Friday, January 28, 2011

"Alien Resurrection" (1997/2003) - Alien Anthology, Disc 4

Starring Sigourney Weaver, Ron Perlman and Winona Ryder
Written by Joss Whedon
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Alien Anthology [Blu-ray]Sequels are often iffy prospects, and then sometimes you get a truly unnecessary sequel.  "Alien Resurrection" is just such a film.  You may recall (spoiler alert) that Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) offed herself at the end of "Alien 3" in order to destroy the alien creature gestating within her, depriving the Weyland-Yutani Corporation of its great prize.  Flash-forward two hundred years, aboard the starship Auriga, where Ripley has been cloned by scientists of the United Systems Military, and an alien queen harvested from her body.  The queen soon begins to spawn xenomorph soldiers, which are kept in a holding pen deep within the ship.

But the Ripley clone's memories begin to surface, which shocks the human scientists that grew her.  Not long after, the crew of the cargo freighter Betty arrives to deliver a cargo of human bodies in cryosleep.  The crew, consisting of Elgyn (Michael Wincott), ship's captain, as well as pilot Sabra Hillard (Kim Flowers), first mate Christie (Gary Dourdan), mercenary Johner (Ron Perlman), wheelchair-bound mechanic Vriess (Dominic Pinon), and Call (Winona Ryder) a mysterious young newcomer.  Call recognizes Ripley, and tries to kill her, but Ripley informs her that the Queen has already been harvested.  Not long after, the aliens, which are more intelligent than the human scientists realized, escape their holding pen and slaughter the crew of the Auriga, leaving only the crew of Betty and a few survivors struggling to escape.

But danger lurks from within, as well.  The Ripley clone shares some alien DNA, giving her enhanced strength and reflexes, but may also make her allegiances unpredictable.  Unfortunately, a computer protocol sets the ship's course directly for Earth, and Ripley decides she cannot allow the alien infestation to reach humanity's home, and formulates a plan to destroy the ship before it can reach Earth. 

"Alien Resurrection" is just sort of a pointless movie in the sense of, it doesn't really have much reason to exist.  Ripley's character arc had been completed (whether satisfactorily or not I leave up to you) in "Alien 3."  This fourth film feels entirely like a cash-in to generate money.  That said, it's not entirely worthless as a film.  It has several fun sequences, and Joss Whedon injects his snarky sensibilities into the script.  It's just too bad that the cast can't really jive with the words he's written, otherwise "Alien Resurrection" probably would've been a lot of fun.

Let's start with that cast for a minute.  The crew of Betty is an obvious precursor to "Firefly," Whedon's unfortunately short-lived Fox television series about a crew of ne'erdowells aboard a junky space cargo ship.  If Nathan Fillion, Adam Baldwin and company had been in place here, I have no doubt "Alien Resurrection" would be a fine popcorn entertainment film.  Instead, the cast that's been assembled seems uncomfortable with the dialogue they're given, with line readings that are all over the place.  Lines that should be delivered with sharp sarcasm are given entirely too much energy, it just comes off as awkward and strange.

So the cast doesn't really work out, what about the rest of the movie?  It's certainly well-photographed, and features some cool settings and creature designs.  The visual effects are quite good, as are the practical creatures.  One cool sequence involves the aliens laying a trap for the crew of Betty, forcing them to swim through a flooded section of the ship.  The only problem with this sequence is that it lasts an incredibly long time, far longer than I suspect most of these people could actually hold their breath. 

Still, I wonder why this movie really exists.  It doesn't really say much of anything about the Ripley character.   Indeed her entire presence feels fairly unnecessary, just like this entire film does to the franchise as a whole.  The "Alien Quadrilogy" really should be just a trilogy.  There's some decent fun to be had here, but ultimately, this is an unworthy entry.  If it had stopped here, I'd say that this is the worst film in the entire franchise.  But then we had those two awful "Alien vs Predator" films, which were just plain atrocious, so I can say with certainty that "Alien Resurrection" is better than those movies.

Joss Whedon is one of my favorite writers.  But more often than not, it seems he gets kind of screwed over by Hollywood.  "Alien Resurrection" should be a lot better than it is.  If it had been a "Firefly" movie, it'd probably be pretty friggin' awesome.  But it's not.  It's just a weak-kneed sequel that no one seems to know what to do with.

See Also
Alien 3