Alien: Resurrection
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Ron Perlman, Dan Hedaya, Michael Wincott, Dominique Piñon, Kim Flowers, Brad Dourif, J.E. Freeman. Screenplay: Joss Whedon.

Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Alien: Resurrection, the fourth installment in my favorite sci-fi franchise, failed conspicuously to revive the series at the box-office. Are moviegoers tired of all the goop and slime, or were they merely resistant to the idea of an Alien installment featuring Winona Ryder in a major role? Who knows, but for my money, Alien: Resurrection comprises a worthy if not quite equal successor to the smart, electrifying Aliens and the fascinatingly spare Alien³. The first Alien remains, in my mind, the least innovative and, given all those shots of Sigourney Weaver running around in her panties, the most dubious in its presentation of character. The plot elements in Alien: Resurrection don't add up to much, with the only real novelty coming from the fact that, for the first time in the series, the human characters are divided into two distinct and untrusting factions. Weaver's iconic Ripley, however, returns in strikingly enigmatic form, manifesting a strange affinity for the toothsome beasties that only hints at a profound alteration in, quite literally, the construction of her character. Joss Whedon's script doesn't merely explain itself out of Ripley's seeming demise at the end of Alien³, he uses that narrative obstacle as an opportunity to reexamine who Ripley is and what she has become after all these years of intergalactic stand-offs with her uniquely resilient antagonist.

What has kept this franchise afloat all these years is the studio's admirable fearlessness in casting each new installment in the hands of relatively young, visually audacious filmmakers. Jeunet, who has achieved a prodigious cult following for his French sci-fi conundrums The City of Lost Children and Delicatessen, shapes this film with enough visual inspiration to mask the fact that, besides Ripley, nary a character onscreen has an ounce of weight. (Ryder doesn't embarrass herself as badly as people have feared, but she also doesn't have much to play.) Sequences late in the movie that I can only describe obliquely—a haunting walk through an abandoned genetics lab, Ripley's climactic interaction with the stalking alien—are so insinuating in their framing and editing that Alien: Resurrection seems like a much more potent movie than it probably is. Weaver also comes up with a creepy wariness and leonine physicality perfect for the shocking reconstitution of Ripley. I doubt Alien: Resurrection will be more than passingly satisfying to viewers unfamiliar with its predecessors, but its bold narrative and dark, moist texture—see it and you'll know what I mean—elevate the film by leaps and bounds above its generic competitors. Grade: B

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