The hybrid in Alien: Resurrection is what makes it seem so utterly alien. No, I’m not talking about that newborn. I’m talking about the combination of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amelie), who required an English interpreter, and the ballsy witticisms of a Joss Whedon script. Imagine Paul Verhoeven directing the words of Clint Eastwood. The result is as sour and off-putting as any Verhoeven movie, even with that same snarling anti-capitalistic purpose that unites his perfect badness into transcendent neo-pulp masterpieces. But Alien: Resurrection is not unified by its cynicism as Robocop was. It's not a satire of us, but just a satire of Alien movies. It’s never boring and that’s actually something, in the realm of fourth entries. The reason this film is in the category of “Everyone Else is Wrong” is not because I think it’s good, but because I don’t know what people were expecting.
Alien 3 was a cruel and uninviting picture, like three days of the Stanford experiment filmed under a urine filter. Its conflict was forced way beyond plausibility, yet with the pretensions of a unifying theme of faith and sacrifice. Alien: Resurrection isn’t more believable – it just doesn’t stretch your belief in it that far, content to be merely dumbfounding in its schizophrenic comedy and super-sane drama. An alien test-chamber scene for instance features a scientist making out with a glass case while the Xenomorph drools. No prison warden comes in later to monologue on this scene’s hidden religiosity. A scene with Ellen Ripley (still Sigourney Weaver, poor girl) playing basketball meanwhile gets the dramatic treatment, with an epic final shot over the shoulder, across the room. It reminds me of Catwoman.
Apparently, Sigourney insisted on making the shot herself, so they spent a few hours filming her trying to hit the basket without looking. This is how the crew of Alien: Resurrection spent their time. How do you think the movie turned out? And besides, in a final coup de grace of incompetence, they let the basketball pass briefly out of the frame, making it look like a special effect. Like I said: poor girl.
I don’t understand the story fully, but it’s essentially about scientists trying to tame the alien with inbreeding. They try to domesticate them in cages. They clone Ripley from samples of centuries-old blood to be the progenitor of a new queen, the extraction of which from Sigourney’s breastplate actually opens the film. It’s a bit like Alien got a little Jurassic Park bred into it, without the sensibility (if that was possible) of either.
The supporting cast is good enough to elevate this very bad film by pantomiming being sincere about it. Mid-90s Wynona Ryder wearing that youthful gravity like she applies too much eyeliner on purpose and has a pet spider in her pocket gets at what the film was going for, even if this is possibly the worst performance of her career. Ron Pearlman fits into tonal inconsistency like most actors fit into a tone (he’s probably the overstated highlight, like a cross between Bill Paxton from Aliens and Jesse Ventura from Predator calling himself a “sexual tyrannosaurus”). The rest include a forgettable turn for Michael Wincott, always looking like he could be Val Kilmer if he really tried, and an interesting turn of film history for Breaking Bad fans with a young Raymond Cruz (who would go on to play Tuco Salamanca) doing essentially nothing but being Raymond Cruz for a second.
The alien effects by Tom Woodruff and Alec Gillis Jr. are the most unquestionably decent thing about Alien: Resurrection. The beast still carries the weight two sets of teeth bring naturally and the queen writhes for real in the film’s late and infamous “birthing” scene. Remember that the original Alien was a wonder of minimalism, with shots of the alien clothed in darkness and steam. Resurrection probably has more direct footage of the big guy than any other film, and he always looks good, even if seeing too much ensures that he’s never scary. A scene in which the crew is chased by two aliens underwater gets almost tense. That’s something, especially when you remember that the majority of monster movies are bad movies with fun monsters.
After the debatable flipping of tones and variation in quality of the other sequels, I just don’t understand the intense negativity people feel for Alien: Resurrection. I get that they’re caught up in that visceral one-two punch of the first film and its sequel, but Aliens was a miracle of playful sadism. I never would have expected it to become a trend. Remember Jaws: The Revenge, with footage actually repurposed from the first film? That’s a bad sequel. Alien fans really need to take a cue from Godzilla fans, who have long accepted their once-funereal mythos as a rubber-suited plaything. Alien: Resurrection is so much better than the average slasher movie sequel, like Jeunet decided after the Alien 3 disaster not to try and fail for legitimate thrills along the lines of Friday the 13th Part IV, and instead make the most outrageous tribute to Invasion of Astro Monster. If Resurrection had featured a different title monster with the same quality effects and was made totally in France or Japan, it would probably be a cult classic along the lines of any of the great messy horror-comedies dating all the way back to Bride of Frankenstein. It’s hated mostly for what people expected of it.
Messy is exactly right. Alien: Resurrection is the goriest Alien movie by a large intestine’s length. A chest-burster penetrates a chest and skull simultaneously. A creature is killed by sucking its insides out through a quarter-sized hole in a ship window, a chunk at a time. It deflates like a flesh pillow, with screams of devastating and human-like pain. Jeunet decides to be a connoisseur of gore for what may be a kind of sadistic surrealist art project, but which is more likely a commentary on American filmmaking.
In fact, I think the whole production is a joke. We keep wheeling out the alien for another go in increasingly unlikely scenarios and complaining when it’s bad – Jeunet gives us what we deserve. Alien 3 sexualized Ripley while pretending not to notice. Resurrection makes her outrageous, slithering hormonally whenever someone gets close enough for her to smell them. I imagine the conversation between herself and Jeunet’s interpreter, when he must have told her to move her head like a latex model, and purr like an injured cat.
It’s an oddly fitting sexual fantasy to see play out, worthy of internet porn. I wish they had taken it further into European eccentricity, Ripley and the alien finally giving in to their awkward domesticity and having lunch together, sleeping in the same bed, and quarrelling over their mutant children.
Everything about Alien: Resurrection follows logically from the first film, from a certain point of view. Look at H.R. Giger’s art for a second and tell me that it makes no sense that Jeunet wanted the newborn to have lady bits with male bits sticking out of it. Jeunet, in being aware of our habits, makes a serious ironic turn on our own incompetence and crafts something which by its strange sheen and awkward allure is much, much more enjoyable than Halloween IV or even Alien 3, just for being so weird. I laughed a few times, winced and covered my eyes, and I even got to see Sigourney Weaver slither awkwardly around Ron Perlman in my favorite movie basketball scene ever (Weaver does everything in this film like she’s thinking about killing you but will settle for licking your face). I guess I just don’t know what people were expecting, especially when prop-for-prop, Resurrection has the most creature effects of the whole series.
We are talking about a monster movie in which the monster’s main weapon is oral sex. Did you think it was ever not weird? Luc Besson should direct the remake.
Image is a screenshot from the film.
Cast & Crew
Joss Whedon (screenplay)
Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett (characters)
|Ellen Ripley Clone 8||Sigourney Weaver|
|Annalee Call||Winona Ryder|
|Frank Elgyn||Michael Wincott|
|General Martin Perez||Dan Hedaya|
|Dr. Jonathan Gediman||Brad Dourif|
|Vincent Distephano||Raymond Cruz|