Scott. Cameron. Fincher. Jeunet. The Alien franchise feels unique in the horror realm for being so director-driven; each film gifted a unique style based on the man behind the camera, yet all playing into the same story of extra-terrestrial terror. Alien, Prometheus, and even the messy Covenant are all identifiably Ridley Scott movies. Aliens expands the series into the more action-focused domain of James Cameron. The overwhelmingly depressing and grey Alien 3 is, after studio interference, at least proto-David Fincher. These three directors each offered something different yet there remained enough consistency for each film to correctly call itself ‘Alien’. The same cannot be said for Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien Resurrection.
After not watching Resurrection for several years, the problems with the film were incredibly clear when revisiting it this past week: Jeunet’s sensibilities as a director do not fit the franchise. The Joss Whedon-scribed plot, while tired and contrived, is perfectly acceptable. A cloned Ripley is revived in order to harvest the Xenomorph within her but the two have become spliced; the alien creatures run rampant on a military vessel headed to Earth; and Ripley has to team up with a Firefly-esque ragtag crew of smugglers to stop them. It’s a decent enough foundation to build a film upon. The real problems begin with Jeunet choosing to add his quirky French flourishes to the mix.
The film’s primary failing is its tone. The horror is trying to live side-by-side with Jeunet’s desire to make Resurrection goofy and funny. At every opportunity he squeezes in a cringey gag, undercutting the tension and terror long before it has a chance to be effective. When General Perez needs to access a secure room, he has to comically exhale onto a lock to confirm his identity (something Star Trek: Discovery mindbogglingly borrowed), and when that same character dies a few minutes later due to a Xenomorph biting his head, he has just enough time to pick up a piece of his brain and stare at it idiotically before collapsing.
No matter how good Whedon’s script was, it would never be enough to survive Jeunet’s (lack of) sense and sensibilities. I watched Alien Resurrection with the filmmakers’ commentary on – a much needed distraction from the film itself – and in it Jeunet claims credit for all of the film’s worst aspects with gleeful enthusiasm. The only gag I like in the film is Ron Perlman killing a Xenomorph only to immediately be scared by a little spider. The rest push the film into the realm of unintentional self-parody. Despite having a great cast, the performances match this broad tone, so at least there’s a consistency to the awfulness that Jeunet managed to convey through his on-set interpreter.
What interesting ideas are pondered by the film are completely wasted and I’m baffled by some of the good reviews the film has received. Despite its troubled production, Alien 3 is a much better film, especially the ‘Assembly Cut’. Resurrection is set a further 200 years in the future yet it never feels like it. The human antagonists here are the military rather than the private company of Weyland Yutani yet they aren’t different in any way. It might as well have been Weyland again, especially since we know their motive and the military’s intentions are never specified. The script can’t even get the name of the Alien 3 prison planet right.
Each of the previous films had a distinct look that fit the environment in which the film is set. Alien Resurrection doesn’t. The medical area of the ship, the Auriga, should be ultra-clinical but instead feels grimy. But not grimy enough to be interesting. The rest of the ship is composed of black and grey corridors that are vaguely industrial. But not industrial enough to be interesting. Visually, the film permanently exists in this bland middle ground. The Auriga may be huge but it’s also empty and we spend half the film navigating the same two redressed corridors. Quite simply, Resurrection is an ugly film with grainy visuals and a dated directing style. Also, Pitof, the man responsible for 2004’s Catwoman, supervised the visual effects, which should tell you everything you need to know.
The resurrected Ripley is, intentionally so, a very different version of the character than the one we’re used to. This is probably the film’s most fascinating element – seeing Ripley deeply connected to the Xenomorphs and literally sharing some DNA with them, turning her into an almost superhuman character. Although, sadly, it never really amounts to much. Sigourney Weaver certainly commits to the eccentricities of the cloned Ripley and the performance is… interesting to say the least. The perversely sexual nature of the Xenomorphs, an element carried over from Giger’s initial drawings, is shared by Ripley to the point where she comes across as incredibly horny all the time. The line “Who do I have to fuck to get off this boat?” comes to mind.
Despite attempting something intriguing with Ripley, Resurrection’s supporting cast are all profoundly unlikable. It’s clear the crew of the Betty are an early trial version of Whedon’s characters from Firefly but here, through a combination of writing, directing, and acting, they have absolutely no charm and just come across as annoying assholes. Their names and ultimate fates are already slipping from my memory. The only interesting character is the secret android Call, continuing the alphabetic naming convention that Covenant will mess up. Her backstory is fascinating and I want to know more about the synthetic uprising she mentions, if only because I’m convinced Alien takes place in the same universe as Blade Runner.
While the film barrels along from one lacklustre sequence to the next, there are a small number of scenes which stand out. Again, less because they’re genuinely good and more because they have potential. Ripley wandering through the cloning lab and seeing all the previous clones of herself, contorted with hideous birth defects and Xeno-spliced, before burning it all down, is probably the highlight of the film. It not only offers some fun body horror but also allows for the emotional Ripley to seem like an actual character again. There’s also a sequence featuring our ‘heroes’ being hunted underwater which stands out and actually has some tension with people coming awfully close to drowning. I only wish that sequence, and the film as a whole, focused more on horror than action.
Based on what I’ve discussed so far, you may think I’m forgetting about something in the film: THE ALIENS! Rest assured, I haven’t. I’m just pacing myself like the film itself, which at times definitely forgets about the Xenomorphs. Resurrection spends so long with the ship’s crew that when it suddenly cuts back to some alien eggs it’s quite jarring. When they do appear the Xenomorphs never feel threatening and seem very easy to kill. Early on, a character mentions how many aliens there are and I thought it was so the audience could keep track of their numbers, ticking one off a mental list every time one died so you always know how many remain. There are 20, which is a good middle ground between the single creature of Alien and Alien 3, and the army in Aliens. But it never pays off and the number is irrelevant, the film playing it as if there are an unlimited amount.
Alien Resurrection does have one saving grace however: the Xenomorphs look fantastic. Whenever they’re practical, which thankfully is most of the time, they just might be the best looking Xenomorphs in the whole franchise. As odd as it sounds, they get the gloop right. The smooth slick heads are perfect and the saliva oozes with an almost metallic shine. Even the eggs are great. Gone are the rigid plastic eggs of old and instead they bubble and shift as if the Facehugger within is moving, making it all the more disgusting and oddly satisfying. I’m trying to refrain from just listing everything but the Xenomorph nest also looks brilliant. You don’t know where the aliens end and their nest begins, with them writhing around with Ripley in the shadow of the Queen before the birth of the Newborn.
A mix between a Xenomorph and a human – Ripley being just as much it’s mother as the Alien Queen – I still don’t exactly know how I feel about the Newborn’s design. The creature infamously had both male and female genitals which had to be removed digitally once the producers saw the dailies. It’s very weird but there’s a place for weird in the Alien franchise. Hell, Prometheus is all about hybrid creatures, although it’s the tone that sets the films apart. Odd design or not, the Newborn is one of the film’s best aspects. It’s a Frankenstein Monster-type creature; a sympathetic beast who feels like a victim itself. Its black eyes actually convey emotion and there is an undeniable connection between the Newborn and Ripley. Its death cries as it is gruesomely sucked through a tiny hole in the ship’s hull are haunting. While not fully taken advantage of, I do like the Newborn’s inclusion.
Watching Alien Resurrection is a frustrating experience. There are some genuinely fascinating ideas within, whether briefly explored or just quickly hinted at. Yet, plainly, it’s a bad movie, but it’s bad in interesting, unique ways for the franchise. It doesn’t make it easier to watch but at least there’s something to discuss surrounding it. It’s not some totally vapid commercial endeavour. There is a director’s vision on display. I just strongly dislike that vision. Other than the Alien Vs Predator films, which I don’t count and try to will out of existence, Resurrection is the worst outing of the series. If the film isn’t taking itself seriously, why should I?
What are your thoughts on Alien Resurrection? Which film do you consider the worst of the franchise? Let me know in the comments and be sure to geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.