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Alien Resurrection

Entry updated 10 August 2018. Tagged: Film.

Film (1997). Twentieth Century Fox/A Brandywine Production. Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Written by Joss Whedon. Cast includes Brad Dourif, J E Freeman, Ron Perlman, Dominique Pinon, Winona Ryder, Sigourney Weaver and Michael Wincott. 109 minutes. Colour.

This is the fourth, and presumably final, film in the Alien series, released eighteen years after the first, and set 200 years after the third. (We do not count as strictly part of the series spin-offs such as AVP Alien vs Predator [2004] which do not feature Sigourney Weaver as Ripley). The Ripley who died at the end of Alien³ has been Cloned by a secret and utterly amoral branch of the military, and the clone still contains a young alien Queen, which we see surgically delivered in the opening sequence. After a while it becomes clear that the Ripley clone was not just carrying the young alien as a "passenger", but that in fact she has developed superhuman strength and agility as a result of her own DNA becoming fused with that of the alien. The whole film is set on the military Spaceship/laboratory where various groups, each with their own agenda, battle one another and the aliens, which – inevitably – escape their cages.

All of this is confusing, exciting and disgusting. What makes the film surprisingly interesting is the way its subtext develops from the subtexts of its three predecessors. Whether by accident or design, the entire sequence has been written and directed by unusually sophisticated film-makers who have been consistently ready to impose on the schlock-horror narrative a thematic density almost unparalleled in this sort of genre picture. This time around the director is Jean-Pierre Jeunet, already well known for two borderline sf movies made in his native France, Delicatessen (1991) and La Cité des Enfants Perdus ["The City of Lost Children"] (1995), but apart from a possibly over-gleeful lingering on slime, mutilation and the displeasingly organic generally, his direction is straightforward, even rather muted, and less whimsical than most of his previous work.

The screenwriter is another matter. Joss Whedon was primarily known at this time for his early work on the innovative horror television series he created, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), a series also remarkable for its easy way with metaphor. Alien Resurrection is a film that not only makes many references to its predecessors, it chooses to elaborate on the two most interesting subtexts in the series to date: the way in which Ripley and the Queen become increasingly like sisters under the skin, and the way in which, although Ripley is seen as progressively dehumanized by her epic struggle, she is still haunted by dreams of motherhood. Motherhood is effectively achieved here, and followed almost at once by an act of the free will which we may have doubted Ripley still possessed: a very messy "abortion" of the part human-part alien child.

Even more than with Alien³, it is almost impossible to imagine how on earth the Powers That Be at Twentieth Century Fox could be persuaded, even for a fraction of a second, that a film as grim, grotesque and demanding as this could be a box office success. (It did, however, recoup its costs.) Joss Whedon, always a fast learner, was able breezily to recycle motifs from his Alien Resurrection screenplay, largely those relating to space pirates, in his sf television series Firefly (2002).

Sigourney Weaver's cumulative performance in the four films is, with hindsight, stunning. She brings a gravitas and intensity to her ever-developing role which is moving in itself, and gives the films a distinction they may not otherwise have had. Her acting in Alien Resurrection, which requires her to be not only inhuman but part alien herself, is so convincing as to be quite unnerving.

While Alien Resurrection certainly has unexpected pleasures for the connoisseur of subtext, parts of the film are transparently illogical, and many sections cynically pander to viewers with a taste for gross-out horror. [PN/JN]

further reading

  • David Thomson. The Alien Quartet (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1998) [nonfiction: #4 in the publisher's Bloomsbury Movie Guide series: pb/photographic]


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