I still like quite a lot of 'Alien: Resurrection' (1997) that I watched again tonight for the first time in a while, but there's enough to still not like to be able to slightly spoil this frisky final showdown in space where nobody gets to hear Ripley scream as she's still leaving all that kind of weaker sex or species thing to the men and the monsters. This review is of the original theatrical version, but if you want to see an ending where Ripley gets to stand in front of a post-apocalyptic Paris and have her memory triggered by images of the much-missed Newt, the little girl from Aliens (1986)- you need to seek out the Special Edition to satisy your cravings!
*This review contains spoilers - please watch before reading!*
There are plenty of stunningly, overwhelmingly disgusting bits in Alien: Resurrection, which I guess is admirable in a franchise dominated by night-terrorist artist and most important inspiration to the original Alien film; H.R.Giger - but Giger had a kind of classical, spiritual disgustingness. Alien: Resurrection just makes you go 'eeeugh' (especially the alien-human-hybrid sucked through a ten pence-sized hole into space sequence - ayack!). To be fair to Giger, he wasn't even credited in the theatrical release, much to his displeasure though - so he can't take the blame for some of the awful new effects, such as the wonky alien/human hybrid (sort of cute) that was supposed to terrify in writer Joss (Buffy) Whedon's original script but was rewritten in his absence to become a dufus and the Ripley clone that went wrong in the lab (deliberately part of the script) but that just looks like a mess of latex limbs with Ripley's head poking through from the wall behind (not so deliberate part of the script).
Second-billed (to Sigourney Weaver) Winona Ryder was once the stuff of delicious dreams and upon first viewing this 4th Alien film as the feisty, secretive Annalee Call, she still was (I adored her in 1988's Heathers mainly), but now seems achingly 80's, even here in a film shot in the late 90's, and viewed today, 15 years later. This is the Heathers-factor, not the fault of the beautifully elfin girl-Ryder. Heathers defined the smug, sexy, wisecracking and eternally youthful 80's tap into teen misbehaviour movies. Sigourney Weaver as the unnaturally long-armed, muscle-rippling heroine (and bloody good Alien mum to boot I'll have social services know) Ripley - still kicks ass though. In fact, the hard-edged, painful basketball sequence made me gasp out loud, and Ripley's end shot of a very long-distance dunk with her back turned stunned crew and Ripley herself, despite the training she had endured up to that point in the noble sport of giants. But the mum/daughter-like (or lover-like) tender moments and rolling-eyed hugs with little Winona deal Ripley's far stronger character a more fatal blow than any alien or lack of ball dunking skills could ever do. It's Ryder's doe-eyed, secrets-hiding, tough-girl performance that remains the standout of the film, but Weaver's Ripley is memorably cold and harsh as well as 'motherly' (if a damaged kind) - until she pushes her 'son' out the airlock and we get left with just the cold and harsh.
Winona Ryder, at the time of the film's theatrical release, made a big deal of how much of an Alien and especially a Ripley fan she was - and rumours were that she signed up without even reading the script. Hey - Joss Whedon signed up without even reading the script and he wrote the thing! The big sister/ little sister thing going on between the two girls, would have been developed beyond the film, back home on Earth, had the script not been taken away from Whedon and cloned into something more resembling an acid trip (and there's a whole load of acid used in this movie already without the kind that bends the brain and makes the film easier to follow if taking while watching it, I'd guess). Joss Whedon (King of Hollywood and prince of US TV) has been quoted as saying he hated everything about the movie, except, of course, his original script, the one that the visionary, surrealist director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (King of everything-unHollywood) burnt by black candlelight and had eaten by baby Xenomorphs. Buffy in space this ain't. But Whedon does steal the prototype crew back from Jeunet a few years later to make the focus of his TV project 'Firefly' (2002) - in space nobody can hear you recycle your best ideas!
The alien behind glass almost kissing Brad Dourif's seemingly signature (even if it's not and he's never played a similar character in his life) maniacal doctor and almost slobbering him to death if it could, is still genuinely creepy - with Dourif's mock french kissing back especially inspired and hopefully improvised, and the creature's subsequent escape from the lab, suitably grisly and 'what the...?' An underwater chase sequence is clever and Jaws-like (deliberately so) but not quite as clever as it thinks it is. I gasped inside when freedom is found in a nest of alien eggs. The soundtrack irritates as does the alien roar. The alien-human hybrid at the end is just plain silly, but in a nightmarish way, with a really annoying little horn on its nose that to me seems to serve no purpose other than to indicate when the poor thing's nose is twitching. This almost made the creature endearing. Perhaps that was the point. I certainly felt sorry for the beastly thing when its ass got sucked out into space - but I'd feel sorry for any thing getting its ass sucked out into space.
Clever direction from the clearly inspired Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who also gave us Delicatessen, Amelie and The City of Lost Children; I loved the camera tracking of the grenade (almost as great as Dario Argento's outrageous tracking of a bullet through the brain in his classic thriller 'The Stendhal Syndrome' from the previous year) as well as a magnificent shot straight down the throat of a human host down to where the alien baby waits and gets ready to move home (can't think of a comparison for that one) or the nearly really neat set-up for a sequel down on Earth with Sigourney and Winona as a double act fighting the Aliens back home which could have been a fabulous idea. It wasn't to be (in Jeunet's original theatrical version at least and in terms of any subsequent sequel).
There's no doubt the direction (though entirely unsuited I still believe to the Alien series) and script (what's left of it) of this film is smart and witty at times, awfully surreal, weird and 'anti-traditional Hollywood blockbuster' in nature. But the Alien franchise had already been deconstructed in the (for me) far superior sequel 'Alien 3' (1992) from the untested-at-the-time new kid director on the spaceship Nostromo; David Fincher. Danny 'Trainspotting' Boyle was apparently the initial choice to direct Alien: Resurrection until it became clear he was unavailable that week, or washing his hair. Instead of heroin chic from Boyle we ended up with acid chic from Jeunet. Still, at least Boyle included, I'm sure, an alien in his Olympic Games Opening Ceremony montage that could actually just have been my wishful thinking. I'm not sure what rumoured second choice director David Cronenberg would have brought to the mix as his drug of choice, but I would have loved to have experienced Alien 4 - Naked Lunch style.
Never a classic in the series, and probably better watched in Special Edition mode rather than a bare bones original theatrical cut, Alien: Resurrection remains a big fat interesting sequel that at least is never dull and goes against the grain with ruddy relish, leaving nasty great gaping and sticky images of disgusting things in the head for some time after. The biggest error in Alien: Resurrection is that it's Ripley, but it's not Ripley. She is, of course, just a clone. That's what depresses me most, and seeing as how the whole film is based around this one central concept - the whole film pretty much depresses me too. If I close my eyes and imagine that Ripley and Newt had both survived David Fincher's Alien 3 and get to appear in Alien 4 after all, I feel more love towards this movie. Hey, that's right - let's all blame David Fincher again why don't you.
Written by ~ Mark Gordon Palmer