Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
20th Century Fox
Sigourney Weaver, who plays an acid-blooded Ellen Ripley clone in Alien Resurrection, the fourth installment of the gory Alien "franchise," has made a career out of putting herself into ridiculous situations and managing never to look ridiculous. Her immersion in her roles commands respect and awe: She surges past embarrassment, past fear, and even when she makes a misstep, she lands catlike on her feet. That strong, Brandoesque jaw gives her a pugilistic cast--laugh at her and she'd slug you. No one giggled at her when she communed with apes in Gorillas in the Mist, and no one will giggle at her in this epic oddity, even when she's writhing around in a mucousy pit of alien viscera, communing with the queen and its unborn fetus--an image so strange that it goes beyond the Jungian vampiric phalluses and womblike hatchways of earlier Alien films into what is possibly the collective unconscious of extraterrestrials.
When we last encountered Ripley, she was doing a backward swan dive into a pit of molten lead with a bewildered baby alien erupting from her chest. That kind of finale pretty much rules out another one with Sigourney, right? Well, Gene Hackman once described how the Poseidon Adventure producers wanted him back for a sequel, and when he pointed out that his character had been incinerated (in a pit of molten lead, coincidentally), they said he could greet the previous film's survivors as they exited the upside-down vessel with the line: "Did my brother make it?" Now, thanks to the rise of cloning in the popular imagination, no twins are necessary.
In Alien Resurrection, we meet a set of conceited, sadistic scientists--the kind of dangerously hubristic Prometheans who are convinced that they can harness the aliens for the good of mankind. ("Once we've tamed the ..." etc.) Two hundred years after the events of Alien 3, they obtain a vial of Ripley's alien-infected blood and grow her--and the creature that she was carrying to term--in a laboratory. They lock Ripley in a futuristic gothic cage and proceed with their hopeful experiments, while the aliens, their elongated black helmet-heads glistening with goo, regard their would-be trainers (among them J.E. Freeman and the great Brad Dourif) with a mixture of rage and amusement, the way that Clint Eastwood looks at punks who momentarily have the upper hand but who he knows will be a bloody pulp in a matter of moments.
This milieu isn't much of a stretch for the French director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who (with Marc Caro) made the squishy horror picture Delicatessen (1991) and City of Lost Children (1995), a surreal hybrid of Terry Gilliam and David Lynch. Though brownish, the new picture is less monochromatic than the last two, and the giant space station in which it takes place is both steely and drippy, with the techno-organic feel of the belly of a beast. The aliens themselves have never been animated with more virtuosity. You get to see one swim: It whips itself forward with its tail at about a hundred miles an hour. There's also a scene in which an alien gets slowly sucked out of a hole into space, a process that makes a meat grinder look merciful. The movie's other Wagnerian set piece features the Ripley clone--who has an "8" stenciled on her arm--coming upon a room that contains the previous seven attempts to bring her back. This there-but-for-the-grace-of-God sequence almost justifies the movie's absurd premise.
Alien Resurrection is reasonably entertaining, but it's the unwieldy product of what I call the "Two Romans Syndrome," based on the experience of a friend of mine who worked on the soap opera Days of Our Lives. Briefly (or semibriefly), Roman was married to Marlena, who was played by one of soapdom's divas. When she decided to leave the show, her character got killed in a plane crash, and the guy playing Roman decamped, too, to be replaced by another actor about 10 years younger, six inches taller, and built like the ex-baseball player that he was. Except that when the diva rejoined the show a few years later--it turns out her character didn't die in that plane crash but had amnesia ,etc.--she said, "Wouldn't it be wonderful to work with my Roman again?" And they said, "Er, there's another guy here now, and he's really popular." And the diva said, "Work it out." So in wanders Roman I to announce that he has been held prisoner on an island for the last five years and--wait a minute, who's this other guy? Zounds, Roman II doesn't know either! It took six months to execute a plot--involving mad scientists and personality transplants and amnesia and plastic surgery--to account for what was, in essence, the idiotic whim of some diva.
I digress about the Two Romans Syndrome out of sympathy for the writer, Joss Whedon. Because once you immolate your leading lady, you have to execute some mighty violent narrative contortions to bring her back, and by the time you've explained what she's doing there and why, half the movie is gone. And what's left--despite all the offal--feels inorganic. In addition to Ripley coping with her personhood/alienhood, you have a setup out of The Poseidon Adventure, with a bunch of people trying to push their way through the watery space station to reach their little ship, with one after another getting gobbled down by aliens at regular intervals.
Aside from Weaver, there's another wild card--Winona Ryder as an enigmatic character named Annalee Call, who comes on board the station with a team of smugglers and an agenda of her own. It's possible that Ryder gets worse the harder she tries to act. Her scenes with Weaver are sad: She doesn't have the older actress's histrionic resources, plastic physique, or energy. And she's playing a role that would likely confound the most able minds of her generation.
Ryder and Weaver have exchanges as stilted as anything in Plan 9 From Outer Space--surprisingly, since Whedon (who wrote Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Toy Story, and did the uncredited rewrite of Speed) has a pretty good ear. (One character actually snarls, "I am not a man with whom to fuck.") But even with her stinko lines, Weaver has never been as flabbergastingly gorgeous and charismatic. She's tall and lean and meteor-hard, and you can almost believe there's really acid in her blood, and that no alien in its right mind would mess with her. Her skin has an unearthly glow, which might be the work of the brilliant cinematographer (Darius Khondji, of Seven) or--Weaver being Weaver--might just be coming from within.