Sunday, November 1, 2009

Grunge Mutations from Outer Space: Alien: Resurrection starring Winona Ryder and Sigourney Weaver (1997)

[The Film Doctor figures that if he just posts these last few time capsule reviews from 1997, then that will oblige him to return to the local Regal Stadium cineplex.]

Now into its fourth installment, the Alien series suffers from its success. Both Event Horizon and Mimic borrowed from its peekaboo horror/sci-fi technique this summer, and by now everyone knows what the alien looks like so there's no returning to the first movie's mysterious, very slow unfolding of a very Darwinian character (I can remember back in 1979 sitting in a crowded theater in Tennessee as everyone started whispering "Now it's going to pop out of his chest!"). That scene has already been lampooned in Mel Brook's Spaceballs when the baby alien pops out to dance a little soft shoe on the counter. The second Alien movie by James Cameron struck me as too Reagan-era militaristic, and hardly anyone saw the third one where Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) dies.

So what do you do now? Apparently you hire a young hip French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (who made City of Lost Children) and Winona Ryder who gets to play against ingenue type. Then you bring back Sigourney Weaver (who also co-produces) through the magic of DNA cloning, add some crazy military scientists who want to breed "tamed" aliens for profit, throw them all into another large grungy spaceship, and see what happens. This time Ripley's DNA replicate gets her genes crossed with the aliens themselves, turning her in an "alien" mother (strictly C-section births here, through the chest). The twisted military scientists all act like bit players from a Star Trek convention, each with a moronic gleam in his eye as if space people suffered from some major intergalactic inbreeding since Ripley died two hundred years ago in the future. Their Frankensteinian silliness almost wrecks the beginning of the film.

Fortunately, Winona Ryder (who plays Annalee Call) and a lovable Han Solo-like trader crew of misfits show up in the smaller spaceship Betty with a secret cache of human bodies designed to aid in alien growth. This crew redefines futuristic grunge. They all have great grimy leather clothes, lewd attitudes (except for Annalee), and inventive weapons--one fellow has a jeeplike wheelchair with the parts of a gun in assorted positions around his legs; another Tom Waits-like guy named Johner (Ron Perlman) with flamboyant scars on his face carries a rocket launching device in a thermos. He walks up to Weaver as she plays basketball, and all of a sudden the movie clicks. When Ripley circles around him like an anaconda, half-grinning, full of tease and menace, you realize why the men are necessarily such fools.

By virtue of her alien blood, Ripley becomes a feminist hero par excellence. Since she can play both sides of the fence, so to speak, and go hang out with her alien children if she likes, she doesn't care so much about the danger. She doesn't even carry a weapon. Instead she just struts around bare armed and making wisecracks. Who's going to mess with her? And yet her machismo does contain elements of motherly compassion. In once scene, she finds the L-7 room full of abortive genetic creatures who led the way to her mutation, all of them female, some still alive. She walks up to one grotesquely malformed "woman" on a table who begs to be killed, and in response, Ripley torches the whole room.

Resurrection takes the Darwinian principle of the first Alien one step further by depicting the mutability of species. People and aliens metamorphose into each other repeatedly, allowing the filmmakers to explore the positive and negative side effects of adaptation. In this context, Ripley revolts against the male scientists who would treat feminine reproduction as a dehumanized genetic factory. Johner (the Tom Waits goon) takes one look at the room full of burnt female mutations and mutters "It must be a chick thing."

In turn very funny, very gory, and at other times derivative, Alien: Resurrection surprised me with how fun it was overall. It's basically a silly summer movie, but Ripley and Annalee add some gender-bending emotional complexity to all of the explosions. When Winona Ryder's character turns out to be an android, the others explaim over her particular make, and she looks pained and embarrassed. How awkward to come out robotic.


Hokahey said...

I can't stand the ending of this movie - the thing gets sucked out that tiny hole - but, I agree, there are elements to like:

Ripley's basket.

Winona Ryder.

The whole grungy look of the film.

The underwater shots of the aliens pursuing them and then the explosion under water. Love how the aliens swim. Awesome shots here.

Ron Perlman. You don't even have to do make-up on him. He fits perfectly in a sci-fi grunge film.

Finally, the recent Pandorum, which I reviewed a while ago, has that same dark, grungy look. Lots of grunge.

FilmDr said...

Thanks for the comment, Hokahey.

I was beginning to wonder if anyone had seen Alien: Resurrection. I believe the critics were quite harsh about it, and perhaps deservedly so. I did think of Pandorum (and your review) as another good example of that kind of aesthetic.

Tristan said...

Michael Wincott was really good in aliens resurrection, here is a funny joke about space aliens in movies