Alien Territory Part 4

Film

It should have died, but the studio cattle-prod had been charged and was now attempting to fire life back into a dead franchise. Ripley was definitively gone, but Sigourney Weaver was still up for the role, having moved from ingenue in tighty-whiteys to grieving mother to bald warrior-queen – how could she come back? Molten metal doesn’t leave much of a corpse.

Alien Resurrection

In 1997 the Alien franchise reappeared despite its star having been incinerated and its puma-whippet nemesis blasted to atoms using the same science your mum used when she told you not to pour cold water into a hot glass. Danny Boyle was due to direct but chose to make the dismal ‘A Life Less Ordinary’ instead. Joss Whedon tried to get the creature to Earth, but Sigourney Weaver did not care for the idea. The next plan seemed mad or desperate or both; get a non-English speaking French director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, best known for comedy, include some of his regular troupe like monster-without-makeup Ron Perlman and rubber-faced mime-annoyance Dominique Pinon, and set the story 200 years further into the future. Then perform a rite of resurrection and hope for the best.

This fourth outing for the SF franchise felt as if it had been willed into existence by money men, and perhaps because of that managed a few bravura sequences. The plotting felt over-familiar and yet tortuous, with Ripley turning up as an 8th generation clone of her original self, part human, part alien. The alien queen’s DNA and her own genetic mix were now co-mingled so that they shared a psychic link.

After two centuries you’d think that the company would have managed to weaponise the xenomorphs but apparently not. In a piece of somewhat lateral thinking they hire a handful of dim mercenaries to bring back bodies as hosts for aliens. Alarm bells went off when I checked out the mercenaries’ outfits (especially their boots) and realised that’s been kitted out in Camden Market. Nothing about them suggested the future or indeed anything more futuristic than the nineties.

And once again, because we’re on a spaceship and not another more interesting planet, the script appears to have nowhere to go but up into the ductwork. But at least the script has a few tricks up its sleeve. Ripley’s discovery of her preserved, deformed former selves is hideous and affecting, and a chase through an underwater section of the vessel with pursuing aliens is well handled, although it misses Shelley Winters. Wynona Ryder acts as our surrogate Ripley, giving Weaver someone to interact with, and a final hybrid alien-human is affectingly creepy/sad if rather puppet-like.

Throughout the various reprises of chest-bursting and chasing about, the idea of arriving on Earth is dangled before us, and was meant to take up the film’s final act. Once again we never make it there, leaving the film like a whodunnit with the last chapters missing. Whedon branded the result ‘ghastly’ and ‘unwatchable’ but in America the critical reception was weirdly kind. For me the biggest problem is that ‘Resurrection’ does not have the fatalistic, doom-drenched atmosphere of an Alien film – there are even some embarrassing  attempts at humour. A French thing. Even Frencher, perhaps, was Jeunet’s determination to feature an alien with some very disturbing genitals that were digitally removed in the final mix – that would not have happened under HR Geiger’s watch.

A special edition added 13 minutes of cut footage and was a small improvement, and the box office just about ensured that a fifth instalment could be planned. Lurking in the background was a ‘Freddy VS Jason’-style crossover project ‘Alien VS Predator’, that proved every bit as horrible as the idea sounded, yet even that spawned a sequel which at least got the alien to Earth. These two cash-cows were sidebars to the original film arc that don’t impact on it, so the path was left clear for a proper fifth instalment, which as of this month may now happen.

Meanwhile the franchise did what it always did – the unexpected. And from a writer’s point of view at least, here’s where it gets interesting.

8 comments on “Alien Territory Part 4”

  1. Colin says:

    Hi Chris, have absolutely loved this series of posts, some great insights. What were your thoughts on the two prequels?
    Thank you again, been a superb read.
    Take care

  2. admin says:

    The last part will be coming up tomorrow, Colin, and I’ll cover those.

  3. Roger says:

    “I should have known. No human being is that humane.” when Ripley discovers who is an android.

  4. SteveB says:

    As I said already I really enjoyed both the prequels so I‘m curious what Admin has to say about them now…

  5. Jan says:

    Was patchy but with good bits. Best of the later sequels before the scheduled bout with the Predator

    I quite enjoyed this film but it was sort of treading water. Nowhere to go.

  6. Anne Billson says:

    I liked Alien: Resurrection a lot more than most people, I think. It riffs on themes of pregnancy and motherhood (surrogate, cloning, replicant, abortion) even more than its predecessors. I loved the ambiguity of Weaver’s character; Brad Dourif made me laugh and – as you point out – the scenes of swimming through the flooded kitchen and the discovery of the rejected clones are haunting and effective. Over the years many people have tried to explain to me why it’s awful – unsuccessfully, because I’m still not sure why people hated it so much.

  7. admin says:

    I don’t think Jeunet could make a bad film, although ‘TS Spivet’ came close. Its biggest mismatch with all the other films comes from tone. It’s interesting to compare it to the book and film of ‘Une Longue Dimanche de Fiançailles’. The book’s tone is so much more serious, and while the film is equally so it’s playful – like the scene in which the letters read out have the background effects of where they were written.

  8. Anne Billson says:

    Ugh I’d forgotten about TS Spivet – whimsy of the worst kind (or “filmsy” as I like to call it).

    Haven’t read Japrisot’s Une Longue Dimanche de Fiançailles (I ought to) and the film may well be more playful, but I was also surprised at how angry and painful it was; the scenes at the front were truly upsetting, no playing around there.

    (I also found quite a lot of Alien: Resurrection genuinely upsetting – in a good way – and never quite understood the complaints that it was too jokey. I find Ripley’s changed character fascinating, and dead serious.)

    I also loved Une Longue Dimanche de Fiançailles’ CGI recreation of places like the original Les Halles before they were demolished to make way for that godawful shopping centre; Zola titled his book set around Les Halles Le Ventre de Paris, and tearing it down, as developers did, was as good as gutting the city. London’s Covent Garden got off lightly.

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