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Well, I am finally back from my vacation! I am in the watching and writing mood, and I’d like to start out with a critical re-evaluation of 1997’s Alien: Resurrection. It’s been kind of an Alien month here at the Culture Cast. We’ve covered the first and third movie as well as Prometheus. Let’s keep that up with a look at Resurrection.
Until last night, I had not seen Alien: Resurrection since the fall of 2003. I remember renting it from the university library around Halloween. At that point I had not seen it since it was released onto home video in 1998. I remember watching it that first time and just hating every moment. In 2003, I wanted to watch Alien: Resurrection again to see if my opinion of it had softened (it hadn’t). In 2012, I wanted to do the same yet again, because I am apparently a glutton for punishment. So I popped the movie in last night, feeling as if this was almost a mercy viewing. You see, I pretty much hate every moment of the fourth Alien movie, and find it to be an unnecessary, disgusting film that should have never been made.
The basic story: A few hundred years after the events of Alien 3, Ripley is cloned by scientists on board a gigantic military spacecraft. The alien queen in her body has been surgically removed. The military, sinister for no other reason than they are the military, has plans to use the queen for evil war stuff (there’s talk of using the aliens as an urban pacification method but it is never fully explored). Meanwhile, a group of mercenaries (one of the few Whedon-esque touches in the movie) deliver a mysterious cargo to military leader General Perez (Dan Hedaya, in perhaps his least convincing role). The mercs, played by such great character actors as Ron Perlman and Michael Wincott, are probably the best and most interesting part of the film, by the way. After a longer than necessary opening sequence or two, the aliens, captive in the military space craft, escape and wreak havoc on our cast.
After Alien 3, I imagine the producers and creators behind the franchise found themselves in a bit of a quandary. Though 3 tanked domestically, worldwide receipts were good enough to put a fourth film into development. Reportedly, long-time producers David Giler and Walter Hill wanted little to do with Resurrection, though they did end up contributing the idea for a cloned Ripley (thus bringing back Sigourney Weaver). Joss Whedon, he of recent Avengers fame, was hired to write the script, though long-held anecdotal internet evidence suggests little of his script ended up in the final product (and I have reason to believe this, because as much as I don’t care for Whedon, this movie looks and feels like nothing he has ever done before). Thus, the creative forces behind Alien: Resurrection belong wholly to director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and his usual crew (Marc Caro, Pitof, Darius Khondji). This is an obvious weakness throughout the movie. Nothing that happens in Alien: Resurrection feels anything at all like anything that happens in the three previous movies. Alien 3 took a lot of flak for being a bit different, but it at least felt like an Alien movie. Resurrection is just a gigantic mess.
Jeunet has his own, wholly French, visual aesthetic. His methods include extreme close-up shots, bizarre and lengthy camera tracking shots, and a yellow/brown haze that envelops his movies. This works for his previous films like Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children. It does not work for Alien: Resurrection. Jeunet is not the only problem with the film, however. The script is laboriously bad, and filled with inaccuracies and logical inconsistencies. This is nitpicky for sure, but Alien 3 took place on a planet called Fury 161. In Resurrection, a character refers to it, more than once, as Fury 16. Other inconsistencies include plot holes the size of bull mastiffs. At one point in the film, Call (the android, played by an unintentionally lifeless Winona Ryder) is shot and plummets to her “death” from what we can only assume was the sole escape path from the creatures for our heroes. A few minutes later, she reappears in a never-before-seen elevator, beckoning our heroes to hurry up and join her to safety. Why did the crew not just take the elevator in the first place? It would have saved them a ton of trouble and a couple of character deaths. In an earlier scene, two alien creatures attack and kill a third creature, using its acid blood to burn through the facility and escape. I thought this was actually pretty clever and consistent with the behavior of the creatures. However, later on in the movie one of the aliens spits its own acid blood at the face of one of the crew, badly burning him. Not only is this inconsistent with how the alien creatures have been portrayed in three previous movies, it also doesn’t make sense in the context of the script. Instead of killing the third creature, why did the other two simply not spit acid onto the floor to escape if they could? It makes no sense.
One of the things I hate the most about this movie is how needlessly disgusting it is. Alien: Resurrection opens with a man squishing a large bug and then spitting its guts onto the window through a straw, as if it were a spitball. Not exactly a great way to welcome viewers into a movie, but whatever. In what was supposed to be a chilling and dramatic scene, Ripley finds a room filled with failed clones of herself, including a monstrous abomination of a creature that begs for a quick death. This scene did nothing but amp up the gross factor. It was far too disgusting (and cheesy as well) to have the kind of dramatic impact the filmmakers were going for. In the ultimate show down between the alien/human hybrid and Ripley, there is a scene so disgusting it is almost hard to watch, as guts and skin and bones and all manners of grossness are sucked through a tiny hole in the ship’s hull and out into space. It is just so needlessly violent and disgusting, and is nothing like any of the Alien movies that came before. Whereas Alien 1, 2, and 3 all built their plots of fear, tension, paranoia, etc, Resurrection is content to just be plain gross.
There is so little to like about Alien: Resurrection. I can’t even get excited about Weaver’s performance as Ripley, which is incredibly disappointing considering I am a huge fan of the film series. Since she is a human/alien hybrid clone in this movie, most of her human emotions have been replaced with a kind of quiet, intense menace. Why take one of the most beloved sci-fi icons of filmdom and do this to her character? It just makes so little sense. Alien: Resurrection is a big, ugly mess of a film. Watching it in 2012 was no different than in 2003 and again no different than in 1998 when I first saw it. It is largely considered the worst of the Alien movies and for good reason. Avoid at all costs.