Monday, January 30, 2017

ALIEN: RESURRECTION (1997) - **1/2

Rated R for strong sci-fi violence and gore, some grotesque images, and for language.
Running time: 109 min.
Release date: November 26, 1997
Box office: $47,748,610 (domestic); $161,376,068 (worldwide)

One of the lines missing from Alien: Resurrection is Ellen Ripley channeling Michael Corleone and lamenting "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in". Lt. Ripley died at the end of Alien 3 when she lowered herself into a blazing furnace, accompanied by a chest-bursting little bastard of an alien. Now 200 years later, she is resurrected via cloning for rather questionable experiments by a team of military scientists. We are far removed from the first Alien film in terms of the characterization of Ripley and also in terms of the quality of this now quadrilogy. Alien: Resurrection is not a horrible film on its own terms, but neither is it particularly memorable. 

As mentioned in the intro, Lt. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is cloned by a team of military scientists 200 years after her death. She is carrying an alien infant in her womb which is subsequently removed. How did the alien get there? The explanation provided is that a blood sample gathered from the site of her death carried alien DNA with it. With the alien surgically removed, the team opts to keep Ripley alive for reasons not made clear. What is clear is that the military is experimenting with these aliens in the hopes of creating a weapon. A team of mercenaries, which includes Call (Winona Ryder), provides human hosts for the military, which is not exactly legal in the 23rd century. These are all pretty much stock characters that provide some color to the dialogue, if not depth to the cast. All is not normal for Ripley, however. Gradually, we learn that because of the alien DNA being spliced with her own, she is now exhibiting some more-than-human traits. For example, she can sense the aliens and her blood now sizzles with acid-like qualities, much like the blood of the aliens. This is an interesting turn-of-events for the Ripley character and gives her more of an edge. There is a part of her that now sympathizes with the aliens, especially when one in particular, a new hybrid of alien/human, considers Ripley to be a mother-figure. Whereas, the idea of a team of scientists conducting experiments on potentially deadly threats is not a novel concept in sci-fi films, Ripley is now inherently more interesting with her new skills, which include some dope skills on the b-ball court. 

French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet had been known to arthouse audiences previously with efforts such as Delicatessen (1991) and The City of Lost Children (1995). His films have resonated with the cinema du look movement and usually contain elements of German expressionism and French New Wave, so it came as a surprise to many when he was brought on to direct an obvious cash-in on the Alien franchise. Working with a budget upwards of $75,000,000, Jeunet doesn't really bring much vision to the table here. The story is coherent and the pacing is fine, but otherwise Alien: Resurrection has a distinct lack of uniqueness in the setting. There is a slightly lighter tone in this film in comparison to the rest of the series, and the moments of levity are quite welcome, breaking the dour tone throughout. 

Another element running throughout the film is the green/yellow palette utilized by Jeunet and his cinematographer, Darius Khondji. It gives the film a murky feeling and contributes to the overall depressing tone. There is a scene shot underwater that is one of the film's highlights and offers a break from this murky haze. Jeunet is a very creative and artistic filmmaker, but this should rank as one of his more disappointing efforts in terms of imagery and overall vision. The visual effects and alien creations are still expertly done, and still as terrifying. The human/alien hybrid, however, comes across as a twisted, clunky mass of slime and scales. It ends up garnering sympathy because of how ugly it is. What a strange creation.

Sigourney Weaver once again gives a strong lead performance as Ripley. This time, however, it's not as heroic, as there is an underlying potential sinister streak within. She seems to smile when she tells the lead scientist that when the queen alien breeds, he will die. Winona Ryder, as Call, is fine but also feels like she was snatched from the set of Reality Bites and dropped off on the set of this film. She doesn't have the action chops that Weaver has and seems out of place. Veterans such as Michael Wincott, Ron Perlman, Brad Dourif and Dan Hedaya are cardboard cutouts here and it's a shame because this supporting cast has some talent. The dialogue doesn't help. What is supposed to come off as witty and snarky actually comes off as silly in more than a few scenes. That's the fault of the screenwriting, which belongs to Joss Whedon. Considering the heights that Whedon would reach, this screenplay is not his strongest work. Whedon has gone on record with his dissatisfaction with this film, so one can assume that there may have been script edits beyond his control.

Essentially, Alien: Resurrection is a decent film which could have been more, considering the talent involved in the process. The whole did not equal the sum of all its parts and that's too bad. The Alien franchise deserved to go out on a better note. If we ever get a fifth installment, as had been rumored for some time, it would be fitting if Ripley could quote her former co-star in the first Alien, John Hurt, from his cameo in Spaceballs: "Oh no! Not again!"

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