Saturday, June 02, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Alien: Resurrection (1997) *½

R, 109 min.
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Writers: Joss Whedon, Dan O’Bannon (characters), Ronald Shusett (characters)
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Dominique Pinon, Ron Perlman, Gary Dourdan, Michael Wincott, Kim Flowers, Dan Hedaya, J.E. Freeman, Raymond Cruz, Brad Dourif, Leland Orser

So, we come to “Alien: Resurrection”. It can be said for it that it doesn’t fail because it gives up and stops trying to be original. Like the three “Alien” films before it, it continues to push the bounds of the genre and of the universe in which it takes place. It also acts as proof that just because you strive to broaden a franchise, you won’t necessarily create a good product.

In yet another move to keep from repeating themselves, Fox hired another creative team for the fourth installment that was vastly different in style and content than any of the previous films. Jean-Pierre Jeunet is a French director who had previously directed the visionary films “Delicatessen” and “The City of Lost Children”. He brought along with him two of his favorite company members for the cast, Dominique Pinon and Ron Perlman. These two widely different personalities set the example for the wide range of characters that populated the script by Joss Whedon, who found success with character driven genre television series like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and now the super blockbuster “The Avengers”. I particularly like his use of Dan Hedaya and Brad Dourif in this movie, two actors who have a way of making every character they play seem as if written specifically for them.

The themes in “Resurrection” are the most complex of the bunch, involving a cloned Ellen Ripley 200 years after her death from the previous film. The mother themes of the franchise have really become convoluted, as Ripley is reborn with the gestating queen alien still in her chest. The queen is removed and set up as a reproductive machine for new aliens for the government, instead of a private corporation. Ripley and the aliens now share similar qualities because of the nature of their rebirths. The queen develops an internal reproductive system and a human alien hybrid is birthed from it. That “baby” rejects the alien mother and sees Ripley as its mother. Still Ripley must kill her “child”. It’s all so very heady for a movie franchise that has until now been able to bury its themes in an action/horror context.

Into all this walks the mercenary crew of the Betty. They are the best aspect of the movie, but they mostly serve as the fodder for the film’s killings. Winona Ryder plays the android of the group with a vastly different outlook than previous versions of this character. I don’t think her themes are explored well enough here. That’s because there are simply too many themes going on in this movie.

It’s overabundance of thematic material isn’t the central cause of the franchise demise, however. That lies squarely in the handling of the character of Ripley. I’m sure Sigourney Weaver returned because the script gave her an opportunity play a very different version of Ripley, but that’s just the problem. The Ripley here isn’t Ellen Ripley. Ripley was always the voice of reason in the previous films, the entry point for the audience to relate to the stories. Here, she’s not. She’s as much of a monster as the aliens, and the filmmakers never decide how to use her. Is she one of the aliens or one of the humans? You can’t have the voice of your story unaware of where she stands within the geography of her own character arc. That makes the audience as lost as the character.

Also the “child” beast that is birthed at the end of the movie never works as viable antagonist. It’s never given the chance to develop. In the movie “Splice” the creature is given a chance to develop for half of the film before it becomes a threat to the heroes. We see it going that way before it gets there and we hope the heroes can stop it. Here, the beast just starts killing everything but Ripley. No relationship is ever built with it and we don’t care when it’s destroyed. I don’t believe there is a way to make this franchise work if you start turning the aliens into characters. They must remain plot points only upon which the filmmakers can hang their ideas about the human characters.


Emily Caswell said...

I like the swimming aliens. I like some of the dialogue. I like Brad Dourif. That's about it. It's entertaining in the way that utter chaos and anarchy might be entertaining...if you had a couple beers first and put the first two movies completely out of your mind. Giggle along with Ripley as she jokes about her own death. It's (kinda) funny, right?

Andrew D. Wells said...