Film Reviews:

Alien Resurrection

(Jean-Pierre Jeunet, US, 1997)

In Hollywood, nothing keeps a successful character down. And so, despite being incinerated at the close of Alien3, Sigourney Weaver is back as Ripley in a bizarre fourth instalment of the space-horror franchise. Alien Resurrection makes no attempt to equal either the cold terror of Ridley Scott's Alien, or the relentless roller coaster thrills of James Cameron's Aliens. Even so, its illogical detail and tasteless imagery make it strangely unsettling viewing. Although the film is confused, trying to make sense of it is more interesting than yawning through David Fincher's dingy, downbeat Alien3.

Alien Resurrection opens two hundred years after Alien3. Following several failed attempts, the scientists on board the space ship "Auriga," finally succeed in cloning Ripley from the ashes of her immolated body. Conveniently, her memories are intact, but it proves impossible to fully separate her DNA from that of the alien she was carrying. As a result, the Ripley clone has a heightened awareness of the creatures, and some enhanced powers. These include acid blood, super strength, and an uncanny skill for basketball. The queen alien Ripley was gestating still exists separately within her, and is removed, and a number of aliens are hatched out and contained in cells. Certain that they can house train the monsters, the scientists confidently ignore Ripley's warnings of impending violent doom. Naturally, it's not long before her predictions come horribly true. The aliens contrive an ingenious escape, after which the movie quickly degenerates into a succession of scenes showing interchangeable characters walking down dark corridors, clutching large guns. A group of space truckers feature, most of whom are forgettable. Of these, Ron Perlman is vaguely irritating as the wise-cracking Johner, while Winona Ryder is badly miscast in the underwritten role of Annalee Call. There's very little meaningful interaction between Ripley and Call, but worse than that is that Ripley's dialogue is so shallow and annoying. Mostly, she delivers unfunny in-jokes, or dips into self parody for her lurid warnings about the aliens' nasty antics. Her decision to commit a 'mercy killing' using a less-than-merciful flame thrower is also unintentionally hilarious. In the small role of the scientist Gediman, Brad Dourif is by far the most memorable human presence in the movie. He gamely runs through his repertoire of twitches and intense stares, and, in the film's best scene, attempts to French kiss an alien through a sheet of glass.

Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet manages to make use of some of the dark, retro-fantastique style he brought to his earlier films Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children. His influence is at its most vivid in the finale. For this, a vaguely Frankenstein-like monster is introduced, and this misbegotten creature presides over the final scenes: a combination of nightmarish violence, and feverish silliness. Jeunet's obvious attraction to the queasy, freakish side of the Alien mythos has resulted in a film that won't please most fans of the earlier movies. Nevertheless, it is only when Alien Resurrection escapes its obligatory fan pleasing elements and finally goes over the top, that there are a few images infused with the baroque grandeur of an opium addict's daydream.

Adrian Horrocks