Screenplay : Josh Whedon
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1997
Stars : Sigourney Weaver (Ellen Ripley), Winona Ryder (Annalee Call), Dominique Pinon (Vriess), Ron Perlman (Johner), Gary Dourdan (Christie), Michael Wincott (Elgyn), Dan Hedaya (Gen. Perez)
The last anyone saw of Lt. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), she was hurling herself off a bridge into a vat of molten metal with an alien bursting from her chest. The was the grand finale of "Alien 3," and it was reasonable to assume that this signaled the end of the "Alien" series.
Ripley is back, albeit a bit different, in "Alien Resurrection," the fourth installment of the $350 million science fiction franchise started almost twenty years ago in 1979 with the infamous tagline, "In space, no one can hear you scream." The original "Alien" was a clever bit of creepy sci-fi horror, and its 1986 sequel was a gut-busting military masterpiece. Everyone thought the series was dead with the third installment in 1992, not only because Ripley, the central character and heart of the films, had killed herself, but because the film itself was underrated by the critics and a flop in the theaters.
I guess you just can't keep a good woman down. "Alien Resurrection" brings Ripley back to life through the miracle of cloning 200 years after her death. A group of sneaky scientists on a military spaceship, commanded by General Perez (Dan Hedaya), manages to scrape together some of Ripley's DNA (questions pertaining to how and where it's been for the past two centuries are never answered) and, after several failed attempts, successfully clone her and, more importantly, the alien queen she was carrying inside her.
This time around, Ripley is a much different character that in her previous outings. During the cloning process, her genetics were combined with the alien's, giving them a kind of connection through shared DNA. The aliens are a little more human, and Ripley is a little more alien. This means she's stronger, faster, and almost indestructible in human terms. Instead of being the normal woman caught in extreme circumstances of "Alien," or the natural mother-figure of "Aliens," she is a nihilistic time bomb who doesn't particularly care if she lives or dies.
The movie starts to crank up the volume when a group of space pirates come on board, including Johner (Ron Perlman), Vriess (Dominique Pinon) and Analee Call (Winona Ryder). About this time the cloned aliens break free from captivity, kill most everybody on the ship, and spend the rest of the movie playing cat-and-mouse with those who are still alive. It's all pretty standard fare, nothing you haven't seen before.
However, the film is a visual and technical marvel, and for good reason. It was directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who showed a distinct flare for the bizarre and outrageous with his French films "The City of Lost Children" and "Delicatessen." The movie was photographed by his long-time collaborator Darius Khondji, who brought his unique visual style to "Seven." Khondji uses many of the same tricks here he did in "Seven," with black, inky shadows, amber hues, and flashlights cutting through the darkness like razors.
Aside from all the action, slime, and hysterical theatrics, the movie does bring up some interesting questions about the ethics of cloning, and there is one particularly disturbing sequence where Ripley happens upon the earlier seven attempts to clone her, which all resulted in grotesque alien-human mutants. It is at once horrifying and sad, and almost feels misplaced in this calculating commercial feature. Most of the script, which was penned by Josh Whedon (who also wrote "Toy Story" and "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"), tries to make good on what has worked before, with some additional and effective black humor to lighten it up.
If "Alien Resurrection" isn't particularly original, it's still fairly fun. Jeunet creates some scenes of genuine suspense, and some of the action packs a real punch. The movie begins to come unraveled near the end, when it introduces a new breed of alien that would feel more at home in "The Fly II." You can feel Jeunet is trying to leave a mark with this little ploy, but it doesn't work. Maybe he assumed he couldn't outdo the suspense of the "Alien" or the intensity of "Aliens," so he just decided to outslime both of them.
As the old saying goes, "You can't improve on a classic."
©1997 James Kendrick