Wednesday November 26, 1997
If you need to read a review to decide if you want to see "Alien Resurrection," you absolutely shouldn't be going.
The fourth film in a series that started with Ridley Scott's widely appreciated 1979 original, the current "Alien" has devolved into something that's strictly for hard-core horror junkies who can't get enough of slime, gore and repulsion.
While progress in some areas of civilization is problematic, one thing that continues to go from strength to strength is the ability of special-effects technicians to up the ante for state-of-the-art revulsion. There's an audience for this kind of stuff, as there was for public executions, and starry-eyed movie executives no doubt stand up and cheer when new levels of disgust are reached and surpassed.
The studio hero this time around is French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, whose fascination with highly stylized grotesquerie and pretentious dead-end weirdness was last on display in the unfortunate "City of Lost Children."
Working with some of the same actors and technicians from that film, Jeunet has also reteamed with cinematographer Darius Khondji. His visual style, grandly described in the press kit as "signature chiaroscuro lighting and muted colors," in practice means that "Alien Resurrection" looks as if it were shot under the sickly fluorescent lighting of a decrepit hospital emergency ward.
One reason "Alien Resurrection" places so much emphasis on the stomach-turning is that only so much can be done with these films in terms of plot. In fact Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) neatly summarizes what's to come when she says of the monster, "She'll breed, you'll die, everyone will die."
Yes, Ripley is back, more or less. Dead herself for 200 years, she's been cloned from a drop of her blood (ain't technology grand?), returned to life by screenwriter Joss Whedon with one of those unspeakable aliens growing inside of her.
All this takes place on the Auriga, a renegade space laboratory under the command of Gen. Perez (Dan Hedaya at his most Nixonian). Having missed the previous films, the general's noxious minions are under the illusion that the aliens can be made practical use of. "The potential for this species," one of them smugly says, "goes way beyond urban pacification." You don't say.
Though she's done this three times before, Weaver is actually the best thing in the new "Alien." Playing someone dead seems to have liberated the actress in unexpected ways, and her Ripley, fortified with superhuman strength and skills this time around, has enough confidence and panache to amuse and entertain.
The film's other big name is Winona Ryder, who plays Annalee Call, a crew member on the tramp freighter the Betty that brings food for the aliens. (No, they don't care for Alpo.) Attracted to the role apparently because she's a serious sci-fi fan, Ryder, whose naturalness is her strength, mostly looks lost in the film's overstylized environment.
To the surprise of no one in the audience, the creatures waste little time in finding a way to get loose. This forces the Betty's crew to huff and puff their way from one end of the spaceship to the other a mere step ahead of beasts who drip acidic slime and chomp on everyone in sight. There's even an underwater chase, inspired perhaps by old Esther Williams movies but nowhere near as charming.
Given that Ripley is the world's leading authority on these monsters, it would make sense for people to listen to her, but they rarely do. Ripley also has no effect on the film's forced jokey sensibility, over-the-top acting and loser pickup lines like "If you don't want to play basketball, I know some other indoor sports."
Simple as all this is in outline, the film's plot still contains a number of too-tricky twists that are explained so fast (it is an emergency, after all) that no one but buffs will be able to figure out what is happening. As an example of the mindless pursuit of misguided self-interest, "Alien Resurrection" is not much different from the deluded scientists it so archly mocks.
Alien Resurrection, 1997. R, for strong sci-fi violence and gore, some grotesque images and languages. A Brandywine production, released by 20th Century Fox. Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Producers Bill Badalato, Gordon Carroll, David Giler, Walter Hill. Screenplay Joss Whedon. Cinematographer Darius Khondji. Editor Herve Schneid. Costumes Bob Ringwood. Music John Frizell. Production design Nigel Phelps. Art director Andrew Neskoromny. Set decorator John M. Dwyer. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes. Sigourney Weaver as Ripley. Winona Ryder as Call. Dominique Pinon as Vriess. Ron Perlman as Johner. Gary Dourdan as Christie. Michael Wincott as Elgyn. Kim Flowers as Hillard. Dan Hedaya as General Perez.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun