Review: Alien: Resurrection (1997)

Alien: Resurrection


Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Joss Whedon
109 min.
Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Dominique Pinon, Ron Perlman, Gary Dourdan, Michael Wincott, Kim Flowers, Dan Hedaya, J.E. Freeman, Brad Dourif, Raymond Cruz, Leland Orser
MPAA Rating
R for strong sci-fi violence and gore, some grotesque images, and for language

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Long-running film franchises often come to a dull thud at the end of their run and Alien: Resurrection is no different. A marked decrease in quality marred what seemed like an ill-conceived notion from the start.

Like each prior film, Resurrection was set not long after the events of the prior film and featured an overzealous scientific team struggling to rebuild the quite-dead Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) fro her DNA. In their eighth trial, they succeed, creating a stronger, more disconcerting version of Ripley than we’d ever seen before. And with that, much of the mystique and power of the character was robbed of its meaning. Here, we had little more than a clone with amazing physical prowess battling her longtime foes, but without the emotional recrimination, self-doubt and vulnerability that made her such a quintessential character.

Joss Whedon, who would later develop quite a career as a sci-fi aficionado and quality program and film creator, takes a hamfisted approach to the script of Alien: Resurrection turning it into almost a self-parody. Whether it’s the ludicrous sensuality of a scene late in the film where Ripley falls into the loving embrace of a large alien or (spoiler warning) the evolution-developed human-alien hybrid, there’s a sadistic pleasure he seems to take with disassembling a great science fiction property and crafting something that might have been better suited with a laugh track.

Unlike his predecessor, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet had experience in the genre, with the critical favorites Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children. What became obvious with Alien: Resurrection and his later work on Amélie, was his desire to infuse his work with surrealist dark humor, which is at odds with the tone set by the prior films. That dichotomy keeps the audience from forming any level of psychological connection with the film, which might not be as bad as it seems.

Were you to take a film like Alien: Resurrection out of its franchise and look at it as a stand-alone feature, dependent on little information to form an appreciation of the work, it almost succeeds. Because of its audacity, the film seems like it might work when taken in comparison with the other films in Jeunet’s oeuvre. It is a grim, yet sometimes amusing look at a frustrating future where the pursuit for scientific discovery is more important than the preservation and support of human civilization. And even if it were a solitary film, there are still issues that arise, particularly among the actors.

Weaver has her first flop in the role of Ellen Ripley. Although she plays the character in tandem with Jeunet’s vision, it doesn’t hold well with the personality of prior Ripleys. Yes, she is a clone of the original, but she has the memories and knowledge of the original and, were the cloning process truly effective, she might also have had the humanity of dead Ripley. And had the film focused more intently on exploring the new Ripley’s emotional and psychological development in lieu of her physical superiority, it might have been a more intriguing film. This isn’t Weaver’s fault necessarily, but she goes along with the plan and seems to take a teensy bit of pleasure in the absolutely devolution of Ripley.

As far as the rest of the cast, frequent Jeunet thespian Ron Perlman arrives in yet another film to ham up the festivities. Apart from his performances in Drive and Hell-Boy, the latter of which played very well into his performance style, he has never been a very creative presence. His performances never break out of his comfort zone and even there, he seems more a caricature than a character.

Gary Dourdan and Dan Hedaya are equally ludicrous, both seeing if they can be more irritating than the other, while J.E. Freeman is just another company tool with the acting capability of a vainglorious pitbull. The only actors that seem to come off better than expected are Brad Dourif as the slightly off-his-rocker scientist who treats his alien subjects almost like children than dangerous critters, yet taking sadistic glee in attempting to condition them using jets of freezing gas. The other is Winona Ryder who might seem rather wooden at first, but as her character’s nature is revealed late in the film, her performance gains momentum and believability. That hers is the only truly humane character in the film speaks volumes about how far off course the feature drives.

While David Fincher’s prior entry in the series, Alien 3 isn’t nearly to the quality level of its two predecessors, it seems something akin to a classic in comparison and might even rise a bit in my estimations with so compared. Alien: Resurrection almost works when you don’t look at it as an Alien film, but as a part of a beloved franchise, it falls far short.
Review Written
June 8, 2012

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