The fourth instalment of the increasing bloated and mishandled Alien franchise was released in 1997. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Alien: Resurrection took the franchise in a drastic new direction after the critical mauling that Alien3 received and under the Frenchmen’s gaze became a much comic take on the Alien Universe. A great deal of this humour comes from a script penned by Joss Whedon, the mastermind behind the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Marvel’s super-film The Avengers.
Alien: Resurrection is set 200 years after the events in Alien3 military scientists (including a wonderfully perverse Brad Dourif) on a space station clone Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in order to be able to take the queen alien that has impregnated her and us her to produce new aliens. Having been cloned using mixed DNA of her previous self and the alien embryo, Ripley has developed some alien qualities like super-human strength and acid blood. Meanwhile a mercenary ship including crewmembers Call (Winona Ryder) and Johner (Ron Perlman) arrives on the space station to deliver captured criminals who are used to produce the new xenomorphs, but they escape while being studied and it isn’t long before the mercenaries and Ripley have to survive a vicious onslaught and escape before the creatures make it back to Earth.
Similar in style and tone to The Fifth Element or Delicatessen. Alien: Resurrection is a partial return to form for the series although it went in another completely new direction with Alien vs. Predator before Ridley Scott returned and rebooted it all again with Prometheus. There were rumours that Danny Boyle was to take over the direction before it fell to the Frenchmen, and we can but wonder at what the British helmsmen would have brought to the party. But it was Jeunet we got and the results were unusual, quite interesting if flawed.
While the setup is similar to the original film, Alien: Resurrection approaches the subject from a far more whimsical and strangely gory point of view. There are now true moments of humour in among the carnage that shift its focus away from tension. In fact Alien: Resurrection is a tough film to watch comfortably, it’s not that it’s unbelievably nail-biting, it’s more the changes in tone throughout. When there’s an opportunity for terror, Jeunet breaks the tension with a laugh, or an overly gory sequence. Just when you think you know what to expect, he pulls the rug out from under you. This works in small doses, but the lack of real fear is disconcerting in itself giving Alien: Resurrection the atmosphere of a quirky independent comedy rather than the fourth in a monster franchise.
The cast of Alien: Resurrection are in fine, if uneven form. Perlman is clearly having fun with his sociopathic, gun-toting maniac Johner. There are neat roles for Delicatessen star Dominique Pinon as Vriess a paraplegic who injects the survivors with a sense of spirit and compassion and Winona Ryder as a young woman with a dark secret (this is an Alien film so there’s only one ˜dark secret’ that anyone ever has). However the standout performer is Weaver, whose cloned half-alien, half-human hybrid is so nihilistic that she constantly jokes about hers and her new teams deaths. It’s a breath of fresh air to have someone so downbeat without being cowardly and it is this performance that informs every scene in Alien: Resurrection.
Clearly an attempt to wipe the crushing disappointment of Alien3 from the history books, Alien: Resurrection does exactly that, setting the action in an almost alternative dimension to the first three films of the franchise. It works to an extent, but Jeunet’s decidedly French, independent spirit removes tension and gripping engagement entirely. When you then add a black comic script from Joss Whedon, a creepy and amusing central performance from Weaver and a cast of misfits and seemingly bipolar characters you get a rather quirky and unusual instalment in a dying franchise.