Friday, October 23, 2009

Alien Resurrection


(1997) **

[NOTE: The following was written in 1997, after my first viewing of Alien Resurrection, and sent by email to several of my friends. Since it's twelve years old, it hardly counts as a Horrorthon review; still, it might have some relevance.]

I suppose this is as good an opportunity as any to discuss the problems of "Alien Resurrection." I'm not going to get into the ways in which this movie both showcases the talents of Sigourney Weaver and conclusively reveals, via forced suspension of the usual glamorizing tricks, the complete mediocrity of Winona Ryder, an actress admired on this planet only by the editors of Harper's Bazaar. Instead I'll talk about the most glaring and insulting logical flaws, which are especially irritating in a "hard sci-fi" series like this one, which has in the past done a very good job upholding its own fairly innovative ideas.

1. How come a clone of Ripley contains a clone of the queen from "Alien3"? Clones are entire organisms grown from a single set of chromosomes via cellular mitosis. When an Alien lays its eggs in you, you own body provides warmth, shelter and maybe nutrients, but nothing is happening on the genetic level. The aliens are parasites in the conventional sense, like digger wasps; this is made clear throughout the series.

In fact, why assume the Aliens even have DNA? They have acid for blood; clearly their biology is drastically different from ours. (DNA would dissolve in acid.) John Hurt described his view into the egg (in the 1979 original) as "organic life"; e.g. carbon based, but he was only guessing, and furthermore wasn't very bright, as we discovered about ten seconds later.

2. So let's say they've retrieved the blood of both the Alien and Ripley, mixed together somehow (although I'm familiar enough with Alien3 to be certain there's no way they could). That still means sorting out the genotypes and then making Ripley and the queen. The full-grown Ripley with the embryonic alien queen in her chest is an arbitrary spatial and developmental configuration that resembles conditions at her time of death but has nothing to do with a genetic record, especially given the rather drastic margins of error revealed by Ripley 1-7.

3. At this point several people are probably saying "he's analyzing it too much; this isn't that kind of thing." But the whole point of the Alien series is that it is this kind of thing; unlike "Star Wars" or "Fifth Element" or "Starship Troopers" or "Back to the Future" (all of which are great) this series has always been real sci fi and not fantasy; there are no "force fields" or "warp speed" (see below) or any of the other hallmarks of "soft" science fiction anywhere in the series.

But let's accept the genetic conceits anyway. Now it turns out that the Alien life cycle has been altered; the hybrid produced at the end is born in a conventional fashion. No eggs any more; she gives birth to the hybrid directly, having somehow "adopted" Ripley's human birthing abilities. Fine. So where the hell did those thirteen eggs come from?

4. How did they get to Earth so fast? They got there in a couple of days at the most. This is not just scientifically impossible but narrative stupidity too; the "deep space" ambience is gone once you can get around this quickly. In Alien3, the Company got there from a remote station in about four days; it's still believable. And don't tell me that in 200 years they've invented faster than light travel because faster than light travel is impossible; see above comments.

Also, Ripley has "never been to Earth"; this violates the first movie in which the Nostromo was returning to Earth and all of them wanted to get back. (As long as I'm nitpicking, the prison planet in the last episode was Fiorina Fury 161, not "Fury 16" as referred to in this movie; didn't they even watch Alien3?)

5. Why is it 200 years later? Where's the "Company"? Wouldn't things have changed more in 200 years? 200 years ago people were walking around in pantaloons shooting Indians with muskets; today we send each other email about bad movies. In "Resurrection" things look basically the same, except more people are French. (I'm starting to sound like Anthony Lane; excuse me, Eric.) James Cameron played games with the basically 70s-liberal conceits of the first movie, which is probably the only non-military space movie ever made; the crew of a commercial tugboat encounter the alien and are nearly defeated because of their own species' capitalistic tendances. This sets in motion a series of powerful themes which were immediately abandoned in favor of Cameron's desire to film the novel "Starship Troopers" ("It's a bug hunt") which had to be a story about the marine corps. The over-criticized David Fincher returned the story, stirringly, to its anti-establishment roots, and the company role was made even more diabolical; the space-suited executives lurked over the factory floor like Clifford Odets characters. Now, in the the new movie, that whole idea's been abandoned in favor of a yarn about 200-year-old blood (minus Spielberg's amber; and the movie isn't even clever enough to have someone pull her DNA out of the smelter from the other movie, sealed into a block of copper). Suddenly there's just a big group of vaguely-defined bad guys; and all the story themes are gone. What I'm saying is that, in order to tell an "Alien" story you need its two basic components: 1. The Alien life cycle; 2. The Company (and all it stands for). This movie abandons both. (Arguably the lack of faster-than-light travel is a crucial third component, but it's debatable; at any rate it's gone now.)

Everyone should go back and rent the first three and watch them together. I think in retrospect many would agree that the end of "Alien3" is actually an elegiac and well-executed conclusion to the story. All the loose ends are tied up, all the themes are properly sounded, we hear on tape Ripley's ghost voice from the original movie, and the screen fills with the words "End Transmission." Perfect. (and anyone who says "They shouldn't have killed Newt" needs to be re-acquainted with the basic idea that horror movies and thrillers are supposed to freak us out by killing the people we like--as Joe Bob Briggs points out on TNT's "MonsterVision": "Anybody can die at any moment"--and with the incredible annoyance of actually having that little girl on-screen; few remember how bad she was. Well, any sequel that replaces Ian Holm with Paul Reiser is in serious trouble, in my opinion..)

Anyway, these are my basic complaints with what might have been a good movie if they had taken the time to think it through before they started building million-dollar sets and booting up their Silicon Graphics machines.

4 comments:

Octopunk said...

Excellent critiques all, if anything you're too easy on this movie.

I remember our mutual friend Hans talking about the Weaver/Ryder dichotemy, pointing out one scene in which they are sitting together on a bench, and the gulf of repsective talent between the two of them is so vast "it was like they were in two separate movies."

My biggest gripe about this movie was quite basic. Despite the pointless changes Jordan mentions, the setup isn't so bad when compared to how the plot is handled once the action is triggered: the aliens are out, we have to get across this big ship to our ship and get out, okay...go. And the characters proceed to walk to their destination. And on the way they stop in the lab so faux Ripley can have her lingering horror moment and then tediously torch every single bad clone, even pausing at the last one for "effect" that really doesn't happen.

Ugh. What a mess. I really like that director, too.

50PageMcGee said...

yeah, great points. it's not like there's a break from plot continuity, just from -- i'm not sure what you'd call it -- universe creation philosophy? almost like this is an Elseworlds story.

octo brings up that it's jp jeunet, who i love, at the helm. his movies tend to play out like installments from the Incredible Machine video game. at some point, a bunch of things all collapse into each other and something magical happens.

no magic here. so it's not really an Alien movie or a JP jeunet movie.

Octopunk said...

On second thought, you're not too easy on the movie except for the stuff you choose not to go into, as stated at the top.

Nice Winona dig, by the way. Can she even count on the Harper's folks these days?

50PageMcGee said...

i don't think praise is something you can shoplift.