the pathetic caverns - movies by title - Alien Resurrection
eclectic reviews and opinions
1997, D:Jean-Pierre Jeunet; S:Joss Whedon
The Alien movies interest me on a couple different levels. First, maybe even foremost, there's the way they look -- especially in the first entry in the franchise -- dominated as it was by H.R. Giger's techno-organic fetishism, and this one, which mixes spartan, foreboding sets with baroque, overcomplicated environments. The alien series continues to mostly avoid the sort of cramped claustrophic spaces that have been inside any real world military vehicle I'm familiar with, although it seems like they would be good settings for a monster movie (maybe they're too hard to shoot in).
Second, there's the game of playing with the sexual symbolism that lurks just beneath the surface. I'm not at all sure what it's supposed to mean. Lessee, the beasties come out of eggs (which look more-than-accidentally vaginal as they open, I think), and are subsequently "born" from (men's) ribcages as sperm-shaped little monstrosities with nasty sharp pointy teeth. It's all sort of muddy, but i'm sure it's meant to trigger some deeply-buried archetype or another.
There's also the ironic twist that while the Alien movies all feature nasty, insectoid critters with fangs and spikes galore, universal solvent for blood, and a stomach-turning appetite for destruction and mayhem, the real monsters of the flicks are the cold, but human, faces that speak for the corporate and governmental entities that want to use the much-vaunted "perfect predator" in experiments that could make the national socialists look like human rights advocates (This entry in the series makes a reference to using "trained" aliens for "urban pacification" or something like that). (And I guess it's a measure of the distrust of power that characterizes late 20th century society that this sort of institutionalized evil seems so credible.)
I was pretty psyched for this flick, for two reasons: first, cause i absolutely loved director Jeneut's City of Lost Children, a dark, complex, fairytale that wonder-of-wonders, had honest-to-goodness characters and a compelling story to match its stunning visuals (which sort-of out-Gilliamed Terry Gilliam, circa Brazil, if you can deal with that). And second, I'm in the vocal minority that thinks Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which Alien Ressurection writer Joss Whedon created and often writes, is one of the very best shows on TV right now -- not only funny, sexy, and suspenseful, but also edgier, less predictable, and smarter than you would expect -- especially in a spin-off, fer chrissakes. Okay, okay, I'm off the soapbox. The point is, my expectations were fairly high.
I had to cope with two disappointments. First, until now, the Alien flicks have played much more within the bounds of the laws of physics than most other science fiction movies. Aside from some fairly standard things like allowing faster-than-light travel, and the recurring universal-solvent blood problem, the first movie, especially, was pretty credible. This one, which seems to imply that the alien parasite interacts with the host at a DNA or molecular level, has some scientific goofs and inconsistencies that hold up less the more and harder you look at them. But the big one -- i'm stepping around spoilers, here, but if there's an alien in a bottle at some point, you know it's going to get out and kill people eventually, right? this is an Alien movie, after all, not Northanger Abbey in outer space or something. So there's an alien in a bottle, and it gets out to kill folks, and the way it gets out involves the bad guys being dumb and unforesightful in a way that makes absolutely no freakin' sense. Really unsatisfying.
Other than that, though, this was heaps of fun. Although we're still playing the same get-out-before-they-getcha game, Whedon comes up with a couple nice twists and surprises. You get to see aliens fighting with each other, aliens underwater, some impressive grotesqueries, and maybe the single most unpleasant way to die that i've ever seen visualized on film. Whedon's dialog is just about as smart and crackly as i'd hoped, and the acting was mostly fine *. The reborn Ellen Ripley cloned from two-hundred year-old samples of her blood, and not exactly human not only has some great lines, not all of which are in the ads, but evolves from near incoherence to functionality in a way that's actually credible. "Yeah", i was thinking, "if i woke up two hundred years later, in a new body, with only residual memories that weren't even supposed to be in my head, i'd be pretty disoriented, too." The space freighter crew delivering mysterious supplies to the secret medical research station was good, too they make so-called pirates like Han Solo and Lando Calrissian look like a couple of pretty-boys. (Come to think of it, they are a couple of pretty boys, aren't they?) And the mad scientist types were good'n'creepy, just the way you like 'em. There's also (of course) a fairly obvious set-up for the next installment in the series, and a better-than-average treatment of artificial intelligence.
I give it a fairly strong thumbs-up with relatively minor caveats. If you like this sort of thing, this is probably the sort of thing you like. And I'd rank this one about even with Aliens -- i think it's better than Alien 3.
i don't know if it's my problem or hers, but while I thought Winona Ryder was terrific in Heathers nothing she's done since has really worked for me. Seems like she's trying too hard, somehow, although it bugged me less here than, say, in Dracula. But Weaver's performance was outstanding, and so was Perlman's.
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