Steve O’Brien examines the evidence for and against the Alien film that introduced Gallic whimsy into the franchise
Prosecution: Up until 1997, the Alien series could be said to have been mostly great, with two classics and only a single misfire. But the addition of a fourth film made it a two-two draw. It diluted the magic of a once-revered film franchise and effectively killed the series for over a decade.
Defence: Are you drunk? Look, the Alien film series is fantastic because, unlike any other franchise, it reinvents itself with each film. Alien isn’t Aliens and Alien Resurrection isn’t Alien , Aliens or the massively underrated Alien3 . Like Alien3 , it’s an arthouse film in Multiplex clothing. One of the reasons Aliens is the perpetual favourite of the masses is that it’s the most classically Hollywood. As good as it is, it’s a regular action movie, whereas Alien3 and Resurrection are proudly indie in their sensibilities.
Prosecution: What? You’re telling us that the third and fourth films, which cost $50 million and $70 million respectively are arthouse films?
Defence: Screw the budgets – it’s what’s on screen that counts. Alien3 owes more to the work of Alan Clarke than it does Michael Bay, and Alien Resurrection owes more to... actually, we can’t even think of anyone. It’s a totally unique vision on screen. An idiosyncratic marriage of French and American cinema that really doesn’t look or feel like – not only any other Alien film – but any other movie we can think of!
Prosecution: What’s amazing is that it should be amazing. A Joss Whedon script with the director of the sublime Amelie behind the camera? But it doesn’t gel, and instead feels like a karaoked Terry Gilliam-like TV movie which has compiled a greatest hits sequence from previous Alien movies with some misjudged comedy dolloped on top.
Defence: But what of Resurrection ’s greatest innovation, that of bringing back Sigourney Weaver as a new alien DNA-addled Ellen Ripley? This isn’t the Ripley of the first three films, but an entirely new character - a clone tentatively finding her way around a new world and discovering her own uniqueness.
Prosecution: But we miss the old Ellen, with all her spunky humanity. This new Ripley doesn’t fuel the film in as satisfying a way. It’s difficult to emphathise with a heroine with acid for blood.
Defence: We think you just want more of the same.
Prosecution: And what of the cast? While Alien boasts Ian Holm, Aliens Lance Henricksen and Alien3 Charles Dance, who do we have in Resurrection as second banana? Winona Ryder – an actress whose woeful acting talents have never quite matched her shimmering gamine beauty.
Defence: Hmm, you sound like a fan. Ryder is great in it. Of course she’s not going to copy the performances of her predecessor androids Holm and Henricksen as robotics would have come on a quantum leap in the 200 years between the first three films and this. And anyway, Ryder is only one of a colourful list of supporting actors. It’s a menagerie of oddball and quirky types and it’s clear Jean-Pierre Jeunet was given more of a directorial free hand here than Fincher did with Alien3 .
Prosecution: But what of the CGI? The Alien films prided themselves on showing off the best of physical special effects, and then Resurrection goes and pisses over their achievements by indulging in an orgy of computer-generated aliens. Particularly in that underwater scene. I mean, what the..?!
Defence: Well, they’re good computer-generated effects. I mean, we’re not talking Escape From LA CGI here. And it’s not as if Jeunet completely shunned real models and alien suits, it’s just he added to the variety of ways you can show the aliens. What the aliens do in Alien Resurrection could not have been achieved in any other way than through a computer. And what kind of Luddite are you anyway for having a problem with CGI??
Prosecution: Okay, what about the tone of the piece? This is the campiest Alien film of the series. And it still horrifies me that I have to use the word “campy” about an Alien movie. [Shudders]
Defence: We’d gone from the horror of Alien to the action of Aliens to the grit of Alien3 , so is an overtly comic strip approach so odd, when such radicalism is the very DNA of the franchise? But yes, the broad comic strokes of the some of the characterisations (Dan Hedaya, in particular) take some getting used to, especially after the solemnity of Alien3 .
Prosecution: Okay, onto the final act. How can you possibly defend the hybrid alien? A flawed concept coupled with an embarrassing design. The alien is such a powerful icon of cinema in what we don’t know about her. She’s brilliant because she is so untouchably alien By dialing down that alienness we’re treated to something so... prosaically normal.
Defence: The hybrid is possibly the film’s most intriguing concept. You can’t go on for four films and keep refusing to shed light on this species. To think of how far we’ve come in four films, from the alien and Ripley as pursuer and pursued in the first film to the point where Ripley is the mother of the alien!
Prosecution: And what of Joss Whedon’s quote that, “It wasn't a question of doing everything differently, although they changed the ending; it was mostly a matter of doing everything wrong. They said the lines... mostly... but they said them all wrong. And they cast it wrong. And they designed it wrong. And they scored it wrong. They did everything wrong that they could possibly do.”
Defence: Does the writer HAVE to like it? I imagine Jean-Pierre Jeunet was pretty pleased with it. No, it obviously wasn’t done as Joss Whedon would have liked, but just because he’s a geek God, doesn’t necessarily mean we have to side with him. Besides, whatever else you think about the movie, you have to admit it offers up one of the greatest moments in the entire franchise – when the cloned Ripley first discovers her abandoned, twisted predecessors, and then torches them. It’s an immensely powerful scene.
Prosecution: Granted, but we’d rather the great scenes in Alien films involved the aliens. Okay, you haven’t convinced us about Resurrection , but we’ll accept it’s not Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem , and for that we can be truly grateful.
Defence: Amen to that.