Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Director Report Card: Jean-Pierre Jeunet (1997)

3. Alien: Resurrection

”Alien 3” seemed to provide a final conclusion to that series. Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, the series’ hero from the beginning, was dead. Fans who wanted more xenomorph-bashing and space marines had an entire expanded universe of comics, books, and video games to fall back on. The third one didn’t even do that well at the box office. Despite these issues, 20th Century Fox demanded a new entry in the series. A script from up-and-coming screenwriter Joss Whedon got the producers excited. Quickly afterwards, Sigourney Weaver came on-board, Ripley being resurrected. The film spiraled through multiple directors, like Danny Boyle, Peter Jackson and Bryan Singer. Eventually, French surrealist Jean-Pierre Jeunet got the gig. Considering his experience with odd sci-fi, Jeunet probably seemed like a good choice. Fans that rejected “Alien 3” mostly liked “Alien: Resurrection.” Not me. I’ve always disliked the movie, considering it the colossally dumb low-point in the long-running series.

Two hundred years after Ripley threw herself into molten lead, Earth has been abandoned as a desolate wasteland. Man now exists among the stars. In this future, the military has cloned Ripley and with her, the Queen Alien. The anti-social clone awakens on a strange ship. Once again, man underestimates the xenomorph threat. They get free and run amok. Ripley-8 must team up with a motley crew of space crooks if she wants to survive. A terrifying new secret awaits her.

Last time I saw “Alien: Resurrection,” I had a viscerally negative reaction to the film. Re-watching it as a wiser man, my reaction is less visceral but no less negative. The fourth “Alien” film has many flaws that extend from one source: It is dumb. The movie brings back Ripley in a dumb way, cloning her from two hundred year old DNA. The script completely misunderstands how cloning works. Despite not being part of her genetics, the alien queen fetus is somehow cloned with Ripley. The movie never justifies why Ripley had to be in the movie in the first place. The cloning subplot climaxes with a massively silly sequence, where Ripley-8 stumbles upon the previous seven failed clones, grotesque hybrids of human and xenomorph DNA. It’s really silly and melodramatic.

The movie’s dumbness extends to the film’s evil corporate masters. After two hundred years, the Weyland-Yutani company is gone. (An especially stupid line of dialogue cut from the theatrical version explains that they were bought by Walmart.) Despite all that time passing, the evil corporation’s single-minded motivation has not changed. The military wants to develop the xenomorphs into weapons. Really, after all this time, would they still be at this? By now, haven’t the aliens been proven to be an uncontrollable asset? Is whatever weapons that could be developed from the aliens really worth the trouble? Aside from the silliness of their plan, the military is really bad at managing the penis-headed rape demons. They escape easily, thanks to an obvious oversight, and the people on the ship are hilariously inept at containing the threat. If anyone was paying attention, none of this would have happened.

If I don’t sound enough like a bitching fanboy already, let me point out something incredibly petty about “Alien: Resurrection” that offends me. The movie needlessly junks up the classic xenomorph design. Their heads are stumpier and shorter. More bumps and ridges are superficially added to their bodies. The tail is needlessly given a paddle-like extension. The legs receive extra joints, making the aliens resemble the raptors from “Jurassic Park.” All these changes do is make one of the most original creature designs in all of horror history resembles other, less interesting monsters. The movie doesn’t even get the xenomorphs' personality correct. One scene has a vindictive alien freezing a human with some ice gas. This shows a sadistic side the coldly cunning aliens have never displayed before or since. “Alien: Resurrection” frequently sacrifices logic for this cool-for-cool-sakes style of thinking.

Say what you will about “Alien 3” but at least it gave Ripley a proper send-off. Despite this, the Fox executives believed that she was the heart of the “Alien” series. Defying all logic, Ripley had to come back to life. The solution of cloning her is lazy. Making her half-alien, dumb as that idea is, showed some potential. The resulting character, known as Ripley-8, is not that interesting. Ripley’s humanity is striped away. Instead, she only has vague memories of her previous life. (This is another example of how cloning doesn’t work.) The character is beastly, more alien then human. Her personality is rough and animistic. She has a streak of generic bad ass in her that isn’t natural or involving. Her psychic connection with the aliens is poorly explained but the only thing about her that adds any color. She is simultaneously repulsed by and sympathetic towards the aliens. Instead of playing with this, the movie mostly has her as a tough warrior. Weaver’s performance lacks any of the raw vulnerability or human will to survive shown in the last three films.

Most of the film’s supporting cast is made up of mercenaries. The characters are very broadly written and borderline cartoonish. Befitting a Joss Whedon script, they fling the occasional zinger. In short: The characters are dumb and add little to the movie. At least the movie fills their ranks with memorable character actors. Jeunet regulars Dominique Pinon and Ron Perlman are present. Pinon plays the invalid Vriess, who has a cool shotgun hidden in his wheelchair. Mostly, he cracks weird jokes and hinders the other characters’ journey. Perlman is funny, even if his character is mostly pointless. Gravel-voiced Michael Wincott plays their leader. Just based on Wincott’s slithery style, the character doesn’t seem trust-worthy. These guys have more distinct personalities then Gary Dourdan’s Christie and Kim Flower’s Sabra. I can’t remember much about either of them, aside from Christie’s obsession with guns and Sabra’s physical appeal.

That collection of characters would be enough for most films. For some reason, “Alien: Resurrection” continues to expand its cast as the movie goes on. Early on, we meet General Perez, played by the hirsute and shifty eyed Dan Hedaya. Perez has a ridiculous death scene. Dr. Wren, played by a boring J. E. Freman, tags along with the crew of mercs for a while. An obviously evil solider named Distephano, played by Raymond Cruz, appears for half the movie. His presence is not especially important and what he’ll do next is very easy to guess. Also added to the cast is Purvis, played by Leland Orser, a human chosen to incubate some aliens. Purvis is whiny and annoying, needlessly padding out the already too-large cast. The only member of the supporting cast that’s interesting is Brad Dourif as Dr. Gediman. Dourif brings the expected amount of greasy craziness to the part. After being captured by the xenomorphs, he goes totally nuts. During the end, he delivers a sweaty, ridiculous monologue in the exact same voice Dourif uses when voicing Chucky. It’s as dumb as anything else in the movie but at least Dourif is entertaining.

The writers and producers of “Alien: Resurrection” probably had the following thought: This is an “Alien” movie. So somebody has to be a robot. Winona Ryder plays Call, the android. The movie reveals this truth dramatically, even though it’s easy to guess. Ryder does okay in the part, bringing some much-needed charm and humanity to this mindless movie. More interesting is the bound that forms between Ripley and Call. The two share a few scenes together which expands on both of their personalities, the only character beats in the film that is successful. Though some have read a homoerotic subtext into their relationship, I see it differently. Call is another surrogate for Ripley’s long-dead daughter, following in Newt’s footsteps. Maybe if the movie had focused on this relationship more, and how it causes Ripley-8 to become more human, this film might have had more of a heart.

Along with androids and evil corporations, every “Alien” movie also has to add something to the creatures’ life cycle. Thus, the film introduces the Newborn, a hybrid between xenomorph and human DNA. How this creature comes to exist is dumb. Somehow, because of the share genes with Ripley, the Queen Alien develops a uterus. It gives birth to a live child. How or why this happened isn’t important. The result is the albino Newborn, a big new threat the movie can throw in at the end. As a design, the hybrid is bizarre enough to be interesting. There’s nothing especially Giger-esque about it. Yet I like the human-like eyes in its hollow sockets. The hybrid has a born-in bond with Ripley which, again, makes no sense. However, this ridiculous plot twist provides something no other “Alien” movie has: A sympathetic monster. The Newborn is a killer and a monster, possessed of the same brutal cunning as the rest of its species. Something about it is very human though. As it’s ridiculous and needlessly violent death occurs, Ripley and the audience starts to feel sorry for the beast. The creature’s existence is entirely nonsensical but at least it looks interesting and adds something to the film.

If “Alien: Resurrection” resembles any of the previous films, it’s “Aliens.” Like that sequel, it attempts to fuse the series’ action and horror attributes. In that way, it fails utterly. “Resurrection” is never scary. As an action movie, it’s strictly functions on a lizard brain level. There are dumb gags, like pop-out guns attached to wrists or someone duel-wielding on a ladder. Ripley climbs up through Michael Wincott’s dead body. Aliens are shotgunned and blasted in various colorful ways, spraying their acid blood all over the place. Some of these moments are especially mindless, like a grenade bounced into an escape pod or a chest-burster busting through someone’s head. Like many things about the film, the action scenes exist on the plain of comic book-y extremeness. They are dumb, of course, but occasionally entertaining.

How does “Alien: Resurrection” hold up as a Jean-Piere Jeunet movie? Most of Jeunet’s artistic sensibilities are buried under a thick layer of Hollywood stupidity. Occasionally, some of his trademark style shines through. The production design has a similar look to “City of Lost Children,” even if the film lacks that movie’s surreal power. Most importantly, occasionally Jeunet sneaks a memorable visual through. A xenomorph bumps its head against some glass. A body is bent in half through a hole in the floor. Blood splatters on the inside of a window. The camera zooms into a mouth, to show the chest-burster wiggling inside. My favorite is when Ripley is abducted by the xenomorphs. She rests on a floor of writhing matter, a sight Giger might've approved of. The aliens carry her to the Queen’s lair, cradling her like an infant. That’s poetic and interesting. The movie needed more of that visual energy.

In conclusion, I still dislike “Alien: Resurrection.” The script is full of so many holes. The movie lacks any sense of internal logic. The character are broad. The empty-headed and hollow-hearted story is puffed up with silly action scenes. Mostly, there’s little thematic connection to any of the previous “Alien” films. The fourth entry in the series plays like bad fan fiction. I don’t really blame Jean-Piere Jeunet, who surely suffered under harsh studio control. I partially blame Joss Whedon, as the bad script still carries many of his trademarks. Mostly, this dumb movie is the product of a dead franchise being extended pass its logical end point. “Alien: Resurrection” is an undead film, a zombie movie, and as brainless as that description implies. [Grade: D]

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