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Alien Resurrection (1997,USA)

03/06/2011

Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet   Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Ron Perlman, Winona Ryder, Dominique Pinon, Gary Dourdan, Michael Wincott

The spoilers kick in quite early in this one, you have been warned. I consider myself something of a fan of Jeunet’s work. Delicatessen, The City Of Lost Children and Amelie all rate highly in my estimation and (apart from City Of Lost Children that somebody borrowed from me and never returned or replaced) all feature in my collection. I was quite excited by the prospect, way back in 1997, of him directing the fourth chapter in the Alien saga, although any enthusiasm I had for this fact was tempered by the notion that (and the clue is in the title here) they would be bringing Ripley back to life for the film. I’m pretty sure that up until now I had only seen Resurrection once, in the cinema when it was released at the back end of 1997, despite owning the DVD “Quadrilogy” boxset for quite some time. That was the strength of the first impression it made on me. In the interests of fair play though I thought I would give it another go.

The biggest issue I have with the film is the contrivance employed to raise Ripley from the fiery grave into which she plummeted in the conclusion of part three. I thought Fincher had drawn a rather firm line under the life of Ellen Ripley (“This is Ripley, last surviving crew member of the Nostromo, signing off” indeed!) and had hoped, futilely, that they might have taken the story in a different direction with film number four. Sadly this was not to be. Instead, we fast forward 200 years after Ripley’s death and join a deep space military installation as they carry out a top secret cloning experiment attempting to regrow Ripley from blood samples taken by the medical officer on Fury 16. Fury 16? Surely that was Fury 161? By some techno-magic, when they clone Ripley they also manage to reproduce a perfect copy of the alien embryo growing inside her which is promptly surgically removed and, being a queen, is put to work laying eggs for the army. This is what happens when you let Joss Whedon write your film.

If you can get past this absurd and completely unbelievable premise things settle down for a bit. A ragtag crew of less than legitimate space traders turn up at the station with a cargo of hijacked cryo tubes containing some people to act as hosts for the military’s new weapons. The arrogant and overconfident scientists fail emphatically in their attempts to train the creatures to do their bidding and then (in what amounts to the most inventive and actually quite good bit of the film) have to deal with the consequences when the beasties mount an impressive escape.

If you are trying to be completely objective then I suppose it is not that bad a film. It plays out like a cross between Alien and Aliens, the surviving people on the station who didn’t escape left to struggle for survival against a small army of aliens. It collapses under the strain of Whedon’s risible script though. What is on paper a solid cast (particularly Jeunet regulars Perlman and Pinon) are reduced to gurning caricatures of people with little depth and pitiful dialogue. Do Ironside jokes really work in the 24th century? The answer, incidentally, is no. Even stock villain Michael Wincott fails to bring an ounce of the charisma and menace on show in the likes of The Crow and the always tragically underused Brad Dourif is, well, underused, in his role as the lead scientific genius behind the cloning magic. I’m laying much of the blame for all this at the door of Whedon, who with this film has proved himself a writing lightweight much more suited to dull tv sci fi/fantasy for the tween market than a grown up feature film.

Jeunet struggles to lift the material to a bearable level. Perhaps without his usual partner in crime Marc Caro he failed to find his mojo, maybe he felt constrained fitting a film into somebody else’s universe, I suppose only he knows. Either way, the film is flat and lifeless compared to the earlier installments of the series. From a technical standpoint there is some good stuff here. The first outing for the aliens in CGI form is actually pretty good, capturing their less-than-human motions well and overcoming some of the limitations of the earlier effects processes. There is a particularly fine moment when, swimming for their lives through a flooded kitchen, the survivors despatch a pursuing alien in a beautiful grenade-launcher-fired-underwater moment. Conveniently they included most of this moment in the trailer, saving you the trouble of watching the film. These little moments suggest there was some promise here but they are lost within a sea of turgid writing.

The big twist (big spoilers coming now) is as a side effect of the cloning procedure Ripley and the alien queen have exchanged some attributes in the style of The Fly. Ripley has supernatural strength and acid for blood, the alien queen has a womb. Although she also laid eggs. Eh? Well done Whedon. Top marks again. Was nobody proof reading this stuff before they started shooting? The fact that the Ripley in the film is “number 8”, the first success in a series of cloning failures, would be a nice back reference to the “eighth passenger” of the first Alien film if I thought for a second it was deliberate and not just a convenient coincidence. The real death knell for the film comes with the birth of the human/alien hybrid from the queen alien’s womb (don’t ask me how she became pregnant, or indeed why, I have no idea), emerging as a pitifully designed man-in-a-suit monster that looks half finished and isn’t scary in the slightest.

It’s basically a film that ignores the elements that made the first three work – plausability, attention to detail, art and sound design, score (the rather pathetic score here is provided by John Frizzell, a man responsible for legendary scores such as I Still Know What You Did Last Summer and Ghost Ship) and most importantly of all a powerful cast with a strong script. In the intro to the extended cut in the Blu Ray set Jeunet explains that this is not a director’s cut of the film, the director’s cut is the film originally released in cinemas that he is still very proud of. My question is this: Just who is he trying to convince? If ever there’s been a candidate for an Alan Smithee credit, surely this film is it. I can’t help but wonder what might have been had Jeunet been left to his own devices to set an alien film 200 years hence from Alien 3 without having to include Ripley in the fun. I suppose we will never know. One thing’s for sure, I doubt it would have been as bad as this.

 

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