A run-of-the-mill action-horror flick.
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Two hundred years after Ellen Ripley’s apparent death on Fury-161, a military science team are performing hideous medical experiments using DNA recovered from the ruins on that deserted penal colony. The medical team has hired the mercenary crew of an independent vessel,
On the surface, Alien: Resurrection is one great big geeky paean to the Alien series, particularly the first two entries but most specifically Aliens, and there are so many instances of pure fan service that it often feels more like a fan film than an official entry in the series. The ship’s computer on the Auriga is called “Father”; there’s a scene in which a character suffering great physical distress asks another character, holding a flamethrower, to “kill me”; one of the Betty’s crewmembers is revealed to be a robot (or synthetic, or whatever–as this information had been leaked to the public well in advance of the film’s theatrical release, this hardly counts as a spoiler). Composer John Frizell even takes several opportunities to quote the scores of his predecessors.
And yet, somehow, Alien: Res feels like it doesn’t belong in the series–even moreso than Alien 3. I’m not sure who’s to blame. It could be director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. It could be screenwriter Joss Whedon. It might even be executive producers Walter Hill and David Giler, for all I know. But someone either doesn’t know what makes the Alien movies work, doesn’t care, or thinks he’s clever by trying to subvert expectations.
To start with, Alien: Res is something no other Alien movie is (that doesn’t have the words Versus Predator in the title): a typical modern action flick. In Aliens, none of the typical action-oriented characters survive, and indeed the vast majority are taken out in the space of a single scene. Even in Alien 3, survival is pretty much a function of blind luck than of being too tough to die. Alien: Res, on the other hand, is a celebration of kick-assery: of the characters who survive, two of them are arguably the biggest badasses in the film, while the others have advantages that essentially make them unkillable. Ripley Eight is so much of a typical kick-ass action chick (it’s actually hard not to see her as a dry-run for some of Whedon’s later action heroines, most notably Firefly’s River Tam) that she often comes off as a parody of the original character.
The action is so prevalent that the film pretty much fails on every other level. The Alien, at this point, isn’t even credible as a creature of science fiction; it’s simply an agent to facilitate a body-count, because that’s all the studio and the producers felt an audience wanted from an Alien movie. There are no rules–if someone wants the Alien to do something new and different, the Alien does it, and damn the consequences if it’s consistent with what we’ve learned so far. I don’t really like that James Cameron threw out the Aliens’ original life-cycle and essentially turned them into spiders, but it least served a thematic purpose and since Ridley Scott cut the “kill me” scene out of Alien you can’t accuse him of ignoring the previously established rules. Meanwhile, in Alien: Res, Aliens can now inherit characteristics from their hosts. This is sorta-kinda hinted at in Alien 3 (and it might come from the original comic book version of Aliens vs. Predator, which predates Alien 3–but I’d rather not consider the comics part of continuity, partially because I still think of the Aliens comics as being about Hicks and Newt instead of Wilks and Billie, but mostly because we count that we probably also have to count stuff like Superman and Batman vs. Aliens and Predator), but other than that there’s been no previous indication that this is possible. Even worse, it comes off less as an organic path for the story to take and more of an excuse to give Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, the effects guys who have been responsible for the Alien since the second movie, a new monster to design and maybe make action figures of.
Still, even when the story is weak, the Alien movies have great casts to fall back on, right? Well, um. Sigourney Weaver’s great, of course. Over the course of three reviews I’ve run out of superlatives to apply to her, but I’m really impressed that she’s usually able to mask the fact that she’s getting really, really tired of doing this shit. It’s always nice to see The Crow’s Michael Wincott, who plays Elgyn, captain of the Betty, and Ron Perlman, who plays Johner, his hired muscle. CSI’s Gary Dourdan (as Betty pilot Christie), Breaking Bad’s Raymond Cruz (as DiStephano, a Marine) and Leland Orser (as Purvis, a guinea pig) also put in good performances. However, Brad Dourif (as medical officer Gediman) and Dan Hedaya (as commanding officer Gen. Perez) can do much, much better than this. And no discussion of this movie’s acting is complete without mentioning Winona Ryder, who plays Call, the newest member of the Betty crew–and who should have been absolutely the last actress tapped to play the character.
All this being said, while Alien: Res fails as an Alien movie, it’s a perfectly acceptable action movie. Jeunet keeps things moving at a good clip, the battles are executed very well and the production values are top-notch (and rarely look dated at all, quite an accomplishment as I believe this is one of the first “digital backlot” movies). Whedon’s dialogue is characteristically snappy without being insufferable, and he delivers a couple of genuinely scary or creepy scenes (the most affecting is when Ripley Eight finds out what happened to Ripleys One through Seven). With the exception of the birth chamber scene and pretty much the entire ending sequence, there’s very little here that’s unwatchable even though it’s usually not very good. It’s a damn shame that it’s not better, but it could have been a whole lot worse.
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