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Alien Resurrection, Years Later

Though it is hated by many, I love Alien: Resurrection.

It's not a perfect film, I know that. Whoever agreed to hire Jean-Pierre Jeunet to direct it must have ate a whole bag of coke before coming up with that idea. But I love it because he did, because it shows you what happens when a truly creative person is let into a franchise.

A franchise has a set of rules, unwritten or written, and the success of the franchise film or book depends on how well that the artist or artists involved can play to those rules. The Alien franchise, a science fiction horror film, works best when the aliens themselves are the threat, when they are dark and fast and terrifying. As much as I have disliked other James Cameron films, he understood that perfectly and Aliens presented an opening act that served to introduce a cast who would be dramatically and violently cut down in the centre of the film to cement the aliens as an apex threat. That lesson was laid out by Ridley Scott in Alien with the violent birth of the creature from John Hurt's chest, but Cameron really did bring that moment out in what I consider a superb way. David Fincher's Alien 3 didn't deliver on that--an alien birthed in a dog was never going to cut it, and the film is a low note, right until the end when Ripley falls into the furnace, clutching the baby alien mother.

But in Alien: Resurrection, Jeunet doesn't really give a shit about the aliens. The Joss Whedon script offers the moment wherein the mercenary crew bring in the sleeping bodies that they have stolen, but before that, in the opening scenes of the film, Jeunet has established that he is more concerned with Sigourney Weaver's recreated Ripley, a hybrid of alien and human clone work, the monster birthed out of the military's Frankensteins. In every scene, Weaver is in control, sure and violent, and wonderful to watch, but she's all the alien that Jeunet needs, and ignoring the rules of the franchise, he follows that, letting his quite considerable skill out on it. Whedon's script, which is pure franchise work, is broken--though it was always going to be, since the film never got the budget for a lot of the scenes--and it is worth taking a moment to compare the mercenary crew that appears there as a prototype for what would later become Firefly. Darker, ironic, both more ruthless and more self serving, the crew has none of the heroism that is baked into Firefly, but oh, in a different world, Michael Wincott and Dominique Pinon and Ron Perlman and Gary Dourdan and, in a role that no doubt led to River, Sigourney Weaver...

Perhaps it'll just be me who thinks that.

There is a moment in Alien Resurrection when it just goes straight into weird, where the alien mother is revealed to have a reproductive system, where the Newborn and Ripley are in tender moments, where a macabre sense of humour settles into the final deaths of the doctor, where the rules of the Alien franchise are lost, broken. You're not meant to laugh. You're not meant to find it strange, to marvel at the oddness of it--that's not how an Alien film works, that's not how the rules of the franchise, brought back in Aliens Vs Predator, are meant to exist.

But yet, I love it so.

Comments

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ashamel
May. 23rd, 2012 01:58 am (UTC)
I do not love this movie, although I agree that Ripley is generally great, and Whedon deserves more blame than people tend to apportion. I suspect they were all trying interesting things, but the mix just seems awkward.
benpeek
May. 23rd, 2012 03:14 am (UTC)
yeah, i thought weaver was great in it, really.
Keith Stevenson
May. 23rd, 2012 02:39 am (UTC)
Yeah I don't hate this movie. I liked it more than Alien 3. And I certainly liked the 'uncertainty' around the cloned Ripley. You don't really know how far to trust her and that's a nice shift given we've been rooting for her in last three movies.

As you say, there's a clear story transition in Alien 4 when Ripley falls below deck into the ailen horde. It gets weirder after that than any alien movie before. I went with it. But the ending however is pure hollywood (and quite cheesy) and I wonder how much the studio bigwigs interefered with whatever Jeunet had in mind. I know it differed from Whedon's script.

I hadn't considered the parrallels with the Serenity crew but you're absolutely right. Reynolds and co through a dark mirror. They certainly had a tightness about them as a team.
benpeek
May. 23rd, 2012 03:20 am (UTC)
from what i understood, whedon's script had a fight scene on earth, which was probably never going to cut it for the budget. and yeah, you're right, though, after all the strange of the alient nest and that macabre and funny death of the doctor with an alien through his skull, the film does go to hollywood cheese, and even ends with a kiss (though i guess hollywood would like it more if it wasn't two guys).

what i didn't realise the first time i saw it, however, was how much of CITY OF LOST CHILDREN is lurking in the tone of the film.
catsparx
May. 23rd, 2012 03:48 am (UTC)
I totally dig Alien 4. But its really bothering me that you and I agree on something.
benpeek
May. 23rd, 2012 03:51 am (UTC)
i do have an unclean feeling.
mrteufel
May. 23rd, 2012 09:14 am (UTC)
It's bothering me that I agree with you. Weaver plays an Alien-tainted Ripley magnificently. And yeah, I'd have loved to have seen the crew of Betty get their own (prequel) tv series.

Edited at 2012-05-23 09:14 am (UTC)
benpeek
May. 23rd, 2012 02:15 pm (UTC)
agreeing with me is good for your soul. it means i own it.
drasecretcampus
May. 23rd, 2012 01:06 pm (UTC)
I always assumed they needed Caro rather than Jeunet... Soemone made Delicatessen and City of Lost Children great.

Which version of Aliens do you prefer? The director's cat version is broken backed and undercuts Ripley's motivations, I feel.
benpeek
May. 23rd, 2012 02:15 pm (UTC)
the cameron film?

i like the director's cut, but to be honest, i don't think it adds much more to the flick than the original release, except perhaps explaining newt's parents a bit more, and fleshing out the mother side of ripley's character. but i could take or leave either, which is how i am generally regarding director's cuts.
angriest
May. 24th, 2012 04:15 am (UTC)
There are two bits I would keep from Aliens: Special Edition. The first is Ripley learning her daughter has died - this would have brought the motherhood themes into sharper relief, and focused the film better. I also like the brief moment before Ripley heads down to rescue Newt from the alien nest, where she and Hicks trade first names. That's just a nice character moment.
benpeek
May. 24th, 2012 04:39 am (UTC)
i thought the name part was in the original?

but yeah, i like the part about the daughter. that actually smooths out the characterisation for her and newt a lot. i do kinda wish they'd kept the scene where she hands the grenade to burke, though.
angriest
May. 24th, 2012 04:51 am (UTC)
Maybe it was. It's a nice moment, anyway.
benpeek
May. 24th, 2012 05:20 am (UTC)
yeah, it was.
angriest
May. 24th, 2012 04:26 am (UTC)
I feel very similar things to you, except I feel them about Alien 3 - particularly the assembly edit released on DVD a few years back.

Alien Resurrection frustrates me, because for the most part it feels like the first film in the series to feel like it's part of a commercial franchise - a mostly by-the-numbers plot, all the things you'd expect to see from an Alien film, some fairly dreadful dialogue, etc. It also suffers badly from a severe mismatch between the tone of the screenwriter and the tone of the director.
benpeek
May. 24th, 2012 04:40 am (UTC)
what's dif on the assembly edit?
angriest
May. 24th, 2012 04:50 am (UTC)
About 35 minutes of footage. Some changes, but mainly expansions that make you realise the plot does make sense but that the Fox editors cut the talky bits out of the original version.

Paul McGann's role (Golic) is significantly expanded, explaining why he's the third name in the credits.

Mostly it just gives the film room to breathe, and to let the viewer actually identify the different characters, which is a problem in the theatrical cut given they're almost all British and look the same.

The one change I *don't* like is that instead of the alien bursting from a live dog it bursts from a dead bull. It lacks the poetry of the theatrical edit, as the alien is born and the dog dies at the same time Newt and Hicks receive their funeral. I always liked that part.
benpeek
May. 24th, 2012 05:22 am (UTC)
hmm. that might actually explain a discussion i was having with a student the other week. he'd watched the film and we were discussing the birth, and he showed me a scene where it came from a dead cow/bull. i remember thinking, i'm sure that was a dog...
angriest
May. 24th, 2012 06:37 am (UTC)
It's more dramatically effective with a dog. Alien bursting from a yelping, traumatised dog? Dramatic. Alien bursting for a large hanging chunk of beef? Not dramatic.
benpeek
May. 24th, 2012 07:01 am (UTC)
to be honest, i loathe the dog scene. but it's simply because i dislike seeing violence against animals in films. i don't know what it is, but i'm totally one of those people who is down on films with violence against animals. i pretty much feel the same way in literature as well.

but, that said, it's entirely personal.
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