Mar 26, 2007

Alien: Resurrection (1997): B+

Alien: Resurrection's indebtedness to the work of Ridley Scott and James Cameron has been a damning one indeed - critics and filmmakers alike seem inherently unable to appreciate a perfectly good movie when it (a) follows in the footsteps of a canonized classic and (b) decides to take adapted material in a new direction. Change this film's title, a few key character names, and the titular extra terrestrials, and you'd still have the aesthetic essence that makes it - in my humble opinion - such an underrated and jolly good time. Had this been a stand-alone film, maybe more people would have picked up on its assaulting tongue-in-cheek comic book glee -- as an additional sequel to a franchise that had been flailing the last time around, it seemed destined to poor reception. What a pity. Roger Ebert is of the opinion that the movie hasn't "a single shot...to fill one with wonder." I beg to differ. An art director's wet dream, Alien: Resurrection has more visual flair than any of George Lucas' Star Wars films, and at times is damn near as fun.

Seeing as this retrospective is approaching the film's tenth anniversary, I'll make plot details brief. Ripley died in Alien³, having jumped into a vat of molten steel so as to kill the gestating alien queen inside her chest, thus eliminating this most dangerous of life forms. Some 200 years later, government scientists have recreated Ripley from frozen blood samples, alien embryo intact and all. Several unfortunate side effects abound: Ripley retains some of her memories via genetic instinct, including her anti-alien sentiment, and the cloning procedure resulted in the mingling of some of Ripley's and her "child's" DNA, bestowing our beloved heroine with super-human sensitivity and, yes, acid-tinged blood. The motherly instinct she once had for Newt now translates to a sixth sense of alien life forms, and her newfound attitude predisposes her to a series of hilarious feminist one-liners.

Hired to replicate the look of his City of Lost Children, Jean-Pierre Jeunet (who would later go on to make the popular Amélie) films Resurrection like a comic book fascimile of Ridley Scott's original; fish-eyed lenses, exaggerated dialogue and wide-eyed overacting abounds, however grounded by the film's meticulous vision of its futuristic environment (the detail work is impeccable) and no-bullshit sense of moral codes. A space crew delivering some precious "cargo" to the aforementioned scientists provides the film's diverse cast of characters - broadly drawn personalities embodied by eager performers willing to find subtlety in archetypes. The newborn Ripley gives veteran Sigourney Weaver something more substantial to chew on, but for the most part everyone on board is simply having a good time, even (and particularly) when that simply involves going through the motions of genre conventions. The brilliant and undervalued Brad Dourif contributes greatly to the film's anti-vanilla kinkiness, while Ron Perlman foreshadows his grungy Hellboy attitudes well within the realm of the R rating ("I am not a man with whom to fuck!").

At its core, Resurrection isn't much more than another extra terrestrial slasher movie with a countdown affixed to the end - a Poseidon Adventure set in outer space. Yet whereas most films of this type focus on gruesome body counts or overly serious dramatic set pieces, this unheralded sequel lends both attention and concern to its characters, while its pitch-perfect exercising of scenes viewers are likely to have seen dozens of times before lends them a refreshing degree of raw efficiency (the set design and enriched cinematography, on the other hands, just makes it fucking cool). Alien may have been heavy on vaginal imagery, but Resurrection is downright erotic with its deep blacks, slimy, shiny surfaces and deliberately stylized action. Every film in the Alien series - discounting the godawful video game that is Alien vs. Predator - is notable for their own distinct vision and feel. Alien: Resurrection may not have Scott's uncompromising claustrophobia, Cameron's relentless bombast or (what was left of) Fincher's primordial desolation, but it does have enough suave, attitude, and visual flair for three movies of its kind.


Notes on the Special Edition

I'm a sucker for Director's Cuts and various alternate versions of just about any movie in question - whether superior or inferior to their original versions, they provide us with an opportunity to see "what if," something I find invaluable when considering how much even the slightest change can alter the tone or intent of an entire film. In the case of Alien: Resurrection, Jean-Pierre Jeunet considers the theatrical release to be his Director's Cut (and rightly so, in my opinion), the new version assembled for the monolithic Alien Quadrilogy DVD box set standing as little more than a curiosity for fans. My hope is that a curiosity it will remain, it containing little more than the excess fat rightfully left on the cutting room floor, the majority of the new footage containing little more than throwaway dialogue - character interactions that, while not necassarily bad (although some of them certainly are), detract from the film's otherwise sleek efficiency. Otherwise, however, the most significant changes are the newfound bookends: a completely different opening credits sequence, initially abandoned due to a lack of special effects funding (thank goodness for that, seeing as it is possibly the worst sequence in any Alien film to date, AVP included), and an extended ending in which Ripley and Call share a conversation after having landed on earth. The latter is certainly the better of the two (the former, however, is more interesting), but I sense that none of the words spoken in this sequence really compliment what is otherwise expressed in the images of earth as seen in the original ending. When giving this DVD a spin, take the theatrical release any day of the week.

9 comments:

  1. Anonymous8:12 AM

    I was just defending this movie against a bunch of my fellow posters at a film forum I regular. Nice review.

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  2. I agree that films like this are often pigeon-holed from the get-go and can do no right in the eyes of many critics. It's always refreshing to see different critical perspectives on films that seem to be viewed the same way.

    I have only seen bits and pieces, and I must admit it is frustrating. There are aspects of it, as you mention in your review, that are visually striking and densely atmospheric, but what bothered me - and this may be due to the fact that I haven't seen it from beginning to end - was the amount of extreme close-ups and cartoonish compositions in scenes involving character interaction. Something about it seemed very Fifth Element-ish.

    I definitely want to see the whole thing though. Nice review.

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  3. I always wondered why so many people hated this film, I'm a big fan of all the Alien movies (no, not AVP) and thought this one was a great homage to and extension of the film monsters that fans have turned into legends. Perhaps its that the movie was really made for the devoted fans of the franchise that it falls a little flat for the average viewer. And props for mentioning how much Perlman rocks in this one.

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  4. I've always felt this film was highly underrated. Given everything that had been set up in the previous movies, it did a really good job of rejiggering the concept while still staying true to what came before it. To me the ALIEN movies are about a bunch of people in a confined space trying to stay alive -- that's the formula. Opening up the series onto bigger playing fields is something that's never really appealed to me.

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  5. The film is one of the worst movies in hollywood history - The review is worthless and very ostentatious (Comparing it to Star Wars, how dare you) The reviewer is nothing short of a dipshit. Anyone who liked this movie knows nothing about filmmaking. You should be fired then shot in the back of the head.

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  6. Boy, somebody has issues. Compare it to Star Wars, I dare indeed. I don't even know why I'm responding to you - that sort of attitude doesn't deserve an audience.

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  7. garry abernethy7:17 AM

    hey, everybody has an opinion guys. i think the reviewer is very far from a dipshit. anyone with a good eye for art and concept can see that this is a graphically rich film. the aliens, [perhaps apart from the scene where we see one from behind as it walks towards the crew of the betty and co] look refreshed and badass, especially in comparison to the floppy cheap-o aliens in avpr. they reminded me slightly of the gorilla alien toys you could get in the nineties, big and brutal. the cast is amazing i think.it doesnt demand your attention with huge names, just a heck of a lot of well cast gems who are very underrated. i think this movie found a great niche in cinematic history, and i dont care what is said of the alien saga, the stars of the show are the cast, and this one delivers. take away the cast [and admiteddly some good graphic design ala this movie or gigers work in the first one] and you have a banana headed exoskeletal walking slug that cant talk and kills everything. avp 1 and 2 are laughably written and cast, and even if the aliens had been well executed, it still wouldve been a piss in the face of the standalone alien films. somebody needs to make a stylish survival tale called alien 5, somebody who doesnt go for what the studio wants entirely, and has some sense of art and of the direction this series now needs to take. of course resurrection is a scandalous progression of the franchise if you look at it that way. but then so would 2, adding a queen like they are ants, and changing the life cycle that we see in the extended version of one, which really did make it the perfect organism. aliens is amazing but is full of cheapo moments and flaws, plus is was just number one with some arse kicking. the thing that makes it classic is the cast and their journey of survival, i believe. we have not been allowed to learn more of the alien, only shown it at face value as it kills in yet another movie. perhaps this is a good thing, i fear without a warped genius such as giger at the helm, it would kill the series dead.

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  8. I'm not big on Star Wars, but I am HUGE on Aliens. 2 and 4 tie as my favorites.

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  9. Anonymous8:36 PM

    #4 is a creative feast--Weaver perfectly updates her reprise of the Gate Keeper persona--even Winona is perfect as the hippy robot ashamed of her own technoshadow. "I burned my modem--we all did." (Those were crazy times!)

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