Witness the resurrection.
For all intents and purposes Ripley’s story was finished. Her sacrifice at the end of Alien³ had meant not only her death but that of alien species as well, closing the doors to further sequels. 20th Century Fox however wanted more and despite producers Walter Hill and David Giler disinterest, they pushed forward for another sequel.
Up-and-coming screenwriter Joss Whedon was tasked with a script that could breath new life into the series, and he came up with a story that focused on a cloned version of Newt. Though the studio liked the script Ripley had become such an integral part of the franchise they asked Whedon to rewrite the script around her.
With her character dead Sigourney Weaver had no interest in coming back and repeat the formula of waking up to yet another nightmare (a fact that is referenced in a restored scene in the special edition version of the movie), but she was lured back when she read the script and was excited by the possibility of exploring a different, more unpredictable side of Ripley.
Unlike David Fincher before him, Jean Pierre Jeunet was given free rein to do almost whatever he wanted as long as he stayed within budget and the director took full advantage of the opportunity. Bringing on board many of his usual collaborators, Jeunet gave such a unique look to the world of Alien: Resurrection that the film sets itself apart in a series that has attracted other strongly visualist filmmakers.
But for some reason the clash of Jeunet’s filmmaking style and sensibilities and Joss Whedon’s thematically suggestive script caused a disconnect with most audiences. Make no mistake, there are many ideas and themes being explored in Alien: Resurrection, but they are only subtly suggested, perhaps too subtly, and for most people they are simply lost amidst the saturated visual palette and over the top gore that Jeunet infuses the film with.
Coming from an indie background and given that at the time he didn’t speak English at all, perhaps the director thought that simply implying things visually would be enough for people to grasp what he and the script were trying to say. This kind of art film approach required audiences to analyze every frame, a task not made easy by Whedon’s one liners and Jeunet’s dark comedy approach to several scenes.
Alien: Resurrection‘s main theme is about what is it that makes us human and how do we define a human being. 200 years after sacrificing herself Ripley is brought back to life by a group of scientists with no regards for morality or respect for human life. Whedon’s use of one line from Aliens carries an even more powerful meaning here:
My mommy always said that there were no monsters, no real ones. But there are.
For their makers this new Ripley is just a meat-by-product, an experiment carried away so that a group of rogue military can get their hands on the alien Queen she carried inside her just before she died. Though Weyland Yutani, the company for which Ripley once worked, is no more (bought by Walmart no less) the greed and stupidity has never left the human race.
Ripley is allowed to live by her creators as a curiosity, but she is not the same character we once knew and loved. The process of cloning has given her new abilities along with a new attitude. With blurry memories of her former self and having actually died to protect people around her, she no longer seems to care about human beings, simply waiting for the inevitable coming horror to start all over again.
But like Call (Winona Ryder) eventually discovers, Ripley’s humanity is not all lost. Despite Call being a droid, her determination to save the human race even at the cost of her own destruction it’s was brings back Ripley a little closer to the person she once was. And while initially Call distrusts Ripley because she doesn’t see her as human being she also learns to look beyond genetic appearances.
It’s specially striking that the group of mercenaries that accompany Call display more human feelings and compassion than any of the scientists and soldiers on board the Auriga. Even threatening tough guy Johner (Ron Pearlman) shows a change of attitude by the end, while Christie (Gary Dourdan) sacrifices himself so Vriess (Dominique Pinon) can live. They might be criminals, but they do care for one another in the end.
Perhaps the most disturbing moment in the film comes when Ripley has to deal with a freak show of previously failed attempts to clone her. For the first time this new Ripley displays human emotions as she witnesses the man-made abominations that share her DNA, finally putting them out of their misery.
Throughout the Alien series Ripley’s journey went from sole survivor to protective mother to martyr. Her story is so linked to the alien species that it’s only fitting they are now a part of her, genetically and metaphorically. The metaphor reaches its climax when Ripley disappears in a nightmarish sea of indistinguishable appendices and, as she is taken to the Queen, she simply surrenders to her captor almost cherishing it.
But it’s not only Ripley that has changed by the genetic procedure that brought her back to life. The alien are now smarter and more vicious than before going as far plot their escape and taking revenge on their captors after analyzing their behavior. They also device traps for their victims such as filling their escape route with water and putting eggs on the only way out.
In designing the aliens for the film, Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr. and their team took the opportunity to create something new, taking away the more biomechanical elements and making the creatures look more organic to reflect the influence of the human DNA.
Taking things one step beyond, the Alien Queen has also been affected by Ripley’s genes and develops a new stage on its reproductive cycle that culminates on the alien-human abomination known as the Newborn. An incredible achievement in animatronics, the Newborn is able to display a wide range of emotions from sadness to curiosity and anger.
Unfortunately the Newborn has always been a point of contention in an already controversial film because people seem to miss the point of its very existence and look. The Newborn is a horrific culmination of the film’s exploration of the ties between Ripley and the aliens, with a design that reflects the very abomination of its existence. The creature sees Ripley as its mother rather than the Queen that gave it life. Ripley, an unnatural crossbred herself, empathizes with the monstrous child but also recognizes it’s something that shouldn’t exist. With tears in her eyes she blows the creature out into space, and perhaps more disturbingly amidst its screams of pain you can almost hear the words “mom.”
All the visual horror and weirdness of the film is somewhat grounded by John Frizzell’s epic but more conventional score. Following three very well received musical scores was a though act, and while Frizzell hasn’t developed the sort of career that Goldsmith, Horner or Goldenthal achieved, his music for Alien: Resurrection deserved more recognition than it originally did.
Frizzell’s music is a combination of powerful orchestral sounds and eerie electronics, with some strong thematic elements to represent Ripley’s journey and relationship with Call, as well heighten the suspense and excitement of the action scenes. The composer also references one of Jerry Goldsmith’s most melodic cues from the original film, creating a musical link for the first time in the series.
By the end of the film Ripley and Call are left wondering what they will do next. Depending on the version of the movie you’re watching their dialogue carries a more existential and gloomier meaning, but one thing it’s clear: neither of them belong to Earth. Perhaps they have found humanity in themselves, but they do not belong to humanity either.
Unlike its predecessor Alien: Resurrection still hasn’t overcome its initial reception, and remains the least liked of the Alien movies, which I think is a shame. While I can understand some of the points people seem to have a problem with, for all its weirdness and the clashing of approaches and styles, like the alien themselves this is a beautiful and mesmerizing entry into the franchise. Perhaps if the emphasis had been on bringing its deeper ideas to the forefront and it removed the dark comedy elements it would have been better received.
While Whedon has famously disowned the film he went on use the crew of the Betty as the basis for Firefly (another project of his that deserved better reception), and Jeunet received acclaim for Amélie a few years later.
Unlike earlier films in the series, the ending of Alien: Resurrection left the doors wide open for a further sequel, which didn’t materialize because every idea thrown around took place on Earth, something that Sigourney Weaver wasn’t interested in. Weaver wanted to go back to the alien world, perhaps learning the origin of the species and uncover some of the mysteries that were never resolved in the original film.
Years later Ridley Scott would finally make that movie, but unfortunately Sigourney Weaver didn’t took a part on it.