Turn Back the Clock
Distributed by Twentieth Century Fox
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
After seeing the fiasco that was Alien3 in the movie theater, you can imagine my reluctance to see the movie's sequel when it hit theaters in 1997. I really wasn't sure how this film would even work, especially when I discovered that it would once again feature Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley. How were they going to do that? We all saw her die in the last film. Then there was the added dissuasion of Winona Ryder in a lead role. I remember thinking, "Winona Ryder in an Alien flick? Really?!" But my brother kept telling me how good the movie was, so I rented it and was shocked and amazed. Alien Resurrection made you forget that the third Alien film was such a bomb.
Taking place two hundred years after the death of Ellen Ripley, we discover that the military obtained blood samples at Fury 161, the prison planet on which she died. On the USM Auriga, scientists have cloned Ripley and successfully removed the embryo of an alien queen from her body. They decide to keep Ripley alive and Dr. Gediman (Brad Dourif) divides his attention between Ripley and the alien queen, seeing scientific value in both clones. When it becomes time for the queen to reproduce, the military sends out for supplies, hiring a group of mercenaries to deliver.
The Betty arrives bearing humans in cryo-stasis, never knowing exactly what the military has planned for them. While the crew members of the Betty enjoy the hospitality of the Marines, the scientists on board prepare their human cargo to be hosts for the alien queen. Meanwhile, the Betty's newest crew member, Call (Winona Ryder), discovers that a clone of Ellen Ripley exists aboard the vessel. Somehow, she knows all about Ellen Ripley and all of her alien history. Deciding that she must rid the world of the existence of Ripley, Call attempts to take her life, discovering that the clone Ripley is so much more than the original.
We soon learn that Ripley is somewhat of a hybrid of the original Ripley and the alien queen she had inside her. She has some of the physical attributes of Ellen Ripley and some of her memories, but she also has acid for blood and incredible strength and agility. This brings up quite an interesting question. If Ripley has characteristics of both human and alien, what kind of hybrid characteristics did the alien queen receive?
Of course. it doesn't take long for things to go wrong in the science lab aboard the USM Auriga. When the aliens escape the lab and start rampaging through the ship for food, it's all that the Marines and the crew of the Betty can do to try to survive. As they are picked off one by one, we make a surprising discover as to the true identity of Call. We also get a shocking answer to our alien queen question.
To say Alien Resurrection was as good as the first two films in the series would be to dishonor those two movies. They were excellent in every respect. Alien Resurrection was not without its faults, but it was a hundred times better than Alien3. They found a fresh new writer to create the story in Joss Whedon, a fan of the Alien films and a well-known sci-fi geek. His idea as to how to "resurrect" and revive the series was intriguing enough to peak my interest. Although Whedon claims that the film was nothing like his original screenplay and that the execution of his work was all wrong, I think that's all sour grapes. After all, they never asked him to direct the film.
I think things turned out pretty well, considering that this film series was pretty much dead after Alien3. This storyline gave the series new life and, although there may have been some holes here and there, considering the greed of the world today, I found it quite believable. What I found completely surprising was Winona Ryder in a science fiction action role. I never thought she'd be able to pull it off, but she actually did well, earning my respect as someone who can perform well in just about any genre.
The movie moved fast, so there wasn't much as far as character development goes. You really didn't have much time to learn about the characters or their pasts, but somehow, you found yourself caring whether they survived this thing or not. It always amazes me when that happens. I found myself rooting for characters I'd only met briefly and basically knew nothing about, like Vriess (Dominique Pinon), a mechanic who is paralyzed from the waist down and has a tremendous crush on Call; Christie (Gary Dourdan), co-leader of the mercenary group who knows his way around a firefight and Johner (Ron Perlman), a crass, brute that you can't help liking even though he seems like such a horse's ass through much of the movie.
Sigourney Weaver's portrayal of this new and somewhat improved Ripley was spot on. I just loved her in this role and I'm glad she decided to return for a final go at the series. One of the most poignant scenes in the film features Ripley (also known as Ripley 8) viewing the failed clones that came before her. The raw emotion that went into that scene is palpable and her reaction is just what we would expect from her character.
Although I wasn't too pleased with the new look of the alien, I did enjoy the alien baby, a new result of the cloning process. The special effects folks gave the baby an alien look but also chose to give it very human-looking eyes, allowing us to see emotions expressed by the baby. This is something we have never experienced in the alien films, other than the raw outpouring of rage from the alien queen. This human/alien hybrid born of the cloned alien queen is extremely attached to Ripley and we can tell from the expressions of the eyes. We can also tell when he/she is displeased by the anger we see in them. I applaud the special effects people for this added feature. For some reason, even though the alien is rather grotesque to look at, those human-seeming eyes lend a sympathetic touch to an otherwise loathsome creature.
There were only a couple of things I didn't like about the film. For one thing, I thought the underwater scenes were a bit long. Extremely dangerous to film, these scenes were an interesting touch to the movie, when you consider that parts of a spaceship are underwater thanks to a leak in the reactor cooler. It kind of gives you that sunken ship feeling. But I think the scene would have been just as good if it were shorter. I also question Dan Hedaya in the role of General Martin Perez, leader of the Marine outfit on the USM Auriga. He's mostly a comedic actor and I didn't buy him in this tough general role at all. I surely didn't buy the scene in which he takes out a piece of his skull/brains after being attacked from behind by an alien and looks at them before dying.
A couple of funny things I noticed and found interesting: in Alien, the ship's computer was named Mother - in this film, the ship's computer is named Father; in Aliens, Bishop is asked to access and power up a ship remotely to rescue the remaining survivors - a similar instance takes place in this film; the survivors are betrayed by a company man who wants to have the aliens brought home to study in Aliens - the survivors in Alien Resurrection are betrayed by the lead scientist studying the aliens. Whether these are coincidences or nods to earlier films, I don't know.
I watched the Special Edition of Alien Resurrection which offered some deleted scenes. These scenes didn't sway me one way or the other as to my feelings about the film. I would have liked it just fine with or without them. I loved watching the various "making of" documentaries taking us behind the scenes of the film. I wondered at the dedication of these actors, especially for those dangerous underwater scenes and I marveled again at Sigourney Weaver when I learned that there were no special effects of secret camera angles used for a scene in which she walks yards away from a basketball net, throws a basketball backwards over her head and hits nothing but net. Amazing!
To me, Alien Resurrection was the perfect way to end the Alien series. It gave us the movie we were asking for in the previous film and never got. I understood the ending of Alien3, but I never really bought into it. I liked this sort of ending much better. Despite the fact that it leaves things open for a sequel, I hope that they leave things as they are. This ending is fitting and anything more would ruin the franchise.