Friday, November 30, 2012

Film Friday: Alien Resurrection (1997)

Poor execution will ruin a great concept every time, and no film highlights that better than Alien Resurrection. Alien Resurrection is a film that must have looked fantastic on the drawing board, but it fell apart completely because of the lousy, lousy choices made throughout the production. Observe.

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.
That sounds like a pretty darn solid film, doesn’t it? Now add Joss Whedon as the writer, that’s the same Joss Whedon who did such fantastic work on Buffy, Speed (uncredited), and Firefly, and who co-wrote Toy Story. Add producer Walter Hill, who rarely misses. And add a cast that includes Sigourney Weaver, Dan Hedaya (Usual Suspects, Clueless), perennial sci-fi favorite Brad Dourif (Dune, Lord of the Rings), and Hellboy himself, Ron Perlman. Not too shabby.

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.
See, Hedaya is the first clue that something is seriously wrong here. He’s the general in charge of the facility. That means, he’s the guy who sets the tone for the “army guys” (I guess the Colonial Marine Corp went out of business). And what tone does he set? He’s un-funny comic relief. That’s right, he slouches around the facility like a caricature of a villain. He also does a lot of what appears to be physical humor, except it’s not clear it’s meant to be funny. For example, to enter secret rooms, he needs to breath into the security panels, which is ludicrous looking and reminds one of Bill Shatner in Airplane II who “shushes” the doors. When he goes to hit a button to activate a grenade, rather than just hit it, he does this cartoon-like routine where he holds the button as far away form himself as possible, as if the button will explode. And when he blows up an escape pod containing several soldiers, he does this laughably stupid looking salute, followed by the very tired routine of turning his eyes to the side as he realizes the alien is standing behind him. Was this parody? You can’t have a serious film where an important character acts like he’s in a cartoon.

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.
In this case, the soldier (whose name is as irrelevant and as forgettable as the rest – another sign of horrible writing) first tells us that he has no idea who or what Wynona Ryder could possibly be, even after it’s revealed she’s a robot. Total blank. Then he says, “Wait a minute, I remember everything now!” This is perhaps the most ham-fisted way to say, “I am about to engage in exposition!” There should be a red flashing light whenever this phrase is uttered on film. Then he basically tells us Ryder’s entire backstory in excruciating detail. And how does he know all this? Because, he tells us, the story of the group of robots to which Ryder belongs is basically a passion of his “but I never thought I’d actually meet one!”

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.

47 comments:

Tennessee Jed said...

no doubt all you say here is true, but usually, anything with a "3" after it is playing with fire to begin with.

ScottDS said...

This movie is just... bland. I can't put a finger on it but it's just not that entertaining. The cinematography is nice (by one of my favorite DPs, Darius Khondji), the sets are pretty to look at… but it's all rather uninteresting, though I think I speak for many when I say that the one good scene is when Ripley destroys the earlier clones. It's sort of the one time when everything comes together. Other than that, bupkes. Hell, even the music is boring in this one.

The plot is a little too complicated for its own good and I think perhaps one extra scene at the beginning might've helped. Oddly enough, the crew of the Betty could be seen as Joss Whedon's rough draft for Firefly. (Other peoples' words, not mine!)

BTW, Whedon would agree with you. People would ask him about his script and his answer was always something to the effect of, "They filmed the script I wrote but they made all the wrong decisions while filming it!"

Also, I must point out that Walter Hill and David Giler weren't heavily involved with this film. You mention Hill by name but on the DVD retrospective, Giler says he and Hill hated the idea but the studio went ahead with it anyway. I assume their credit was contractual.

P.S. I don't know about the Colonial Marines but in a deleted scene, we find out that the company had been bought by Wal-Mart!

tryanmax said...

Somehow I remember this one better than Alien³, but I also remember not liking it. Truly, only the original stands out in my mind. That's the trouble with something excellent, everybody wants more of it, but it's exceedingly difficult to maintain the standard.

Aside: since we all now know that Prometheus was, in fact, an Alien prequel, does that move the series from quadrilogy (or, more accurately, tetralogy) to pentalogy? Or is it just a saga at this point?

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, This is actually a 4. I think if this has been made today, they would have done it as a reboot. Instead, they tried to make a sequel.

What's interesting to me is that if they had really dug into the concept behind the film rather than the horrid script they used, this could have been a really strong film -- a total turn around the disappointing Alien³.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I can tell exactly what's wrong... and it's in your own comment: the backstory is too complicated, the plot is non-existent. The plot is "walk from point A to some point B while being chased." There is literally nothing else going on. That's way too thin of a plot to support a film. Hence: dull.

But at the same time they dumped all the plot into the backstory, which means you're taking in what should be the entire movie in one big exposition. That makes the movie feel too complicated.

Think of it this way. Imagine Star Wars opening with Luke and Han arguing. During that argument, they explain everything from how Luke found Ben, to getting trained, to rescuing Leia to Ben being killed by Vader. Now the film starts with them sneaking from the security section to the Falcon to escape while the Death Star counts down to an explosion around them. That's how Star Wars would be remade using the Alien Resurrection model.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I could two Alien films and consider the rest knock-offs.

I think this one is more memorable than Alien³ because it's livelier and the cast is more memorable. But that doesn't make it a better film. I'd say both 3 and 4 are equally bad, but for different reasons.

rlaWTX said...

yeah, sorta like there are only 3 Star Wars films, there are only 2 "Alien" movies. I don't know what this mish-mash of which you speak...

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

Re: backstory, I've never heard it explained quite like that but I believe you're correct. :-)

I might just have to make Alien 3 my first review of 2013. I don't know if I'll go so far as to "defend" it but it's worth another look, especially (read: only) in its extended form. For all its faults, there's more going on in any five minutes of that film than in the entirety of this one!

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, Exactly! I have no idea why threw the word "Alien" into the title on these other films... it doesn't belong. ;)

BIG MO said...

Man, what a wasted opportunity Alien Resurrection was, given the large amount of talent involved. Heck I bet The Asylum would have made a more interesting movie, and that's saying a lot. (But we can't expect a top-notch product from such talent all the time...)

Only two things I remember from this film. First, I was visiting my Dad in Japan when it came out, and I still have the Japanese newspaper containing a large ad for the film.

Second, Gary Dourdan played one of the soldiers (the big guy with the deadlocks); he's more famous as Warrick Brown for 8 seasons on the original CSI, where I thought his was the best character following William Peterson's departure from the show. I only recognized Dourdan after seeing AR a second time just a few years ago.

Other than those two things, I'd forgotten about this disappointing flick until today.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That's true. There is a surprising amount of depth in Alien 3. The characters are complex. The motivations interesting. The story does work. It just wasn't assembled well. It's kind of like the inverse of this film actually. This one had excellent production, but horrible story. That one had excellent story, but poor production.

LL said...

ALIENS was my favorite of the franchise because of the total war scenario (James Cameron) - humanity toe to toe with the alien killing machines. However, I have to tell you that I liked Alien Resurrection better than I liked Alien 3.
For me the break-down went this way:
ALIENS
Alien
Alien Ressurection
Alien 3

I have the series on Blue Ray and do watch them all from time to time because I like the franchise.

AndrewPrice said...

LL, I like Alien and Aliens equally and can't really rank them because they are different genres in my mind. I give them both an A.

I prefer Alien Resurrection to Alien3 as well. But both films are in the D+/C range for me. They're certainly not as bad as a lot of the bland stuff coming out these days, but they really aren't anywhere near as good as the first two.

Anthony said...

I thought Resurrection was a step up from 3, because while Resurrection was merely flavorless mush, 3 seemed designed to trigger intense hatred (the worst move was killing off all of the non-Ripley human survivors offscreen, though the movie also failed in every other way imaginable).

Resurrection bringing Ripley back was a bizarre move (they should have just announced that Aliens 3 was a nightmare she had while in the capsule) especially given that Ripley came back as a completely different character, one with superstrength, acid for blood and some sort of love of aliens, so they didn't really bring her back and displayed just as much contempt for the character as the idiots behind Aliens 3.

The only scenes I remember from Resurrection are the scenes where Ridley beats the soldiers (or mercenaries, I forget) at basketball and the one which shows the aliens swimming (which was easy on the eyes, if nothing else).

AndrewPrice said...

Anthony, I also prefer Alien Resurrection to Alien 3, and I think you're right that 3 does things to annoy you. Resurrection is bland, but it never really annoys you. 3 does a lot of things that make you say, "gee, didn't want to see that."

As for the scenes you remember, those are really the only two "major" scenes in the film. The first is the plot moment. The second is the climax of the action. All the rest is chase scene filler.

The only other memorable scene to me is the one I mention in the article where they explain who Rider is.... because it's just so awful.

ScottDS said...

In my experience, Alien 3 is one of those, "Yeah, but...!" movies.

For example, after extolling the virtues of the film (and there are some virtues), most people say something to the effect of, "Yeah, but they kill off Hicks and Newt for no reason at all!" And you know what? I can't defend that. I personally have no problem with it but I can't defend it and I more than sympathize with people who were expecting Aliens 2 and not Alien 3.

In fact, during the (prolonged and torturous) writing process, there were drafts with Ripley but no Hicks, Ripley and Hicks but no Newt, and even Hicks but no Ripley, because they didn't know if Sigourney would come back.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, That's true about 3. I can list a lot of good things in that film... but every time there's a "yeah but..."

Even at this point, where I don't expect it to be Aliens 2, it still strikes me as that kind of movie where every time I watch it and I like something about it, I know that within a matter of minutes, the film will undo what I like. It's just a film with a LOT of bad decisions throughout.

Two that come to mind, for example, are the early deaths of the warden and the doctor. Just as they start building chemistry with the doctor... he dies. There's no pay off on their relationship. Similarly, the warden is an interesting character. He's set up as a skeptic. A skeptic should be given a chance to deal with his doubt being proven wrong. He doesn't get that... he just dies. Again, why bother developing the character just to kill him? Those are bad decisions and they robbed the film of plot elements that would have made the film much more fulfilling.

T-Rav said...

I've actually seen part of this Alien movie (on my own, without being YELLED AT BY EVERYONE HERE!), mainly the end, I think. Not much, but enough to grasp the basics.

Why would you have a clone Ripley? Not even knowing really who her character was (to people), that struck me as a really baffling decision by the writers. I get that they needed some way to bring Ripley back from the dead, but was this really the only thing they could think of?

Also, Winona Ryder's character seemed really pointless and uninteresting to me. But I didn't see the whole thing, so I don't know.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, We don't yell... we encourage with extreme prejudice. :)

Ryder's character was pointless and uninteresting. The idea behind her was an excellent one, but the execution was horrid. She ended up dull and pointless except for a couple moments where they needed to talk to the computer. If I had to guess, they hoped that they could spin her off if Weaver refused to return in the future, but her character was so worthless that no one would pay to see Alien 5 if it was about her.

They made Ripley a clone because they had no other way to bring her back from the dead -- she was melted in liquid metal at the end of 3. So the cloning thing makes sense... except they changed her character to the point that they might as well have picked another actress.

shawn said...

The biggest failing of this movie is that some suit thought that they needed to bring back Sigourney Weaver. Now I'll admit that unlike Andrew, I thought that Ripley was the best thing in the movie, mainly as Weaver exudes a real sense of menace at times. But the movies are called "Alien" not "Ripley" and I wish the suits would realise this.

Can't agrue with the rest, although I would rate Alien 3 above Resurrection,. Afterall, 3 didn't have the poorly executed hybrid. (shudder).

Also, I wish they would go in some other direction than "The company wants the alien for its bio-weapons reasearch".

ambisinistral said...

I'm a bit of an oddity in that I don't hold Alien in all that high of regard.

The setup is fantastic. A tramp space freighter encounters a distress beacon from a crashed alien space ship, wakes the crew up who then, with dollar signs in their eyes, divert to investigate and lay claim to it. However, once they find it they are woefully unprepared to deal with the wreck and what's inside of it.

So far so good, then the reveal of the robot crew member. When it happened I was yanked out of my suspension of disbelief so rapidly I got whiplash from it.

Aside from the disappointment of going from the very clever tramps space steamer to the cliche ol' Eeeevil corporation schtick I sat their wondering why the Eeeevil corporation who go through such a convoluted and hairbrained plan of sending an unprepared crew to the wreck if they could build such good robots? Why not send a robot crew?

I never did figure out an answer to that question.

The second Alien movie got even more ridiculous when said Eeeevil corporation decided to forget the alien spaceship and setup a mining operation next to it instead. WTF???

I never saw Aliens 3 or Alien Resurrection.

T-Rav said...

Andrew, that's a little more understandable, I guess. But as a rule, I don't like the whole "cloning" thing. It keeps automatically assuming that your clone is the same person as you, which they're not. So basically, "clone Ripley" is a completely different character from Ripley, only the movie wants to pretend that it really is Ripley and just...argh. I hate it when the writing gets lazy like that.

ambisinistral said...

BTW, hate to be off-topic, but is it hairbrained or harebrained?

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, I agree on the company -- that's a crutch. "Oh the company wants a bio weapon. Give me a break, think of something original.

TOTALLY AGREE about the hybrid! Gak. What a bad idea and what a poorly executed... thing. I think they just wanted to up the ante, but boy did they miss the mark.

I don't really disagree that Ripley was the best thing in the film, but she wasn't really Ripley. So it was kind of a poor decision to specifically bring her back and then not use her in the same way.

AndrewPrice said...

ambisinistral, LOL! Excellent points. There are definitely flaws in both Alien and Aliens. And you aren't alone in your dislike of those films, there are certainly people who agree with you.

In terms of this one and 3, they really are on the same level of most sequels -- just not well done.

According to the net, it should be harebrained.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, That bugs me too. I've seen it used in science fiction a lot as a way to bring back a character and they always treat them as the same person... but they aren't. It's like swapping out a twin -- they may look similar, but they aren't the same person.

Tennessee Jed said...

I meant to hit four, but the sentiment is the same. I very much enjoyed the original Alien, but honestly didn't see it as a kind of franchise series. And with few exceptions, I'm generally not a huge fan of sequels to begin with. As a matter of fact, they are best when there is actually a larger story to tell, but one that needs to be broken into smaller chunks. (I'm thinking Star Wars original three episodes.) Really good heroes such as Indiana Jones or Batman can have a successful sequel, but it is rare when any sequel is as good as the original.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I agree with that. Sequels are rarely good and you are right that they are best when they are just one long that is being broken up rather than independent films.

And Alien isn't the kind of film that needed a sequel, but I really did enjoy 2, so I was looking forward to 3 and I've watched the rest. I like the franchise, even if it's let me down more than it hasn't.

Patriot said...

Sorry guys....the Aliens franchise has done nothing for me ever. The only good thing I took away from all of them was the hook for the 1st one......"In space, no one can hear you scream!"
Other than that......I don't care for these types of sci-fy flicks. Alien monsters eating up humans.

Good lord...they even combined two of them into one movie......Alien vs. Predator. Come on....

Patriot said...

Which is not to say "Predator" wasn't Arnold's best film ever. So many memorable lines.

Andrew.....you guys need to do a write-up on these great parodies

"Conan..The Musical"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBGOQ7SsJrw

and "Predator The Musical"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlicWUDf5MM

AndrewPrice said...

Patriot, Not everyone enjoys the same things. And despite the fact it seems to outsell everything else by a mile, science fiction is considered a bastard stepchild of films and it gets no respect.

Write ups on the parodies? LOL! That might make for a good article. Let me check them out.

rlaWTX said...

now, if they had kept Hicks (M Biehn) in these misbegotten attempts, maybe.... nah.

annoyedelephants said...

I'll be in the minority here. I enjoyed Alien Resurrection. It's probably the least of the original (non-AVP) series, but I still thought it was a worthy entry in the series.

T-Rav said...

Patriot, and they made a sequel of that (Alien vs. Predator: Requiem). And they say Hollywood's out of ideas....

ScottDS said...

The first AvP was... okay... and I use that term charitably. It could've been infinitely better, though.

The sequel, on the other hand, was awful!!!!! Bland characters, terrible camerawork (it looked like they lit the film with a Coleman lantern)... just forgettable.

I was also bothered by the early chest-burster scene. Maybe it was the bad CGI but seeing one of those things come out of a kid was just disturbing.

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, How did I know you would suggest that? LOL!

AndrewPrice said...

annoyedelephants, I admit that I've watched this film a lot. And I do like it better than most of the science fiction that gets turned out today. It's just not a good movie ultimately and when I look at the blown potential, it's shocking to think about.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, LOL! I can't imagine why anyone would think Hollywood is out of ideas.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I agree. The first AvP was weak and simplistic and kind of bland, but the sequel was horrid. Nothing about the sequel worked.

Kit said...

I'll admit, the only reason I ever watched this movie was that I had a huge crush on Winona Ryder at the time.

And I still thought the movie was dumb.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, LOL! That's a good enough reason to watch.

Commander Max said...

Weaver stated- "The fans won't be disappointed".
That taught me to be disappointed, very disappointed.
Since she co-produced Alien 3, what else is she going to say.
Aliens(the long version) was my favorite, I was surprised how different it was from the theatrical release.
I did suffer through Alien Resurrection, almost completely forgettable. Except for that alien hybrid thing, all I remember was what it looked like.

I remember reading the script for AvP back in the early nineties(92-93?). It was awful, I watched some of the movie years later, I can't believe they used that script. Some things should not leave the comic pages.

AndrewPrice said...

Max, I prefer the longer version of Aliens as well. I think it's a lot better -- better pacing, more to the story, more info on the characters.

Individualist said...

I saw the movie but really don't remember it that well.

AndrewPrice said...

Indi, There's not to remember about it... just three scenes maybe.

Joe the Cop said...

Sigourney: "How did you..."
Dourif: "How did we...'get' you?
(Sigourney nods.)
Dourif: "Fourteen mil' and executive producer credit..."

I really wanted to like this movie. The better explanation for Ripley's resurrection would have been finding the dead facehugger that knocked her up, and having Dourif's character explain that the alien uses host DNA to fertilize its embryo, and that tissue was cultured and grown. They grew the queen embryo, and since human DNA was in there somewhere, Ripley kept sprouting up around it. Hedaya's line in the movie, about Ripley being a meat by-product, would have made sense and been completely accurate.

Characters' motivations make no sense. Raymond Cruz's gleeful exposition about Winona the Droid was inexplicable and emabarrassing; I'm glad he got The Closer. Ron Perlman is delighted that "Ripley's back, man", despite her having him by the throat the last time they chatted.

I'm surprised no one's mentioned the clones 1-7 bit, the one scene that really worked.

The interested reader is invited to track down William Gibson's draft of Alien III. I read it for the firs time this weekend. It would have been a real crowdpleaser action-wise, and viscerally, it was a house of horrors. Imagine a whole ship like the clone lab horror-show in Resurrection, where the clones start coming after you.

AndrewPrice said...

Joe the Cop, Cruz's exposition was truly embarrassing. That's the moment in this film which stands out to me.

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