Alien: Resurrection [Retro Review]

“What a waste of ammo. Must be a chick thing.”

The Scoop: 1997 R, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and starring Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder and Ron Perlman

Tagline: Witness the resurrection.

Summary Capsule: Ripley is pulled out of “retirement” and promptly wonders why…’cause the human race is so STUPID!

Justin’s Rating: The only thing scarier than the aliens is only being able to get PAX, the Hallmark Channel, and Oxygen on your cable service

Justin’s Review: So the ending of Alien³ didn’t leave a lot of room open for a sequel. When you have a film franchise that revolves around a space heroine and her war against oversized praying mantises and then you kill her off, there ain’t much more road to roll down. Sure, you could stretch Ripley’s funeral by having her family deal with dysfunctional relationships, plus a couple of black-shelled party crashers trying to eat the mourners… but that didn’t fly so much with 20th Century Fox. Plus, there was the other question: was the Alien series worth reviving? Their protagonist deceased and numerous filmgoers disillusioned, I was really surprised that Alien: Resurrection ever got the go-ahead. But who’s really surprised that profit and greed managed to revive the butch Lieutenant in ways that fan support could not.

Since an Alien movie would be defunct without Lt. Ripley, they had to bring her back. In the realm of sci-fi, there’s a few standard ways to do this. You could cop out and say that Alien³ was just a dream. You could employ time-travel, either with a DeLorean or a phone booth. Or you could do the Star Trek 3 thing, which is to clone some cells and call it a day. Whee! Spock, I mean Ripley’s back! Let’s get a gun and go nail us some critters!

Some mean and malicious things have been said about this film, most of which I feel are undeserved. Alien: Resurrection had an uphill battle to fight in order to win fans back, and it did some things right in this regard. In one of the most interesting plot developments, Ripley-Clone is not just a carbon copy of her former self; she carries some of the alien queen’s genes in her makeup, which gives her acidic blood, black fingernails, enhanced strength and reflexes, and a telepathic connection with ze alienz. One of the film’s coolest sequences is a basketball practice where Ripley displays her new powers and a dark sense of humor. Plus, she makes an incredible over-the-shoulder shot (which she did in real life, without any special effects or assistance) that punctuates the scene perfectly.

See, Ripley is just a side-effect of an illegal military project to resurrect and “tame” the nasty aliens, and it comes to nobody’s surprise (except the military itself) when the aliens take over the ship and make puppy chow with its crew. Ripley teams up with a band of mercenaries (some cool, some cannon fodder) to try and escape the military ship on which they’re stranded. Nevertheless to say, there’s a few casualties involved.

Despite being a French-styled film (what is up with their fascination for midgets and funky hairdos?), A:R combines the lost in space setting of Alien with the guns ‘n guts spirit of Aliens, and creates a new and visually exciting offspring. I really liked the look and feel of the military vessel, which manages to be both gritty and high-tech at the same time. Cameras swoop and fly around to convey fast-paced events, there’s a moment or two of nail-nibbling suspense, and even a couple Thinking Man’s plot developments (the consequences of Ripley’s cloning being one of them). The really hairy Dan Hedaya appears as the thick-skulled military commander, and I enjoyed his sardonic performance. Plus, the man was smart enough to blow up an escape pod that contained an alien, so he ain’t all that dumb. (For fun, look at how his eyes twitch as he realizes an alien is standing right behind him!)

More than any other Alien movie, A:R gives us some perspective from the aliens’ point of view. You gotta admire how the aliens are patient, waiting years and centuries until some dumbnuts comes by to release them. They put in a lot of duct-crawling time, and always manage to time their attacks right after a fake scare, which takes some practice. They’re persistent, they’re a bit smarter than dogs, and they never stop to bicker about their chances.

Alien Resurrection does have a couple of weak points that are worth noting (aside from the whole French-midget connection). The Winona Ryder character, a sassy android named Call, whines and does all degrees of stupid, perversely reminding us exactly why we loved Newt from Aliens. Call does nothing to help and much to hinder this film (she never kills an alien, but makes plenty of angst-ridden speeches), so it’s nice to see Ripley mess with her a bit. The other weakness this film contains is the much-ballyhooed ending creature. Now personally, I have no problem with the new human/alien critter (whose eyes, or lack thereof, are kinda freaky), but apparently a LOT of people do. Maybe they felt that having an alien give birth was a letdown after chest-bursting fun, maybe it’s how Ripley goes all sappy and nearly makes out with the thing. I don’t know. But I will say that having the alien queen adapting to its human genes and Ripley feeling a bond with the alien itself are both consistent with everything we’ve learned so far in the series.

Nothing is too much new here in Alien-land, and it’s comforting to see aliens being blown to smithereens the way your momma did back in the day. While not as perfectly captivating as the colonial marines, the mercs have attitude and cheek, plus they get some cool action sequences. I appreciated a lot of the little gestures that made the film fun for me, like Ripley tearing out an alien tongue as a keepsake, or how Jonner blows away a tiny spider after an alien killing spree. Sigourney Weaver does an excellent job of portraying the new “alienated” Ripley, and there are moments where she’s got me half-convinced that she’s possessed by a xenomorph. They did more right than wrong with this sequel, and that’s admirable in my book.

Rich’s Rating: So near, and yet so far…

Rich’s Review: Alien: Resurrection is a tricky topic for me. When I first heard that this was in production, and that Sigourney Weaver was returning as Lt. Ripley, I was sceptical. As one of the people who was never completely enamoured of Alien³, I just couldn’t see a way of putting the franchise back on the right path without resorting to a Highlander 2-esque “It was all a dream/that never really happened” cop out.

That’s not to say I wasn’t a little excited though. I mean, if you’ve read my Aliens review, you’re fully clued in as to how nuts I am about these films; and when news that my favourite “You Know, That Guy” actor Michael Wincott was appearing as part of the cast, my hopes raised a little more. Seeing the trailer for the first time was the only highlight of an evening at the cinema when my deranged friend Jamie insisted that the Martin Lawrence film Blue Streak might be an entertaining watch. The closer we got to release date, little by little I allowed myself to believe that perhaps, just perhaps Alien: Resurrection might be able to restore the glory of one of my favourite movies.

I remember going to see it on the day of release, grabbing my popcorn, and waiting solemnly in my seat, hoping against hope that I was about to witness an actual rebirth of the Aliens franchise. Maybe I was setting the bar a little high; perhaps my expectations were too great — no matter the reason, Alien: Ressurection took my hopes, and leaped for them. As it cleared the bar, I was ready to start cheering when it exploded in mid-air, blowing my expectations to smithereens and coating the metaphorical audience in a whole septic-tank’s worth of sewage.

Now, I know lots of people who absolutely loathe this film with a passion, which I don’t think is very fair to the 80+ minutes of pure and classic Aliens action that A:R delivers. We have an interesting and charismatic crew of mercenaries, lead by sardonic gravely voiced criminal Eldon (Michael Wincott), we have a very interesting twist on the former Lt. Ripley (now with super strength and speed, acid blood, and a wicked sense of humour thanks to her part-alien heritage), and we have a whole host of soldiers and scientists just waiting to get minced up by everyone’s favourite black insectile killing machines.

Now, when the militaries experiments go drastically wrong (as we all knew that they would), and things are getting a little dangerous, the film continues to deliver, as the mercenary crew and a few tag-alongs go on the run through the dangerous alien-infested vessel, trading wisecracks, and killing and being killed by the rampant Xenomorph menace, in scenes that harked back nicely to the first two films. There are double crosses, action sequences, and motivational speeches. There’s even a genuine moment of pathos when Ripley8 finds out a little more about how she came to be. In fact, A:R is nothing short of a great Aliens film right up to about minute 81.

Now, if you’ve seen A:R, you know what I’m about to rant about. If you haven’t, do yourself a favour, go rent the film, and around the 81 minute mark eject the cassette and just make up your own ending, because what’s about to happen is going to seriously impede your ability to enjoy this film. Also, the next few paragraphs are going to have mild spoilers — you might want to skip them if you really haven’t seen it.

Seriously, Alien: Resurrection people — what were you thinking? Now, the Alien Queen giving birth? I don’t have a problem with that. It’s interesting, it’s consistent, and it’s different. Honestly, that’s all cool with me. I’m not really sure how she became pregnant, but we’ll just skip over that little logical loophole and get straight to the real issue here.

So the queen gives birth — that’s fine. And whatever she gives birth too is inevitably going to be our climactic adversary — I don’t mind that. But seriously, when you were sitting down and looking at the designs for the Alien Queen, the Warriors, the Chestbursters and the Facehuggers, did you really think “I know what’s gonna really excite the audience — a big monster that looks like someone shaved a Hoth Wampa. Oh, and if we throw in a big pair of puppy dog eyes on that thing, everyone’s gonna feel real sorry for it as it tears people limb from limb.”?

I think not.

Now, I’ve spoken to a lot of people about the end to this film. Some people hate the entire film just because of the last scenes. Some people, myself included, like the film as a whole, but always switch off 20 minutes before the end. I even know a couple of people who try to excuse the ending. But I don’t know a single person who came up to me and said “Alien: Resurrection? Sure I’ve seen it. It was OK, but I really liked the bit where the big ugly stupid white creature showed up!”

And that was what torpedoed Alien Resurrection for me. It’s hard to express really how disappointing A:R can be to watch, because they almost did the impossible. They almost salvaged the mess that was Alien³ and delivered a pacey and interesting action film. But at the 11th hour, defeat was snatched from the jaws of victory, and listing badly and taking on water, the Aliens franchise slipped slowly beneath the surface again.

This isn’t a bad film. Really, it isn’t. And if you’re prepared to grit your teeth and gut your way through to the ending, you really might get something out of it. But if you don’t, and you end up hating it, don’t blame me, blame the people who let what could have been a perfectly good sci-fi experience slip through their fingers. You’ll be joining a pretty big club.

Drew’s Rating: I give it threeve stars…

Drew’s Review: This may surprise you to learn, but there really aren’t a lot of Alien Resurrection supporters out there.  Sure, most fans agree that it’s a step above the abysmal third movie, but at the same time, you’d be hard-pressed to find many — Justin and Rich aside, obviously — who’ll defend its charms.  Hell, even Joss Whedon has disowned his writing credit on the movie, wanting nothing to do with it… and I have to say, Joss, that’s a damn shame, because looked at from just a slightly different perspective, it’s an incredibly interesting film that’s definitely worth seeing at least once. No, I know, but just hear me out — I swear I’m being serious.

(Brief disclaimer time: I’m gonna be talking about some pretty out-there stuff here, and while I despise pretentious people and did my best to avoid coming across that way, my darling proofreader informs me that I was not entirely successful. Whoops. Apologies in advance, I swear it’s unintentional.)

To start, let me admit that I’m anything but your typical Aliens fan.  In fact, Resurrection was the first movie in the series I ever saw, and it wasn’t by choice — I took a senior seminar class in college called Postmodern Monsters, geared toward analyzing depictions of the monstrous in (obviously) postmodern works, and A:R happened to be one of the films we watched.  And let me tell ya, folks: if you’ve never given the matter much thought before, there is a LOT of metaphor and symbolism present in these here movies.

Don’t believe me? You want examples? Fine, check it: the first movie is all about gender-bending — that is, perversion of traditional gender roles, and the dire consequences that arise from it. A group of miners (traditionally male job) are watched over by a ship with a computer named “Mother” (female), which births them from the wombs of their sleeping pods to investigate an asteroid. On said asteroid, they accidentally hatch an alien beastie from an egg (female), which promptly latches onto a male crew member and uses its, uh, protuberance (you have to ask?) to impregnate him. The alien’s perversion of the traditional (i.e. human) birth process, represented by its use of a male host, is then made clear by its violent emergence from his chest, killing him in the process. This postmodern “child,” birthed from an unnatural (against established gender roles) event, is thus monstrous itself and runs around killing everyone… until, fighting fire with fire, a female crew member transcends traditional action hero stereotypes by taking the “male” role for herself and kicking some ass. Yet in the end (in an important piece of symbolism), Ripley reasserts her femininity through the infamous strip tease, reminding the audience that she is, in fact, a woman… and by doing so, reaffirming herself in the “correct” gender role (in contrast to the gender perversion symbolized by the alien). As a result, she is allowed to be the sole survivor, sealing herself back into the womb of hypersleep to be cared for by her Mother once more.

Okay, so I’m brilliant and so is the first movie (or else we’re both full of crap). All well and good, you say, but how does this tie in with A:R? Glad you asked, chum! Most fans quickly pick up on the fact that Resurrection tries to combine the “haunted house in space” atmosphere of Alien with the more militant vibe of Aliens, but what’s not so obvious is that it revisits a lot of the same themes as the first movie. But taking it one step further, we’re no longer dealing simply in perversion of gender relationships, but now actual forced species combination, adding a whole new level to the symbolic horror. And without trying to turn this into a school lesson (don’t worry, you won’t learn anything important), the fourth movie really builds off of the original in a pretty cool fashion.

How? Well, we’re quickly introduced to our latest group of victims, once again veteran soldiers (traditional “male” role), but this time watched over by a ship computer named… Father? Okay, so it’s made clear that things aren’t “normal” even in the beginning, as they were in the original… instead, everything’s symbolically askew from the get-go, and we’re soon confronted with the reason why in the genetic aberration represented by the Ripley/alien hybrid. Yep, they cloned the bi-… iiiiiiiig, bad girl, and in the process brought back the main beasties themselves as well. Naturally, chaos ensues, as the humans are now in danger not just from the (symbolic) gender-bending horror of the aliens, but possibly also from the even worse abomination (again, symbolically) of Ripley’s cross-species nature. But, after all, Sigourney Weaver’s still our main girl, so you’ve got to get another beastie to kill that represents the same thing- enter the new alien Queen and child. While lots of fans will tell you the ending is stupid, in a postmodern context (don’t you feel smart? I do) it’s great — the Queen giving painful, “human” birth shows our previous symbolic epitome of evil being laid low by an even more extreme form of perversity. And when this twice-damned offspring rejects its true “mother” in favor of Ripley, who in turn rejects it… well, call me crazy, but it’s almost sad, in a very very weird, messed-up kind of way. Sort of.

Whatever, I’m certainly not going to tell you A:R is a modern classic of cinematic achievement — it’s a horror/sci-fi thriller meant to give the fans more of what they want. Its faults are well-documented, and like Justin said, the hype surrounding Winona Rider doesn’t obscure the fact that she doesn’t do a damn thing all movie. But I do think most fans don’t give it enough credit for the creativity it does show, and that’s a shame. I guess what I’m trying to get at with all this inscrutable, egotistical “Ooooh-look-how-much-I-still-remember-from-college!” babble is that your enjoyment of A:R will probably depend greatly on what circumstances you’re seeing it under, and what you’re looking for.  If you’re a longtime fan of the series in the mood for just more horror and badassery… yeah, it may be kind of disappointing.  I can see that.  But if you approach it from a fresh perspective and just try to appreciate all the rich imagery and freaky, sins-against-nature symbolism that’s tossed at you, I’m telling you, it’s downright fascinating.  Give it a shot and see what you think.

Worth the price of admission alone.

Intermission!

  •     Sigourney Weaver actually made the behind-the-back half-court basketball shot on her own, despite the fact that the way the ball disappears offscreen for a split second before going into the basket implies that she had offscreen help.
  • During Gediman’s discussion with Number 8 regarding her origins, he says “We used blood samples from Fiori 16, on ice.” He should have said “Fiori 161.”
  • The ship’s computer’s name is “Father”; in Alien, that ship’s computer was named “Mother”
  • The androids’ names in the Alien films follow a pattern: In Alien, the name is Ash; in Aliens it’s Bishop; and the third android in Alien Resurrection is Call (ABC).
  • Writer Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) went through five different versions of the final battle with the “Newborn” creature, the first four versions of which all took place on Earth, in such settings as a hospital maternity ward, a giant junkyard, a snowy forest and cliffside, and a desert. Whedon originally scripted the Newborn creature as a four-legged, eyeless, bone-white creature with red veins running along the sides of its head. It had an inner jaw, similar to the all the other aliens. It also had a pair of pincers on the sides of his head. These pincers were used to hold its prey still as it drained the prey of blood with its inner jaw. The creature was also larger, nearly the size of the queen alien. In later script revisions, the creature was changed into a “more believable” hybrid of human and alien.
  • Toward the end of the film when Purvis’ chestbuster is on its way out, he grabs Wren by the face and holds his head against his chest. The alien then tunnels out of Purvis and into Wren. In the theatrical release the rest of the crew watches in disgust and the scene cuts away, the chestbuster seemingly dead from the encounter. What was cut was the alien coming out the other side of Wren’s head very much alive and the crew shooting it. This scene was reinserted into the video release of the film.
  • The original title sequence had Ripley/Newt in a field of grain (with Newt’s famous “My mommy always said there were no monsters” speech playing), with Aliens coming at them a la Raptors in The Lost World. This was partially filmed, but later scrapped for the “DNA Soup” credit sequence.

Groovy Quotes

Purvis: God, I am so tired.
Johner: Sleep when you die, man.

Johner: So, I hear you, like, ran into these things before?
Ripley: Yeah.
Johner: What did you do?
Ripley: I died.

Purvis: What’s inside me?
Ripley: There’s a monster in your chest. These guys hijacked your ship, and they sold your cryotube to this… human, and he put an alien inside of you. It’s a really nasty one. And in a few hours, it’s gonna burst its way through your rib cage, and you’re gonna die. Any questions?
Purvis: Who are you?
Ripley: I’m the monster’s mother.

Distephano: I thought you were dead!
Ripley: Yeah, I get that a lot.

Elgyn: My authorization code is E-A, T-M, E.

Johner: What a waste of ammo. Must be a chick thing.

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2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Serenity [Retro Review] « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

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