Wednesday, October 24, 2007

You are a beautiful, beautiful butterfly.

I've been putting off writing about Alien: Resurrection, mostly because, compared to its predecessors, there simply isn't much to say. Sapphic intrigue, gender politics and a curious pro-choice message are suggested but never really developed - the film is, as waifish android Call (Winona Ryder) refers to a Ripley brought back to life by science and international box office, a construct, the first superficial entry in the series. This is not to say that Alien: Resurrection is awful; on a pure gross-out level, it's a good deal of fun. But more often then not, it's like a mildly amusing party guest who thinks he's the suavest guy in the room.

Blame the typically obvious script by Joss Whedon, which revolves around a generic pre-Firefly gang of interstellar crooks battling the now-familiar xenomorths reborn through the miracle of cloning (how cutely 1997) along with a not-quite-human reincarnation of T. Ellen Ripley. As I mentioned before, variations on the themes that have sustained the series are touched upon, the difference being the arch, self-conscious attitude towards its own story. The concept of an part-alien Ripley, for instance, opens the film up to all kinds of narrative and thematic possibilities that are never pursued; it's simply a smirking gorefest made for self-important dorks who pat themselves on the back for knowing the phrase "vagina dentata." Add in awful dialogue composed of a constant barrage of empty sarcasm (1997 again), and it becomes staggering to recall how buzzed-about Whedon's script was back in the day.

With almost every significant element of the first three films reproduced here, it's telling that the notorious Weyland-Yutani company is absent from the plot (they went bankrupt). The sidestepping of the series' anti-corporate message meshes with what appears to be an extemely compromised, focus-grouped franchise entry (witness Ryder, woefully miscast in a misguided attempt to attract the Reality Bites crowd). Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet is one of the best stylists around, and the film does have a memorably sticky, verdant visual style. At the same time, while few of Jeunet's films (save The City of Lost Children and A Very Long Engagement) are particularly deep, Alien: Resurrection feels unusually generic. Jeunet's tendency towards whimsy clashes against the grimier moments, which replicate the gross-out moments of the earlier films without capturing the same unease. Whatever the case may be, neither studio tinkering nor Gallic shenanigans can account for the newborn, a hybrid alien that looks like Frank Langella's Skeletor dipped in porridge. When the newborn dies a protracted, grotesque death, Alien: Resurrection ceases to be fun even on a gross-out level - it's just nasty, kind of mean and not very smart.

The film is not without its charms, among them Brad Dourif's reliably wacky supporting performance, Darius Khondji's striking cinematography, Dan Hedaya's back hair. But if there's anything that makes Alien: Resurrection worth visiting ten years later, it's Sigourney Weaver, who is clearly having a blast, delivering even the crappiest lines with knowing wit. Weaver immediately and consistently finds the tone the film really needed to succeed - she's sexy, cynical and unapologetically weird. It is clear, finally, that the Alien series is the story of not one but two unstoppable forces of nature. Take Ripley out of the equation and you get Alien vs. Predator. Case closed.


Chris Stangl said...

"a smirking gorefest made for self-important dorks who pat themselves on the back for knowing the phrase /vagina dentata.'"

Nailed! No wonder it's my favorite ALIEN movie.

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