Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Spaced Out

Year: 1997
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Dominique Pinon 
Run Time: 1 hour 49 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

An Alien sequel penned by sardonic geek icon Joss Whedon and helmed by the director of Amélie! What could possibly go wrong? Answer: not as much as Alien 3, but Alien: Resurrection (the fourth entry in a franchise that had already long overstayed its welcome and has continued to do so for two more decades) trades idiosyncratic misery for completely generic fluff. But at least it’s remotely tolerable.

I’m not sure I have a thick enough carapace to survive this marathon.

In Alien: Resurrection, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is, well, resurrected. You can’t very well have an Alien movie without her so Hollywood an experimental medical facility paid her an assload of money cloned the DNA of her centuries-old corpse, and here she is. Once again, the movie fails to give half a crap about what the culture shock of waking up 200 years in the future must be like, only this time it also fails to give half a crap about Ripley’s DNA being merged with the Xenomorph’s, converting her from an avenging angel to a maternal figure with acid blood.

You couldn’t pay me to sit down and parse out the depths to how wrong this science is.

Anyway, Ripley is back and so is the Xenomorph, because this movie ain’t gonna be about her buying a timeshare on Pluto. The greedy General Perez (Dan Hedaya) has bred a baker’s dozen of the monsters for reasons nobody really cares to explain, and when things go predictably awry, the specimens escape from the custody of one Dr. Gediman (Brad Dourif, slumming it, and yes this counts as slumming it from the star of Child’s Play 3). Thus a ragtag band of space mercenaries (?) (pirates? I don’t know, they have guns) – including the morally superior (read: irritating) Call Winona Ryder) and the macho alpha dog Johner (Ron Perlman) – must reluctantly team up with Ripley to escape the ship and destroy the Xenomorphs before they reach Earth.

What a s*h*thole.

There are a dozen and a half sins that Alien: Resurrection is guilty of committing, but the largest are the atrocities performed on Ripley’s character. Their forced explanation of her return from the dead (spoilers I guess, but who really cares at this point?) robs her of any sort of personality, making her a clone with stunted feelings. If you’re paying Sigourney Weaver a truly grotesque amount of money, why script her into an emotional iron maiden? Just have her be struck by space lightning and get on with it. This is the third sequel, nobody cares.

Of course, this is a movie that displays Ripley’s newfound alien powers by having her make sweet dunks on a basketball court, so maybe character depth is a little too much to ask.

Unfortunately, there’s nobody to step up up and fill Ripley’s shoes, as hard as they’re trying to make Winona Ryder a thing. She fails as a Ripley surrogate and as a hard-edged warrior, and the only thing her character contributes is a delightfully inexplicable scene where she attempts to drink from a mug while wearing boxing gloves. The sad thing is, every other member of this overstuffed ensemble contributes even less.

This is no fault of the casting director. Ron Perlman and Brad Dourif are fabulous character actors filling the exact spaces they need to, but the script scrounges around to find anything for them to do, let alone the 35 faceless goons that are flanking them.

And love Joss Whedon though I do, this script just isn’t working. The way he tells it, his humorous dialogue was steamrolled by an overserious tone, but 1) did anybody really want Ripley trading Avengers-style quips with Hellboy? And 2) that still doesn’t excuse the ten-car pileup of syntax that attempts to pass itself off as wit.

It’s just not fun. The plot is a shambles and the action is poundingly repetitive (if I never see a squad of gun-toting astronauts tip-toeing down a metal passageway again I’ll be a happy man). It’s straight boring is what it is.

Something a film about a man-eating alien with acid blood should never be.

However, as much of a slog as it was to sit through, it has two strengths that buoy it at least above the dismal Alien 3. First, it’s surprisingly gory, resurrecting the grindhouse flair that made the original film so viscerally compelling. Second, the world-building of the franchise hits its peak here. The Alien movies have never particularly cared about exploring the technological developments that litter the world of the future, but Resurrection is full of fun little flourishes (like freeze-dried whiskey or a security door that identities people by their breath) that indicate subtle ways life has changed over the centuries.

Even if the characters are made of tissue paper, at least that paper is filled with blood and exists in a world I can find a foothold in. There’s still no justifiable reason for this film to exist, but I daresay I’ve seen far worse.

TL;DR: Alien: Resurrection is a mildly diverting but still dull and muddled sequel.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 874
Reviews In This Series
Alien (Scott, 1979)
Aliens (Cameron, 1986)
Alien 3 (Fincher, 1992)
Alien: Resurrection (Jeunet, 1997)
AvP: Alien vs. Predator (Anderson, 2004)
Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (Strause & Strause, 2007)
Prometheus (Scott, 2012)


  1. This movie came with the Quadrilogy blu-ray set (already a bad sign, right? the word's "tetralogy"), so I've owned it for almost four years without ever watching it. Yet I'll probably pay actual money to go see Alien: Covenant. Why?

    (And "freeze-dried whiskey"? Huh?)

    1. Alien: Covenant actually looks decent, so I forgive you. I've been burned by this franchise over and over again, but as much as I'm dubious about the consistency of Ridley Scott's output, he tends to make the best films in the franchise.

      Also, yeah the whiskey is weird. It comes in a bullion cube for no particular reason and it is awesome:

  2. Covenant looks... okay. I mean, I'm sure it'll be well-made. But Prometheus is *technically* well-made.