Alien 3, though now undergoing something of a critical reappraisal, was not a popular movie when released, and was panned by audiences and critics. Despite its problems and public opinion, Alien 3 did provide closure for the franchise; Ripley – the centre of the series – was dead, and in both thematic and narrative terms, there was nowhere left for the Alien movies to go. Unfortunately for everyone, even killing Ripley off wasn’t enough to end the series, and 20th Century Fox, sensing there was more money to be mined, pushed for Alien: Resurrection. Results were not good. Whilst you’ll find fans of the series defending Alien 3, or arguing that Aliens is better than Alien, you’ll struggle to find anyone making a case for the quality of Resurrection, which always finds itself ranked bottom in the Quadrilogy. Resurrection is a bad movie, and a far cry from Scott’s original masterpiece, but it remains an interesting failure for a number of reasons.Set 200 years after Alien 3, Alien Resurrection opens with military scientists aboard the USM Auriga cloning Lt. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). Turns out, Ripley’s actions in the previous movies had succeeded in wiping out the aliens, and the army, desperate to weaponise the beasts, has brought our hero back from the dead, complete with alien embryo attachment. How the cloning process managed to also clone foreign material isn’t explained, and neither is the fact that Ripley 2.0 somehow retains her former life’s memories. The Auriga is boarded by another smaller vessel, the Betty, with a ragtag crew of space pirates who join with a slightly unhinged new Ripley to try and survive the aliens, who predictably, manage to escape their cells, causing no end of spaceship chaos.On paper, the film sounds perfect; directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (of Amélie fame) and based on a script by geek legend Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, The Avengers), starring not only Sigourney Weaver but also Ron Perlman, Winona Ryder, Brad Dourif – who were all at the top of the game in 1997 – Resurrection had all of the elements to be great. Instead, it’s a complete creative mess. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what doesn’t work or who dropped the ball, but nothing in Resurrection works. The elements don’t slot together, and there’s no unity of vision in the way there was between say, Scott, Giger and O’Bannon. The first Alien movie is a great example of brilliant artists bringing their own original creative talents to the table whilst simultaneously combining with one another to create a masterpiece, Alien: Resurrection is the opposite – brilliant artists not understanding the material and not merging, instead creating a damp, unimaginative boring mess. In terms of tone and theme, the movie is all over the place. Whilst the first three movies are different with different goals and focuses, they all at least seem to exist within the same universe. Resurrection however stands out for all the wrong reasons, and doesn’t slot back comfortably back into the series. This is one of the reasons fans tend to skip Resurrection when doing marathons; it’s difficult to see it as canon.Joss Whedon is a fantastic writer, known for twisting genre tropes and turning conceptual ideas inside-out. He’s been well known in critical circles since the 90s, initially for the outstanding Buffy the Vampire Slayer – one of television’s finest achievements – but later for cult favourites like Firefly and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Whedon has become more mainstream recently – with The Cabin in the Woods standing as the most fun horror parody since Scream, and The Avengers – the culmination of Marvel’s first run of superhero stories and a movie which made all the money in the world. The sequel, 2015’s Age of Ultron, will likely cement Whedon’s status as geek god. So that praise aside, it’s sad to say that Whedon does an awful job with the Alien franchise. The script was tampered with by the studio from day one – the biggest change being the climax, which was originally set on Earth and involved Ripley taking out a giant, blood-sucking alien mutant with a combine harvester – but Whedon has come out since to say the problem was execution; his script was followed but his vision was misread. There was a similar issue with his X-Men script, in which Halle Berry’s much mocked ‘You know what happens when a toad gets struck by lightning? The same thing that happens to everything else’ appeared. The line is often quoted on ‘worst dialogue ever lists,’ and whilst not a good phrase, the problem is primarily delivery; Bryan Singer and Berry didn’t get Whedon’s style, which is meant to be dismissive and non-committal. Imagine Sarah Michelle Geller reading that line as Buffy Summers, you get an idea of what Whedon was going for; it needs a shrug in the middle. And yes, this is part of the problem – neither the studio or Jeunet really understood Whedon’s script, but that doesn’t mean Whedon’s script was any good to begin with. In fairness, he had to work with a lot – bringing Ripley back was problematic on a logistic and narrative level, so the approach is to just throw it in the start and brush past it, and its clear the studio were pushing for a light, breezy movie after the third, hence the jokey and silly tone throughout. Fox wanted Aliens for the 90s, which meant humour, and the approach doesn’t work at all. As such, Whedon’s script feels like self-parody. His self-knowing, tongue-in-cheek comic book style just doesn’t translate well to Alien; watch the first and last movies back to back and see how jarring it is. Whedon would later reshuffle a lot of his ideas here into superior concepts; there are shades of Ripley in Buffy Summers, and the Betty’s crew a predecessor to Firefly‘s. Jean-Pierre Jeunet is a striking and visual director and makes for an interesting choice – perhaps not as fitting as Danny Boyle, who was first approached – but Jeunet should have brought something more to the table. He doesn’t. He directs the movie with a work-man like quality – probably what the studio wanted – and brings no passion to the project. His striking visuals aren’t present here and Resurrection on the whole, looks washed out and dull – there’s basically just a lot of yellow. There’s nothing striking about the movie’s visuals, and the score is forgettable too. Jeunet toys with turning the movie into a black comedy, which when combined with Whedon’s self-parody script, means the whole thing falls apart; the tone is so wrong for an Alien movie and it feels like fan-ficiton. Jeunet does a few scenes well – the underwater chase takes us somewhere we’ve not been before, and the clone reveal sequence is powerful (mainly down to Weaver) but generally, you get the sense he wanted to get the movie done and dusted as soon as possible; it’s not a project he looks back on fondly in interviews, and really stands out as a blight on the director’s filmography.It doesn’t help that the movie isn’t scary and barely works on an action level. Say what you want about the previous movies, they’ve all got a sense of individual identity. Resurrection is just a mishmash of elements, and is hard to take even on its most basic level, as a dull chase story. There’s nothing unique about the movie. The aliens themselves have reached the stage all horror icons do by their fourth movie; they’ve become overexposed and as such, are no longer threatening. Giger didn’t even get a design credit for the beasts here, which are just slimy, cheap-looking monsters; all of the haunting sexuality, beauty and terrifying elegance has long been stripped out. Worst is the new-born design at the movie’s climax, which is a disgusting and unpleasant mess. It’s the worst moment in the entire franchise.By far the best thing in the movie is Sigourney Weaver. Ripley had reached the end of her arc in Alien 3 and well, died, so when planning Alien: Resurrection, the producers originally tried to keep her out of it; Newt was meant to be the one cloned. But realising correctly that Ripley was the heart of the series, Whedon was instructed to add her back in. Weaver had left the franchise for fear of it turning into Alien: Resurrection basically, and was offered both a huge sum of money and an incentivising motivational hook; Ripley would come back wrong, having merged her DNA with the alien’s during production. The angle provides Weaver with a new way to approach the character, and her performance as half-Ripley, half-alien, is wonderful. Logically, Ripley was always aligning with the alien – getting closer with each movie – and so the combination here does feel natural. It’s also clear the actress knows the series inside out and she mimics the alien’s movements and ticks perfectly, and her merging with the creature is interesting, as the audience is never sure where her allegiances lie. Of everyone, Ripley is best served by Whedon’s script, working with a black, sardonic sense of fatalist humour which fits her character at this point. The toss up is we lose Ripley’s humanity, and she becomes a very distant figure. The effect is very similar to what Whedon did with Buffy Summers after her death and resurrection. Weaver gets the best scene in the movie, in which she finds the failed clones; a brief sequence which shows how powerful the movie could have been. The rest of the cast are across the board, quite unlikable and forgettable.Resurrection is by far the weakest link in the canon, and of the lot, the easiest to skip. It’s sad to see Scott’s masterpiece end on this note, but at the same time, hard to imagine any series which retains its integrity into its third sequel. Watch it once, and then pretend the franchise ended with Ripley’s death.
As an epilogue, it’s worth commenting on the franchise post Resurrection. There was actually talk of making a 5th movie, written by James Cameron and directed by Ridley Scott, which sounds like a fans dream come true. The movie was supposed to follow Ripley finally returning to the creature’s home planet; picking up the thread of the space jockey from the first movie. However, 20th Century Fox decided to push for Alien Vs Predator instead, and fearing the franchise was doomed, Cameron, Scott and Weaver dropped out. AVP was an awful movie, followed by a considerably worse sequel, and everybody generally decided the franchise was best left in the 80s.
Scott however pursued Alien 5, until it eventually became a prequel called Alien: Engineers, and then a half prequel called Prometheus, which was one of the most hotly anticipated movies of all time. Sadly, the final product – though beautiful with flashes of greatness – was a horrible mess, and very disappointing. It’s apparently being followed by a sequel noone really wants, in the next couple of years