REVIEW: Alien: Resurrection [1997]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

Rating: R | Runtime: 109 minutes | Release Date: November 26th, 1997 (USA)
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Director(s): Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Writer(s): Joss Whedon / Dan O’Bannon & Ronald Shusett (characters)

“You’re a beautiful, beautiful butterfly”

An obvious predecessor to screenwriter Joss Whedon‘s revered “Firefly”, Alien: Resurrection breathes new life into a franchise that could have easily been left alone. Reviving the iconic Ellen Ripley through the hot button topic of cloning, his script found a way to coax Sigourney Weaver back with a uniquely dark spin on the character. Part alien, part human, and all Petri dish, ‘Number 8’ is cognizant of her former self’s rage against the xenomorphs two hundred years before while also acknowledging her role as mother to the newest breed of H.R. Giger‘s nightmarish vision. Created from frozen blood recovered by Weyland-Yutani at “Fury” 161, the company brings back its most staunch detractor in order to finally get its hands on the beast growing within her chest.

Like the aforementioned television show’s Simon selflessly struggling to recover his sister River from The Alliance’s Orwellian oppressors, a brashly youthful woman well-versed in the mythology and horror of Ripley’s story has positioned herself aboard a pirate vessel to infiltrate the company and end their research once and for all. Call’s (Winona Ryder) secret reasoning for wanting to stop their experimentations will be exposed as time goes on, but in the meantime we’re reacquainted with the new and improved universe. Enlisting visionary director Jean-Pierre Jeunet—before popularity in America from his masterwork Amélie—the cyberpunk aesthetic created by he, concept artist Marc Caro, and special effects maestro Pitof really lends itself to Giger’s surrealistic terror. Similar in scope to the trio’s previous collaboration, The City of Lost Children, this dystopia has matured further into darkly sexualized territory.

There is a deep-rooted desire in Dr. Gediman’s (Brad Dourif) work with the new alien queen. He treats it with a love for the science while Dr. Wren (J.E. Freeman) sees a means towards ultimate power. The former works for the joy of creation as the latter cares only for the bottom-line. And with General Perez (Dan Hedaya) wanting Ripley #8 dead after completing her incubation duties, Gediman becomes her only champion. Intrigued by the ability to learn, adapt, and assimilate her alien and human genetics together, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Alice from the Resident Evil films or even Benedict Cumberbatch‘s monster from the Danny Boyle directed theatrical performance of Frankenstein I had seen a day earlier. Ripley’s existence is as miraculous as the slimy beast held in the cage next door—the thought of taming either insanely misguided.

Grotesquely frightening like never before, the new xenomorphs are a glorious specimen of movie magic. With the contrast amplified by an almost glowing set of fang-like teeth, their pitch-black skin shimmers as the light hits its slick exterior. Cruelly intelligent, it is only a matter of time before the queen escapes and puts the lives of everyone at risk. Remorseless and brutal, the very attributes that appeal to the company are what ultimately becomes their demise. The hubris necessary to believe they could ever control such a creature brings about a fall of epic proportions as the ship’s security system puts them on course for Earth. Now a task for the miscreants from commercial freighter ‘The Betty’ to save mankind, accidental heroism through their desire to live replaces the comfort greed has always given them.

Composed of mostly men, these pirates allow their mean streak to takeover once hell breaks loose. Holding Wren hostage, they attempt to find a way back to their ship to escape. Led by Michael Wincott‘s Elgyn, we’re given Gary Dourdan‘s intellectual badass Christie, Ron Perlman‘s loudmouth brute Johner, Kim Flowers rather wasted Hillard, and Jeunet staple Dominque Pinon‘s paraplegic Vriess. The rapport between them is playful but serious so humor shines through the drama without pushing the film unnecessarily into comedy. And while Whedon complains Jeunet—surprisingly given full creative control after the debacle of Alien3—executed his script wrong, I believe his voice still shines through whether muddled or not. While it could have been better, the tone does fit the visuals and absurdly implausible plot perfectly.

Reading about a third act taking the fight to Earth being scrapped could be the most telling aspect in how far from the script Alien: Resurrection goes. The most glaringly bad portion of the film is the rather sentimental end. Not to say the other entries don’t finish with a sense of hope for the future, but there is definitely something more contrived here than the rest. A combination of sorts between Aliens and Alien3, we’re given an army of ill-tempered and amoral men who are somehow more capable of understanding life than scientists who have tried for over three centuries to capture this beast. But while similar in many ways, the simple fact Ripley is torn by her two halves keeps the dynamic from feeling tired.

Weaver rises above preconceptions and looks to be having fun again—something it seems she had little of in the previous film. Perlman, Pinon, and Freeman are a lot of fun too, but it’s Ripley’s metamorphosis keeping us glued to the screen. At any time she could turn on her human counterparts, making the telling glint of crazed curiosity in her eye the aggressive grab for power we know her strength is now capable of showing. Seeing her with acid blood and an emotionless gaze also gives us pause in joining her side when the company she keeps is of the dishonest variety. It thus becomes Ryder’s duty to carry compassion and hope through the darkness of alien infestation. Hybrids, clones, and medical miracles are all possibilities now. Only humanity’s grace can stop the world from spiraling out of control.

I admit I may be glorifying what’s just a pretty advancement of a plot that should have died two films ago, but I can’t help enjoy the themes hidden underneath. While not delving into these ideas with any true importance, the inclusion alone makes this story a relevant addition to the context of the overall tome. A grand evolutionary leap of the genre begging your attention, its inability to reach the heights of Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett‘s original creation shouldn’t make you blindly dismiss it.

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