The Armchair Critic
It’s a strange place, the internet. Useful, yes, yet so filled with wonders and monstrosities one can barely fathom. One such murky corner of the web, now thankfully gone, and barely lamented, is the IMDb forums. The levels of ALL CAPS RAGE, petty insults, weird signatures and arguments made me wonder “in two thousand years, the conflicts over religion and politics will be nothing when compared to Great Special Editions War over Who Shot First – Han or Greedo?”.
Such negativity over entertainment saddens me. Like when I enjoyed Ridley Scott’s Prometheus, only to go online and be told, in no uncertain terms, that I was wrong and it was terrible. You see, before the era of keyboard warrior critics, IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes and such, there weren’t many other places to find opinions on film other than word of mouth. You had Barry Norman / Jonathan Ross, the USA had Siskel and Ebert, and Leonard Maltin, and you would probably have some guy in your local paper who was just happy to have a slightly cooler assignment than his colleagues writing about ‘real’ news.
With the dawn of the internet, easily accessible in the palm of our hands, everyone can be a critic. And it turns it out, according to many venomous online creatures, I was wrong about liking so many films. Case in point, the apparently controversial Alien Resurrection (1997). Not even going to dignify calling this one a ‘guilty pleasure’ – I loved it. Take that, angry internet people.
As a 15 year old, with my own VCR and big hand-me-down wooden TV, I was gifted my copy, with the shiny hologram cover, from a friend who worked in Our Price. I had devoured my homemade Alien Trilogy VHS – taped off the TV onto a 6hr, long-play video during UTV’s ‘Leading Ladies’ season, with the adverts all expertly cut out with the pause button, save for the occasional flash of ‘Sponsored by Lil-Lets Tampons’ – and was ready for the next instalment in my 2nd favourite Fox produced Sci-fi series.
Bringing Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) back after the admittedly harder to digest Alien3 (1992), where she did the awesome self-sacrificial swan dive, mid-Alien Queen Chest-burster birth, might have been a bit of a gimmick to guarantee star power. Did the Alien films need Ripley to continue a franchise that had been so neatly tied up with the end of part 3? Maybe not, but to me, they needed Sigourney – besides, I honestly can’t imagine liking it anywhere near as much if the original clone of Newt concept had have happened.
Anyway, after being paid “a truckload of money”, our Sigourney co-produced, and in my opinion, in a series which had passed through the hands of 3 visionary directors, she provided a great sense of continuity and belonging to this next episode of Xenomorph hijinks. Ripley was the anchor of the series, and on hindsight, it’s amusing to think that she wanted Ripley killed off to avoid involvement in an Alien Vs Predator movie, yet was happy to do this one (the $11 million definitely helped, of course).
To me, it seemed totally normal for each Alien film to have a unique stylistic vision – from the first one, Ridley Scott’s Jaws in a haunted house in space; to the second, James Cameron’s Vietnam influenced, motherhood tinged masterpiece; to the spawned from the depths of production hell third movie, David Fincher’s slightly deformed, divisive, grimy grunge-fest. Each seemed a product of their time and a late ‘90s Alien fitted in with all that. Each Alien film, like the titular creature, took on the DNA of the one who hosted it. Ripley and the Alien were the only constant in 3 (now 4) stylistically different films, each one with their own set of merits.
French director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, probably not an obvious choice, took the reins, and in a style reminiscent of Cameron’s Aliens crossbred with his slightly more obscure back catalogue (including Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children), conjured up an amber tinted, proto-steampunk vision of a universe 200 years into the future, where the 8th clone of Ripley has been created successfully on a slightly suspect military spaceship – successful in that slightly suspect military scientists are now able to separate the gestating Alien Queen, with hopes of using it as some sort of biological weapon.
The cloning isn’t entirely successful, and leaves the Aliens ever so slightly more humanoid, and Ripley (or Not-Ripley) is now a little bit Xenomorph – stronger, faster, acid-bloodier, and seemingly connected to the previously hinted-at Alien hive mind. A great twist, I thought, something different and an interesting way to play with the concept of the Xeno’s adaptable DNA, though many complained that Ripley should have stayed dead (even though this is technically not Ripley, hence Not-Ripley), that she acted weird (she is a part-Alien clone, and thus bound to be a little off) and that the Aliens didn’t look right (they did look different – even though they’d looked different for various reasons in the previous 3 anyway).
All this is explained away in the first 15 minutes, by the way. I don’t need a thesis or an Arthur C. Clarke companion novel, just a decent premise so I can see some Aliens wreck the joint. I don’t ask for much from my sci-fi action, less so when I was 15. Give me Ripley, a flamethrower and a few GODDAMMITS and I’m as happy as a baby Xenomorph in a chest cavity.
Where Alien 3 had left many casual sci-fi action fans a little disappointed – there were no guns, no witty one liners, no Bill Paxton or Michael Beihn even! – it seemed as though Jeunet wanted to turn back the clock to that Alien 3 teaser – more Aliens and more Earth and less angsty bald Englishmen – almost an apology to the casual fans, and put his own jazzy French spin on the beloved Aliens – this was LES ALIENS 2: ALIEN HARDER.
Before we had space marines. Now we have space pirates and space marines and piles of guns and gore, all whipped up in a lovely froth of 90s Extreme Comic Book Style action.
The Whedon Factor
Plus, Buffy creator Joss Whedon wrote it – even though he would go on to savage the film for ruining his original ideas, as Jeunet was allowed to alter his script to suit his vision. Perhaps Whedon’s rebuttal is responsible for some of the bad flack Resurrection receives – after all, desk-chair film critics seem to love regurgitating other peoples’ opinions they read online anyway…
Whether or not it’s due to Whedon’s knack for writing cool teams and likeable characters, Resurrection has a great ensemble cast, with Weaver sharing a double female lead with the ever-loveable Winona Ryder, and consisting almost entirely of all Hollywood’s best ‘THAT GUY’ actors – including a vicious, yet likeable Ron Perlman as Johner, the gravelly voiced, swaggering Michael Wincott as Elgyn, the eternal victim Leland Orser as the unfortunate Purviss, and a very endearing Dan Hedaya as Gen.
Perez, all lemons and hairy shoulders (watch his facial expressions during the escape pod/grenade sequence – absolute, scenery chewing, comic book face GOLD). Jeunet alumni Dominique Pinon looks the part as the wheelchair bound Vreiss, and Gary Dourdan smoulders as evil-Bob Marley, Christie, though I do tend to agree with critics that both actors are a little responsible for some of the maligned, stilted dialogue and clunky delivery of clunkier lines. Also, kudos to Kim Flowers’ fantastic bum.
In fact, many of the complaints about the film, such as occasional dodgy dialogue (Jean-Pierre Jeunet couldn’t really speak English – I somehow feel it would be slightly more forgiving watching it dubbed into French with English subtitles), I feel can be smoothed out if you think of the film as a comic book style Alien movie – for this reason, I always felt Resurrection stands somewhere near edgy 90’s CGI-fest Spawn and the hard to dislike Men In Black, all three are very ‘of their time’ movies. Bear in mind too, the 1997 success of The Fifth Element, another big budget sci-fi flick helmed by Frenchman Luc Besson, as a measure to show where sci-fi / comic book stuff was at around that time.
It’s Not All Bad
Like fellow European, Paul Verhoeven, Jean-Pierre Jeunet has a style that can be simultaneously vulgar and artistic. His handling of the now standard Alien body horror is superb – and a few of the issues such as the ethics of cloning and the old chestnut of robots vs. religion pop up, so as not to allow the movie to slide into the total vacuousness it possibly could have.
Perhaps its presumptuous of me to think that a certain French sensuousness permeates the movie – the Xenomorphs are REALLY wet, like big black escargots in garlic butter, the Facehugger glory-holes scene is sleazy and horrific, and the shots where Not-Ripley is swallowed into a living HR Giger painting and carried away by a cradling Xenomorph warrior is strangely beautiful with even a hint of eroticism (and definitely elevated by John Frizzell’s lush score – another plus point of this movie).
The scene where Ripley Number 8 sees first-hand the failed clones Number 1 through 7 is genuinely disturbing – how could anyone get their head around what she witnesses? What Alien Resurrection admittedly lacks in regard the suspense of the first Alien movie, it makes up for in the all-out shock factor of the gore and occasionally Cronenberg-like body horror, and again, that is very of its time; the late 90s were a lot more Event Horizon and Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers in regard to science fiction.
It was a different time, a time of strong fizzy sweets and Pepsi Slam bottles and MTV and Attitude Era WWF wrestling. Everything was XTREME 2 THE MAX, in the parlance of the time.
The Great White Turd
Many point to the new-born hybrid Alien climax of the film as its weakest point, and like a crap Rob Zombie movie, even I find it hard to defend. It just looks (perhaps intentionally) weird and stupid, though at least it was a practical effect and not a CGI abomination – with its flabby white moobs and puppy dog eyes, the lack of Giger or even Stan Winston really showed.
Admittedly though, in a film with many gory set pieces, laden with chunky salsa-blood kill scenes like a Friday the 13th movie, the destruction of the New-born through a crack in a window is very memorable – a real striking, gross-out moment. And at the risk of sounding extremely grim, I only recently considered that it’s messy, undignified destruction and Sigourney’s reaction called to mind the nasty issue of the pro-life debate (it was her offspring in a way, after all), with all their shock value placards and such. I’m not sure if it was intentional, but in a film with two strong female leads, directed by a presumably liberally minded Frenchman, it’s not outside the realms of possibility, and perhaps makes Resurrection all the better a feminist tinged film for it.
All in all, apart from a few missteps, I will always step up to defend Alien Resurrection – a common online occurrence in a world where people are ready to savage each other in the comments section over a spelling mistake. It is one of those films that recalls a particular time and aesthetic in the same way the previous 3 had also done so well.
Nowhere near as ground-breaking as Alien, nor as beloved as Aliens, and definitely not as challenging as Alien 3, Resurrection has a lot of merit, a great cast, an idiosyncratic style and some great direction and ideas thrown in too. More of a popcorn and beer movie than perhaps many sci-fi nerds wanted, but let’s be honest, compared to the plastic Tonka toys that were Alien Vs Predator 1 and 2, Alien Resurrection is one of those strong smelling, edgy MacFarlane action figures from the late 90s, and long may it remain so.