When French whizz Jean-Pierre Jeunet signed up to direct a fourth Alien movie there was clearly one overriding remit impressed upon him as he took pen in hand. Whatever you do, don’t make Alien3. That he certainly has not done. Alien Resurrection, suitably Gothic and biological, nests at the other end of the sci-fi-horror spectrum entirely, played broadly, accessibly and too often hamfistedly for a peculiar black humour.
Gone is the portentous gloom and slow build. Gone too is the vicelike tension of Aliens, and the bogeyman suspense of Alien. Instead we get the wild flourishes of The City Of Lost Facehuggers, Delicatessen In Space. So, very French.
Joss Whedon’s script, which feels heavily rejigged, serves up a delicious premise: the reincarnation of Ripley spliced with a few Alien genes. So Weaver get to play it teasingly amoral, slithering out her “I died” one-liners with a genuine raptor’s smile. The plot surrounding her comeback is much more direct than previous incarnations - a bunch of anarchic scientists grow their own Aliens from an illicit cargo of humans as delivered by a band of truculant brigands. Bad idea. Through an exotic powwow, the Aliens hatch an escape plan - acid blood works a treat - and start chowing down on the crew. The ship goes Mayday and heads for Earth.
These elements established, Resurrection reverts to standard procedure - a scattering of survivors, in this case the pirate band plus the diffident Ripley, endeavour to escape the Alien peril by scampering through dingy corridors with flamethrowers.
What hampers this surest of sure things is Jeunet’s ridiculous largesse. When tension is required he delivers gags. Where restrained mystery would turn the screws, he gives it to us straight. The Aliens, upfront from the beginning, are no the unthinking, killing machines we know and love, but idiot pet poodles with a fiercesome overbite. Characters, invitingly rangy, are dispatched with inconsistent stupidity while other suffer improbably personality changes: Ron Perlman’s lascivious knucklehead turning good guy, Winona Ryder’s squeaky Call making her “dark secret” abundantly apparent. Elsewhere, Jeunet cooks up some perviness with Ripley, an Alien Queen and the pottiest birth scene in movie history. It’s a consistent flaw throughout: terror replacing with gunge - this is easily the goriest (at times insensibly so) Alien movie.
What rescues Resurrection from the margins of disaster is the sheer weight of the Alien mythology. The visuals, by Seven’s cinematographer Darius Khondiji, are electrifying, adhering to the space grunge atmos laid down by Ridley Scott, but adding to the low-lit, dry-iced claustrophobia with Jeunet’s trademark expressionism. An extraordinary underwater sequence, although artlessly contrived, takes the breath away. The Aliens, ephemerally, have never been so gracefully defined, with hissing, steaming close-ups and willowy CGI full-body shots turning Giger’s slavering extraterrestrial to a thing of beauty. There is a thrusting, charged nature to the chase, never with Cameron’s canon of adrenaline rushes, but with a brash, yucky violence that aims to shock rather than thrill. Once you’ve bought into Jeunet’s sicko-funky style, the middle hour offers some of the choicest Alien hijinkery of the series - a stunning topsy-turvy ladder shoot-out. Ripley’s nonchalant brutality (and basketball skills), Brad Dourif eyeballing a captive. Alien from behind acid-proof glass.
And there is, of course, the fabulous Weaver. As with every film in the series she is the holding force, relishing Ripley/Clone 8’s molten amorality, turning the earnest, fulminating human into a vital, sexy, animalistic crossbreed with the ultimate identity crisis.
So there is not the rank dejection of having witnessed Alien3, just a bewildering feeling that this should have been much more considered and that, perhaps, Danny Boyle - who just missed out on the gig - was really the man for the job.