April 2021

Alien Resurrection (1997)

DIRECTOR: Jean-Pierre Jeunet


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


Like many a film franchise, the Alien series started out strong, then didn’t know when to quit. Greed to make more money overrode the artistic integrity of stopping when the series was ahead and had fresh, original places to take the story. Alien Resurrection is at least not the dreary, depressing experience of the morbid Alien 3, but that’s damning with faint praise. Plot elements are recycled, campiness replaces horror, the aliens are not half as creepy as they were even in the third installment, and as in the third, no one holds our attention besides Ripley, and her character has been ‘reimagined’ in such a way that the only connection we feel toward her is out of nostalgia for her three previous outings.

Two-hundred years after Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) cast herself into a fiery pit to destroy the alien inside her, a team of scientists (led by J.E. Freeman and Brad Dourif) on a rogue ship commanded by General Perez (Dan Hedaya) have, after numerous botched attempts, managed to create an identical clone. But this is not Ripley as we knew her. This ‘Ripley’ also has a little alien in her; she has superhuman strength and reflexes, her blood burns like acid, and she operates more on feral, predatory instincts than human emotions. Meanwhile, the scientists have also recreated her alien ‘baby’, which has matured into a Queen spawning dozens of eggs and warriors. A cargo of abducted humans in oblivious hypersleep is delivered by the crew of the Betty, made up of captain Elgyn (Michael Wincott), his lover Sabra (Kim Flowers), brutish Johner (Ron Perlman), wheelchair-bound Vriess (Dominique Pinon), gun-wielding Christie (Gary Dourdan), and enigmatic Call (Winona Ryder), who seems out of place but proves to have a surprise of her own. Unsurprisingly, the crew of the Betty is forced to enter an uneasy alliance with the escaped Ripley when the scientists lose control and the aliens overrun the ship.

The only constant from the previous installments is Sigourney Weaver, and she’s not even technically playing Ellen Ripley. At least in Alien 3, we still had Ripley to sympathize with, even if everyone else was despicable. Here, we don’t care about anyone else, not just because they’re detestable (although most of them are), but because they’re flat action movie clichés, virtually all played in a one-dimensionally broad manner, like campy movie characters who know they’re campy movie characters (this isn’t aided by Joss Whedon’s overly jokey script, which can’t seem to make up its mind whether it wants to be straight Alien-esque horror or a tongue-in-cheek satire thereof).  Topping it off, it’s hard to feel much connection with this Ripley, as she has been reborn as a feral, rather predatory and creepy individual who still spouts tough woman action heroine one-liners and shows some butt kicking prowess but doesn’t give us much to latch onto emotionally. It’s only in a few scenes toward the end of the movie that this Ripley displays enough vulnerability and humanity for us to start to feel something for her. None of this is a criticism of Sigourney Weaver, who performs all of the above effectively and gets to vary up the way she plays Ripley in her fourth outing in the role. It’s simply that she’s been written as a colder and less accessible character this time around. Winona Ryder is less successful. Her Call is intended as the most sympathetic character and a sort of sidekick for Ripley, but Weaver completely dwarfs Ryder both physically and in terms of screen presence. Weaver has the latter; Ryder does not. In fairness, Ryder can be effective in the right role (her Oscar-nominated performance in Little Women, for example), but here she seems completely lost and out of her depth, and is never particularly convincing. Her surprise not only isn’t too surprising considering we’ve had a character make this revelation in three out of four installments, but because we’re just not intrigued enough by her to care. Ron Perlman provides a little comic relief, albeit not nearly as much as Bill Paxton brought to Aliens. The gravelly-voiced Michael Wincott is always kind of entertaining, but he’s not around for long. Dan Hedaya acts as if he’s in a comedy, with bulging eyes and cartoonish mannerisms; fortunately if anything he’s onscreen even less than Wincott. J.E. Freeman and Brad Dourif are suitably slimy, but it’s a little disappointing that the movie largely wastes the deliciously creepy/weird Dourif by giving him the lesser screen time, and Leland Orser gets to go into some fairly impressive convulsions.

Part of the creepiness of Alien, Aliens, and even Alien 3 was that clear shots of the aliens were limited, with the creatures usually lurking in dark corridors and tunnels. Here, they’re often in full view, and by now they’re overexposed enough that their creepiness factor has gone down. No scene holds a candle to the nerve-wracking tension of the climaxes of Alien or Aliens. There are only a few scenes scattered around that feel inspired, including one in which Brad Dourif’s Dr. Gediman toys with one of his alien subjects, and Ripley’s descent into the alien nest. The most powerful and effective scene in the film, however, is Ripley’s discovery of the seven previous attempted clones, in a room filled with preserved corpses of half-Ripley half-alien hybrids. The sequence is disturbing and nightmarish, and doesn’t even directly involve the aliens. The most memorable alien-related sequence involves an underwater pursuit through a flooded room in which the aliens reveal themselves to be frighteningly good swimmers. Ripley’s human/alien hybrid “baby”, which rears its freakish head in a couple third act scenes, is kind of disturbing too, but also feels a little goofy and extraneously slapped on just to bump up the shock/horror quotient. The ending leaves things with a note of hope, though we haven’t really gotten to know this Ripley enough to care half as much as we did at the end of Aliens.

With each successive outing, the Alien series has deteriorated in quality, from the sci-fi horror/thriller brilliance of Alien and Aliens, to the bloody pointlessness of Alien 3, to the campy action romp of Alien 4, which in a way is the most disheartening of all. At least Alien 3 presented itself in a serious fashion. Alien 4 takes what was originally sharp, scary sci-fi horror and injects it into a generic action flick. The result is moderately entertaining, but it’s a long drop from Alien and Aliens.