Imagine this. . . even though Ellen Ripley died at the end of Alien 3, the government found a way to secure her DNA, only it had mixed with the alien inside her before it was secured. Now the government is running illegal cloning experiments to try to recreate the alien so they can study it and turn it into a weapon. But the government’s experiments get discovered, and an android is sent to sneak aboard the ship on which the experiments are being conducted and destroy the alien and the DNA. To sneak on board, the android will hide among the crew of a ship that is delivering kidnapped humans to the lab. Those humans are to be exposed to the alien. Once on board, however, things go wrong and the alien gets loose.
All told, this sounds like all the makings for a heck of a movie, doesn’t it? Well, not quite. See, a great concept also needs solid execution, and this thing had anything but solid execution.
Interestingly, the “production” itself was fine. The sets are nicely done. The actors did their parts. French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s camera work is competent, though hardly inspired. The effects were probably some of the best in the series. Yet the film stinks. And the reason the film stinks is because of a series of horrible choices made along the way.
Let’s start with the way they used the actors. Brad Douriff is wasted. He has less than two minutes of screen time. Ron Perlman is solid as always, but the film doesn’t focus on him until near the end, choosing instead to give equal time to each of the pirates. Hence, he’s largely wasted as well. Wynona Ryder is not credible as an android come to kill anyone. Sigourney Weaver’s character has lost all of her energy. She’s not spunky Ridley anymore, she’s super-monster killing-machine Ripley, and that makes her uninteresting. Also, the director seems incapable of deciding if she’s siding with the monsters or the humans, so her expressions are largely incomprehensible. Then there’s Dan Hedaya. . . yeah.
Then you look at the writing. The scenes barely connect. Indeed, they feel more like vignettes strung together by walking scenes. Basically, they had a great idea in principle but never used it as more than back-story for a slow-motion chase film.
Beyond the lack of plot, the dialog is exceedingly poor. Indeed, Alien Resurrection includes one of the worst moments of exposition ever, as one of the soldiers explains to us who Wynona Ryder’s character is. See, exposition is a dangerous thing. There is an old rule in writing called “show, don’t tell,” because the best story telling involves letting the audience see something for themselves rather than just being told what the should know. Exposition flies in the face of that, and is therefore a dangerous thing to include in any event. And when exposition is too obvious, it makes the audience groan because they see it for what it is. It is not natural conversation, it is a character speaking directly to the audience to tell them exactly what they need to know.
Now think about this. Ryder is a part of group that appears to be something he has a passion for studying. He knows everything about them. Yet, he doesn’t remember that he knows anything about them until it’s his turn to speak. This is a bizarre moment and it’s indicative of the writing here. When something needs to happen, it does. When some bit of information needs to be passed along, it is simply spoken after an “oh yeah.” There is no subtlety. There is no attempt to provide information through the story or to let it come naturally out of the dialog. That’s poor writing.
All of this conspires to make me wonder if someone, most likely the director, didn’t decide that he wanted to make this film a parody and just missed the mark. Each of these moments seems like it is intended to be humorous or poke fun at the way these films normally work, only none of them rise to the obvious level of making you laugh. It’s almost like the director wanted a comedy but no one else did, so you end up with an unsatisfactory and strange mix.
And in any event, the bigger lesson is that even when you have an excellent concept, it’s very easy to squander that with poor implementation.