I’ve always had a soft spot for this black sheep of the Alien franchise, probably because I can never hate a movie that’s so utterly bizarre. Since I’ve re-watched Alien 3 recently I thought I might go back and bask again in its weird, awkward, misshapen glory.
The story takes place 200 years after Ellen Ripley plunged to her fiery end in Alien 3. Death itself is no barrier when military interests are involved, and so Ripley is cloned from a sample of blood taken while she was carrying the alien queen inside her. After extracting the embryo, the scientists decide to keep her alive as a curious byproduct. Ripley, who now shares DNA with her sworn enemy, is not quite the same Ripley; she possesses the superhuman reflexes and strength, acidic blood and a psychic link with the xenomorphs. She’s also rather animalistic and detached, and calmly informs her jailers that once the queen breeds, they’ll die. They of course ignore her and go on to employ the services of a group of space mercenaries, who supply the kidnapped human hosts for the alien breeding program. When the xenomorphs break out and all hell breaks loose, the mercenaries are trapped on the station and must team up with Ripley to survive.
By far, the biggest issue with Alien: Resurrection is the mismatch of writer and director. Joss Whedon wrote the quip-laden script that in some ways feels like a test run for his Firefly TV series, while the directing fell to Jean-Pierre Jeunet of Amelie and Delicatessen, whose distinctively European visual style veers towards playful and grotesque. Neither is a natural fit for the Alien universe, and together they make about as much sense as serving broccoli with chocolate sauce. Or putting lemon meringue on top of fillet mignon. As far as writer/director combos go, Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher they’re not.
On the other hand, there’s something admirable about the franchise’s willingness to take risks and try something completely new; I find it helps to regard this movie as its own thing loosely connected to the previous three films. From its gloopy opening credit sequence, Alien: Resurrection is a visually arresting, gory feast of weirdness laced with twisted humour and eccentric touches. Jeunet also populates the movie with a bunch of oddball actors like Ron Perlman, Dan Hedaya and Brad Dourif, who all add to the macabre carnival vibe. Even the film’s bad decisions, like horribly miscast Winona Ryder as Call, a member of the mercenary crew who has a secret agenda of her own, or the ridiculous xenomorph hybrid at the end, are strangely fascinating to watch.
Other than the visuals, the film’s highlights include a suspenseful underwater sequence (out of a frying pan and into the nest of xenomorph eggs!), and Sigourney Weaver’s performance as Ripley. Having previously agreed to reprise the role in Alien 3 on a condition that Ripley dies in the end, Weaver seems to relish the chance to play a very different take on her iconic character, less grounded and more comic-book superhero and looking like a fabulous statuesque Amazon in her brown leather get-up. She’s saddled with a few cringey lines, but the scene in which Ripley discovers the lab with the hideous remains of the previous attempts to clone her is genuinely powerful and affecting. And though I could never get the question what the hell is Winona Ryder doing in this movie out of my head, Ripley’s relationship with Call brings out her softer side very much like Jonesy and Newt.
I can never decide if Alien: Resurrection is misunderstood or just an entertaining bad movie, but I’m very fond of it nonetheless.