NB: This review originally appeared in Shivers magazine, issue 48. 

Click on the cover image - left - to order a copy from the publisher

Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Dominique Pinon, Ron Perlman

UK Release:  28th November 1997

Certificate: 18   [NB: subsequently re-certificated 15 for video]

Running Time: 109m approx.

When 20th Century Fox titled the latest movie in their Alien franchise Alien: Resurrection they must have been acutely aware that they needed a miracle of almost Biblical proportions to revive the series after the critical and relative box-office failure of Alien³. Their initial problem was that in 1992 they had rather foolishly decided that David Fincher’s movie would be the final film in a trilogy. They had rather prematurely killed off their principal character in much the same way that Doctor Arthur Conan Doyle sent Sherlock Holmes tumbling to a watery grave in The Final Solution.

There can’t have been much doubt that if the studio were to make a fourth film they would want to bring back their leading lady, (apart from the alien creature the only touchstone to feature in all the movies). In science fiction it’s easy to bring back characters from the dead. It’s so common that any explanation is almost superfluous, and if it can be quickly and reasonably covered in a couple of lines of dialogue, so much the better. Here, a couple of hundred years after her death, Ripley is revived as a clone taken from tissue rescued from the furnace on Fury 161. In cloning Ripley the scientists on the huge research spaceship, the USS Auriga, have also somehow created a duplicate of the alien queen that was growing inside her and extract it. They use the queen as an incubator to create a dozen alien warriors, which they hope to harness for some unspecified, but no-doubt nefarious, purpose.

The Ripley clone, number eight in a limited edition, is taught some basic lessons to fill in the blanks in her less-than-perfect memory. Here again the film stumbles, allowing her some convenient recollection of her earlier incarnation, rather than beginning with a clean slate.

A ramshackle supply ship, the Betty, docks, and the crew off-load its cargo of cryogenically-suspended bodies. The Auriga scientists, led by Gediman, (obviously a few buns short of a picnic, and played with characteristic intensity by Brad Dourif), will use the bodies as hosts for the queen’s eggs.

The Betty’s shady crew of smugglers and mercenaries are the film’s most important characters. They are led by Elgyn (The Crow’s Michael Wincott), a man who prefers to deal in cash, and who isn’t too concerned what the Auriga’s commander, General Perez (Dan Hedaya), wants his unusual cargo for. The muscle is provided by Johner (Perlman), a no-nonsense, distinctly non-PC, hard-drinking mechanic. He also supplies moments of light relief, and has a nice uneasy rapport with Ripley. The wheelchair bound Vriess (Pinon) is fiercely independent, but has to rely on his colleagues when the aliens cut of their escape route back to the Betty. The “severely fuckable” Call (Ryder), a recent addition to the crew, has a few secrets and an agenda of her own. They are later joined by Purvis (Leland Orser), one of the sleepers that Elgyn delivered. He’s terrified, even more so when he discovers that he has been implanted with an alien embryo. The other Betty crew-members make little impression, and largely serve to provide in-flight snacks for the alien warriors.

Ripley is Alien: Resurrection’s wild card, and the re-invention of her character is one of the film’s most interesting elements. Now genetically tied to the alien gestalt, the Betty’s crew can never be sure where Ripley’s allegiances lie, and neither is she. The old Ripley’s actions were always predictable, and always worked towards eradicating the alien threat. Weaver plays Ripley 8 with palpable glee, obviously relishing the chance to explore new nuances of a character she’s now been playing on and off for almost twenty years.

Alien: Resurrection is directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who co-directed two superb fantasy movies, Delicatessen and La Cité Des Enfants Perdus (The City of Lost Children), both wonderfully inventive movies with a peculiar Gallic feel. There’s little evidence of this pedigree in Alien: Resurrection, (some echoes in the costume design, and parts of the Auriga looks similar to the laboratory in City), but the new film never astonishes, and it’s hard to see why the studio selected Jeunet, if not for his idiosyncratic style.

One of the best things about sequels is that each new film can advance the mythology. Aliens added information about the creature’s reproductive cycle, and introduced the alien queen. Alien: Resurrection repeats one of the fundamental problems of Alien³, adding virtually nothing of value to our understanding of the creatures. Although some effort is made to invest the aliens with a degree of cunning and intelligence they are generally portrayed as little more than animals. There are only hints of the power and majesty that James Cameron was careful to nurture in Aliens. Neither does the new film make them as terrifying as Ridley Scott did in the original. Only one shot, (of a creature slithering into an escape pod), is at all chilling.

A cursory analysis of Alien: Resurrection reveals that the film is a patchwork of elements recycled from the earlier films. Nowhere is this more apparent than in John Frizzell’s disappointing score, which borrows liberally from Jerry Goldsmith’s music for the original movie, and also quotes from James Horner’s Aliens.

The plot is rather thin and poorly developed. The film spends a lot of time building an interesting framework, but simply disintegrates when the aliens attack. From that point on it’s a rather dull linear plot that merely moves Ripley and the Betty crew through the ship towards their destination, and safety. It becomes a fairground ghost train ride, and is about as exciting.

It’s clear that 20th Century Fox wanted to play safe with the new film, relying on tested formulas and conventional techniques. It’s resulted in a truly unremarkable sequel. Alien: Resurrection is a film with a broader appeal than Fincher’s underrated movie, and should resuscitate the series’ flagging fortunes, but it’s unlikely to be lauded by the series’ most stalwart fans.


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