Alien Resurrection (1997)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #275

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Number of Views: Three
Release Date: November 26, 1997
Sub-Genre: Sci-Fi Horror
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $75,000,000
Box Office: $161,295,658
Running time: 109 minutes
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Producers: Gordon Carroll, David Giler, Walter Hill, Bill Badalato
Screenplay: Joss Whedon
Original Story: Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett
Effects: Duboi (digital visual effects), Blue Sky/VIFX (computer generated aliens), All Effects Company, Amalgamated Dynamics (alien effects), Digiscope (digital visual effects), Duran Duboi, Hunter/Gratzner Industries (miniatures), New Deal Studios, Vertex International (rotoscoping)
Cinematography: Darius Khondji
Score: John Frizzell
Editing: Hervé Schneid
Studio: Brandywine Productions
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Stars: 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, Carolyn Campbell, Marlene Bush, David St. James

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Suggested Audio Candy:

John Frizzell Ripley’s Theme

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The Alien franchise is widely regarded as the forerunner when it comes to fusing together elements of science fiction and outright horror and, even now, its template is used as a measuring stick for quality. It represents big business with works like Event Horizon and Pandorum enjoying theatrical exposure due to their isolated settings in a place where no one can hear you scream apparently. It is nigh-on impossible to watch one of these reasonably accomplished genre movies without involuntarily making some form of comparison to Alien. Despite any connection to its source material, Alien Resurrection is best thought of in the same manner as these upstarts as anything more will likely leave a bitter tang of disappointment.

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Ridley Scott’s original was utterly indisputable in quality. Essentially a haunted house film, it replaced Michael Myers with a man in a rubber suit and did so with no shortage of finesse. Taut and with unparalleled levels of claustrophobic terror, it has still to be bettered almost forty years after the fact. Enter James Cameron, fresh from the considerable success of The Terminator and finally having got Piranha II: The Spawning out of his system, he brought us our very own boy’s own action extravaganza and pulled it off in stunning style as only Cameron could. Gone were the insular trappings of the Nostromo and instead it stretched its legs, threw a group of memorable grunts into the melting pot and hit blend. As much as the original is without equal in my books, it was so categorically fantastic that any comparison seems unnecessary as, taken on its own merits, it’s every bit as good a movie.

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Then David Fincher exited his hyper-sleep chamber and brought us Alien 3. Again there was a switch in tone and it suffered most from coming hot on the heels of one of the most epic sci-fi action features in film history. Characters were largely faceless, just a smorgasbord of bald heads and questionable morals. For this reason alone it was never going to resonate in the same way as its forerunners, despite later reflection and the introduction of Fincher’s true director’s cut softening us to its apparent foibles. It is a solid, workmanlike entry to the series and has the courage of its convictions to stand on its own terms making it a vital addition to the story. But alas, like the Tin Man, it comes at the expense of heart. Suddenly it was looking rather a precarious proposition for anyone looking to push the envelope any further. Cracks were beginning to show.

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Jean-Pierre Jeunet wasn’t first choice to direct Resurrection and originally that questionable honor fell to none other than Danny Boyle. While he swanned off to work on A Life Less Ordinary, Jeunet (Amélie, Delicatessen, The City of Lost Children) decided to bring his own unique visual style to the table, given full artistic freedom to nip and tuck Joss Whedon’s original screenplay, despite the fact that a translator had to be present on-set to help convey his intention to the cast and crew. He instantly grabbed his little black book and speed-dialed the usual suspects (Dominique Pinon, Ron Perlman) to assist him in putting his stamp on the formula. The studio managed to tempt Sigourney Weaver back a fourth time, largely due to one particular scene featuring aborted genetic incarnations and science-fiction aficionados the world over began to salivate once more.

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Unfortunately, budgetary restrictions badgered the shoot and a number of more exotic scenes had to be trimmed, leaving a far different creature than the one originally outlined. This stretched right through to the design of the Newborn, more on that later, and the end result was a movie lacking any real identity. It addressed our concerns over lack of effervescent characters rather well, weaponry was reintroduced to a huge sigh of collective relief, and it appeared as though the ingredients were in place. Despite this, it all felt a little soulless. There are a number of reasons why this was the case, and I shall tackle each in turn, but I won’t be laying the smackdown as many will be expecting based on one factor alone. As an interstellar bug hunt, and taken on its own merits, it fared reasonably well. Sometimes you have to accept that the Tin Man is lacking aortic presence and just let him tag along regardless.

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So what went wrong? Let’s start with Ripley shall we, after all, she’s the linchpin holding these four distinctly different interpretations together. Before I continue, let it be known that I believe her performance here to be excellent. However, she was a far cry from the plucky heroine we’d come to adore after having been cloned from her original DNA and stripped of most of the humanity which kept us rooting for her previously. Where before she was passionate and lion-hearted, here she was far more brooding and unsympathetic. 200 years of inactivity would understandably leave her feeling a little ‘out of the loop’ and her lack of emotion was understandable given the fact that she was no longer in possession of her own distinctive faculties but it did lead to something of a disconnect. Only once, in the scene that lured her back ironically, did we truly see her compassionate side and it was only natural that the film would suffer as a result. A full head of hair couldn’t hide the fact that she stood out less than when her head was shaved.

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Next were the supporting players. Winona Ryder snapped up second billing before even reading a script as she idolized both Weaver and the Alien franchise and was desperate to become part of its legacy. As synthetic Call, she fared better than poor old Bishop and there was a sisterly dynamic between her and Ripley. However, bearing in mind that neither were exactly overflowing with humanity, Beaches this most certainly wasn’t. As a result, her performance came across as slight and a little lacking in conviction if truth be known. As for the band of space pirates drafted in to make up numbers, they were certainly a colorful gaggle of deviants and reprobates, and could never be accused of lacking individuality. Sadly, there was a distinct lack of characterization amongst the ranks and certain key players were underutilized. The wonderfully gravelly tones of Michael Wincott’s Frank were snuffed out far too early for my likely while the flamboyant Christie (Gary Dourdan) also endured an earlier bath than was necessary.

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There was a standout however and this came in the form of the ever-bankable Ron Perlman. Johner was the nearest Resurrection came to having its very own Hudson and his beautifully elongated face was most welcome. In addition, Dan Hedaya and Brad Dourif had token roles, the latter of which camped it up culminating in one of the film’s creepier moments. Unfortunately, the aliens themselves had lost much of their menace by this point. Gone was the slow-burning tension of before and, in its place, were a number of well-staged but forgettable chase scenes. Jeunet’s distinctly visual approach was evident in these moments, his lens audaciously tracking a grenade and the discovery of what hapless Larry (Leland Orser) had consumed for brunch showing the flair synonymous with his works. Meanwhile, I double dare anyone to find fault in the exhilarating underwater sequence which provided the undisputed crowning moment and took three weeks to film. Breathless stuff.

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The Newborn changed entirely from the quadrupedal parasite originally designed by Whedon. Instead of creating a creature to haunt our nightmares, this particular strain of xenomorph shared more human characteristics and this provided something of an epic fail. Imagine those finger monsters we all used to love as children, if there had been five of these gooey hybrids on exhibit then perhaps it wouldn’t have stuck out like the sore thumb that it was but, alas, there could be only one. I can kind of see what the intention was and it almost became endearing by the time it left the ship through a hole hardly large enough for Paulie the Penis, but it seemed almost unfinished. I understand that may well have been the aim, the afterbirth that came back, but considering the complexity of H.R. Geiger’s original design, it just ended up coming across as tacky. Geiger wasn’t best pleased, even more so by the lack of credit he received.

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The Betty provided the final piece of this misshapen puzzle. Again, Jeunet’s flair for production design was apparent, and the freighter became doused increasingly in darkness as the film wore on which was a nice subtle touch. Ultimately however, these flashes of ingenuity were too few and far between to blind side us to the fact that, much like the Newborn, nothing hung together quite right. In many ways you could regard Alien Resurrection as being an unmitigated disaster and I wouldn’t attempt at arguing the logic. It was the final nail in the franchise’s space coffin and is hard to defend as an Alien feature. Yet I find it harsh to discard it entirely given the dearth of decent sci-fi horror surfacing since. It’s fun, fast-paced and occasionally inspired, and for that reason I can’t bring myself to hit the airlock door button.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: The series has never been known for its grue or, at least, it hasn’t been paramount. Here, it comes more readily at the expense of tension and scares and there are a number of schlocky moments for gore hounds to savor as a sweetener. The effects are marvelously icky and the head-stomping of DiStephano, who spent the entire film seemingly missing his cue to speak, made for visceral distraction. The scene where Ripley comes face to face with a roomful of her miscarried clones is truly worthy of bearing the Alien mantle.

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