‘It’s already too late!’ – film poster.
‘My mommy always said there were no monsters. No real ones. But there are.’ – Ripley.
Earning $11million, a muscled-up Sigourney Weaver’s back as a now cloned Flight Officer Ellen Ripley to do battle with the Aliens for number four in the series, set a couple of centuries on from her death in Alien 3.
This intense, stylish and sinister 1997 sci-fi thriller makes itself very welcome, though, arguably, it’s probably the weakest in the series so far. However, it’s lifted into a class act with its chilling, surreal atmosphere, superb production designs by Nigel Phelps, dazzling cinematography by Darius Kondji and state-of-the-art special effects (using 3D models and graphics) by Susan Zwerman, PTOF and Erik Henry.
When a spaceship of smugglers including the mysterious Call (Winona Ryder) arrives on the space station Auriga, where scientists have recreated Ripley and the alien inside her from DNA samples, they find a very different Ripley from the one in legend. With her DNA mixed with the Alien Queen’s, she starts she exhibit alien characteristics.
Mad scientists crazily start breeding the aliens. Disaster promptly strikes when the aliens break free from their cases, and Ripley joins forces with the renegades to combat the apparently unstoppable evil-scum predator. The spaceship is on course for Earth.
Though he’s said he dissatisfied with the movie, Joss Whedon’s screenplay is not at all bad, providing the right gloomily dark tone, some cheery black humour ‘Ripley, I thought you were dead’ – ‘I get that a lot’) and several top action set pieces, which director Jean-Pierre Jeunet does the most with.
There’s one particularly brilliant sequence – the underwater alien attack on the crew trying to make its escape – that really works some movie magic. This complex segment understandably took three weeks to shoot on a specially built sound stage with a permanent water tank at the 20th Century Fox studios. It’s the only Alien film not shot in the UK.
Apparently the problem is that the intended playful tone in Whedon’s was undermined when Jeunet decided to play it straight. But in so doing, he goes for fanciful rather than realistic, further upsetting the script.
If there was disappointment with Alien: Resurrection, most of the blame must be at the door of Whedon, since he’s confirmed that most of his dialogue, action and plot remain more or less as he wrote them. But some blame must be with Jeunet who perhaps wasn’t the best realiser of Whedon’s work. He doesn’t quite seem to get Alien. And there might also have been a problem with Jeunet’s lack of English, having to work through interpreters.
There’s nothing wrong with the performers who provide lots of hearty over-acting. An excellent cast of eccentric players like Ron Perlman, Michael Wincott, Dan Hedaya, J E Freeman, Dominique Pinon and Brad Dourif all shine, and shine so brightly that it’s a great shame they don’t have more to do. When any of them bite the dust, it’s a bit of a blow to your enjoyment of the movie.
Unfortunately, and sad to say, Ryder is the weak link. She tries hard but she’s basically like a fish out of water as Weaver’s boyish little helper, Annalee Call.
With some of the roles seemingly curtailed, the film feels a bit thin and short, and maybe way over-edited, at only 109 minutes when this story could spread comfortably over two hours. The 2003 Special Edition runs 116 minutes and rectifies much of this problem. This is the version to see.
An open ending as Ripley’s spacecraft heads back for Earth promises Alien number 5, though so far we’ve still not had one. See all four Alien together for maximum impact; they join perfectly.
The Alien effects are by Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr.
H R Giger was annoyed that he got no on-screen credits for his Alien designs and protested to Fox, who added his name for the DVD release.
Danny Boyle, Paul W S Anderson and David Cronenberg all passed on directing it.
Score by John Frizell. The original ending was a battle on Earth with the survivors banding together against the aliens.
Whedon gets the last word: ‘They changed the ending. And they cast it wrong. They said the lines but they said them all wrong. And they designed it wrong. And they scored it wrong. They did everything wrong they possibly could.’
© Derek Winnert 2013 Classic Movie Review 192
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