I’ve had a long history with the Alien universe, starting when I was around five or six with the Kenner toys and a secret viewing of the second film that scared the hell out of me. It’s one of two things that I’ll dub myself a fanboy for, and I’ve managed to find the good in anything associated with it, including Aliens: Colonial Marines and the two Aliens vs Predator movies. The first two films are spectacular in pretty much every respect, but unlike some—or most as the Internet leads me to believe—I quite like the third and fourth installments as well. And, because it’s Halloween, I thought it might be a good time to re-watch Alien: Resurrection (the most despised of the four movies), and defend it.
Because guys, it’s not a bad movie.
I will, of course, fully admit that Alien: Resurrection isn’t a great movie. It’s…well, strange as hell, perhaps one of the strangest movies I own. I think that works in its favor though. The Alien universe has the pleasure of never repeating itself. The first movie is straight horror, the second is an action flick, the third is more of a thriller, and the fourth is a dark comedy. Of the four, Alien: Resurrection is the odd man out, because while the other movies had little elements of humor, the setting and universe don’t conclude themselves to comedy.
We’re looking at a monster that literally rapes its way into existence, and there’s nothing funny about that.
And really, Alien: Resurrection isn’t funny at all. It tries often, but it never succeeds. Yet in that failure, it becomes something really bizarre and interesting, and I find that to be its biggest strength. Watching Alien: Resurrection is like watching a fever dream, one that’s oddly coherent yet still filled with illogical dream logic. Everything makes sense, yet nothing makes sense at the same time.
The beginning sequences are unsettling, with Ripley’s clone being taken to an operation table so a queen alien can be removed from her chest. When that’s a success, the doctors decide to keep her alive as a social experiment of sorts. She knows nothing, yet memories from her past keep flashing back, memories she shouldn’t have. She also has a new set of attributes: acidic blood, heightened strength, and a high tolerance for pain.
The first half hour or so of Alien: Resurrection is just strange, though it’s less in the plot department (which I admit is ridiculous) but in the way everyone is acting. From the doctors to General Perez to Ellen Ripley herself, it’s like none of the people are real people but only pretending at it. The way everyone moves, talks, acts, etc is all just off. Ripley has an excuse for this; she’s a clone and relearning pretty much everything, but that winds up making her seem like the only normal person in the whole space installation.
This dream-like quality never leaves the movie, though the crew of The Betty seem to be outside of it at first. There’s a natural rhythm to them that everyone else lacks, and when they show up, they become this strange glimpse of normalcy in an otherwise illogical place. Yet as the movie progresses, even they become stuck in this dream world, one where Johnner (Ron Pearlman) makes bad jokes after seriously twisted scenes and Christie (Gary Dourdan) acts like he’s an unstoppable badass in an action movie.
Whatever movies The Betty’s crew thinks they are strolling into, it means little when the Xenomorphs break free and start killing everyone.
Alien: Resurrection isn’t really a scary movie. It’s unsettling throughout, but not because of the creatures themselves. At this point, it’s hard to find them scary. They’ve been in three other movies, numerous comic books, some regular books, and even video games. We’ve all seen, killed, and even played as them enough to find a comfort in their designs and lifecycle. Watching them slaughter everyone this go around is more fun than anything else, yet it’s the way everyone acts that makes the whole package seem unnerving—and no, it has nothing to do with the screams or terror.
For example, when a Xenomorph runs into an escape pod, General Perez throws a grenade in to kill it and everyone else. He then gives a salute that’s so earnest you start to wonder if he thinks himself in a different place or time, and then gets attacked. An alien bites out a chunk of his skull, but instead of flopping onto the ground and dying, he reaches back and pulls out a bit of his brain. He looks at it.
I imagine this sequence was supposed to be funny, yet I found it really creepy. Like I said, so many characters seem to be acting as if they’re in a different movie and just don’t know what to do, or worse, are stuck like marionettes on a string and are forced to participate in their own demise.
Ripley is the only one who really gets it, but she’s also off her rocker the entire film. She also knows that the last time she dealt with the aliens, she wound up dead. It’s honestly kind of great, and Sigourney Weaver’s performance is wonderful. The way she moves, talks, and touches everyone is just so strange, and her new relationship with the Xenomorphs is also really fun.
As she says, “I’m the monster’s mother.”
One of the things I like most about Alien: Resurrection is how it works with the source material. Ripley’s quest has always been about motherhood in some way, and those tables are flipped on their head here. I wish the movie actually did more with this concept than just force her to kill her own children, but it’s still interesting and, like everything else, unsettling. There’s something a little tragic in the final, climactic battle when she kills the Newborn.
The plot too works with the source material. Every Alien movie (and most of the comics and games too) prior to this one has involved some human entity trying to capture and control the Xenomorphs, and we as viewers all know how that will end up. Alien: Resurrection finally gives us that story, and I find catharsis in it. To be sure, I think the idea is handled a bit better in the old Dark Horse comics, but it’s nice to see it on the big screen regardless. It’s nice to get to shout, “I told you so!”
Even bringing Ripley back from the grave works with the original source material. The theme throughout the series is that the aliens are inescapable. Ripley spends every movie running from them and only escapes through death. As it turns out, she can’t even escape them that way. She’s forced back into the realm of the living, and she’s brought all her old demons with her. This fact isn’t really talked about in the movie, yet it’s there, and I find it really important and really tragic too.
Some characters deserve rest, and Ripley is one of them. It’s a shame the universe won’t let her have that.
Those are the big nods, but there are little ones too. Ripley falls through the floor and is captured by the Xenomorphs like Newt was in Aliens, only now Ripley has to save herself since no one wants to go back for her. When everyone gets to The Betty and leaves, there’s still an alien on board, and like in Aliens it comes down to Ripley, an android, and the monster. The nice thing is, Call comes away mostly unharmed while Bishop didn’t. I’m sure there are more little references throughout too that I missed.
The last big part of Alien: Resurrection I want to talk about is the Newborn. I get that some hate the creature, but honestly, I love his design. Like I said earlier, after three other movies, a bunch of comic books, and even some video games, the Xenomorph isn’t scary. Alien: Resurrection needed to come up with something new, something seriously screwed up, and it did.
The Newborn hits the uncanny valley for me. It’s clearly a monster, yet there’s enough emotion in his face to make him seem more than the sum of his parts. He stumbles around like a child, and when he isn’t being a destructive monster, he even interacts with the world like a child. He croaks and chirps in a cute manor, but he also bites the heads off of deranged scientists. Also, his eyes and the human-skull face he has going on freak me out.
I admitted in the second paragraph of this write-up that Alien: Resurrection isn’t a great movie. It isn’t. Despite all the things I like about it, it’s still a crazy mess of bad pacing, has more tonal issues than an unturned bagpipe, and in general, tries to do a bit too much with itself. It wants everything, from horror to comedy to serious drama, to deep themes, and it just can’t have it all. I don’t think anything can, at least nothing confining itself to a two hour runtime.
But damn it all, I do like the flick. It isn’t a bad movie, and in fact, I think it’s quite good. It gets under my skin in ways that the other movies simply cannot, and you can chalk that up to an accident of poor acting or directing or whatever, but I certainly think it works.
I also think it’s a movie worth watching. Sometimes the strange films just need to be seen for the sake of seeing something strange.