Preparing for Prometheus pt. IV – Alien Resurrection (1997)
Here’s the truth about my love affair with the Alien franchise; back when I was 10 years old I learned they were preparing a new Alien film for release into theaters the following year. I had never seen any of the movies and it was because of discussions with a friend who was familiar with the series that I started going down the rabbit hole. I found out that there was going to be a showing of the second film late one night on the local Fox station and I recorded it hoping to get an idea of what the series was about. My friend sold it to me as one of the bloodiest, scariest alien monster-fests ever put on film and I really wanted to be able to see the new movie with him when it came out in theaters. I’ve recounted the story of what happened next several times over the course of this editorial series and now its time to wrap things up.
The short story is that I did enjoy the first three films and was looking forward to part four. I thank god that I was the age I was and was as uninformed as I was because had I been a little bit older, I think Alien Resurrection might have turned me relentlessly cynical and angry. I mean, I am those things now but for different reasons and I mostly keep those things in check. Mostly. But with Resurrection, there is a lot that could have turned me against the world of film had I been old enough to have deep attachments to the series or people involved. I don’t think that an older me would have been able to forgive Joss Whedon for his involvement in this, but as I was just an 11 year old kid when it hit the theaters, I didn’t even know who he was so I couldn’t fault him the way I might have had I been an angsty teenager. (Fun fact : I picked up a copy of his shooting script from Half Price Books about a year after the film came out, because I actually enjoyed the piss out of the movie when I was young)
I really did dig the film when I saw it as a kid. I had to wait for it to hit VHS because I couldn’t make it to the theater with my friend, but I did get to see it with the fresh eyes of someone who had really come to like the series. Considering the movie is fifteen years old now, I have a somewhat different opinion. I don’t hate it. I don’t think it is anywhere near the level of an abomination that many do. I reserve that hatred for those horrible AvP movies. I’m not even going to dignify those movies with any sort of analysis. Alien Resurrection has many problems. I’ll be the first to admit that. This is the first time where I felt like the cast wasn’t putting out A-game style work. Most of the principle cast do a good job, and Brad Dourif is amazing in particular, but some of the side characters just do not mesh well at all. I attribute this mostly to a French director operating through a translator and a poor gauge of the tone of the script by the actors. Joss Whedon has said that he doesn’t dislike the film because they altered his script but because they mangled the tone. He wrote the thing to be a comedic satire and when played straight, it just comes off as tone deaf. I don’t think that playing the whole thing as a dark comedy would have been so bad. It wouldn’t have been any more a change in direction than from Alien to Aliens. Instead we get the product that was presented, something that had Whedon’s fingerprints all over it but none of his ability to make it sing.
There are some truly great moments in the film. I LOVE the underwater scene. Unabashedly. I think it gives us something we haven’t seen before and I liked the twist of how the aliens set a trap for the surfacing swimmers. Granted the CGI was horrible, which is a universal theme with the Alien films now. Practical effects look great but computer generated aliens are universally off-putting. Another great element of the film? Anything where the aliens and Brad Dourif get to interact. I love the scene where the doctor instigates trouble with the alien causing it to attack only to punish it with a blast of liquid nitrogen. The alien moves in to attack again but hesitates when the doctor threatens another retaliation. Its a great moment that shows how quickly the creature assesses danger and stores information. The alien escape scene is another great moment. Two of the creatures rip a third apart and use his acid blood to burn a way out. It is inventive and plays out especially well on film.
My main contention with the film is that it just does not look visually interesting most of the time. The direction is flat and doesn’t have the reserve of Ridley Scott, the frenetic energy of James Cameron or the determination of David Fincher. The film looks cheap and shoddy for most of its runtime. For that reason it fails to live up to the others. It isn’t the story that sinks the film, its the execution of that story. A better director could have made this film work better. It’s also important to note that the SFX supervisor for this film went on to direct the Halle Berry Catwoman. So, take from that what you will.