A review of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien Resurrection.
One sentence synopsis: lots of hybrids do lots of things with lots of other hybrids
My rating: a whole vat of green acid-blood/10
Housekeeping: The film, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and written by Dan O’Bannon runs for approx. 109 minutes.
It’s not even terrible guys. The fourth installment of the Aliens franchise is one that really seems to divide the fanbase, and I can totally understand why. But, let’s face it, compared to the colossal train wreck that is Alien3, resurrection is practically Citizen Kane. Ok, maybe it’s not quite that good, but it certainly deserves credit.
Admittedly, the plot is complicated. A labyrinth of random scientific-sounding jargon. On first, and even second and third watch, I’m still not exactly certain of the details. We get hurried explanations to such questions as: How did they clone Ripley after she threw herself in a vat of molten lead? (“blood” apparently) How did the alien also manage to get cloned inside her? Why is Ripley now a bit alien and why is the alien a bit human why does it have a womb why does the biped come out like that whatisgoingonwhyamiherewhatisthemeaningoflife and so on. The answers provided never seem wholly satisfying and then as soon as we begin to ponder the countless questions presented to us at the start of the film, things move quickly on and we don’t have time to think about it any longer.
That brings me on to the fact that parts of this film are truly frantic. I understand that there is a need to create a certain kind of panic when making an Alien film, especially at that moment where the characters realise the danger they are in. But hold on to your hats audience, because that scene with all of the military personnel evacuating is truly the epitome of beserk. People who all look the same are running down corridors that all look the same and things are being shouted and there’s light and smoke and alarms and aliens and we’re suddenly bombarded with far too many elements.
However, I do commend the film for exploring an original plotline which isn’t simply running down corridors with xenomorphs following closely behind (of course there are elements of this, but they are a true staple of the franchise and would be sorely missed). The film also engages with some deeper issues of identity and motherhood, and I think these themes provide some of the most poignant moments during the film. The scene where Ripley encounters failed clones 1-7 stands out particularly. We see the horrific nature of the scientists’ botched experiments, humanoid shapes with alien features in grotesque positions and of course, the malformed but conscious No.7. Here we see a Ripley who is contemplating her very being as a clone, heartbroken at witnessing what she could have been and perhaps guilty over being the success. It’s refreshing to encounter a version of Ripley not simply hell-bent on destruction and badassery, but who is also undergoing a crisis of identity. This crisis comes also in her maternal role regarding the aliens. This element of the film does not always translate well – for instance, why is Ripley able to unflinchingly shoot one of the aliens in the head, but later cannot be torn away from visiting the nest? However, the combination of the grotesque and monstrous with soft and natural motherhood provides an interesting plot dynamic.
And so, on to character. Having been so disappointed with the Ripley portrayed in Alien3, it’s a relief that our iconic and hard-faced heroine is allowed her return in Jeunet’s film. In fact, the first thing she does is break a man’s arm, and it could not be more delightful. And she defeats a man through basketball combat, which personally, is my favourite kind.Although, especially in the first part of the film, there is some confusion as to exactly how “Ripley” this Ripley is, this is promptly forgotten later and we accept her as simply a slightly altered, blissfully more indomitable version of our protagonist.
However, the film does encounter a problem which alsooccurs in its unfortunate predecessor: unlikable characters. The main assemblage of characters which the film follows,other than her majesty Ripley, is made up of the following: several oily and harrowingly sexist space pirates (one of which has the most disproportionately gruff voice which makes it difficult to focus on anything else), a random alien-infected man who’s imminent death we are made instantly aware of and so ignore, a crazy scientist and a droid suffering an existential crisis (but who is actually quite likable at times) – all of whom can hold their breathe for a ridiculously long amount of time. As I mentioned in my last review, allowing the main bulk of your characters to be unsavoury ones is not conducive to audience engagement. In fact, at times, I was willing them to be horrifically murdered. But perhaps this was Jeunet’s goal, perhaps it was an avant-garde inversion of character norms. But also perhaps not.
Finally the xenomorphs. There is thankfully very little questionable CGI used in the film, and all in all the aliens look pretty convincing. However, the biggest leap in regards to the xenomorphs is their presentation as intelligent. Rather than simply being mindless predators with excellent hunting abilities, we see the aliens seemingly confer with one another to make an escape, turning on their own and ripping them apart in order to burn a gooey hole in the floor. That, combined with the swimming, the queen and the biped give the audience a tremendously three-dimensional exploration of the xenomorph.
And don’t even get me started on the biped. It looks terrible, yes. It looks like someone forgot it was Halloween until an hour before the party and hastily constructed something out of marshmallows. Its face resembles neither an alien nor a human but somehow it’s both. And yet my heart breaks every time it is forced out of that window. Unbelievable. Perhaps I’m just a softy but that look it gives Ripley, like it loves her and it has been betrayed, never fails to make me sympathise. The magic of Jean-Pierre Reneut everybody. Strange, not always cohesive but oddly watchable. And who can ask for anything more?