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'Alien Resurrection': Birth of the Ooze

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 28, 1997


Scene from this movie

Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Sigourney Weaver;
Winona Ryder;
Dominique Pinon;
Ron Perlman;
Gary Dourdan;
Michael Wincott;
Kim Flowers;
Dan Hedaya;
J.E. Freeman;
Brad Dourif
Running Time:
1 hour, 48 minutes
Under 17 restricted

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Set in a mucus-rich environment, "Alien Resurrection" may not be the scariest movie ever made, but it certainly is the gloppiest. It's so drippy and slippery you'll feel that you're hiding in Kevin Costner's nasal passages during the filming of "Waterworld."

But the surprise is not how wet it is, it's how funny. The movie never scales the heights of pure skull-in-the-vise horror that Ridley Scott's original managed. And it never develops the cool marines-vs.-bugs carnage of James Cameron's second installment. But it brings a mordant, crackerjack wit to the world of chest-busting, head-ripping creepazoids from beyond.

This time it's 200 years later, but our heroine is still Sigourney Weaver's Ripley. Could that 8 tattooed on her forearm suggest that she's not quite the original, since the original died at the end of the disappointing "Aliens tiny-three." And she's not: She's a clone that's been sent in. And so perfectly cloned is she that the scientists not only get a brand-spanking-new Ripley, but they get her black fingernail polish and the alien embryo left in her uterus from the last movie. Pay no attention to the laws of genetics: In space, nobody heard of Mendel's principles of hereditary phenomena. "Alien Resurrection" turns out to be far more interested in fiction than science, and it uses cloning as essentially a time machine by which someone from back there can get here.

Here is a deep-space research vessel called the Auriga. Like mad Frankensteins, government researchers (Dan Hedaya, J.E. Freeman and ever-creepy Brad Dourif) are hot to reproduce the alien from the embryo that Ripley is carrying. They see a need for huge killer bugs, possibly to turn them lose on "Starship Troopers' " spider planet Kleanthu in a joint sequel down the line. To get it, they have to get her, but they don't realize they have invited two formidable species aboard. One is a giant, clambering head-ripper, and that's the least formidable. After all, it's only a bug.

The other is 6 feet 4 inches (it seems) of cream-pale, leather-festooned, cut-muscle Valkyrie warrior queen with acidic blood and the instincts toward aggression of the entire 101st Airborne. Ripley is the superior being and her attitude toward her fellow earthlings is that they are annoying accidents. They're the true bugs. Weaver plays the role like the goddess Athena on loan to Fox. (I knew Rupert Murdoch had connections, but . . . ) And that's the source of much of the humor in the film: her utter, serene superiority to all the walnut-faced, desperate men about her.

The film re-creates Scott's original vision of space vehicles not as sleek plastic and stainless steel but as squalid, drippy disasters of plumbing. It's the public-men's-room theory of space flight. And it loves the whole series's fascination with flamboyant gore: People get spattered, spindled, mutilated and exploded from inside in a number of alarmingly amusing ways. But structurally, the film bears far more resemblance to another disaster flick than any of the previous "Alien" films. The alien, of course, spawns, and its wretched children bust out to send the ship careening out of control, while scuttling about to devour all the humans. Thus it falls to Ripley and a crew of space privateers, including the incongruous Winona Ryder, to navigate their way across the the foundering ship to a smaller lifeboat-style craft: It's "The Poseidon Adventure" with insects.

And speaking of Winona Ryder, what is she doing in this movie? I have no idea. Possibly the filmmakers think her presence will attract the kids who won't be attracted by watching embryos with teeth snap out of the chests of people, or male victims sucked into the huge, wet, gloppy womb wall of Mother Bug. Or perhaps her presence suggests a titillating whiff of a lesbians-in-space thing with Sigourney, but that certainly goes unrealized in the actual picture. No, poor Ryder merely wanders about looking like a perfect white rose in an ordure heap and eventually is connected to the plot in an extremely haphazard way.

A colleague has pointed out that the subtext of the film is birth and all the complications thereof. The laboratory of the ship is really a vast delivery room and the creature, it turns out, has an agenda: she's the Bobbi McCaughey of space bugs, who wants to populate the world with her progeny. The biology seems a little suspicious (no men need apply for stud service) but the film certainly plays with the queasiness the birth process creates in everyone except those in the OB-GYN trade. In fact, to carry it further, the ultimate spawn of the process, which looks like an albino Grinch, is actually dispatched by a method that seems to be a fourth-trimester abortion.

The director, incidentally, is Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the Frenchman famous in art film circles for two highly stylized movies, "Delicatessen" and the "City of Lost Children."

This one looks a lot like those two and that pretty much sums up "Alien Resurrection." It's an art film with bugs that explode out of people's chests. And it's funny. The French, they have a knack, no?

Alien Resurrection is rated R for extremely graphic violence and gore.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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