Say Something Nice: ALIEN: RESURRECTION (1997)

The madcap 1997 installment into Ripley's xenomorph saga is possibly better than you remember (though certainly not worse).

It's already somewhat easy to forget - post Prometheus and Covenant - that the Alien franchise was once one of the most multi-auteur-driven sets of genre flicks Hollywood offered. LV-426 and the ships invaded by the xenomorphs acted as terrorist training camps for maverick filmmakers, as Ridley Scott gave us his Lovecraftian treatise on the unknowability of death with the original, James Cameron fashioned Aliens into his Vietnam picture, and David Fincher made his silver screen debut (more or less) with the grimly grotesque Alien 3. Despite a notoriously healthy amount of studio meddling that caused Fincher to disown the third picture, you can still feel his morbid fingerprints all over both its theatrical and workprint cuts. From the mournful funeral sequence that's intercut with the Rottweiler Xeno's birth, to the eulogy climax that throws Ripley (a consummately iconic Sigourney Weaver) into literal flames, Alien 3 is very much a “David Fincher Film,” no matter how much Fox fucked with him on set or in post.

Alien: Resurrection probably shouldn't have happened (for the love of all that's holy, let Ripley's suffering end), but at least Fox imported incredible talent to try and keep the series chugging along. Jean-Pierre Jeunet (The City of Lost Children) brings the same sticky, fleshy feel he did to instant foreign language cult classics like Delicatessen. Joss Whedon (of Buffy and future Marvel fame) was hired to revive our extinguished star, and applied his usual cheeky flair to the dialogue and characters. In some ways, the space pirate crew that delivers clandestine cargo aboard the experimental medical vessel USM Auriga actually feels like a dry run for Mal (Nathan Fillion) and the motley collective that’d front Whedon's doomed Fox series, Firefly. It was the perfect setup for another franchise portion that was entirely driven by the unique visions of those operating behind the camera.

Unfortunately, something may have literally been lost in translation (Jeunet apparently spoke very little English on set). Whedon’s maintained that most of his original script made it into the final product, only the manic, French visionary “played it too straight” for his liking. This clash between the instantly identifiable scribe’s irreverent tone and his director’s industrial gothic execution is most readily felt during the first action set piece, which comes off like a comic book Wild West showdown in space that sadly isn’t in on its own playful gag. Before that, Ripley dunks basketballs and elbows Ron Perlman in the mug, and a typically bonkers Brad Dourif ends up gleefully squealing over the beauty of his newest human/xeno hybrid species (before it bites the top of his head off, naturally). Like its predecessors, Alien: Resurrection is the product of distinct creative minds – they just seem to be at war with one another for the duration of the movie’s rapid fire hundred-minute runtime.

That said, Resurrection cobbled together a cast of character actors that should make any die-hard genre fan grin. Beyond Perlman and Dourif, Winona Ryder’s sensual, bible-thumping second gen android Call is worth the price of admission alone – getting drunk and acting as a sexual foil for the newly cloned Ripley 8 to toy with. Seeing Michael Wincott is a great reminder that Michael Wincott should still be in more stuff, and Dan Hedaya does that thing only Dan Hedaya knows how to do. The fact that Whedon’s script contains a rather threadbare plot helps accentuate just how wild some of these performers get with his poppy, quippy dialogue. Does it all clash with Jeunet’s Gilliam-lite stylings? Sure. But there’s such an ample amount of plasma sprayed via each xenomorph attack that it’s hard to completely fault the filmmaker for sticking to his visual guns. If Alien is the franchise’s haunted house movie, Aliens is its war film, and Alien 3 is its existential exploration, Resurrection is the goofy splatter movie those of us who grew up flipping through the pages of Fangoria dreamt about when we were in junior high.

For many fans, Resurrection’s treatment of the titular beast is a bridge too far. While it’s become a series staple for each new entry to introduce another variation on the xeno, the human/monster amalgam that appears in the movie’s final act is an abomination, both literally and creatively. While bringing Ripley back from the dead, her DNA became intertwined with the xeno’s, giving her a sort of synaptic connection to the monsters (don’t ask, it really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense). But it turns out that Dourif’s mad scientist was creating another Queen cross pollination, which ends up giving birth to a creature that looks to Ripley as a mother figure, and even goo-goo ga-gas here like a lost infant (going as far as to utter “…mama…”). It’s pretty fucking stupid, and the Hybrid Xeno is a ghastly peculiarity whose malformed skull pokes through its translucent skin like an emaciated homeless person’s. The catastrophically bad idea is made worse by the fact that the traditional xenos in the movie are handled so well – presented as cunning hunters and brilliant swimmers when they take pursuit in a flooded bay. However, the high point for Resurrection’s killers comes during a prison break sequence, where they sacrifice one of their own in order to use their acid blood as a means to burn through their cage.

To be honest, watching Alien: Resurrection twenty years after it was initially released is an outlandish experience. Jeunet’s entry is by no means a good movie, but the respective parts may have made for a great sequel, had their creators been left to their own devices. In our current landscape of homogenized shared universes, where money men mandates are more important than filmmakers’ individuality, the Alien movies possess legitimate personality by comparison (we haven’t even gotten to this film’s sexual overtones, which would require its own article). Out of all these qualitatively varied installments, Resurrection is arguably having the most fun – only many people signing up for a new xenomorph adventure in ‘97 (and make no mistake, Jeunet and Whedon made a straight up goofball romp) weren’t really looking for something so zanily doing its own thing. In ‘17, a major franchise giving us a madcap reinterpretation of its own formula would be greeted with open arms, especially if it dropped the weekend after whatever yawn-inducing nonsense the latest Marvel/DCEU revisit offered up.