When Alien Resurrection was released in 1997, it officially marked the end of any thought being given to the one bright Alien franchise. After the absolute failure of this film,the Aliens would forever be regarded as B-movie monsters whose time had come and gone. But was this film truly a death knell? Is the film that bad?
Sadly, yes. This is one of the biggest wastes of opportunity and talent ever. Mostly because the studio did not see what they could have accomplished. I am one of the few who defends of Alien 3, because I deeply enjoyed the return to the claustrophobic horror and the commentary on early nineties ennui. I also admired how the film was the first to address the fact that Ripley was a strong FEMALE character, rather than just a strong character or a female who acted strong but was only confined to the traditional roles of the gender. Each Alien film had been a perfect reflection of the time it was made.
That is, until this came out. I have no idea what went wrong. The right pieces are present. But somehow they never fit together.
Alien: Resurrection takes place 200 years after Alien 3. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has been cloned by Weyland Yutani in an attempt to clone the queen. The result is Ripley gaining some of the xenomorph’s abilities, including acid for blood and increased strength. The company keeps her alive and has a group of space pirates bring in some captured miners to breed the aliens. Of course, everything goes wrong, the aliens escape, people die. Oh, and I cannot remember the character’s names, but the film also includes Ron Perlman, Brad Dourif, and Winona Ryder.
Alright, first, the lack of memorable characters hurts the film. Everyone can remember Dallas and Hudson. Some can even remember Clemens. The characters are what makes these films work. To have none of them kills the film. Why should I care when a character is killed if I have no emotional investment in them or if the filmmaker has not allowed me to have any such feelings?
This would be where I discuss the themes, but they’re aren’t any. The first three were such perfect mirrors of society (the first was about the looming AIDS crisis and the paranoia associated with the monolith that was still present from the Watergate scandal, the second was an indictment of communism and reflected the Reagan view of how the U.S. had been ignoring a potentially dangerous enemy, and the third was about the new emerging youth culture and the cynical view of the world that caused them to abandon the evangelical preachers of the 1980s.) Alien: Resurrection is about nothing. Oh, it could have been about what made us human in a world that grew increasingly dependent on technology. And it did sort of start out that way. But in the end that is not what the film is about. That goes away right about the time when the xenomorphs swim underwater.
But there is more present that makes the film frustrating. Both Joss Whedon (the writer) and Jean Pierre Juenet (the director) have said different things about the film. Whedon has created many wonderful characters and universes. But his creations are usually full of humor and wit that is not present here. Oh, there are many scenes that are funny and were clearly meant to be funny. But those scenes are too few and ultimately serve no purpose to help the tone of the film. Several scenes present in the final cut presumably worked quite well on paper. One such scene involves Ripley discovering her previous clones, each hideously deformed and one still alive that is begging to be killed. If this were Alien, this would have been a truly emotional scene that revealed to the audience the turmoil that the no longer human Ripley was going through and may even have allowed the story to progress to a higher level. In actuality, the end result reminds us of a similar scene in Aliens (where the marines discover the victim in the cocoon for the first time) and moves on. Such a wasted opportunity is truly depressing. Whedon blames the director for not making his characters work and may have a strong case. But he is not entirely without fault. There are bizarre gaps of logic and the alien/human hybrid is so haphazardly explained that (to borrow one of Whedon’s techniques) Whedon comes across as the exact opposite of a man who can explain his ideas very well.
Juenet is also no dummy. He has directed many darkly humorous films before. Delicatessen is my personal favorite, which actually works just as much as comedy as it does horror. And many scenes in Resurrection do work. The cinematography is among the best in the series. It also contains one of my favorite scenes in the entire franchise, featuring Dourif taunting the Alien. The way it is framed, we get the feeling that Dourif is looking into his own soul and reacting not with horror, but with sheer delight. That scene was worth the price of admission alone. Plus, the ending is a rather satisfying one to the saga. But the entire second act of the film is a joke, and many of the characters are so poorly thought out that they may as well not exist. Remember my complaint in the above paragraph about not remembering anyone’s name? That may come across as laziness, but I didn’t need to look up anyone’s name after watching any of the others.
So, who really deserves the blame? The actors. Each and every last one of them. There performances go lower than mawkish. They reach a level that is usually only possible in elementary school plays. Winona Ryder’s Call is particularly troublesome. Her character is a spy sent to destroy the Alien. Except, this is before they are created and this is the first time in 200 years they have been seen. Why the strong hatred? It is similar to someone holding a fear in England that Oliver Cromwell may be resurrected and resume his reign. But Ryder plays the part like she doesn’t believe it. The other androids were well thought out characters, mostly because you never knew what was truly on their minds (or in their programming). Ryder is completely one dimensional. But Sigourney Weaver is also not off the hook. Her new Ripley contains no personality whatsoever. Such a fascinating resurrection needed further depth but was given none. Ripley does not even offer any insights. If she retains the memories of her past life, could she possibly retain memories of the after life? Is she human? Does she respond to that complete change in her genetic make up? No, she does not. She barely gives it a thought. This character used to give Weaver Oscar nominations. What happened?
I do not know. I think the ultimate reason was that the film was not made by filmmakers who cared. It was looked upon as another project. Even Fincher cared more, as he saw the film through despite constant studio interference. No one here cared, except about the paycheck at the end of the day. When that shows on screen, something very important has been lost.
I do want to check out the longer cut of the film, and this is still a better film than the still born Alien Vs Predator film. So, I cannot say that it is a completely terrible film. I can say that it is the worst of the original series and one that assaults the imagination rather than rewarding it. If you must go into the water (pun because there is an entirely unconvincing underwater scene), tread carefully. Danger lies there.