Beyond the Slimy Wall: Alien: Resurrection
By Stephanie Star Smith
September 26, 2005
We here at BOP are an eclectic group, and our tastes in movies run from the serious cinephiles to the foreign-film aficionados to niche film lovers. Thus was born the idea for this weekly column, devoted to horror films of all shapes and sizes, but concentrating on those B- and C-grade films that mainstream reviewers disdain, but are the bread-and-butter of every spook movie lover's viewing. So come with me as we venture beyond the slimy wall, uncovering the treasures - and burying the time-wasting bombs - that await those who dare to love the scare.
Yes, I'm one of the six people outside of the cast and crew and their families that you've heard tell about who liked this film.
As I've mentioned before, lowered expectations can help tremendously when viewing a film that isn't universally loved. And in the case of Alien: Resurrection, saying it wasn't universally loved is one of the great understatements of filmdom. I'm not sure if people were expecting more of a return to form after the execrable Alien3, or if they were all Alien-ed out, or if it was a bad week for films in general, but I've never met anyone else who even halfway liked the film, and the majority of critics savaged the flick when it was released in 1997.
Alien: Resurrection is set 200 years after the events of Alien3, and the first thing we learn is that, contrary to how it appeared at the end of the second sequel, the lone surviving alien wasn't obliterated along with Ellen Ripley. Which no filmgoer over the age of three believed anyway, but I digress. Traces of both the human and the alien were found, allowing scientists funded by the Army to clone Ripley, mix her DNA with the alien's and then use her as a baby alien factory for scores of chest-poppers. Except now they don't pop out of chests; in a grotesquerie of a Cesarean section, the scientists cut Ripley open and take the babies out before they rip her chest to shreds in their birthing.
Into this little alien-and-Ripley manufacturing plant - conveniently located on a spaceship, the better to keep the science-fiction portion of the horror/science-fiction hybrid going - comes an interstellar trade ship, and a crew of mercenaries who will pretty much carry anything for the right price. The "supplies" they're bringing the science ship aren't exactly legal, or even supplies. But they're also bringing something else along, something most are not aware of.
And this is where the meat of the story begins, as everyone's secrets - the mercenaries, the scientists, the Army - come out, along with the aliens, who break free of their supposedly-escape-proof confines and start doing what they do best: killing humans.
The key to enjoying Alien: Resurrection is recognizing it for what it is, and more importantly, what it's not. This isn't Alien, which was an excellent example of the Red-Shirt, Red-Shirt, Who's the Next Red-Shirt? sub-genre that was radical for its time in that it depicted aliens as something other than benevelent creatures who wanted to go home or star in our sit-coms. And this isn't Aliens, which accomplished that still-rare feat of outdoing its progenitor by being an adrenaline-rush E-ticket nearly from start to finish. But thankfully, this also isn't Alien3, either, and for those who would continue to malign Alien: Resurrection because it's not as good as the first two films, I would point out that the nadir of this franchise was most certainly Alien3, a film that was dark and violent for the sake of being dark and violent, with a lot of interesting shots that all added up to a big bunch of nothing with a nasty streak of cruelty (no, I still haven't forgiven them for killing off the doggie).
What Alien: Resurrection is is a slightly-above-average chase pic/Who's the Next Red-Shirt? combo, with interesting characters and a script full of wicked one-liners - mostly from Ripley - penned by about-to-be-wunderkind Joss Whedon on the cusp of TV immortality (Buffy was in its first season when Alien: Resurrection was released). It's a popcorn film that wants to be nothing more than a popcorn film, with a heroine who can kick ass and take names 200 years after her death.
In fact, one of the great joys of the film is its cast, who are almost universally more than up to the task of bringing the quirky characters who populate the script to life. In fact, the only off-note comes from a horribly-miscast Winona Ryder as Call, who comes off far too fragile to have lasted more than 20 seconds with the crew of mercenaries she joined in order to further her own causes.
But the real star of the film, as it should be, is Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley. Ripley 4.0 is a tough, no-nonsense chick whose fatalistic attitude and alien-provided strength belies the humanity still to be found beneath the hard exterior. And Weaver handles the film's one-liners with aplomb, giving them just the right comic reading without obviously trying to be funny. Weaver wears Ripley like a favorite pair of comfy shoes, and brings depth to a role that could easily have been phoned in by a lesser actor.
Alien: Resurrection is never going to win any awards, nor should it, for that wasn't its intent. It set out to bring the enjoyment back to the Alien franchise, and on that score, it succeeded beautifully. And if you avoided Alien: Resurrection because of the bad taste Alien3 left, you can now be cleansed of that awful memory, because Resurrection will bring back the fond memories of the franchise the first two films engendered. Plus, it's a pretty damned good film in its own right, and more than worth a look next time it comes on cable, or next time you head for your local video emporium.
I see by the shadows falling from my bust of Pallas that our time is up. Until next time, then, when we will once again venture Beyond the Slimy Wall.