Look, maybe you’re tired of reading my excessive adoration for this franchise. Well, tough it out.
Alien: Resurrection is about as wild as you can get for this franchise. 1997 was a great year for bugnuts sci-fi, with Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers skewering fascism while Event Horizon horrified us and Cube was…well, it was Cube. It was the year that, like Ripley, the Alien franchise was resurrected into a “not-so-perfect” clone that I can’t help but enjoy for what it is.
We’ve got to talk about Joss Whedon. The guy had two major writing credits to his name, which were Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Toy Story. One was a disappointment to him, pushing the guy to take the concept and rework it into a television show that matched his original vision. His work on other scripts, for which he received little credit but a lot of attention, brought him into the eyes of Fox execs that were working on another Alien sequel. He was originally tasked with with creating a script centering on a clone of Newt, who had died offscreen in Alien3. After turning in a thirty page treatment he was then sent back to do another draft that instead included Ripley.
Let’s talk about the end of Alien3. Actually let’s talk about a lot of it. The film gave us the deaths of all major characters in the franchise and literally blew the Xenomorph to pieces. Newt, Hicks, and Ripley were all incinerated to their atoms in a nuclear-looking furnace at a prison foundry. I get that DNA can be gathered (that autopsy scene left plenty of Newt’s) but…seriously, the cloning thing is pushing it.
Despite how you feel about the return of Ripley, it happened. Whedon turned in his script and it came to those in charge of the direction the franchise was taking. Sigourney Weaver had insisted the Ripley character die in Alien3 as a way to cap the franchise how she saw fit. At this point Weaver had a lot of authorship in the story, feeling that she wanted to try new things and desperate to use her clout to head off the upcoming Alien vs. Predator film that Fox was working to churn out. Joss Whedon had introduced a concept wild enough to draw her back: Ripley was now half Xenomorph and half human. That was the hinge on which Weaver’s involvement turned, a series of new angles for her to try out with the character. The Ripley we’re given in Alien: Resurrection doesn’t resemble the Ripley we’ve grown to care about much. She’s stoic and moves like a bird (a trait that would be granted to the new Xenomorph Warriors for the film), bleeds acid, and seems decidedly inhuman.
Now that they had a script the hunt for a director was on. Danny Boyle was approached (how rad would THAT have been?) alongside Peter Jackson and Bryan Singer. Each one passed and it was then that the studio approached French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
Jeunet is a weird dude. I’m familiar with a couple of his films outside of this, his only American work. Delicatessen is a mean little post-apocalyptic story about cannibalism and classism, while The City of Lost Children tackles capitalism and the dehumanization of children for profit. Listen, the Alien franchise has never been subtle in its portrayal of viciously cold violence and the greedy claw of capitalism sacrificing lives for a leg up, so I have to believe that these are the reasons Jeunet was approached to direct the film. Even stranger is that he was openly against making a fourth film, having considered the franchise over with Alien3 and thinking the idea was a bad one. For some reason (possibly enough money to go on and make his award-winning film Amélie) Jeunet accepted the position and took on the franchise. So he didn’t speak the language, what did it matter? This was an era where Hollywood was deeply interested in an outside perspective and seeking out directors from Europe. From Paul Verhoeven to Renny Harlin to Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the European sensibilities were slowly making their way onto American screens and changing perspectives.
The final setpiece of the film was one that Jeunet cared deeply about. The film allows a hybridization of Xenomorph and Human DNA, so while Ripley is human on the outside and Xeno inside the hybrid creature is a more upsetting image. Using animatronics to allow more expression, the effects team created this nightmare-fuel that looked more like a melted person than the traditional beast. My favorite bit of trivia? It originally had very explicit genitalia that was a fusion of both genders, penis and vagina, and the studio found it upsetting. Upon reconsidering Jeunet decided it that, “Even for a Frenchman, it’s too much,” and had it digitally removed from the film. There’s an image online that is pixelated to hell but worth checking out. What you can see is hilariously gross and weird and I wish he’d have kept it.
The film also took a musical turn. I love that each entry in this series felt separate-yet-connected, through-lines keeping it all together while the main themes and tones served as glue. Alien: Resurrection threw all of that shit out of the window in favor of this odd, bombastic fusion of traditional symphonic music with electronic elements peppered throughout. Scores like this would become common in the 2010s, but in 1997 this was off-putting. John Frizzell’s score is a weird mixture of interesting and serviceable, all at once nothing too special but different enough to be noteworthy. I find the entire exercise wholly baffling.
I don’t need to discuss the film itself. You can watch on your own and see the results. Whedon was pissed, stating that his script was done faithfully but that it was delivered wrong at every turn. While the first three films are nihilistic, angry, and visceral Alien: Resurrection turned into a comedic affair that features Ron Perlman hooting like an ape and Brad Dourif delivering absolutely insane monologues that hint at his sexual attraction to the Xenomorph. Hell, Weaver even forced in what looks to be an orgy with a writhing nest of the creatures because it was something she’s always wanted. It’s a movie that goes for broke and makes no apologies when it fails. I adore it for the mess it is and the wonderful nuggets within. While it doesn’t have as interesting a story as its predecessors, Alien: Resurrection is a wild left turn for this franchise and I think that’s worth talking about.