Alien Resurrection
Alien Resurrection poster USA, 1997.  Rated R.  109 minutes.

Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Dominique Pinon, Ron Perlman, Gary Dourdan, Michael Wincott, Kim Flowers, Dan Hedaya, J.E. Freeman, Brad Dourif, Raymond Cruz, Leland Orser
Writer: Joss Whedon
Music: John Frizzell
Cinematographer: Darius Khondji
Producers: Bill Badalato, Gordon Carroll, David Giler, Walter Hill
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Grade: B+ Review by Carlo Cavagna

A lien Resurrection may not be the best film in the Alien series, but it is unquestionably the most thematically ambitious. The first movie (Alien) featured a recurring birth motif, the second movie (Aliens) examined motherhood, and the third (Alien3) explored redemption and introduced the concept of a symbiotic relationship between Ripley and the aliens. Alien Resurrection is not content to investigate just one of these themes. Instead, it tackles all of them. Obviously, a film this ambitious is going to fall short of some of its goals. You can't fault director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (The City of Lost Children, Delicatessen) and writer Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) for trying, though. The result is an artistic and entertaining film that redeems the faults of its predecessor and breathes life into the Alien franchise. pretty ugly, isn't it?

The trickiest problem faced by Joss Whedon was how to reintroduce the character of Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), who died at the end of Alien3 when she took a dive into a pool of molten lead with a baby alien queen emerging from her stomach. The only solution, short of declaring it all a bad dream and having Ripley reappear in the shower like Bobby Ewing, was to create a clone. Clearly anything so convenient was bound to be a significant weakness in the story, and lesser writers or directors would have avoided dwelling on it. Not so in this case. In what can only be described as a stroke of inspiration, Whedon and Jeunet turn this potentially contrived premise into the central focus of their story.

At the beginning of Alien Resurrection, 200 years after the events of Alien3, we find that Ripley has been cloned by the military using DNA patterns recovered from her remains. They have done this because her DNA also includes the pattern of the baby alien queen that was gestating in her chest. The military wants the queen for weapons research, just like "the Company" did in the previous Alien movies. Sigourney Weaver and Winona RyderAfter the military's scientists extract the alien from Ripley's chest, we discover that the green-fingernailed, unusually strong Ripley is not entirely human herself.

Meanwhile, in order to provide hosts for the aliens, the military has hired mercenaries to kidnap space travelers in cryogenic sleep. One such group of mercenaries arrives shortly after Ripley's surgery, led by Elgyn (Michael Wincott). His group also includes Winona Ryder, Dominique Pinon, Ron Perlman, Gary Dourdan, and Kim Flowers. After making their macabre delivery, they are forced to delay their departure, so that when the cloned aliens break loose--as you know they will--the group is caught in the carnage. At this point, Alien Resurrection follows the well-established formula of the Alien films (monster is hungry: run from monster!), but Jeunet manages to find some new twists, such as an exciting underwater sequence. In addition, Jeunet continues to investigate Ripley's dual nature. The scene in which she discovers the results of previous cloning attempts is grotesque and poignant. We later learn that, just as Ripley is part alien, the aliens have some human DNA.
The Big Picture

Ellen Ripley has always been Sigourney Weaver's best role. Ripley was a fairly typical horror-film heroine in the first Alien movie, but with each successive film Weaver has broadened and deepened her character. As a part alien woman, Weaver injects some campiness into the role, without going over the top. The rest of the cast is commendable, with two exceptions.

First, wide-eyed waif Winona Ryder is not believable as a mercenary mechanic. Her role in the story turns out to be quite complex, and she just doesn't have the versatility or the screen presence to carry it off. Second, Dan Hedaya is a bit too much of a buffoon to be commander of a top-secret military operation. One might also note that the military in general makes some pretty dumb mistakes in how they handle the aliens, but I suppose these are unavoidable plot necessities.

Despite these faults, Alien Resurrection is a rarity--an action movie with artistic aspirations that succeeds on both levels. As usual for the Alien movies, Alien Resurrection looks sensational, too. In order to heighten contrasts, cinematographer Darius Khonji (who, incidentally, worked with Alien3 director David Fincher on Seven) added silver to the printing process, which made the dark colors richer and gave everything a metallic tinge. He also used an electric blue tint for the underwater confrontation with the aliens.

Review © March 1999 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
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