Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet || Produced by: Gordon Carroll, David Giler, Walter Hill, Bill Badalato
Screenplay by: Joss Whedon || Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Ron Perlman, Dominique Pinon, Gary Dourdan, Michael Wincott, Brad Dourif, Leland Orser, Dan Hedaya, J.E. Freeman, Kim Flowers, Raymond Cruz
Music by: John Frizzzell || Cinematography: Darius Khondji || Editing by: Herve Schneid || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 109 minutes
Alien 3 was supposed to end the series. The main character, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), had died, all traces of the alien threat had been erased, and every plot thread in the series’ universe had been wrapped in a nice, shiny ribbon. But as is the case in the movie business, that was not the end for the Alien series, nor the Ripley character. One thing we as moviegoers have grown accustomed to is Hollywood refusing to let series die, either by making endless sequels, spinoffs, and crossovers, or rebooting, re-imagining, and remaking established franchises into oblivion. If the studio moguls want a sequel, then God dammit, they’re going to get one.
Alien Resurrection (AR) takes place roughly 200 years after the events of Alien 3 (1992). An industrial military corporation similar to the infamous Weyland-Yutani entity has managed to clone Ellen Ripley and the xenomorph queen inside her from blood samples gathered from Fiorina ‘Fury’ 161. As a consequence of this cloning process, this Ellen Ripley 2.0 isn’t the same protagonist we’ve grown to know and love over the previous three films. She acts more like the modern caricatures of “strong female heroines” in various generic sci-fi action films that rip off the Alien franchise.
Although it’s not always a mistake to alter a series’ main character, in the case of AR, the changes made to Ripley’s character are not for the better. She is no longer sympathetic, and as result, not that relatable or fun to root for anymore. The screenplay strongly implies that, due to the cloning process, this new Ripley is a much different person, one whose psyche is more akin to a predatory bully, a psychologically warped animal — just a hostile weirdo, in other words, than the likable, compassionate human being she once was. The Ellen Ripley in AR is nothing like the Lieutenant Ripley of any Alien film before, and thus she is not Ripley at all. She is played by Sigourney Weaver, yes, but the actress is playing a totally different (and I would argue vastly less interesting) character. AR’s protagonist is Ripley in Name Only.
However, AR’s problems reach far beyond its detached and unlikable main character. Much of why the movie fails is because the film’s director, French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet, is a poor fit for the Alien franchise and does much damage in trying to adapt the Alien sequel to his natural strengths as a director. Jeunet is known for his arthouse-style foreign films like The City of Lost Children (1995) and Amelie (2001), movies whose tone and structural elements are far removed from the basic building blocks of the Alien franchise. Jeunet takes AR, warps the franchise’s core concepts, and morphs them into a wacky black comedy more akin to the style of his past films.
The movie is essentially a parody of the Alien franchise, poking fun at classic elements that have constructed the series and lampooning them in the weirdest ways possible. As a result, AR does not take itself seriously as the previous films have done. It is a comedy first, and a science-fiction film second. That is the primary reason why the film fails.
The movie’s satirical tone is so out-of-left-field and its characters and set-pieces so ridiculous that the movie fails to generate any narrative tension. Its gory violence quickly breaks exploitative territory. AR, for lack of a better term, feels like a gore porn-bloodfest. The film easily manages an R-rating, but the movie feels anything but mature. Its crude violence and over-the-top death-scenes lack impact because every violent encounter in this movie is shot as joke, a comedic punch line. And none of these jokes are funny! They’re stupid. Some particularly tiresome scenes include an instance where a character, General Perez (Dan Hedaya), gets bitten in the back of the head by an alien, and then Perez takes out part of his own brain and examines it. Another eye-roller is when a comical alien-human hybrid has its guts sucked out a tiny hole in a spaceship’s hull. My personal favorite moment is when Leland Orser, who has an alien inside him about to burst, beats the shit out of costar J.E. Freeman, and then place’s Freeman’s head over his chest so the alien can explode through his chest and Freeman’s head. Give me a break.
Matters aren’t helped by the lackluster cast and characterizations. Some of the performances are alright, and even quite good in some instances (e.g. Ron Perlman, Dominique Pinon, J.E. Freeman), but it’s hard to care much for their characters when their writing isn’t up to snuff and everything around them is a big, fat, bloody mess. This is in addition to clone-Ripley’s lackluster protagonist, mind you.
AR does have a few bright spots, admittedly. There’s a creative underwater sequence that showcases some neat camerawork and even feels reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975). Many of the environments’ architectural designs are well done and the film boasts decent production values, minus the poor alien-visual FX. The film is also well paced and never feels boring despite being altogether quite ridiculous.
Alien Resurrection is not a terrible movie despite how much I’ve ranted about its shortcomings. I don’t hate the film, and it certainly isn’t close to some of the worst films I’ve ever seen, but in all fairness, that’s all I can say in its favor. There’s not much to recommend here either to Alien fans or film fans in general. The fourth film in the Alien series is a weak black comedy-subversion of the franchise’s concepts, characters, and identity. I guess I should give props to Jeunet and company for trying to do something new with the source material, but I can’t convince myself to champion the final results.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Alien Resurrection’s tonal confusion between its inherent franchise identity and its French director’s legacy turn this final chapter in the Alien saga into a bizarre mishmash of gore-porn, unsatisfying black comedy, and lazy art-direction. Ripley’s character has been exchanged for something that isn’t as satisfying. One cool behind-the-back basketball shot cannot make up for her character’s hallow, unappealing presence or utter lack of development on-screen.
— However… the film features some impressive production values and dedicated supporting performances, as well as a memorable underwater encounter.
—> NOT RECOMMENDED
? Let’s see how many times we can put the word “fuck” in one screenplay…