humor of the film makes every character feel like a caricature, and when they die, it feels ordained and comical. It also doesn’t help that Winona Ryder is painfully miscast in this film; Call doesn’t have the cold ruthlessness of Ash or the subdued humanism of Bishop – instead, her humaneness borders on childlike innocence – a further disparity from the grounded tone of the first three films.

The ‘Newborn,’ AKA one of the ugliest god damn things you’ll ever see.

The rest of the film behaves well; the action is creative and well choreographed, the sets are busy and dense and the practical effects mesh really well with the occasional CGI. The exterior shots of the Auriga are painfully dull and a few of the effects are very much dated, but it’s an overall improvement from ALIEN 3. The editing also leads the story very naturally, as an improvement, and gives very little time to pause and debate over the silliness of the films overall story before the next harrowing step in the crews journey steps before them.

The closing moments of the film are even more absurd than the preceding film, placing everything before them as child’s play. It weakly connects to the first two films concluding epilogues by pitting Ripley against an alien remnant after failing to destroy it. The human/alien hybrid the Queen births views Ripley as its governing mother and they embrace in the cargo hold, only Ripley uses her acid blood to split a hold in the glass and have the abomination sucked out piece by piece into space.

And it ironically shouts “OH NO” as it splits apart, which was pretty fucked up. I say ironic because “in space, no can hear you scream.” Get it?

 

The Verdict

 

ALIEN: RESURRECTION barely passes above average because of it’s weird dedication to its own madness. It isn’t quite the production mess that ALIEN 3 is, but it does have a significant number of problems that label it the bastard child of the franchise. Fortunately, it’s set so far in the future that none of it really matters, and it can play with its own sense of stupidity to nobodies detriment.

And, even though it’s a bastard, it still meant well.

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