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Should I Watch..? 'Alien Resurrection' (1997)

Benjamin has been reviewing films online since 2004 and has seen way more action movies than he should probably admit to!

Film's poster

Film's poster

What's the Big Deal?

Alien Resurrection is an action horror film released in 1997, and it is the fourth entry in the Alien franchise. Written by Joss Whedon and directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the film is set 200 years after the events of Alien 3 and sees a clone of Ellen Ripley team up with a group of space pirates in order to escape a science vessel attempting to breed xenomorphs for their own reasons. The film stars Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Ron Perlman, Dan Hedaya, Dominique Pinon, Michael Wincott and Brad Dourif. Weaver had previously dismissed the possibility of playing Ripley for a fourth time, but she was persuaded to sign up after reading Whedon's script. The film received a fairly mixed response from critics, and the film took just $47.8 million in the US, making it the least successful film in the series at that time. Overall, the film went on to earn $161.4 million worldwide, but the film's lack of success led to the series developing a spin-off, Alien Vs Predator, which was released in 2004 and did not feature Weaver at all.

Forgettable

What's It About?

Two centuries after the events of the previous film, the USM science vessel Auriga is covertly experimenting on the xenomorph alien species as well as a genetically modified clone of Ellen Ripley. Dubbed Ripley-8, the clone is produced mixing samples of Ripley's DNA with that of an alien that not only gives her enhanced strength and reflexes but also allows her to grow an alien embryo inside her. After the alien is surgically removed by scientists, a horde of creatures are then grown on board in an attempt to learn more about them. Unfortunately, this requires human hosts and the man in charge of the operation, General Martin Perez, is reliant on a motley band of space pirates led by Frank Elgyn to acquire cryogenically frozen humans for unwitting use in their experiments.

After dropping off their latest cargo, Elgyn negotiates a brief stay on board the Auriga to rest up before heading off once again on board his ship, the Betty. Eventually, the pirates encounter Ripley-8 on board and quickly discover that she is not quite everything she seems. Pirate Annalee Call recognises Ripley's name and is curious to discover how she can be alive after so many years. But digging deep leads to a stand-off with the military forces on the Auriga and it's not long before their alien captives are once again on the loose...

Trailer

What's to Like?

By now, it's no secret that Alien Resurrection isn't exactly the classiest of affairs. However, I was surprised to find that it's not all bad - Jeunet has done a good job of making the film feel bigger than it is, filling his sets with some decent props and model work that disguises the fact that the sets themselves are pretty uninspired. Lots of dangling chains, poor lighting and random bursts of steam for no real reason - that sort of thing. Perhaps the film's biggest thing in its favour is the return of Weaver for the final time, cleverly giving the Ripley character a total makeover and making her far more interesting than sci-fi's unluckiest heroine. She has undergone a complete transformation, turning her from a frightened but determined fighter into a snarling, fearless alpha-queen. And while it may seem strange to begin with, it needed to happen in order to keep the series going.

Weaver, who's clearly having fun, is ably assisted by the ever reliable Perlman as the heavy of the group and a typically creepy Dourif as a sinister scientist who is perhaps a little too close to his subjects. Speaking of which, the aliens themselves seem to have undergone a makeover as well. They're now literally dripping in goo and seem to have far more teeth than I remember. Yes, they have now become as recognisable a movie monster as Frankenstein or Michael Myers from Halloween. But because they are (mostly) practical effects like animatronic puppets or guys in suits, they still feel real and still look good on screen. They're not as scary as they used to be, sure, but newcomers to the series might still be creeped out.

Via convoluted plot reasons, Ripley's violent personality shifts at least give Sigourney Weaver a more interesting character this time around. Small mercies, you know...

Via convoluted plot reasons, Ripley's violent personality shifts at least give Sigourney Weaver a more interesting character this time around. Small mercies, you know...

Fun Facts

  • The shot when Ripley throws a basketball into the hoop behind her was shot for real although it did take many attempts to do so. Weaver practised for three weeks just for this one scene but with a distance much shorter than that on set. After multiple failures, Jeunet tried one more time before deciding to use a second ball but Weaver suddenly hit the shot, causing Perlman to break character.
  • Ryder agreed to appear in the film before even reading the script because she wanted to appear in an Alien film alongside Weaver. But perhaps she should have - the underwater sequence marked the first time Ryder had been under water since she nearly drowned when she was 12. She suffered a severe panic attack on the first day of the shoot.
  • When Pinon's character appears from an elevator, his line was supposed to be "Who were you expecting, the Easter Bunny?" but he kept saying "Eastern Bunny" by mistake. He said it so often that the cast kept laughing and the crew had t-shirts printed. The line that was used - "Who were you expecting, Santa Claus?" - was also used in Jeunet's previous film The City Of Lost Children and was also spoken to Ron Perlman's character.
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What's Not to Like?

So where did it all go wrong? Hard to know what to start with but the most glaring issue is the miscasting of baby-faced Winona Ryder as a grizzled space pirate. Almost anyone else would have been better suited to the role as Ryder, for all her talents, never convinces us that she's a part of this universe. She is as believable in the film as the CG aliens, crudely animated and looking like a black squiggle as they swim after our heroes. It's a shame that the film is brought back down by these things as many other areas of the effects like the external shots in space depicting ships drifting through the cosmos are reminiscent of those used way back in the first film. Even those ominous eggs are improved, peeling back whenever they get close enough to a human face.

Another thing that doesn't work is the supposedly climatic reveal of a creature dubbed the Newborn which is tragically comic in appearance. By making the alien more of a human hybrid, its eyes make it look like a big dumb puppy (albeit one seven feet tall and highly capable of killing) and it's almost impossible to take seriously. Even its final moments feel unintentionally comic, a fact that undermines the overall impression of Alien Resurrection of being one missed opportunity. Fans of the series may have forgiven the nonsense storyline or the odd botched effect if the film was any good. But it isn't - instead of feeling like a new chapter, it comes across as a cynical attempt at squeezing a bit more money from a franchise in decline after the less-than-stellar Alien 3. There's a lack of quality and effort here that is sad to see as everyone involved can and has done better.

Ryder (centre) is hopelessly miscast and feels so out of place that her appearance is hard to take seriously. Why is she here?

Ryder (centre) is hopelessly miscast and feels so out of place that her appearance is hard to take seriously. Why is she here?

Should I Watch It?

A fourth film was always going to be a tough sell, especially after the weaker third film. But Alien Resurrection doesn't really belong in the same rarefied company as the first two films which are legitimate classics. It feels rushed, poorly written and badly implemented which is never good for any movie. It is hampered by poor casting choices, suspect effects and a general misunderstanding of what made the earlier films so good - there is too much action and not enough horror, a sure-fire sign that this franchise has long ran out of steam.

Great For: derailing a franchise, very undemanding action fans, suckers for anything with a xenomorph in it

Not So Great For: fans of the first two films, Jeunet's Hollywood ambitions, the squeamish, anyone who has never seen an Alien film before

What Else Should I Watch?

Before I go any further, I feel compelled to address Alien 3 which is not a bad film - it just isn't as good as either Alien or Aliens. Directed by an inexperienced David Fincher, the film is a dark and brooding thriller that sees Ripley crash onto a prison planet that naturally becomes another playground for those banana-headed beasts. Stripping back the all-guns-blazing approach of Aliens, the film goes back to basics but doesn't offer much in the way of anything new. It certainly doesn't improve on the sense of horror and foreboding that made the first Alien so good, a proper horror film that pulls no punches to revolt and unsettle its audience. Aliens still has the scares but offers a more adrenaline-fuelled experience, pitting a squad of heavily armed space marines against an entire colony as well as giving Ripley a more maternal character through her relationship with the young girl Newt. By contrast, Alien 3 feels a bit empty. I still enjoyed it though.

The series proper would go on hiatus until 2012's Prometheus, a spiritual prequel that brought Ridley Scott back to the franchise for the first time since 1979. The film's positive reception as well as a healthy box office return saw Scott have another go with 2017's Alien: Covenant which continued to link the prequels to the original series. While it doesn't do that much differently, the film is still seen as superior to the third and fourth films although it did underperform at the box office. Together with the spin-offs Alien Vs Predator and Alien Vs Predator: Requiem, it could be argued that maybe audiences are no longer intimidated by these creatures any more after so many films. If there's anything the first film should have taught us then it's that the less we see of the xenomorph, the scarier it is.

Main Cast

ActorRole

Sigourney Weaver

Ellen Ripley

Winona Ryder

Annalee Call

Ron Perlman

Ron Johner

Dominique Pinon

Dom Vriess

Michael Wincott

Frank Elgyn

Dan Hedaya

General Martin Perez

Gary Dourdan

Gary Christie

Brad Dourif

Dr Jonathan Gediman

Technical Info

DirectorJean-Pierre Jeunet

Screenplay

Joss Whedon

Running Time

109 minutes

Release Date (UK)

28th November, 1997

Rating

18

Genre

Action, Horror, Sci-Fi

© 2022 Benjamin Cox

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