Alien: Resurrection (1997 movie) review…

Alien: Resurrection (1997 movie) review after the break…

Alien: Resurrection (1997 movie) review…

There’s an old saying in vaudeville to “always leave them wanting more.” The phrase is just another way of saying “don’t stay too long” which is just another way of saying, “When you’re done being good, stop before the action of being bad ruins your reputation.”

“Alien: Resurrection” is the fourth film in the “Alien” franchise and 18 years removed from the first film. The film initially received universal panning when it premiered and, despite watching clips of the movie ‘here and there’ over the years, I had never had the pleasure (displeasure?) of watching the entire movie from start to finish in one sitting. Despite there being two “Alien versus Predator” films since and the “Is it a prequel, a sequel, a re-imaging, a side-quel…? Oh, heck, we don’t even know ourselves but we won’t tell anyone that and pretend it’s all just an elaborate Internet marketing trick” film called “Prometheus” which, by all measure, was more hat then cattle, the fact that there hasn’t been a ‘pure’ Alien film in a decade and change gives the average reader an indication of how well “Alien: Resurrection” went over with society in general.

In A:R, Ripley is cloned back into existence by corrupt military scientists bent upon bending the rules so that they can study the acidicly-endowed creature for… Wait for it… Nefarious reasons. Of course, this time, we’re not dealing with a garden-variety mortal named Ripley but an Alien-Human hybrid of Ripley who looks just like Sigourney Weaver, has forgotten all about her daughter but with superhuman skills and a butch lesbian streak to boot (because Aliens are… lesbians? I don’t know, I’m just reporting on what I saw in the film). Supplying the scientists with not-so-willing test subjects for the facehugging aliens is a motley spaceship named “Betty” and her equally motley crew of “ask no questions and cash up front” morals. Naturally, you just can’t keep a good alien down and those pesky space cockroaches eventually get loose, causing the morally-ambiguous crewmembers of the “Betty” to scramble to their ship for safety, with various crewmembers being picked off all the while. There are, of course, side plots including military survivors of questionable reliability, a man destined to have heart problems because of alien indigestion and a crewmember who… Wait for it… May not be all that they appear to be. Isn’t there one like that on every spaceship?

I thought that if I reviewed this film for the first time after all the young “Internet 1.0” hate died down, I would find myself impartial which would yield a more effective review. After all, the film was penned by a younger Joss Whedon who has apparently gone on to far greater accomplishments. Also, no one is building shrines towards the two “Alien versus Predator” movies that have come out since and while “Prometheus” got it’s two weeks of glory at the box office, that film left many scratching their heads and wondering if Ridley Scott may be more comfortable on a luxury cruise liner then helming multi-million dollar films. So, perhaps a bit of retrospective might be kinder to this film then 1997 was.

And it was… A little bit.

It takes a truly talented director to botch the beginning of a film and I was pleasantly surprised that the beginning of the film felt promising. Ripley is resurrected, the aliens are being studied, the Firefly-wannabes arrive with the red meat for the Aliens… Truth be told, there was a flicker of happiness that the initial scenes were not a train wreck. Perhaps the naysayers were wrong and just irritated that Michael Biehn hadn’t been promoted in the franchise.

Yet the film quickly begins to unravel itself the moment that the aliens realize that acid for blood can help them melt through walls and walls are what is preventing them from feeding on the humans that are experimenting on them. To be fair, it’s not all the aliens’ fault – At it’s core, the entire film is “Aliens are attacking us so we need to escape” which is just like Alien 1 through 3 (Alien 1: “An alien is attacking us and we’re too stupid to realize that we can’t stop it before most of us die and then the survivor decides to escape”; Alien 2: “Aliens are attacking us and we need to survive until we can remotely lower the dropship and escape”; Alien 3: “Aliens are attacking us on a remote planet and we can’t stop it because we’re prisoners who have no weapons so now we have to wait until prison guards arrive before we can escape.”).

There are, to be completely fair, some nice moments in this film. I didn’t mind the cliched nature of the motley crew of the motley spaceship “Betty.” However, there was more then a whiff of “Really? In the future?” when I saw the wheelchair guy. Really? Wheelchairs in a future where spaceships discover far-flung worlds and androids looking just like humans walk around? People are still in wheelchairs? Really?

I also liked the look and setting of the film. Color me jaded but I think that the art designers of the video game “Dead Space” need to start cutting royalty checks to “Alien: Resurrection” because there is not a lot of sunlight in between those two set designs. Even if the video game “Dead Space” didn’t exist (I’d much prefer if they had invested in “System Shock 3” but what do I know?), there was a certain sharpness to the sets that gave them an authenticity that elevated the entire film even if the film didn’t warrant it.

One aspect of the film that I enjoyed even if it was a little too graphic for my aging tastes was the scene where Ripley discovers the “other Ripleys.” I thought that this was a well-done scene with a lot of potential that wasn’t exploited as completely as it could. Ripley confronting the only other ‘sentient’ Ripley had a lot of potential but, even in it’s final state, was pretty effective.

Yet for every aspect of the film that I enjoyed, even in spite of myself, I found more then a healthy serving of items that validated all of the initial teeth-grinding and Internet hate of yonder past.

We need to address the central problem of this film: Ripley. Ripley died in Alien 3. The End. While cloning and bringing her back was conceivable from a story-telling perspective, the screenplay compounded a really hard sell by turning her into “Super Ripley,” a half-alien, half-human hybrid (“Riplien”?). I have no idea what the mythical “first draft” of this movie from Joss Whedon reads like, but what ends up on the screen is teeth-gritting bad at best and fast-forward button mashing at worst. My limited understanding of Hollywood gossip is that Sigourney Weaver (the actress who has played “Ripley” in all of the “Alien” films) is… Well, it rhymes with “rich.” I suppose that women who are overly aggressive are easily slapped with such a label but here’s a hint – Simply because you can doesn’t always mean that you should. Just as Joel Schuemacher’s direction eventually led the Batman franchise down a neon-filled, lighter path that forced the franchise to reboot itself into a more grounded state, Weaver’s rumored insistent brow-beating of what she wanted and holding her figurative breath until she got it has largely given fans the last two films, “Alien 3” and “Resurrection.” When she didn’t get her way… Well, that’s “Alien” and “Aliens.” You be the judge.

Ripley’s cloning might have worked if the net result had just been Ripley. Imagine the possibilities: Maybe she’s simply one of the “rejected Ripleys” – A Ripley without an alien host. Imagine the horror of realizing that she’s not the only Ripley but several, including some sort of truly grotesque half-Ripley, half-Alien. Imagine a final fight between the two “Ripleys” – The normal one and the not-so-normal one. Yet “Super Ripley” just doesn’t translate well onto the screen – There’s no humility, no transition arc from where she begins to utilize her powers. There’s an arrogance in her performance that invalidates the entire premise and whether that was intentional or not may never be known. It’s as though her performance, to use first-person shooter parlance, is stuck on “God mode,” being invulnerable and knowing what to do all of the time. Certain movies benefit from having just such a character (The Bourne trilogy, for instance, has a central character who always knows what to do and has the capabilities of performing it) but those movies are built around that character – This movies is not. This movie is built around¬†the aliens.

I was largely indifferent to the motley crew of the “Betty” and no one particularly stood out for me. Ron Perlman was… Ron Perlman. Each character had it’s own physical quirk which made them easy to physically identify but, unlike “Alien” or “Aliens,” you don’t get to ‘know’ them before they become alien fodder. I thought that it was a nice touch that the ‘leader’ of the group was the first to die. I wasn’t expecting it (maybe, by that time, I wasn’t paying as close attention to the movie as I should) but found it a bit annoying that the old “separated from group” cliche was used. Really? Not even a “Hey, guys, I hear something. Hold up”? I liked that the group picked up other stragglers along the way (the man with the alien host, a soldier and an officer) but maybe, given the amount of characterization in the group, it would have been better had all of the members come in ‘clean,’ with no back story so that we meet these people just as the crisis begins to unfold, much like how characters are often portrayed in zombie apocalypse movies.

If this review sounds like the main problem was Weaver acting like Ripley was a lesbian’s power dream come true, that’s true but that’s not the entire story. Some of the blame has to be laid at the feet of Joss Whedon. I know, I know… It’s not how he would want his screenplay to be acted. I’ve read the quotes where he cites that he wrote the material to be lighter but that’s the problem – The Alien franchise was never written for laughs or light action. The aliens are supposed to be scary. The first Alien movie was a horror film. The second was a first-person shooter before first-person shooters were first-person shooters. Joss Whedon has become known not for either of those genres; Know your audience. Did he honestly expect his aliens to riff on pop culture references and flip out one-liners throughout the movie? Whedon has undoubtedly become a hot commodity in Hollywood with his later successes but being successful at delivering popcorn action doesn’t automatically translate into serious horror or science fiction. Would anyone prefer to hire Michael Bay for a romantic comedy where absolutely nothing explodes or Tim Burton to direct anything without a hint of dark gothic in it?

By the time the finale arrives, I was refraining from pushing the fast-forward button only out of due diligence. I simply didn’t care, at that point, what was happening or why: The macguffin of stopping the ship before reaching Earth was laughable as was the revelation that the character Call (played by Wynona Ryder who¬†didn’t steal the show and, yes, I just used that) was an android… Imagine if the script had gone in a different direction and had focused on the contrast of a clone and an android… Which one has more “life” to live? Imagine if an “ordinary Ripley” started asserting herself differently then the original? When people start asking themselves these questions before the movie ends, the movie is in trouble.

Surprisingly, “Alien: Resurrection” can’t be labeled a bad film. It just looks too nice and has too many competent stars for the film to lower itself willingly to that status. Yes, Weaver vamps her way through an almost embarrassing performance. No one else surprises beyond their usual range (I’m waiting for Perlman to play a nerdy accountant who drives an econobox to work. It’ll never happen) of acting ability.

Beyond a bad film, though? You certainly can’t call it a good film. You’d have a hard time convincing a majority of film goers that it’s even a fair film.

In the end, “Alien: Resurrection” simply proves the adage right when you don’t leave them wanting more – They’ve had enough. After having watched the movie in full, I can’t blame them.

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