['Alien: Resurrection' Revisited] A Horrible Tonal Nightmare From Which I Was Lucky To Escape

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With the June 8th release of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus fast approaching, we thought we’d take a look back at the original Alien franchise with which it “shares strands of DNA.” Whether or not there are xenomorphs as we know them in Prometheus, it’s abundantly clear that it takes place in the same universe.

In the weeks leading up to the release of that film I’m going to revisit the four films in the Alien franchise (sorry, not going to subject myself to AVP) in order to gather my thoughts in anticipation of the new outing. Next up is Alien: Resurrection. You may recall that last week I revisited Alien 3 and discovered a lot to like.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Alien: Resurrection. When it was first released in 1997, the film was touted by the studio (and some critics and fans) as a return to form. I have no idea what they were talking about (other than that’s the kind of thing everyone says a few years after a disappointing franchise entry). It’s awful. Tonally, it doesn’t feel like an Alien film at all. And while the script by Joss Whedon contains an abundance of great ideas, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (City Of Lost Children, Amelie) doesn’t even come close to executing them properly.

For those of you waiting for a movie that Mr. Disgusting and I really disagree on, this is the one. He holds a soft spot in his heart for this film, while I wish every existing print could be rocketed into the sun. Let’s talk more inside.

While most films don’t have enough ideas, occasionally a film will come along that has too many. I think the most extreme example of this condition can be seen in something like Richard Kelly’s Southland Tales, where we watch a talented filmmaker absolutely destroy his film with unchecked (and un-edited) ambition. While Alien: Resurrection actually has a clearly defined narrative (unlike that film), its ideas crush it. And what’s left is stomped to death and left in a ditch by the film’s tone.

I’ve always loved Joss Whedon and I continue to love him. It’s his bold, inquisitive nature that helped bring us “Buffy”, The Cabin In The Woods and The Avengers – all of which I consider landmark achievements in one way or another. And yes, those films (and that show) are full of ideas too – but they’re fully developed. They mean something and they work within the story. The ideas in Alien: Resurrection most certainly helped the film get made – they’re a development exec’s wet dream, an abundance of “what if” – but they pile on top of each other like a logjam in the film’s inexorable race to be the most clever thing on earth.

The xenomorph DNA being mixed with Ripley’s upon her revival via cloning. The Alien nest she falls into. The Aliens developing a human (-ish) reproductive system. And the “newborn”. It’s all too much. It feels like a 5 year old telling a story, “and then this happens, and then this happens, and then THIS happens!” But, it’s much ado about nothing. Do any of these developments raise the stakes for our characters? No. They exist for us to marvel at their very invention, but they’re vapid, reaching and have nothing to say.

Let’s start with the “new” Ripley, who is supposedly part Alien. What does this actually mean for the film? Well, aside from being able to beat Ron Perlman and his friends at basketball – not much. All it really means is that she occasionally gets to vamp around in these horrible little moments that are either supposed to exude menace or become some crowd pleasing one-liner. Take the following exchange:

Ripley: “There’s a monster in your chest. These guys hijacked your ship, and they sold your cryo tube 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 through your ribcage, and you’re gonna die. Any questions?

Purvis: “Who are you?

Ripley: “I’m the monster’s mother.

That’s a clever little bit of patter, but the only thing it really achieves – aside from a good trailer moment – is the utter alienation of the audience from the Ripley character. She would never say anything like that. It’s not her style and the film robs her of all compassion. I understand the logic within the film, she’s not the same. But I don’t understand the intent – why pay Sigourney Weaver millions of dollars to return to her signature role when the audience will no longer be able to relate to her? After the first few minutes of the film, once the superficial pleasure of seeing her back in the franchise wears off, there’s literally nothing to hold onto.

The Alien nest she falls into? It’s a cool image. But it also distances you from her character in a moment where the film badly needs you to identify with her. Everyone’s racing to get off the ship, stakes are high and she’s having this horrible ectoplasmic love-in. The Alien queen giving birth to the newborn without using an egg? Nifty. How does that increase the threat? The only thing it achieves is introducing a horrible new creature design. The “newborn” is stiff, cloying and needy-eyed. No matter how much destruction it’s capable of causing, it’s not scary or menacing in the slightest. I kept expecting it to say, “not the momma!” Even worse, it’s designed to create some pathos at the end of the film. Ripley’s been yearning and aching for a mother/child relationship for centuries now (albeit on and off), and this is the exact wrong way to address it.

But it’s not just the script that’s misguided, it’s also the direction. Jeunet’s whimsy amplifies the failures of all of these concepts to a deafening roar. His precocious wackiness and Rube Goldberg machinations suit some of his other films quite well, but here they smother any moment of the film’s running time that hasn’t already been rendered impotent by the script. No one in this film even remotely behaves like a human being. Except for perhaps Winona Ryder’s Call, so kudos to Jeunet if Resurrection is actually some kind of treatise on the humanity of androids.

But everything else in that regard is out of hand. If Alien 3 suffered from its characters being too indistinguishable from one another, Resurrection has the exact opposite problem. Its characters are so eclectic and diverse they literally pop off the screen, but they emerge as twee French archetypes rather than actual people*. It’s like watching the supporting cast of a Wes Anderson film scurrying around a ship with monsters chasing after them (don’t get me wrong, I love Wes Anderson, but there’s a time and a place for that stuff and it’s not in Alien: Resurrection). Dan Hedaya, Ron Perlman, Gary Dourdan, Brad Dourif and the others work together to create a weird alchemy that feels much better suited to a SyFy television series than an installment in the Alien franchise.

The only truly great moment in the film is when the xenomorphs sacrifice one of their own in order to create an acid pool large enough to free them from their cage. Aside from that, Resurrection even gets the Aliens wrong. They’re oddly weightless, composed of horrible CG half the time, and have none of the mean-spiritedness of their earlier counterparts.

A film as annoying as Gary Dourdan’s dreadlocks within it, Alien: Resurrection is to be avoided at all costs. If you have fond memories, keep them that way. It has not aged well. There are some people who regard this as a more worthy entry than Fincher’s Alien 3. I have only one question for them, “what are you thinking?” At least that film had some heft and remotely felt like an Alien movie. This is more like Micmacs with monsters.

*Why does Dourdan’s character choose to plummet to his death after cutting his tether when he could have just as easily grabbed another rung on the ladder?

Source: Bloody Disgusting
  • BornVillian

    Don’t know why but this has always been my favorite in the series.

    • EvanDickson

      That’s a bold position!

  • isoph0451

    Have never watched this, even though I love the first two films and even find myself enjoying the 3rd. Even when I bought the Blu-ray box-set I avoided watching it; I don’t know why, it just doesn’t interest me.

    • EvanDickson

      Give it a whirl!

  • Darkness69

    Better to have an abundance of ideas, than to regurgitate one over and over again! This has been one of my fave movies, and I don’t see why it ranks so low on your list. It aged pretty well in my opinion. The acid pool scene shows just why we love Aliens so much, and the character are not bleak at least, even if they are a tad cartoonish. There are some comedy elements there too (I remember quite fondly Ryder’s character “calling all aliens”), and I think it brings up interesting questions regarding humanity. All in all, it’s a better movie than you might suspect from no. 4 in the franchise. Plus, even though the newborn is not as ‘composite’ as it could have been, I still cry at his death scene.

  • kydistortion35

    Wow! Evan I am tempted to make a voodoo doll of ya after that review…lol. I love this movie. Yeah I agree that it doesn’t feel like Alien or Aliens but the melodrama and emotional personality that was brought to this script as well as all the Alien eye candy was just too great for me to have fault. Plus Joss Whedon is like one of my gods I worship. However I accept your right to be wrong!.. :)

  • killrobot

    the scream at the end when the “newborn” is sucked through the broken window… good god

    • Jonathan Barkan

      That ALWAYS got me!

  • babagloom

    It had good visuals, aside from the swimming aliens. That’s about all I liked. Except… I saw this in the theater with a girlfiend I had just broken up with and we rekindled the fire in the parking lot after. Probably the most epic time I’ve spent in a parking lot.

    • babagloom

      If I wasn’t being clear enough there, WE BANGED.

      • Nothing333

        It was clear, driving it home was a bit hamfisted.

      • BELFAST-HOOD

        ”seriously guys i banged her”……….i can smell your lies

  • Krikarian

    how serendipitous. i just watched this last night. you’re analysis if pretty on point it has it’s moments. i liked call and some of ripley’s bits. saying that, ripley’s character takes a lot of shifts to fit the scenes–i’m bad, i’m good, i’m mean, i love you and will snuggle for a quarter. the drifting into the mass of aliens really killed the momentum of the climax. and the newborn…oy my sistah, such a thing… so i rate it where it falls, 4th of 4…with the rest in the order in which they fall.

    • Krikarian

      can i fix my typos….ahhhh…your analysis…

  • djblack1313

    i agree w/ a lot of what you wrote Evan. the “love in” to this day i do not get. WTF?! she’s all writhing around and all in ecstacy!! lol. and the newborn was totall stupid although i’m completely guilty of feeling bad for it, especially when it’s “mom” basically kills it. i look at both A3 and this installment almost the exact same. both have beautiful cinematography & atmosphere (you could at least give A4 that compliment Evan! LOL) as well as each has some decentish moments (the underwater sequence in A4 was very cool!) but ultimately both aren’t for me. i have a strong feeling that ALIEN will be tied with PROMETHEUS as my faves followed by ALIENS (i don’t really acknowledge A3 or A4).

    • EvanDickson

      It does have ok cinematography. Oddly enough, the blu looks f*cking terrible though. Horrible transfer.

      And yes I feel bad when mom kills the newborn.

    • babagloom

      Dont acknowledge 3? The underwater sequence was very cool?? Yikes!

    • Nothing333

      I’m going to agree with you dj. I did a revisit of 3 and 4 and both are disgraceful. 3 was a bore from start to finish with Aliens akin to Doberman pincers. Tons of screaming bald men full of sound and fury and in the end signifying nothing. 4 might be better or worse I’m not even sure. It’s not as boring but it’s a damn mess. I bought the Alien anthology blu set to celebrate Prometheus’ release, and I feel that if both 3 and 4 went missing I wouldn’t shed a tear.

  • lucie-with-a-gun

    ugh i spit on this movie.
    ridley scott the alien has missed you so terribly.

  • WalkingDeadGuy

    I loved Resurrection when it was first released, but over the years its creative visuals weren’t enough to keep me a fan. I hate what they did to Ripley, (granted, I don’t see how else her return would have worked) she became a parody of her previous character. She didn’t give a damn about herself, or any other character, so why should the audience.

    • EvanDickson

      Exactly.

  • Jhanse3 (Jhanse29)

    I’m gonna have to.check this out again. I remember liking it better then part three. I’m gonna revist these four and see what I think now after ten years or so of seeing it.

    • WalkingDeadGuy

      Oh I like it better than part 3, but that’s not saying much, heh.

  • Evan3

    I cant believe that you would praise Alien 3 but trash this one (although I am glad we can all agree that the alien acid blood escape scene was well done). I didn’t know this was written by Joss Whedon, which probably helps it more than many sequels.

    Now, I haven’t seen A4 for about 15 years, but I remember so many great moments from it (the aforementioned escape, the taunting of the captured aliens, the pods planted in the cryo-chambers, the baby’s sympathetic death/Ripley’s loss of yet another child, Call’s reveal as the android, and the clone room scene – one that I am surprised you didn’t mention). I watched A3 roughly three years ago and remember absolutely nothing. I think I would rather have a flawed film that has some memorable if fleeting moments (A4) than a bleak and uninspiring entry (A3).

    Nonetheless, I can imagine, as you say, that A4 hasn’t aged well. I can also see what you mean by the tone being wholly scattershot (Ripley playing basketball?). Nonetheless, I am not convinced that this is at all subpar to 3, if anything because at least it dared to dream (not blaming A3 for its blandness, obviously there were way too many cooks in the kitchen on that one).

    • Evan3

      I am sure that we can all agree, however, that EvanDickson is now moving on to the stuff of legend with the next two installments. I am really exxxcited to hear whether he prefers Alien to Aliens (as he should, according to moi).

  • Mako

    I can’t watch ALIEN: R. It’s that bad. I went to see it twice in the theaters when it came out cause I was in major disbelief that the movie was that bad. I thought maybe I fell asleep the first time and missed it or something. And as much as I also don’t care much for ALIEN3 – at least that movie played it straight and had a great atmosphere and tone to it. ALIEN: R gets it pretty much wrong all across the board. Even the music is phoned in. ALIEN & ALIENS remain as two of my favorite films ever. I hope Scott brings his game for PROMETHEUS.

  • Evil_Flip

    I kinda like this one. Granted it is the worst of the 4, but a bad movie? No I don’t think so. I mean if this is considered bad, under what category fall those AvP abortions?

    • Nothing333

      Under the category of “horrendous abortions on which to flay ones eyes”

    • EvanDickson

      Yeah those are barely even movies. Resurrection is at least a movie (albeit a bad one)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002674848262 Dreadd Nok

    The only thing I liked about this movie were the characters played by Ron Perlman and Dominique Pinon. *Worst in the whole series* The first AvP movie was better than this steaming pile.

  • CountOrlok

    I love this movie.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AmongTheSleep Ray McKay

    i liked the movie to be honest.

  • bambi_lives8980

    Terrible movie, the only one I won’t watch again, for sure.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=808053997 Francisco Franco

    This movie is akin to an Aliens Christmas movie. Abomination. Sure it had a couple of decent moments but the rest is refuse. Its the alien I the alien franchise.