Thursday, November 25, 2010

Witness the Resurrection

It was 1996 and I, by sheer happenstance, picked up a sci-fi magazine to leaf through while passing through a mall. I was shocked when I turned a page over and saw "ALIEN 4" as part of the headline for an article. I about shit myself. I devoured the article, reveling in the fact that not only were they continuing the series I had loved for so long and believed dead, but they were also bringing back Sigourney Weaver to play Ripley. I thought it was too good to be true and I was eager to know how they would accomplish this...outside of saying that Alien 3 had been a dream. It turned out that they were going to bring her back through cloning, an original concept I thought (I was 12 after-all) which would give new complications to the story and the character. I simply couldn't wait until 1997 when the film would finally be unleashed. For me, it seemed like years, but November 26th, 1997 finally arrived and I sat in the darkened theater quivering with anticipation for the return of Ripley and the creatures that torment her. Now, come back in time with me as we look at Alien Resurrection.

It has been 200 years since the incident on Fury 161 and there have been some changes.  Weyland-Yutani has been bought out by Wal-Mart, Earth has become a burned out shell of a world, and a monopolistic organization called the United Systems Military (USM) now runs the galaxy...and among all of this something extraordinary happens.  Ripley awakens aboard the research vessel Auriga.  The USM scientists have cloned her in order to retrieve the Alien Queen from within her and have kept her alive as a curiosity to be studied.  She has a vague memory of her old existence and the creatures who ultimately ended it (which she should not have at all), but she is like a completely different person.  Due to a mixing of her own DNA with the alien's DNA, she is stronger, faster, has acid for blood, and lacks an emotional core.  She views the resurrection of the aliens with apathy and sees her own survival as paramount to anything else.  Soon, the aliens escape from their cages and kill the soldiers and scientists who tried to contain them and Ripley must band together with a group of space pirates (who brought the human hosts that the scientists used to grow the aliens) in order to escape and destroy the doomed vessel before it reaches home-base, Earth.  Along the way, Ripley will have to deal with the ambiguity of her existence and choose where her loyalties lie.  She will also discover that in the genetic trading between herself and the alien, the alien has also experienced a few changes.

There are two ways to look at Alien Resurrection.  The first way is the one that most people do and that is to look at what could have been versus what we actually received.  I call this the 'spoiled child at Christmas' perspective...though it does have some weight.  I realized as I was writing the above summary that it actually sounded better than the movie actually is.  That isn't to say that the film is bad (though there are those that VIOLENTLY disagree...I've heard 'worst film ever made' cast about with casual abandon a lot) but there are quite a few missteps in it that keep it from matching the first two.  Which brings us to the second way to look at the film, which is to simply look at what is there rather than imagining what never was.  There's a lot to love in Alien Resurrection even if you don't like the black comedy or some of the 'twists' (cough...Newborn...cough).  First, once again we have to give massive props to Sigourney Weaver for taking the familiar aspects of Ripley and turning them into a completely new character.  She is predatory, sarcastic, and brave unlike the original Ripley.  Yet, later in the film when she has moments of compassion she is at first surprised and enraged by it...but later embraces the emotions as part of rediscovering her soul and choosing to be more human than alien.  It is a brilliant performance held back only by hokey dialogue writing.  The cloning aspect and the following through to the logical conclusion of it is also a welcome addition to this story.  It makes sense (even if it couldn't really happen...this is the plausible impossible afterall) that the two strains of DNA would mix and cause unexpected results.  The production design is a mixed bag.  Some sets look as big as they should while others look unnecessarily cramped.  The creature design is a bit of a disappointment as well. They added some embellishments to the alien this time out that seem to make it look more of a brutish run-of-the-mill monster than the elegant creature where it began.  Woodruff and Gillis provide some very sound reasoning for these enhancements so you know they aren't just changing for the sake of change...but I didn't care for it.  On the other side, the Newborn actually doesn't bother me as much as it does other people, however they should have kept the earlier design without eyes.  I will admit that I also saw Alien Resurrection as the weakest of the four (though I would never call it the worst move ever made, I wouldn't even call it bad), but I will say that recently I re-watched the long cut and had forgotten how good it was.  I really enjoyed revisiting the film and I suggest that people with open minds do the same.  Whats the worst that could happen?  Afterall, no one ever died from watching a movie they didn't like.  I'm proof positive of that.

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