Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.
Scientists on a space station create a clone of the long-dead Ellen Ripley, complete with an alien growing inside her…
The cast: Sigourney Weaver plays the scientists’ eighth attempt to clone the original Ripley. (She also climbs into a grotesque fake body for one scene as an earlier version.) The character has quite a journey, beginning as a Bambi-like simpleton and ending up as an action-movie cliché who makes postmodern quips. Weaver’s great, of course, but the film doesn’t justify the progression. Elsewhere, the cast is a mixed bag. The gang of space pirates from a ship called the Betty are writer Joss Whedon’s dry run for his later TV show Firefly. But whereas those characters were well written, brilliantly cast and endlessly enjoyable, here we get a rubbish Michael Wincott as captain Frank Elgyn and a bland Winona Ryder as Annalee Call, who’s later revealed to be an android. The other members of the crew are played by Kim Flowers (boring), Gary Dourdan (boring), Ron Perlman (fun and the only one to make much of an impression) and Dominique Pinon (terrible). The head of the space station, General Perez, is played by Dan Hedaya. Brad Dourif gives the Brad Dourif performance as one of the scientists. Leland Orser plays a man sold to the scientists so they can experiment on him and does the same kind of permanently scared stuff he did in Seven. Raymond Cruz’s character, a soldier called Distephano, is bizarrely not introduced properly and just kinda joins in the action. He’s only there for exposition, which makes you wonder why the more interesting Perez wasn’t used instead.
The best bit: An underwater sequence features our heroes being chased by swimming aliens. It’s really well staged action with an ace music cue. The tension is eked out by the very length of the scene (the characters are holding their breath for over three minutes), then we see that their escape route is actually leading them closer to alien pods…
Alternative version: A 2003 director’s cut made some minor changes. Most notably there’s a new title sequence – a long zoom out from the teeth of an insect to a huge space ship – and an extra scene at the end with Ripley and Call on earth. It seems there’s been a big war while they’ve been away.
Review: “They said the lines… mostly,” claimed Joss Whedon years after this film came out. “But they said them all wrong. And they cast it wrong. And they designed it wrong. And they scored it wrong. They did everything wrong that they could possibly do.” Watch the movie in this context and it suddenly makes more sense. Alien: Resurrection is like that scene in Raging Bull where Jake LaMotta is practising a speech – it’s written with some wit, but a steamroller delivery just flattens everything out. Whedon’s script has some funny lines, a bit of crafted banter and Western-style cadences (“She is severely fuckable, ain’t she?”). But the cast and director just aren’t able to give it life. Speaking of which, Jean-Pierre Jeunet was a really strange choice to direct a big-budget action movie. He’d just made a stylish but boring fantasy movie called The City of Lost Children, and his next film was the whimsical Amélie. He doesn’t seem a good fit for this kind of material. (Danny Boyle, Peter Jackson and Bryan Singer were all sounded out before Jeunet got the gig.) To give him his due, the action stuff in the second half is quite enjoyable and reasonably tense. But just think how much better it’d be if we cared about the characters. Alien: Resurrection’s miscast mercenaries are a poor version of the marines in Aliens. Those earlier characters didn’t ask us to like them, so therefore we did. Here, the crew of the Betty each get a moment in the spotlight yet fail to impress. As I said above, Perlman’s Johner is the best of the bunch, thanks to a performance with some attitude behind it. He also gets a good gag when he’s spooked by a tiny spider’s web. But another big problem is the aliens themselves. Ignoring the less-is-more rule, the film gives us long, lingering looks at them. Suddenly they’re robbed of their power and are just men in rubber suits. And that’s representative of the whole film. There’s no wow factor. Still more enjoyable than Alien³, though.
Six Terran growth conglomerates out of 10
Next time: ALIENS AND PREDATORS IN THE SAME FILM!