Sunday, September 13, 2015

Alien Resurrection

  Of all the movies I love to bash, Alien Resurrection definitely has a permanent standing among them. It's a far cry (and then some) from the Gothic, Lovecraftian, scary, and often exciting proceedings of it's predecessors. It's a movie that most everyone generally accepts as bad, and it's the 'one to avoid'. 'Skip, if at all possible'. For ages, I would make no argument there. None at all. However, for some reason I decided to give it another go. I don't know why, it'd just been nagging at me. I like revisiting movies I dislike, and breaking them down into pieces to find out exactly why they don't work. Imagine my surprise when Alien Resurrection isn't at all the movie I remembered it to be. Well... most of it anyhow.

   Me and the Alien franchise go way back. I saw Aliens first at the ripe young age of 9, thanks to my parents. It blew my mind and changed my life- quite literally. It didn't take too long for me to convince them that the damage was done and I might as well see the first one, because why the hell not? My parents have always been rather against horror movies, but very fond of sci-fi/action so Aliens fell within an acceptable grey area. Alien on the other hand... was definitely more horror/survival than anything else. But they eventually buckled by the time I was 11, and the rest is history. To this day I consider Alien to be a wholly perfect movie in and of it's own right. But there were more Alien movies out there, I just had to see them.

  After a whole year of harassing my Dad, of course, he buckled again. We rented Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection in one shot to watch em both as a double feature. It was one of the most soul crushing and depressing nights of my childhood that I can remember. Alien 3 was me realizing Santa Claus wasn't real, and after that horrible revelation, Alien Resurrection was like looking the mall Santa in the face, now knowing he's just a fucking fraud. You couldn't have possibly had a more embittered 12 year old on your hands after that. Yet, my completionist's collector mindset landed me more than a few Alien movie boxsets over the years, and this led to subsequent and repeated reevaluations of both latter sequels. I grew to embrace and seriously love Alien 3 for what it is, but never quite... got Resurrection.

  Saying Alien Resurrection is a good movie, in a crowd of other Alien fans or movie enthusiasts in general, is sorta like tarring and feathering oneself. You just don't do it unless you're a freakin' masochist for verbal abuse. So far be it from me to say Alien Resurrection is a good movie... but it's far from the clusterfuck that people make it out to be. Lemme just put this out there, Jean-Pierre Jeunet was the worst choice to direct this movie. A director who by 1996 had two big releases under his belt, and lemme tell you, neither of them were horror/survival movies. But, apparently the top kicks at Fox felt that his penchant for weird visuals were enough to land him the gig directing Alien Resurrection. Ugh.

  The first thing Jeunet saw fit to do was infuse a dark sense of humor into the movie. It comes off as silly and out of place. It's the movie's biggest flaw and it's really uncomfortable. Speaking of uncomfortable, the last act is really uncomfortable. You'd think that the filmmakers had some sort of erotic alien fetishistic agenda with Resurrection. The whole angle was awkward overkill. It all culminated in one of the strangest, grossest, and most anticlimactic third act twists ever. Aliens had the Queen Alien, Alien 3 had the Dog Alien, what did unique oddity did Resurrection have waiting for it's audience? This fucking turd right here. Which while all the other Alien creatures to date have been downright horrifying, like a plague or evil itself, this thing, by contrast is about as threatening as watching a prostate exam. It's severely uncomfortable to look at, but little else.

  I'm not sure if we're supposed to feel sorry for it, or throw up in our mouths. It's gross, in a really badly-designed sort of way. THIS is the thing that the movie basically ends on. This is it! This is it's last act surprise! This cinematic abortion is the note Alien Resurrection all but ends on. As a result, you're left feeling underwhelmed, a bit cheated, and way more uncomfortable than you thought possible going in. Now... having said all that, I think that the other 3/4ths of the movie that came before that mess... are exceptionally solid with managed expectations. Please, let me explain...

  First of all, the cinematography is just pure eye candy. Look at these:

 In fact, just browse through this gallery here at your leisure. All that, coupled with some fantastic effects work make Alien Resurrection quite the visual treat. I can't stress that enough. There was a lot of care and attention put into all of these details. As the characters are shuttled from one set piece to the next, Resurrection always lands in an interesting looking place. The importance of engaging visuals and good cinematography cannot be overstated. Don't believe me? Just try to watch Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem. A movie so dark, grim, and visually boring that most of the time, if something cool bothered to happen, you couldn't see it anyhow.

  Resurrection shows off it's visuals and it's special effects with gusto. I give it a hearty applause if for no other reason than that. Secondly, the premise is actually really cool. If you think about it, it's precisely what the movies have been taunting us with all along. In Alien, the crew of the Nostromo were ordered to investigate any signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life, even if it meant their death. In Aliens, Burke saw dollar signs when he realized that the military would love to get their hands on these aliens. In Alien 3, Weyland-Yutani representatives again made an effort to try and obtain the species. Resurrection is basically about what would happen if a bunch of gung-ho scientists actually had the opportunity to experiment with the aliens.

  It's really interesting. Granted, the idea has more potential than they bothered to exploit, but it's still interesting nonetheless. The story leaves us with a rather eerie Ripley clone as our main protagonist, but just like all the icky aspects of the movie, she's just as uncomfortable to be around- for the most part anyways. Anyone who came to appreciate the maternal, solemn, and tragic survivor from the first three movies are in for a hell of a slap to the face. This isn't Ripley. "Ripley died 200 years ago" a character in the movie states. "Then who am I?" she asks. Well, shit, she ain't Ripley that much is clear. For one, the movie saw fit to give her some sort of biological link to the aliens, which means she's weird as hell. From the way she looks at people to the way she moves, she's just... eerie.

  We see shades of her earlier self whenever she's interacting with Call (Winona Ryder), a young woman to whom this Ripley gets somewhat protective of. If this had been explored just a bit more, it might've given more meat to the story, but it really wasn't. Nevertheless, it's there, and it's good. Their dynamic is great, and more of it could only have made the movie better. (If I recall, the director's cut does just that) As it is, the movie is full of witty moments, fun characters, blockbuster set pieces, and fantastic visuals. The director had no grasp of what makes Alien movies... Alien movies. He tried to put his own stamp on it and it backfired, but there's still a lot of merit in Resurrection. It's head and shoulders over a lot of other sci-fi/horror movies at the time, and manages to showcase some really cool designs- Newborn bullshit aside.

  Yeah, it's very obvious that the movie trades in scares for action scenes, which is frustrating, but there's still no shortage of style and skill put into each set piece. There's crazy camera angles, spinning and swerving through the action, immersing the viewer in what's going on without resorting to gimmicks like shaky-cam. If you can appreciate the big summer blockbuster appeal they were aiming for with a lot of the action in the movie, then you're likely to enjoy it a lot more. Nevertheless... I completely understand why this movie gets so much hate, and a lot of it is perfectly justifiable. It's silly, un-scary, and has a craptastic last act. But it's also incredibly energetic, richly atmospheric, unique, and at times even really suspenseful. It has one or two outstanding set pieces that ooze creativity and ramps up the tension, and for those scenes alone, Resurrection is worth a look.

   If you can look past it's ocassional awkwardness and odd visual style, you might find a seriously underrated flick. It's still the odd one out of the saga, and it doesn't stack up well next to any of the first three, but it functions well enough on it's own. I'm still not saying it's good, but for what it's worth, it was fun picking it apart. I think I appreciate Alien Resurrection a little more now than I ever did before, and I can't say I hate it anymore.  "Was it everything you hoped for?" Ripley-Clone asks at one point with a trademark sneer. No, it's really not. But when I'm in the mood for weirdness with neat visuals... sometimes, it's enough.

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