Movie Review – ALIEN: RESURRECTION (1997)
By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Dominique Pinon, Ron Perlman, Gary Dourdan, Kim Flowers, Michael Wincott, Dan Hedeya, and Brad Dourif
One of the cool things about looking at the first three Alien movies is seeing three directors in the beginning stages of their careers take hold of the xenomorphs and mold their stories into styles that match what was to come later. Ridley Scott was coming off directing one movie (The Duelists) when he decided to take on the first film in the series. And, combined with some truly monstrous designs, crafted the almost perfect meld of science fiction and horror. James Cameron, who when he took on the job of directing the sequel Aliens, hadn’t even witnessed his film The Terminator come out and be a success, made a monstrous action movie that was fun, exciting, and yes, at times even horrific. Even David Fincher, whose film Alien 3 I didn’t necessarily give a positive review to, came to the forefront and did a dark, ‘we’re all gunna die’ type film that set a tone and showed signs of the talent and greatness that was to come. Then we get to 1997’s Alien: Resurrection. Its director, Jean-Pierre Jeunut, had a decent film in his resume (Delicatessen) before he took on the job of directing the fourth sequel, and would go on to do an admittedly very admirable film in Amelie. But, when watching Delicatessen, you would never think that the style it was filmed would make a producer of Alien; Resurrection say, “I want him to take our series in his hands!” But, that was exactly what they did. And, I have to say that, combined with a way below average script; this mess of a movie is the one example in this whole series of a gamble on a director that just didn’t pay off.
After the death of Sigourney Weaver’s character of Ripley at the end of the last film, there really could not be any way they could bring her back, could there? Ahhh, but that would be so un-Hollywood. Because, once again armed with cases of cash, Fox was able to bring Weaver back. This time, as a clone 200 years after we last saw her fall into the molten steel pit in Alien 3. Amongst a new breed of misfits (led by always sure fire witted Perlman), ‘Ripley’ starts taking on traits of the aliens she has fought so hard against many times before. And, throughout the course of the movie must grapple with the question: am I here to fight them? Or continue their cycle? Now, I am not going to say that is not a remarkable premise for this movie. But, the way it was executed, along with some very poorly written lines, made this by far the most painful viewing experience of any Alien movie. Which is saying a lot when the last film was so dreary and full of such depressing masochism.
David Giler has been on record as saying when he read the script of this film, he thought it was so bad that he was convinced that it would kill the series. Which is saying a lot, being that it had come from the mind of one Joss Whedon. Whedon was Fox’s golden boy at the time, having just turned in, at the time still unaired set of very good scripts for his Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series. And, they were convinced that if anyone could bring Ripley back in a relatable and convincing manner, it would be him. Even though Whedon has said that he was not pleased with how his script was interpreted onscreen, this script, for all intents and purposes, was not very good to begin with. While there are some great ideas (Ryder’s reveal that she is the android of this film, the way Ripley ‘makes love’ to an alien) it was so full of clichés (while Cameron surrounded his cast with a bunch of jarheads, at least you could identify and laugh with at least one of them. Here, I could take or leave all of them). Ok, the woman you have brought back is not the same as when we last saw her. But, having Ripley play basketball to show just how big of a badass she had become doesn’t do much convincing of that fact. Of course, when your last film has put such a permanent stamp on the series as a whole, it just begs the question of why try to bring it back to begin with? I think this was the wall that Whedon ran into and, unfortunately, even he could not dig the series out of the dreary hole it was in at the time.
Of course, having Jeunut at the helm didn’t help. Now, there were a few very nicely done scenes, as the scene of Ripley amongst the sea of hybrids and having to set them on fire was actually very tragic and nicely directed. And, I am one of the only people I know who highly enjoyed the underwater scenes (even if the cliché of having Jaws type music was at the forefront).But, since he really didn’t have a grasp on the English language at the time, his way of directing this film was through an interpreter. Maybe the interpreter was bad because while the dialogue and scenes that set up certain situations wasn’t written that well to begin with, the way everything came across onscreen was just hideous. All I can say about his direction as a whole is that it proves Jeunut should have been the director of the series that was babysat the most. Not Fincher. And, while I have heard the criticism of Weaver that says she ‘went through the motions and just collected a paycheck,’ I don’t think I believe that. She knows the character all too well to do that. What I do believe is that she just was not given the right tools (script, direction) to make the character work this time. And, I think her performance in the aforementioned ‘setting the hybrids on fire ‘ scene proves that. Now, I know I criticized Weaver in the last one for taking Ripley and sleeping with Charles Dances’ character. But, that is not something I hold her at fault for. I just think that was poor writing. However, while that was just one scene, here, in Alien Resurrection, she is surrounded by bad lines (“I am the monster’s mother,” “I died”) and bad situations. All together, this made not only her character, but the film as a whole, a painful viewing experience.
Ok, maybe I am being a bit too hard on Alien: Resurrection. There are a few good pieces of it. For one, the film’s look is great. They have surrounded every single scene of this film with a sort of metallic aesthetic, and it works very well within the course of the film. I also thought the alien designs in this were better than any of the series (even if their blood was, shall we say, too milky to be acid) and they are covered with more slime than ever. Combined with the metallic look of the film, the new shinier, slimier style of aliens made it beautiful to look at. But, really. Other than the few scenes I mentioned earlier, that is it for the compliments I can bring myself to give Alien: Resurrection. I think Jeunut really had no idea how to put his own stamp on the franchise. And, in examining all the other films, this one just had no style whatsoever, proving that this was very much the wrong director to go with. And, while I do not think it, as Giler predicted, killed the series (Scott’s Prometheus will prove that it didn’t). I do think it, with this being the last time we ever see her, killed the character of Ripley even more than a fiery pit did. And that, Amigos, is a cinematic tragedy.
2 out of 5