(Thanks, Forever Horror!)
So, I think it was around spring 1997 and I’m sitting in a movie theater when “surprise!”, a that teaser trailer above for Alien Resurrection pops up like a chestburster. I recall some people in the theater being either not too thrilled or just plain shocked that there was another film on the way. I also recall my eyeballs didn’t pop out like they did when I saw the ALIEN³ teaser trailer six years previously, but I think my new-ish eyeglasses kept them from ending up on the floor. Actually, I was more amused than shocked by what I saw (so there!).
I saw the first ALIEN back in 1979 at age 15 (in dangerous Times Square, baby!), ALIENS was a day one view when it premiered in 1986 (there’s a funny story about screening that I’ll tell one day). The third film was, I thought, going to be the last one when it landed in 1992 and yes, I bade the franchise a fond farewell thinking it had run its course. Welly-well-well, imagine my surprise when 20th Century Fox trundled out the ALIEN name for one more installment that turned out to be less scary than the others and actually somewhat more amusing while unsettling on a few fronts in terms of the visual vibe it delivered. How the heck does that work and how the heck did I find myself bopping into a theater in November 1997 with a wry grin not expecting anything other than to be somewhat giddy partly because I knew some in the audience wouldn’t appreciate this Resurrection at all?
When you get the solid creativity of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (The City of Lost Children, Delicatessen, Amélie) to direct, working from a Joss Whedon script, you’d think the end results would ring with enough cool visual and performance elements to become a decent hit with legs. Well, according to Whedon’s hot take a few years later:
“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…”
Meh, it wasn’t THAT bad, dude. In other words, you kind of end up with a film that’s tough to like much. Well, at first. This may be especially true if you go in with high expectations the film is going back to the roller coaster ride the second film delivered. On the other hand, go in with an open mind and you’ll very likely like this a bit to a lot more than Joss did. It’s not perfect, but as with the other installments, it’s a certain director’s vision that revisits familiar territory while adding a particular style to the proceedings.
(Thanks, Media Graveyard!)
Anyway, 200 years after the last film (!), the fine folks at Weyland-Yutani have finally gotten their Alien by cloning Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) a few times and splicing her DNA with that of an Alien Queen. All this has taken place on board the USM Auriga, a military-run lab where it a number of xenomorphs are being ‘illegally’ raised and experimented on using some pretty shady means. While the other seven clones have either died or been used in assorted ghastly experiments, Ripley 8 is a fully functioning being with partial memories of her old self, some skills of note thanks to her part xenomorph side, and a rather urgent desire to escape her captors (and probably dispatch a few of the meaner ones).
Enter the Betty, a mercenary ship delivering some rather special cargo for the Auriga’s scientists. That cargo, a few humans in stasis, doesn’t faze the Betty’s crew one bit as they’re just there to deliver, get paid and jet. They end up meeting the somewhat rebellious Ripley 8 and shortly afterwards, one of the mercs, Call (Winona Ryder) takes it upon herself to attempt to kill her. That doesn’t work out so well, but by this point some of the aliens (who turn out to be somewhat fast learners) perform a prison break of sorts and it’s off to the races as the chases and body counting begins anew. To add insult to assorted grave injuries, the now crippled by aliens Auriga’s auto-pilot kicks in, directing the craft to return to Earth even as a new, creepier-looking alien hybrid enters the scene.
(Thanks, Movie Scene Provider!)
As with Jeunet’s other films (co-directed with Marc Caro), an ensemble cast and odd humor keep things quirky. Still, the film does have a few nicely bloody moments, but the tine runs more towards black comedy than out and out gore shock. While two of the mercs are handsome roguish type (Michael Wincott, Gary Dourdan) and the ladies (Ryder and Kim Flowers) sure are lovely, you get the counterbalance of Ron Perlman and Dominique Pinon (who were both in The City of Lost Children) stealing their scenes every chance they get (usually riffing off each other). Of course, Weaver gets the best scenes as she’s more or less the hardest to kill thanks to her half-alien DNA, occasional wry one-liners and some nice emotional scenes with that icky-looking new alien (who looks like a giant melted off-white candle crossed with a sad faced, long-limbed, slimy gourd). That new alien is a pretty fierce creature, but it has a soft side for its mom, let’s leave it at that.
Despite being quite entertained, I actually didn’t like the film much when I first saw it save for a few performances and the well-done visual effects, a mix of great costumes, some CG and a number of practical model effects. While more or less an extended cameo, Brad Dourif’s creep-tastic scientist gets some of the better bits in the picture as he not too successfully attempts to ‘train’ a pen full of captive aliens who eventually turn the tables on him, his fellow eggheads and a few unfortunate military men, thus setting the Auriga into its doom cruise back to earth. Okay, Dan Hedaya and J.E. Freeman also get theirs but good here, but you have to give Dourif the “Well, so much for being smart!” award.
I ended up seeing the film again in a theater, but it took a few years more to really appreciate it thanks to the Alien Quadrilogy box set. In that case, I lent the set to a friend who hadn’t seen any of the films before and it was interesting hearing his feedback on them. It made me realize (once again) that every day someone is out there watching a film for the first time and that person will very likely come up with a take that’s really interesting to hear because it makes you see it in a different (and less critique-filled) manner.
(Thanks, DarXtar Slayer!)
One thing that bugged me was the ending because it seemed as if there was supposed to be more closure instead of what was seen on screen. The special features on the disc note that the film was indeed supposed to have a few potential endings, but nothing was shot outside of what exists today. Thankfully, the Quadrilogy set had an alternate cut that added about 17 minutes of scenes (along with a few things edited down or removed) that expanded the story a bit and added an ending that was somewhat more satisfying.
Oh yes, that clip above? It’s from the Alien Resurrection game released in 2000 for the PlayStation. It was (and still is) surprisingly scary as hell. Developer Argonaut lifted elements of Valve’s excellent Half-Life in its use of cinematic camera angles for storytelling, some environmental trap damage and some of its jump scare moments. The use of sound effects and darkness also go a long way in keeping the adrenaline pumping, although you can see a few cracks in the game’s armor on a handful of occasions where the illusion is ruined by an alien you may see lying in wait if you move too quickly through some areas.
The game as supposed to ship a three years earlier to coincide with the movie, but got tied up in development hell as it went from a third-person action game to a first person shooter/horror hybrid. While initially criticized for its dual stick control layout, this is now the preferred method most console FPS and action game players prefer, so I guess it was a sort of pioneer in its own way. That said, the extreme difficulty spikes the game takes a few levels in make it something a few players won’t complete without consulting the internet for cheats.
If you’re read this far, you get a gold star AND some homework because this post is part of The Outer Space on Film Blogathon hosted by Debbie Vega over at Moon in Gemini. Your homework assignment is to go read some of the other (more) awesome posts and maybe comment on them with a quick note or even a ‘like’ to the respective bloggers because we could all use a thumb that’s not poking us in the eyeball every so often. Ow.