Our review of Alien Anthology (Blu-Ray), published November 1st, 2010, is also available.
Witness the resurrection.
After Alien3 failed to catch fire with audiences or critics, it seemed that the Alien saga was over. There was no narrative need for another sequel, as all the characters from the first two films, Ripley included, were dead, and the aliens appeared to have been conclusively eliminated; and Alien3's poor box office performance removed any financial incentive to continue the series. Alien became a derelict franchise. The disappointment surrounding the third film must have rankled with Sigourney Weaver and 20th Century Fox, however, because they came back to the well one more time, for a film that would bring the series back to life with a renewed vision and purpose: the appropriately (so they hoped) named Alien: Resurrection.
Sadly, it was anything but a resurrection. Alien: Resurrection remains probably the most-reviled film out of the entire series. But does it deserve its dim reputation? Or was it the victim of impossible hype?
Facts of the Case
It could be said of the Alien films that they're not so much chapters in a continuing storyline as different interpretations of the same basic haunted house story: foolish humans introduce monsters into their midst; monsters run amok. Lather, rinse, and repeat. Alien: Resurrection follows the Alien formula faithfully while also incorporating bits and pieces of the other films' individual spins. In that sense, it's sort of a genetic combination of all of its predecessors, an appropriate metaphor given its premise: 200 years after Ripley's sacrificial fall into a vat of molten lead in Alien3, she—and her Alien Queen "child"—have been brought back from the dead, courtesy of genetic manipulation and cloning.
Ridiculous? Sure, but no more so than any of the other films' leaps of logic. At any rate, it's as good a device as any to bring back the redoubtable Lt. Ellen Ripley, who's now sort of a "Ripley Plus," that "plus" being a dollop of alien DNA, enough to give Ripley acidic blood, enhanced strength, and the ability to take a knife through the hand the way most of us take paper cuts. The bad guys this time around aren't the long-gone Weyland-Yutani Corporation but the good old Terran armed forces, who have brought the alien back for "urban pacification" purposes, among other military applications.
The military have taken every precaution to ensure against the disasters that occurred the last three times. An army of scientists has been employed to create a completely controlled environment in which to grow and study the aliens.
What could possibly go wrong?
When Alien: Resurrection was unleashed in 1997, the response from audiences and fans of the Alien franchise was, to put it mildly, disappointed. They didn't so much reject the film as recoil from it, as if they'd accidentally touched something cold and slimy. Resurrection simply wasn't the rousing thrill ride fans had been hoping for ever since Aliens—what they got instead was just…unpleasant. A film that director Jean-Pierre Jeunet describes as "a French film made by an American studio," Resurrection is indeed distinctly European in its sensibilities (a fact that might explain its more favorable reception overseas), and plays like an arthouse film with action movie trappings. Little wonder, then, that American audiences hated it; too arty for the action crowd, too loud for the arthouse crowd, Resurrection had something to displease everybody.
As a result of its critical and financial failure, Alien: Resurrection is doomed to be remembered forever as the ugly stepsister of the Alien franchise. That's too bad, because in some ways this fourth installment is the most disturbing and thematically rich of the entire series. In retrospect, it's easy to see why Fox and co-producer Sigourney Weaver considered Jeunet the ideal director for Joss Whedon's script; not only had Jeunet proven himself a master visual stylist with Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children, but those films (as would his later Amélie) showed in Jeunet an affinity for and preoccupation with the inner workings of the human body, a sensibility that would—in theory—mesh well with Resurrection's storyline, centering as it did around biological mutation and the corruption (and evolution) of the flesh.
What Alien: Resurrection adds to the Alien series is to take the element of psychosexual horror that exists in all of the films and elevate it to an unprecedented level. If Aliens is the most phallic of the Alien films, Resurrection is the most vaginal; from the moist, pulsing eggs to the slimy "viper pit" that Ripley disappears into at a climactic point, the film is rife with orifices, labia, and mucus. The theme of motherhood in Aliens becomes, in Jeunet's vision, much more about pregnancy and birth. When you look at a newborn baby, there's delight, certainly, and joy…but there's also a certain queasy "eww" factor in the blood-streaked Winston Churchill clone that emerges from the mother's birth canal, and the ambivalent anxiety that stems from that birth canal itself, the vagina doing double-duty as an image simultaneously chaste and erotic. It's no wonder, then, that women tend to respond to Resurrection far better than men, as famously uncomfortable with the vagina as we Y-chromosome types are.
Jeunet dives headfirst into this murky Freudian stew, and emerges with what may just be the most intensely, gleefully human Alien film of all. In its exploration of the state of humanity some 300+ years in the future (which is to say, as with all science fiction, right now) through the more-human-than-human android Call, the human-alien hybrid Ripley, and the dehumanized humans who surround them, Resurrection is both a critique of the human condition and a vision of its evolutionary destiny. This being a horror film, that vision is particularly bleak; it's not saying much about humans as a species when its finest specimens turn out to be a robot and a part-alien clone.
Resurrection features some lovely moments that hold their own against anything from the previous three films. The new incarnation of Ripley is perhaps the finest yet; this Ripley is one with nothing to lose, having already lost it all, and the alien part of her DNA amps up her original self's wry sardonicism and no-nonsense toughness to a new, feral intensity that's a joy to watch. The scene in which this eighth Ripley clone confronts her malformed predecessors is heartbreaking, possibly the most emotionally intense of the whole series. Brad Dourif does his usual unbalanced nutcase routine as the twitchy scientist Gediman, and frankly, I love it more every damn time I see it. And as much as the alien-human Newborn gets harped upon, I find it incredibly creepy and, most surprisingly, sympathetic; if you don't feel the pathos in the final scene between Ripley and the childlike Newborn, you've obviously never had either a child or a puppy.
Video/Audio: Sporting a brand spanking new high-def transfer, Alien: Resurrection has never looked better. Cinematographer Darius Khondji's painterly, high-contrast visuals are a celebration of the color black, and they are extremely well represented here, with depth and texture to the shadows. With minimal grain and a practically flawless print, this disc is as visually perfect as anyone could ask, and a noticeable improvement over the previous DVD release of Resurrection, which was pretty good to begin with. Both the Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 tracks are fantastic, with crisp highs and deep lows and an active use of the surround fields. There's a lot of ambient sound in this film, and it's very well presented in both mixes. In terms of audiovisual quality, all five fans of Alien: Resurrection out there should be pleased by this deluxe presentation.
Extras: It's always a little depressing to peek into the making of process of a critical and popular failure like Alien: Resurrection. Seeing all the painstaking effort, ingenuity, and dedication that goes into the film, knowing that it'll all be essentially for naught, is absolutely heartbreaking. Fox deserves a good deal of credit for allowing the cast and crew to be as candid as they are, acknowledging the film's failure, and in at least one case—producer David Giler, whose contempt for the film is undisguised—damning the entire production.
That said, for the most part the participants in these extras tend not to dwell much (if at all—Jeunet himself remains solidly pleased with his work, and claims to have avoided all of the film's negative press) on Resurrection's flaws or bombtastic box office performance, and focus on the technical challenges and achievements of the film.
The film itself, on Disc One, is offered in both its original theatrical version and, through the magic of seamless branching, a special extended cut (don't say "director's cut"—Jeunet appears in a taped introduction to the film to emphasize that the theatrical cut is his preferred version) adding in an alternate opening and closing and a few minutes' worth of extra bits scattered throughout (most notable of these being an amusing joke at the expense of a certain Alien-like department store mega-chain). I have to agree with Jeunet—while the extra material is interesting, its doesn't add much to the film, and in fact the original opening and closing scenes are far more effective. As with the other films in the set, Resurrection's extended cut comes with a deleted footage marker to indicate the additions.
There's also an audio commentary, featuring director Jeunet, editor Hervè Schneid, alien effects creators Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr.; visual effects supervisor Pitof; conceptual artist Sylvain Despretz; and actors Ron Perlman (Johner), Dominique Pinon (Vreiss), and Leland Orser (Purvis). As commentaries go, this is a lively and informative one, with few dead spots, but it mostly repeats information from the featurettes. Some kind of indicator to let us know who's talking at any given moment would have been welcome, but it's not as confusing as some commentaries I've heard. Jeunet himself isn't the dominant voice here; on the whole, I got the feeling that he was happy enough with this film, but it wasn't exactly a personal labor of love for him. While he's not dismissive, and appears to look back on Resurrection with affection, he's far more detached from this project than he appears, say, on the Amélie commentary. The overall impression he conveys is that Alien: Resurrection was just a job for him—which may be the film's greatest flaw.
Disc Two contains the rest of Resurrection's supplements, and it's certainly much more attention than I ever expected to see lavished on what most consider the least of the Alien films. Divided into Pre-Production, Production, and Post-Production sections, each section contains featurettes and artwork/photo galleries. In addition, a special navigation feature allows the viewer to divide the features into a continuous sequence of either all featurettes, artwork, or photos. It's a neat option for those who, like myself, are more interested in live-action documentaries than photo galleries.
What emerges from this set of extras is a sense that Fox and everyone connected with this film went into it with the best of intentions. It's particularly tragic that Resurrection flopped at the box office, considering how far the studio went in trying to do something different with the franchise, seeking out a visionary like Jeunet instead of just handing the film over to some commercial hack. Whatever else you want to say about Resurrection, you have to admit that they didn't play it safe with this film. In hiring a relatively unknown (in this country) French director, who spoke nary a word of English at the time, and giving him a surprising amount of creative freedom, Fox really went out on a limb, and even if it was a gamble that ultimately didn't pay off, they deserve credit for the effort.
Easter Egg Alert: There are two Easter eggs featured on Disc Two. For the first one, go to the Navigation Options page and enter 11-26-97 (the film's American theatrical release date). The second can be found in the Post-Production section of the extras; go to the second page in that section, navigate to the Back menu item and then navigate down until an icon at the top of the screen is highlighted, then select. The second one is the one that's actually worth the effort, a little extra featurette that gives one man's amusing perspective on life in the rubber suit.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
As rich as Alien: Resurrection is in its creative vision, it never quite comes together into a coherent whole. Whatever your opinions of the first three films, each is undeniably the creation of a passionate artistic hand. Resurrection, while very much a Jeunet film in its quirky humor, preoccupation with bodily functions, and the presence of Jeunet fixtures Dominique Pinon and Ron Perlman, nevertheless feels halfhearted and oddly disconnected. The visual style is there, as is the psychosexual symbolism and vaguely erotic sense of horror that pervades every frame, but as a glance at Joss Whedon's original script shows, the film was clearly intended to convey the gung-ho team camaraderie and sense of adventure that enlivened Aliens, and those elements just aren't there in the final product. There's some funny banter between the characters, who are, individually, extremely cool, but they never jell into one of those trademark Whedon families.
As a result, there's really no one here for the audience to fully connect with and root for; even Ripley, the one connecting thread (aside from the aliens themselves) in the series, isn't the Ripley we know and love. What we end up with is a nightmarish experience that's also emotionally discordant, giving the audience little reason to overlook the film's numerous plot holes. There's a lot of feeling in this film, and it comes through in some powerful individual scenes and characters, but they come across as isolated, disconnected moments. Like the slime that covers every inch of the film, Resurrection is appropriately creepy and nasty, but it's also a little cold.
Neither as awful as its reputation suggests, nor as good as it should have been, Alien: Resurrection remains one of the more problematic films of the Alien saga. Those who were disappointed upon the film's release, however, should give Resurrection another try, now that it's free of the burden of expectation that originally doomed it.
The court finds Alien: Resurrection not guilty, on condition that it cleans up all this slime from the courtroom.
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