So remember, even if you ain’t got time to bleed, in the Video Vault no-one can hear you scream…
Andy Petrou sends in the clones.
Last, but by no means least, there was Alien: Resurrection. After the disappointment that was Alien 3, 20th Century Fox still couldn’t resist the urge to revive this beloved franchise and inject some life into it five years later. Ellen Ripley was coming back and she was coming back with a vengeance!
Bringing Ripley back from the dead was no mean feat though, so the studios turned their attention to Jean-Pierre Jeunet, one of France’s most esteemed directors, to champion the series to a hopefully formidable conclusion. Could the final film do the series justice and give us the mother of all send-offs? Would we see a return to the brilliance that was 1979’s Alien? Magic 8-ball says ‘outlook not so good’…
Whilst AR isn’t my favourite of the Alien series, I do remember seeing it at the cinema when I was at university back in 1997, because I’d never seen any of the previous films on the big screen I was mega-excited at the prospect of watching Ellen Ripley come back from the dead to kick the aliens’ evocative, extraterrestrial asses. The prospect of bringing Ripley back 200 years after she killed herself in Alien 3 seemed a bit ambitious at first, but I for one was pumped up and eager to see how this could be pulled off. I don’t recall there being that many films about cloning back in the 90s, or at least, I hadn’t seen that many at that time beyond Jurassic Park, but I loved the whole ‘space military clones Ripley from her DNA with Queen Alien still inside’ idea. I just wasn’t sure it could be pulled off…
Essentially Alien: Resurrection centers around an isolated military spacecraft carrying a panel of morally questionable scientists, whose sole, and mostly unclear, objective is to clone Ripley with remains of her DNA, in order to foolishly extract the Alien Queen within. Noticeably more dexterous and eerily powerful, Ripley, dubbed Number 8, is transformed with Alien-esque tendencies and her survival is now in the scientists hands. They unscrupulously proceed to sacrifice a group of mercenaries who have been brought on board by the money-driven crew of ‘The Betty’ spaceship, as the Alien Queen delivers her litter of soon-to-be human exterminators.The doomed unconscious victims become incubators for the Queen’s babies and thus a new race of Aliens are born!
Among ‘The Betty’ crew are actors Ron Perlman, Winona Ryder, and Jeunet’s long-time friend and collaborator, Dominique Pinon, which makes for an enjoyable on-screen ensemble. Once the aliens develop into fully-fledged annihilators, they begin tactically savaging each-other to the acidic death in order to escape from their containment hell. Once the death-fest kicks off, Winona Ryder’s character, Annalee Call, and Ripley ultimately strike up a bizarre bond and unite in their quest to guide the remaining crew to safety from the alien infested vessel.
Amidst the frantic rush to escape, Ripley comes face-to-face with her disfigured cloned siblings and we finally catch a much-needed glimpse into her humanity after the lukewarm build-up prior to this. Ripley’s moment when she destroys the cruelly discarded bodies is powerful and unforgettable. Her reactions, for a few minutes, are reminiscent of pre-cloned Ripley which we grew to know and love. The highlight of the film, for me, occurs with the ensuing underwater hunting sequences. How anyone can hold their breath for the duration of this aquatic alien hunt, I do not know, nor do I understand the physics of how guns work underwater, but visually it is absolutely amazing to watch.
Eventually Ripley slithers and writhes her way into the Queen’s lair in time to see her give birth to her second-generation, DNA mutated offspring. This disgusting, creamy, gross, slimy, inside-out-looking, raw beast of a poor SFX alien toddler thinks Ripley is it’s mother, which makes for some disturbing mother-baby bonding moments. The battle to survive is on though, so as the dwindling crew makes it’s way to their ship, hot on their heels is mutant Ripley Junior who searches for mum. The final showdown results in some intensely emotionally-conflicted and harrowing moments which bring the film to an ominously, subdued close.
Sigourney Weaver is a phenomenally versatile actress. I’ve adored her performances in virtually every movie of hers that I’ve seen, but I can’t help but feel that AR writer Joss Whedon butchered her trademark multi-dimensional character we grew to know and love. Cloned Ripley became distant, dark and cold, and her super-human strength and rapid reflex manoeuvres, for me, are just loathsome. Her one-liners such as, “I’m the monster’s mother” are far too macho and emotionless for my liking. This is not Ripley. This is Rambo with boobs. As far as I’m concerned, this new character Number 8 only looks like Ripley. The most interesting thing about Number 8’s character, however, was her inner conflict and struggle between her alien and human side. Body verses spirit. Add to that her disturbingly intertwined relationship and connection with the aliens featured, but ultimately her character was a gigantic disappointment for me.
Also featured in this film we have the extremely talented but much berated Winona Ryder. No-one can doubt her talents as an actress, but was she really needed for this role? The dynamics between Number 8 and Call is interesting because Ryder’s android shows more emotion than Weaver’s conflicted human/alien clone. I still can’t bring myself to call Number 8 Ripley. The confused compassion between these characters only serves to waste precious minutes as we fail to truly get to know some of the more interesting characters featured on-screen.
Ron Perlman is our loveable, wise-cracking rogue, who albeit is inappropriately funny and a complete chauvinistic pig at times, but you just can’t help but enjoy his sadly limited screen time. Perlman is no stranger when it comes to working with Jeunet, as two years earlier they collaborated in the eerily beautiful dystopian fantasy flick, ‘The City of Lost Children’. Whilst Perlman’s role in AR isn’t exactly ground-breaking, it was much-needed given the abundance of passable characters on offer. Brad Dourif, for me, is actually the most enticing character in the entire movie. The scene where he mirrors the alien’s movements in the containment unit make for edgy and uncomfortable viewing, not to mention the scene where he’s been cocooned but just manages to live long enough to bear witness to the birth of Ripley Junior. Fool. The film needed much more suspense and this was it’s ultimate failure. This is not a horror film but it had the potential to terrify so much more than it did. What worked in the first two movies was the mere suggestion or glimpse of an alien and the hairs on the back of your neck would immediately shoot up and that’s what made for pulse-pounding viewing.
Visually, Jeunet’s artistic contribution to AR is pleasing and he toys with the use of grotesque and sexual imagery. It’s by no means a match for his other critically-acclaimed works such as “Amelie”, “Delicatessen” and “The City of Lost Children”, but as a fan of his other movies, I think it’s evident that his contribution was restricted. Earlier in 2010, Jeunet attended ‘A Life in Pictures’ event at Bafta house and he expressed his initial excitement at the prospect of working with an American studio. However, his excitement soon turned to disappointment and frustration when it was clear he wouldn’t be able to work as freely as initially anticipated. This made for an unpleasant working experience on US soil and thus the AR project resulted in Jeunet’s decision to return to France where he could have free reign to work as he’d been used to. I can only imagine how much more chilling and surrealistic his vision for AR could have been had he been able to work true to his roots. Unfortunately, his directorial efforts were further hindered by the bland offerings of Joss Whedon’s script. More often than not it was muddled, the dialogue crass and the plot filled with many, many widely debated and disputed flaws.
All in all, Alien: Resurrection is a fantastically intriguing concept and perhaps more underrated than it deserves to be. It ambitiously addresses the deliberate lack of humanity and probes further into the conflict between reproduction and genetics. However, the series should have come full circle and delivered a far more thrill-seeking, suspense-filled, imaginative and spectacular showdown than it did. Whilst there are some, albeit fleeting, welcomed scenes reminiscent of the first two films, a weak script with an over-saturation of less than impressive looking aliens and forgettable acting, this film leaves much to be desired. You’ll either love it or hate it. Or make it a guilty pleasure at best. In my case, I think it’s a guilty pleasure.