Alien Resurrection (1997)
*Alien* was a movie experience I remember more vividly than most. Arriving at the theatre at the last minute, we were forced to sit in the front row where it looked and felt like the monster's acid saliva was dripping right on us. We were appropriately terrified, grossed out and thrilled. That film was full of striking images and characters that have since become part of the science fiction movie vernacular: blue collar space travellers, the dilapidated, low-tech ship, the creepy-crawly sci-noir atmosphere, and screaming baby aliens exploding out of chests at the dinner table. *Alien* in 1979 was a cool, dark, exhilarating reaction to the wholesomeness of *Star Wars* and its space cowboy imitators, and it succeeded in carving out a place in both pop culture consciousness and the crowded wrinkles of my brain.
*Alien* also succeeds where so many movie franchises fail, with sequels that are as good as, even better than, the original. While most sequels eventually lapse into unintentional self-parody, the *Alien* movies have always featured fine writing and influential directors who leave distinctive, frequently divergent stylistic imprints on the series. Jean-Pierre Jeunet (*The City of Lost Children*) is the latest director to make his mark, with one of the most original and thoughtful of the bunch. *Alien: Resurrection*, the fourth coming of the alien, is both stylishly creepy and surprisingly poignant, a scarifying and emotionally resonant film.
Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) died in *Alien 3* (1992), sacrificing herself rather than allow the alien queen incubating inside her to live. Thanks to the endless possibilities of science fiction, she's back, 200 years later, in *Alien: Resurrection*, having been cloned by the United Systems Military. USM wants the alien fetus Ripley's clone incubates, and after eight cloning attempts, they succeed. There is, of course, a catch: during the cloning process, Ripley and the alien exchanged a bit of DNA, leaving Ripley a strangely predatory human with animal strength, blood that can melt metal, and a creepy psychic and emotional connection to the aliens.
A freighter ship, peopled by a crew of heavily armed smugglers, arrives with an illicit cargo just as scientist Gediman (the always weird and wonderful Brad Dourif) learns that the aliens he is breeding are quick to learn and difficult to tame, having picked up a few nasty traits from the genetic soup in which they were spawned. It isn't long before the aliens run amok, people are eviscerated, and Ripley and the smugglers are forced to fight their way to escape through the dark, deadly space station where metal grill walkways, with the attendant something-under-the-bed foreboding that is a hallmark of the *Alien* series, are still a prominent architectural feature (apparently ship designers are not troubled by alien infestations).
*Alien: Resurrection* revisits the maternal theme of James Cameron's *Aliens* (1986), and revisits it with a vengeance. Written by Joss Whedon (*Buffy the Vampire Slayer*), a twisted thread of freakish maternity runs throughout *Resurrection*: Ripley is surrogate mother to the alien queen, making her grandmother to all the alien spawn. Ripley wants to kill the patriarchal military figures who created both her and the aliens (the computer that controls the ship is known as "The Father"); the aliens want to kill their human progenitors, and every other biped on board, as well. It all makes for a very Greek family tragedy, as the severely dysfunctional alien clan battles to the death with the ersatz family of smugglers, Ripley caught in the middle, her loyalties divided and sorely tested. The consequences of patriarchal hubris are surprising and wrenchingly poignant: killing aliens is, for Ripley, no longer a simple matter of life or death because the line between humans and aliens has been blurred by human intervention.
Whedon's script is funny and witty, and loaded with surprising, imaginative moments of skin crawling dread, gory violence and inventive revelations about the aliens. After three movies, one might think that the ways in which aliens and humans kill each other had been exhausted, but this is apparently not so. *Alien: Resurrection* features devious, thinking aliens who plan ahead, lay traps, and, as always, unexpectedly emerge from under the floors. The cast of characters is also fresh, from the self-conscious, self-loathing auton (a rebellious robot built by other robots) to the lowlife smugglers. Particularly memorable are two *City of Lost Children* veterans: Ron Perlman, commandingly nasty as the testosteroneous, explosively capable brute Johner, and Dominique Pinon as the paralyzed Vriess. Weaver is striking, tough and fascinating as the ever-evolving Ripley. By comparison, Winona Ryder is a bit too pixie-ish as her doe-eyed nemesis-turned-compatriot -- she isn't very commanding squeaking orders at a crew of high caliber thugs.
Jeunet, with cinematographer Darius Khondji, maintains the visual obfuscation that enhances the sci-noir scariness of all *Alien* movies, but adds memorably freaky, Bosch-like images (a cloning lab scene is especially arresting). The director adds a soupcon of teasing, artful dread to the gory, gooey, deadly primordial moisture motif used effectively throughout the film. Whereas the often reviled but highly underrated *Alien 3* was extremely stylish but cold and austere, *Alien: Resurrection* is, despite the nifty stylization and slimy innards, the most emotionally charged and touching film of the series, a soulful family freakshow with a dark, broken heart.