Sunday, June 27, 2010

Alien Resurrection

The future. 200 years after the events of ‘Alien 3’. Onboard American science vessel USM Auriga, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has been cloned using blood samples retrieved from Fiorina 161. The scientists, under the command of General Perez (Dan Hedaya), have surgically removed from her the embryo of the alien queen. The Ripley clone is treated as a virtual prisoner while Dr Gediman (Brad Dourif) subjects her to further study.

The alien queen is also a virtual prisoner, kept below decks, her eggs harvested for ongoing experiments. Perez has dealings with a band of mercenaries led by Elgyn (Michael Wincott); they hijack ships and kidnap crewmembers, placing them in cryogenic sleep. Perez’s scientists then expose them to facehuggers and monitor the results.

When the mercenary’s ship, the Betty, docks with the Auriga to deliver the latest payload, Call (Winona Ryder) recognises Ripley and realises Perez and co. are using her to reproduce aliens. An alien which Gediman has been trying to inculcate Pavlovian responses in escapes and the Auriga’s crew are decimated in short order. Only Dr Wren (J.E. Freeman) survives. He, Ripley and the badasses from the Betty reluctantly join forces.

Wren tells the others that the Auriga is programmed, in the event of emergency, to set course for Earth. With only a three hour window, Ripley leads the ragtag group on a mission to get back to the Betty and destroy the Auriga before the aliens can wreak even greater havoc on Earth.

‘Alien Resurrection’ is the only Jean-Pierre Jeunet film thus far in which he had no hand in the script. It was written by Joss Whedon. There’s probably a scholarly article to be written analysing how much of the aesthetic owes to Jeunet and how much to Whedon. This is not that article.

It’s certainly a Jeunet film in that its main character is marginalised. Louison in ‘Delicatessen’ and One in ‘The City of Lost Children’ were circus performers: a clown and a strongman respectively. If the Ripley of ‘Alien Resurrection’ fetched up at their circus, she’d be exhibited as a sideshow freak within a heartbeat.

I used the phrase “the Ripley of ‘Alien Resurrection’” because this is not the same Ripley of the other movies. The Ripley of ‘Alien 3’, impregnated by the alien queen and little more than an exploitable commodity in the eyes of The Company, killed herself and the thing inside her. A pretty definite ending. ‘Alien Resurrection’ spends its opening twenty minutes considering the cloning element of the plot and the dangers of Dr Wren and his colleagues’ experiments, before swiftly sidelining these considerations once an alien gets loose, the Auriga’s crew gets munched and the crew of the Betty have a very bad day.

What those opening twenty minutes leave us in no doubt about, however, is that a very different Ripley is heading up ‘Alien Resurrection’. This Ripley carries both alien and human DNA; her senses are keener, more animalistic; her strength and agility have increased. Like the aliens, her blood is acidic. Her instincts and behaviour patterns are more akin to the aliens. This, to put in bluntly, is a considerably less human Ripley.

So, if the script marks it out as a Joss Whedon film (particularly with regard to the interaction between the crew of the Betty, which comes on as a testing of the waters for ‘Firefly’ and ‘Serenity’) and the presence of Dominique Pinon and Ron Perlman – not to mention some offbeat visuals and a streak of gallows humour – as a Jean-Pierre Jeunet film, how does it fit into the overall scheme of the ‘Alien’ franchise?

The massive gap between the timelines of ‘Alien 3’ and ‘Alien Resurrection’ – at 200 years, far longer than the 57 years between ‘Alien’ and ‘Aliens’ – and the necessity of re-introducing Ripley as a product of cloning given the ending of ‘Alien 3’ mean that ‘Resurrection’ was always going to be a very different film. One of Whedon’s most memorable lines has someone opine that Weyland-Yutani was taken over by Wal-Mart! The experiments onboard the Auriga and being conducted under the auspices of the US military (US now meaning United Systems), yet before they can properly be established as the faceless bio-weaponry obsessed all-purpose villain personified by Weyland-Yutani in the earlier movies, all but one of the Auriga’s crew are killed and the focus shifts to the mercenaries.

Here, however, there is at least a connection to the earlier instalments. Tooled up, the mercenaries function similarly to the Marines in ‘Aliens’ (the no-guns aesthetic of ‘Alien 3’ is definitely not in evidence in ‘Resurrection’); their general amorality isn’t too far removed from that of the prisoners in ‘Alien 3’. That the film takes place almost entirely on a spaceship, the corridors, hatches, ducts and airlocks of which provide maximum opportunity for suspense, is evocation of the original ‘Alien’. But it’s more than just a fan-boy-friendly greatest hits package.

If ‘Alien’ is sci-fi meets stalk ‘n’ slash, ‘Aliens’ sci-fi meets war movie and ‘Alien 3’ sci-fi meets prison drama, then ‘Resurrection’ is sci-fi meets disaster movie. Just as Jeunet stages the denouement of ‘Delicatessen’ around the flooding of the apartment block and ‘The City of Lost Children’ around the imminent destruction of Krank’s aquatic hideout, thus the second half of ‘Resurrection’ with Ripley and co. battling aliens as they make their way across the waterlogged and crippled length of the Auriga has its cinematic antecedents in the likes of ‘The Poseidon Adventure’. This is nowhere more evident than in a tense extended sequence where the survivors are compelled to swim through a flooded hold only to discover that the aliens have adapted themselves to the environment.

The disaster theme is also prevalent in the cynical finale which reveals, like the punchline to a sick joke, exactly how little has been at stake during the last half of the movie. It’s the final poison-coated barb in a franchise that has delivered something different with each instalment while unceasingly putting its heroine through hell.


Bryce Wilson said...

Woof, I have to say, to revisit this one you're a braver man then I.

Still this was an excellent review, I'm almost tempted... (Flashback to the alien hybrid) naw I'm cool.

BTW here's my take on Foutaise

Neil Fulwood said...

Maybe I was drunk, maybe I was on a high of pure movie love from watching 'Delicatessen' and 'City of Lost Children' so close together, maybe I watched it late at night and my usual critical faculties were taking a little nap, but 'Alien Resurrection' didn't suck as much as I remembered first time round at the cinema (the viewing for this Jeunet retrospective marks only my second viewing of it). What I did take away from it (as you might have gathered from the perfunctory way I wrapped up the review) was a general feeling of "bleh". It's not an inordinately bad film, just a very unnecessary one.

Thanks for heads-up on your 'Foutaises' review; I'll link to it in my next post.

J.D. said...

There are a few exciting set pieces, like that underwater battle, but otherwise this is definitely not Jeunet's finest moment and felt like he made a lot of concessions. I don't think he was too crazy about the experience either as he right back to France and returned to making his own fiercely original films.

Neil Fulwood said...

It was always going to be a mistake for someone as idiosyncratic and determinedly European in his aesthetic as Jeunet to try to operate within the studio system, particularly when the project is part of a franchise and even more so when the previous instalment was so roundly drubbed.

I don't know whether he did it purely to make a film (such, apparently, was the reasoning behind 'Micmacs' after he spent two years in pre-production on the aborted 'Life of Pi' adaption) but it's definitely a weird blip in his filmography.

The Film Connoisseur said...

The one thing I didnt enjoy about this one is how Ripley isnt really Ripley, so you dont really feel like she's the same character you've known through out the years, so there is a disconnection there from the original character. She's less human, more animal like, more robotic, less emotional...I didnt enjoy that at all. You dont feel that much sympathy for her because of this.

I do enjoy the visual flare that Jeunet brings to the project. This was the first alien film to present us with CGI aliens!

Not the worst Alien film, but obviously not the best.