In all seriousness, Alien: Resurrection was, I thought, the lowest I could ever feel. And then they cancelled Firefly.
Joss Whedon on SYFY Wire, 2013
It’s finally here: Spring is making its way into Summer, school is out for me and all of the other kiddos, and we have finally hit a major point in the Alien franchise. After the long wait for my trembling, tired fingers to finish with finals for yet another year of college, we can fumble our way through the mid-season finale that is Alien Resurrection. The movie isn’t quite as interesting as the first, isn’t quite as fun as the second, and is not nearly as interesting of a behind-the-scenes as the third; this fourth installment finally sets the original Ripley epic to rest. From Jean-Pierre Jeunet of The City of Lost Children and Joss Whedon of Avengers fame, comes the french proof of concept for Firefly that no one asked for. Let’s dig in.
This time, the story takes place 200 years after the events of Alien 3. With Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) having sacrificed herself to destroy the xenomorph menace for good. Even when she has died and the threat is gone, the living truly can’t part with her. In a secretive military R&D installation, Ripley is cloned along with the queen xenomorph embryo that she destroyed. Scientists aboard the installation have the hopes of reproducing the monstrous creatures for use in various evil science projects. As this is going on, a crew of space smugglers boards the installation with human hosts for the military to test their new xenomorph creations on. It all goes to hell, as is expected in these movies, and the entire installation is on a crash course for Earth with monsters in tow. Ripley and the smugglers try to flee the disastrous military experiment before they become more fodder to the xenomorph creatures. This seems like old hat at this point.
Wacky Crew, Familiarity Ensues
One thing to note about this movie is the “familiar” sensation you have while watching it. If you have seen anything by the director or writer of this movie, then you get the feeling that you have watched this Alien movie in some form or another. Jean-Pierre Jeunet certainly has a visionary style for this movie that is incredibly similar to the work he was doing at the time. There are clear connections to be made visually between it and Jeunet’s 1995 film The City of Lost Children. They both have strikingly similar gritty atmospheres. The setting of Resurrection has an almost dirty and ancient-looking future tech. This movie is supposed to take place in a future we have not previously seen, yet the ship environments and technology look like they are from a past before the first film in the Alien series. Colors between both films come from a palette of murky browns and filthy greens, making the sets look gross. I liked this aspect of Resurrection because it gave more of the natural colors from the third movie (albeit I wish it was the aesthetic of a movie outside of this franchise). Jeunet also brings with him some of the same actors from the other film: Ron Perlman and Dominique Pinon, two members of smuggling crew.
Another familiar face behind the scenes in this movie is Joss Whedon, writer for the film and now acclaimed director in his own right. Based on what I’ve seen of his work, I would say that his writing for this movie is a “proof of concept” for some of his later writing and directing. He has a lot of things that are regular aspects of his films and televisions series that, once you’ve seen them, you’ll probably be able to guess it was written by Whedon. One thing from his arsenal is the eye-rolling witty banter of his characters. I actually appreciate that there is significantly less of that in this movie than in other projects he has written for. It’s something that becomes hard to deal with in movies like Avengers and shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Writing like this comes off as having every character thinking exactly like the author as apposed to the author thinking like these characters. Above all else, this Alien story feels like it was written less for its own universe, and more as an experiment in writing the universe for his big project in the 2000’s: Firefly. The way that the smugglers and military act come straight from the pages of a Firefly episode script. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s something that can become incredibly obvious when a writer likes their work so much that they copy and paste it into all their other works.
Is It “Alien”? Or Is It Just Weird?
A huge departure from the rest of the series is the absolute weirdness of this movie. When compared to the others, this is more of a re-imagining than a finale or sequel. Certain choices for dialogue and how people look at each other come off like a horror movie. Someone will say something, or an action sequence will take place, people will yell, and then bizarrely end the confrontation as if they did it out of sequence with the script. This isn’t bad though; it can actually be charming when comparing this movie to other Jeunet movies. He has a strange way of directing dialogue, which makes this reviewer suspect a pattern in his work. Fine, but here’s the problem: it is incredibly awkward in this movie. The actors who are used to being in a Jeunet movie seem much more natural than someone like Sigourney Weaver, who comes across in this movie as not all the way there (granted she is a weird genetic experiment in this movie, but she looks like it’s the first take for every one of her scenes). She acts like a wooden block compared to Ron Perlman in this movie.
The weirdness continues with the set design. Set design aesthetic was already mentioned in this review, but it is something that needs a double dip. I’m not sure why the mid-90’s went with this trend of making technology look like it’s outdated-futuristic, but it was a thing. Aesthetic like this is generally considered cyberpunk, which carry the theme of the bright future being corrupted by the politics of the present. It can look really good in instances like The Fifth Element where it is self-contained in a single weird film. But the problem I have with this aesthetic in Alien is that is doesn’t make sense for the spaceship to look like this in continuity. Space-faring people in this universe have quite sophisticated, clean technology; the space marines looked like they were the bee’s knees with all of their equipment. Maybe the actual government in the Alien universe is much less advanced than Weyland-Yutani, but I feel like that’s a stretch. At this point in universe, we have advanced by 257 years from the Nostromo incident. I’d come off as a hypocrite if I didn’t remind readers that I liked this design in Alien 3 (see review), but in that instance the design was a worn down prison colony that had been abandoned by civilization. Gross designs befit abandonment in this series, not government science installations. I would prefer the aesthetic design in this movie to be in a different universe.
Weird can work really well in this movie though. For instance, I really like the idea of cloning Ripley and that cloning process making weird mixtures of DNA between her and the Xenomorph. Cloning came with experimentation, and Ripley is the eighth subject in a series of failures. She sees these failures in the cloning process at around the mid point of the film. The visual look of some of the failure clones was gross and I loved every second of it. Another cool idea was that the androids now create their own androids. One of the movie’s main characters, played by Winona Ryder, is such a creation. She has a moment where she plugs a wire directly into her forearm and gains access to the installation’s main systems. It is a cool idea and Ryder is really good in her part. This is something that is much more ideal for the universe in its current state than the setting of a gross, broken down ship; androids becoming independent and making their own creations was circumstance given exposition while the setting was not.
Alright…we have to talk about the aliens.
We Have to Talk About the Aliens
We have to talk about the aliens. The normal xenomorphs are fine in this movie. The movie makers actually dipped their toes into the water of CG effects, and it looks decent. Xenomorphs still look slightly awkward rendered into real shots, but honestly anything in the entire universe would be better than whatever the hell the combination of effects was that they gave us in Alien 3. In some sequences, xenomorphs look a little too stiff or a little fluid when added into a scene through aftereffects. When the shot is of a hallway and an alien passes through, it looks about as bad as the American Godzilla from around the same time. The fully rendered CG environments with the xenos interacting in the environment looks better than anything of its kind in the previous films. Though being the visual effects snob that I am, I still much prefer when there are prosthetics and people in goofy costumes. Resurrection is the best thus far in combining the real and computer graphics, with the xenos looking halfway decent both ways. One of my favorite parts of these movies has become how gross the gloopy spit and slime is that comes off of the xenomorphs.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s level with each other…what the hell was that hybrid thing?
In this movie, a weird route was taken with the cloning and alien offspring ideas. While we have Ripley being a superhuman that has xeno blood in her veins, there was a decision made to have a more human looking alien offspring from the cloned queen: the newborn. In theory, this is a cool idea that could have been done. My imagination goes to something looking like it came from the classic 80’s movie The Thing: some weird half human mistake. In reality, what we got looks more along the lines of when I used to mess with the body slider customization on my old Oblivion game. It’s a strange looking creature that looks neither scary nor cool. In the behind the scenes for the monster creation, the idea was to have a nearly human looking xeno creature that seemingly had both male and female sex characteristics (for the weirdos I guess). Even before that, Joss Whedon and other visual effects people designed a less human/more bug version of the creature. I’m going to stop there because I have nothing more to say about the creature…other than it looks like one of those posts on Facebook where some professional artist recreates a drawing a small child made…except bad.
No More Weyland-Yutani
One surprise in this film is that they finally did away with the evil company that apparently controls all of space. Weyland-Yutani was a deeply important part of the plot for every movie so far, and it was a bold choice to not include them in what was to be the finale of the franchise. At least, I would say that it was bold if the Weyland-Yutani-flavored evil scientists were not in this movie as well. The problem with this company in the Alien franchise is that, despite being important, they are not very well expanded on outside of what they control. They have a military, they manufacture terraforming units (according to Burke), and they own planet-sized sexual deviancy prisons. But like the force in the Star Wars movies, Weyland-Yutani might as well be described by a fortune cookie: they can be anything that the plot needs them to be. So, when this movie comes along and tells me that there will be no more WY, but then adds in kooky scientists and military staff involved in shady stuff, then I ask, “what’s the difference?”
A government funded military seems slightly out of the themes of the movies as well. I completely understand that all the wikis and all the King’s men say that the colonial marines were part of the US military in Aliens, and that this movie’s military is the United Systems, but I don’t buy it. When I see these movies, I see that corporations have essentially annexed every form of control from governments. For God’s sake Weyland-Yutani can terraform planets, and the then United States just allowed them that control? Either the governments of the later 21st century are complete dummies, or this whole thing smells of weak backstory setup.
In any event, the government now runs the show with no Weyland-Yutani in sight, and a small piece of my star rating has fallen off because of it (not really; the company doesn’t even come close to having the same star power as Bill Paxton did in my Aliens review).
Final Verdict: 2 out of 5 (or, how many Jean-Pierre Jeunet movies I’ve seen minus one)
Up to this point, Resurrection has been the first Alien movie to be below average for me. It had wacky ideas and interesting visuals, and I would recommend it if you like Joss Whedon or Jean-Pierre Jeunet. But it is a movie that really doesn’t belong in the franchise. The new alien design was laughable, the story elements didn’t mesh well with the ones that came before, and Sigourney Weaver was probably at her lowest in the series. This fits more as a weird 90’s Fox sci-fi than it does a sequel to the already established franchise. So, if you’re looking for Alien except it’s Firefly with a touch of French cinema, then this is the wack-ass combo for you.
And now…we move on to Alien Vs. Predator…