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'Alien Resurrection': She Lives

By Desson Howe
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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All it takes for an "Alien" sequel is a little bit of DNA. Fans of the series will recall that Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the intrepid, alien-busting warrant officer, was deep-sixed in "Alien3." Carrying a gestating alien inside her, she heroically killed herself.

So how come, in "Alien Resurrection," she springs back from the dead, some 200 years later? Simple: She's a genetic replication. But before your groans rattle the foundations of your breakfast spaceship, let's point out that "Alien" No. 4 is more than a sleazy excuse for Twentieth Century Fox to get new money for old rope.

As Hollywood movies go, it's a reasonably involving divertissement about genetics and Philip K. Dick-borrowed themes exploring what it means to be human. It satisfactorily recycles the great surprises that made the first movie so powerful. And most significantly, it makes a big hoot of the whole business.

Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who co-directed the otherworldly "Delicatessen" and the Terry Gilliam-like "The City of Lost Children," indulges his taste for dark, bizarre humor and surrealistic sets. And his vision gets the full-throttled boost of Darius Khondji, the brilliant cinematographer behind "Seven" and both Jeunet movies; and special-effects geniuses Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis, who are responsible for the visual wonders in "Death Becomes Her," "Jumanji" and "Starship Troopers."

"In space," went the original "Alien" advertisement in 1979, "no one can hear you scream." But in "Alien Resurrection," that slogan has evolved: In space, no one can hear you laugh.

On a military research vessel, the usual gimlet-eyed scientists, led by General Perez (Dan Hedaya), are up to their hubristic mischief. They've scraped some DNA from the long-departed and alien-pregnant Ripley to fabricate more aliens. These creatures, able to appropriate the strengths of any species, are fascinating subjects for study.

Her maternal purpose for living now done with, Ripley, the eighth genetic spinoff of the original (the others are hideous combinations of scaly aliens and human), is sitting around with nothing much to do. But she has been on the fast track in terms of acquiring human skills and feelings. She instinctively understands sexual harassment when a condescending doctor talks in her face, for instance. And as we discover on the vessel's indoor basketball court, she can slam-dunk with any bruiser foolish enough to take her one on one. She's got the best of the alien and human species inside her.

It shouldn't come as a shock that these homegrown monsters (an unsettling combination of gremlin and velociraptor) get restless and bust out of their holding tanks. With the vessel programmed to return to Earth, they have enough humans on board to satisfy their murderous instincts all the way to terra firma. Among their entrapped victims: a transplanted crew of interstellar smugglers, including Elgyn (Michael Wincott), Johner (Ron Perlman), a hostile, enigmatic mechanic called Analee Call (Winona Ryder) and Vriess (the French actor, Dominique Pinon, who was in both Jeunet's films and "Diva").

It won't be long before everyone -- scientist, smuggler and alien Mom -- is scuttling and scrambling (and reloading their oversized, monster-blasting guns) to get away from those gnawing, screaming, hissing, dripping aliens.

Of course, the old Ripley fighting spirit is encoded on every DNA element of her soul and being. This bionic version of Ripley is just a degree away from complete humanity. She has a deep understanding of the alien Zen. She's the movie's only hope (and, not too coincidentally, one of its producers).

What's best about the movie is the way the humor piggybacks on top of the scary stuff. While we're following the story, we're laughing most of the way. Maybe that's to be expected from screenwriter Joss Whedon, who penned the humorous "Toy Story." Some comedic highlights: Scientist Brad Dourif does a separated-at-birth mugging exchange with an alien on the other side of his lab window. (Scary too.) And when Ripley -- surely the most "masculine" heroine ever -- starts shooting up the previous genetic versions of herself, grotesque specimens immersed in giant glass booths, the smugglers watch with surprise and horror. Wondering why she would get so upset and waste so much ammunition shooting up these female half-creations, one of them concludes: "Must be a chick thing."

ALIEN RESURRECTION (R) -- Contains profanity, nudity, harrowing suspense, brutal violence and graphic surgery.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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