Thursday, November 22, 2012

Alien: Resurrection

1997 **

And so a once-iconic franchise goes careening straight off the rails.

I love director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. I think he's a visual genius and both Delicatessen and Amelie would easily appear on a list of my 50 favorite movies. But the franchise's genre-jumping experiment begun by James Cameron takes an even sharper misstep this time, because the world really didn't need the French art-house Alien movie.

For exhibit A I present Dan Hedaya's crossed eyes. He's the head honcho of the Auriga, a military research spaceship on which they have successfully cloned Ripley and the Alien Queen she was carrying, using Ripley's blood samples extracted in the previous film. The clone retains some of Ripley's memories, and Dan Hedaya receives this news with his face all up in the camera and his eyes googling thusly.

"That's very nice about the clones and everything but I think I'm having a stroke..."

It's not a mystery, it's just part of Jeunet's style to find actors with dramatically contoured faces and exploit that quality, in order to invoke the ubiquitous Sad Clown of Life. That's why he keeps hiring Ron Perlman and the amazing Dominique Pinon.

Best yearbook photo ever.

Is there no place for accomplished clownishness in sci-fi horror? Perhaps I don't have the authority to say, but I will say Alien Resurrection makes a bad case for it and here's why. Jeunet might love action films but he doesn't seem to get them. The setup for this seems good enough: the Auriga is visited by the smaller ship Betty and her ragtag crew, who will team up with Clone Ripley when the Alien poop hits the fan. They do, and it does, and the movie's plot unfolds before them: traverse the vast Auriga and reach the hangar where the Betty is before everyone gets killed. Ready go.

And they start walking to their ship. Like, leisurely strolling. Captain Michael Wilcott wanders off because he sees a pretty gun on the floor. There's a long interlude while Clone Ripley gawks at the seven previous failed versions of her -- one alive in bed, the rest displayed in big tanks of fluid. She burns them all and we get individual shots of all six tanks exploding. These items plus a number of expository asides completely neutralize any sense of urgency or suspense.

The mismanagement goes even further, at one point claiming suspence and tension when there isn't any. At the end of one action scene, two guys are strapped to each other and one of them is holding them both on a ladder. He's about to lose his grip because of the added weight of an Alien hanging off the other dude's foot. So there's all this screaming and "what's gonna happen?" and "will he cut himself loose, sacrifice himself to save his comrade?" in the air, and nobody bothers to mention that the Alien's head has been blown off and there aren't any more around. So somebody can go down and help them somehow, grab the one guy's arm, shoot the Alien off the other guy's foot, whatever. Like I said, the action scene is over.

Plus Winona Ryder's in it and she's even worse than usual.

"Keep. Looking. Pissed. Off. Yay, I'm acting!"

I'm not sure where it was first decided that there was DNA swapping going on when the facehugger's victims were incubating. Like the Alien/Predator team-up, I think it originated early in the comic books and seeped into everything else. Making the Alien 3 Alien quadrupedal was fine, and I don't begrudge Resurrection for cloning the Queen from Ripley's blood or mixing some Alien DNA into Ripley to make her badass. It's the kind of bogus move that's okay when you're making the fourth movie in a series.

But the climax of this flick is a cosmic misfire, managing to insult the Venerable Order of Movie Monsters and the miracle of birth itself. With Brad Dourif screaming helpfully in the background, we watch the Alien Queen give birth human style, which to me feels like the laziest shortcut idea to a pale imitation of the psychosexual fears this franchise has fostered. And the newborn monster is quite literally the least interesting non-human player in four whole movies.

"You're a disappointment to your mother, your grandmother, and the universe's sum total of good ideas."

Earlier tonight a friend of mine was griping about the unmasking of the Space Jockey in Prometheus, and he said something that I think applies even better to Resurrection's Hybrid monster. He said "They took something iconic and un-Gigered it!" And it's true. The Hybrid is what you get when you take the Alien, give it the body posture of a drunk old homeless lady, then fill in all the interesting texture with spackle and slime. Why would anyone do that?

I've been skipping over this review and doing other ones, I guess because this movie gets my dander up. Not only do I like the director, but also it was written by this guy Joss Whedon who you may have heard of. I've read and heard rumblings that the studio messed around a bunch with his script, but I haven't delved into it because it won't make the movie better. Watching Alien: Resurrection is an annoying experience I don't plan to repeat. It teases you by looking like it will be fun and worthwhile, but then it starts slapping you with these little disappointments, and each time you're tricked into hoping it's the last because all they have to do is get back to that thing they had going at the beginning.

And then.



AC said...

cracking review. i've only seen this one once, but remember being disappointed.

Catfreeek said...

I also have only watched this once but I believe once is more than enough. Loved your review, I think you touched on every annoying thing in it.

JPX said...

God I just hated this movie starting with Winona Ryder who you only see as Winona Ryder, which takes you out of the movie immediately. I hated the Alien-hybrid nonsense, which is such a “jump the shark” moment for this once promising franchise.

“It teases you by looking like it will be fun and worthwhile, but then it starts slapping you with these little disappointments, and each time you're tricked into hoping it's the last because all they have to do is get back to that thing they had going at the beginning.”

What a wonderful and perfect way to describe Alien Resurrection. Also, you picked perfect screenshots to illustrate Jeunet's style. I had no idea that he directed Amelie, which is one of my favorite movies, but boy oh boy he has no business taking on a huge sci-fi franchise. What’s next for him, Star Wars?