Alien: Resurrection (1997)

2012 Update: It’s been fifteen years since I posted these first-impressions on Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s chapter in the Alien saga. At the time, it was a disappointment. But now that the preposterous Alien v. Predator series had trivialized these creatures and reduced the imaginings of Ridley Scott, H.R. Giger, and James Cameron to juvenile video-game fare, Alien: Resurrection looks like a movie from the good old days. I might even find myself talked into watching it again. I mean, surely a movie that features Sigourney Weaver, Dominique Pinon, Ron Perlman, Dan Hedaya, Brad Dourif, and Winona Ryder is worth some Saturday night attention now and again, right?

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It’s time they quit killing the aliens, and just killed the Alien series altogether. Perhaps a director will come along with enough originality to inject new life into the idea, but will anybody care anymore?

Jean-Pierre Jeunet — he who brought us Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children — is one of the world’s most inventive directors, but even he, with his acrobatic cinematography, can’t find anything new to show us about these monsters, or the bone-headed human beings who stumble into their clutches, in Alien: Resurrection.

Alien was scary because director Ridley Scott subscribed to the Jaws school of scare-making: We didn’t see what was stalking us until the very end of the movie. Scott also understood that horror stories can be substantial, and his movie became a fascinating exploration of what makes humans different from mere beasts.

James Cameron’s sequel, Aliens, was a more conventional scare-fest, as we watched the characters get knocked off one by one. But it took us into new territory, and introduced us to characters who made us care deeply about the outcome.

Alien 3 was one of the most frustrating sequels ever made, filled with pretentious and empty religiosity, as well as killing off characters we’d come to know and love in the previous film. And now we were so well acquainted with the aliens’ ugliness that director David Fincher was challenged to try and scare us with something new. But the script he had in front of him worked too hard to disturb us, and focused far more on “gross-out” than “think about it.”

Now, there’s Alien: Resurrection, which brings back our heroine Ripley from the dead through, of course, cloning technology, and gives her a bizarre cast of sidekicks, including a brutish Ron Perlman, the stout and strange Dominique Pinon of Delicatessen, and Winona Ryder as a wide-eyed android having a faith crisis.

Even these extreme measures fail to rejuvenate the franchise. And when an experimental genetic experiment births a new alien/Ripley mutant, the result is the most ridiculous creature I’ve seen in several years of monster movies. The creature’s role in the story should kindle the same sympathies that made us care about the classic Frankenstein monster: The poor, pathetic monster, produced by the evils of humankind, wreaking havoc because it can’t help itself! But alas, this monster fails utterly to make us care. What began as the most menacing movie monster of all has evolved into a whining oaf that looks its been dipped in a vat of Cream of Wheat.

How the mighty have fallen.

Director – Jean-Pierre Jeunet; writer – Joss Whedon; director of photography – Darius Khondji; editor – Herve Schneid; production designer – Nigel Phelps; producers – Bill Badolato, Walter Hill, David Giler and Gordon Carroll. Starring – Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Winona Ryder (Annalee Call), Dominique Pinon (Vriess), Ron Perlman (Johner), Dan Hedaya (General Perez), J. E.Freeman (Wren), Brad Dourif (Gediman) and Michael Wincott (Elgyn). 20th Century Fox. 105 minutes. This film is rated R.
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