"I thought you were dead."
"Yeah, I get that a lot."
Although I can certainly agree that it was not the finest way to end (or continue, maybe) the series, "Alien: Resurrection" no longer seems like such a misfire. In the years since I first saw the film, I've warmed up to it, appreciating some aspects of the picture more and finding some merits that I had overlooked.
One of the film's greatest choices was pulling in director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who had previously directed the eerie and fascinating "City of Lost Children". Although he had certainly never directed an action film of this scale, the director was able to bring that same vivid, surreal, European visual style to this production.
The film opens on a massive freighter drifting through space, 200 years after the prior film. Ripley (Sigorney Weaver) has been cloned from a drop of her own blood and lays, motionless, as doctors remove one of the familiar aliens from her womb. The doctors are part of a government research project that has been breeding the aliens to use them for research - vaccines, medicines, weapons - those kinds of things. This gives Ripley a grim chuckle: "She's a queen. She'll breed. You'll die."
A smaller ship arrives, bearing new cargo for the "project" and a new crew, including Call (Winona Ryder). The new ship's crew simply want a few days in less cramped quarters: they get a nasty surprise when the aliens figure out a rather clever way to escape from their quarters. The film then turns into a chase picture, as Ripley, Call and the rapidly decreasing amount of crew members try to find a way out.
The film's performances are both good and bad. Weaver's Ripley, no longer what she once was, has completely changed up the character, underplaying and bringing a new and highly enjoyable sense of menace to Ripley. Given that her character is supposed to be in some part alien, her alliance now becomes somewhat questionable. Ron Pearlman is also good as one of the crew members, but Dan Hedaya plays a rather cliche no-nonsense captain. The film's worst performance comes from Winona Ryder, who seems completely out-of-place in this production. She's not convincingly tough, and her performance seems shrill when she's trying to stand up to the other characters. It's simply a case of serious mis-casting.
The other star of the picture is the film's visual style, which adds atmosphere and, more importantly, some tension where there wasn't much to begin with - production designer Nigel Phelps and cinematographer Darius Khondji both do superb jobs. The film's action scenes - including a very good underwater chase - are also generally superb and entertaining.
Ah, but the story. There's not much depth or exploration of the "new" Ripley and once the chases begin, the (questionable) plot thread of doctors trying to study the aliens pretty much ends. The dialogue isn't great, either: there's a lot more one-liners than character development.
Overall, "Resurrection" is not a flawless film by any means, but it does boast some good performances, a strong visual style and a few mildly good scares. It hits the right notes several times, but its too bad that it couldn't have pulled things together more often.
The DVD offers both the film's "theatrical cut" and a new "extended cut" of the picture. The new edition comes with an introduction from director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, explaining that the film that was in theaters was his "director's cut", but this new cut was produced to offer something new for fans. The differences aren't particularly major; there's a couple of extensions as well as an alternate ending and slightly new (and rather goofy - it offers a bad CGI bug splattering on a ship's windshield) opening. The alternate ending is interesting and worth watching, but I could do without the other additions. One can turn on a "deleted scenes" marker, which will show a small "special edition" logo during the new footage in the new cut of the film. The new cut is presented via seamless branching.
VIDEO: "Alien: Resurrection" is presented by Fox in THX-Certfied 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. This was easily the finest presentation of the film that I've seen, presenting Darius Khondji's stunning, sleek cinematography with the utmost clarity. Sharpness and detail seemed magnificent throughout, as the image boasted not only fine detail and definition, but a nice three-dimensional feel to the image.
Unfortunately, there were a couple of minor issues. I did notice a brief, very slight instance or two of edge enhancement in a couple of scenes. No compression artifacts were spotted, no print flaws were seen and really, things remained clean aside from the brief edge enhancement. Some light grain appeared at times, but it's an intentional element of the photography and did not present a distraction.
Colors - the film's dark browns, greens and other hues looked surprisingly clean and accurately rendered, with no smearing or other concerns. Black levels looked solid, while flesh tones appeared clean and natural. This excellent transfer was a pleasure to watch; it was an improvement upon the prior release, with noticably stronger sharpness and detail.
SOUND: "Alien: Resurrection" is presented by Fox in both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. The film's soundtrack could have gone a little further in using the surrounds to try and add to the film's tension, but the sound mix is perfectly fine. Surrounds do kick in quite nicely during the action sequences, but I would have liked some additional ambience to add to the creepiness that the film's visuals maintain. The film is the most modern of the series and audio quality is certainly the most advanced; the audio may not be as consistently aggressive as it should be, but it does certainly boast strong dynamic range and excellent clarity. Dialogue, sound effects and other elements sound first-rate. Both the Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks offer a similar experience - the DTS seemed to offer slightly improved clarity, but the differences were minimal. A Spanish 2.0 track is also included.
EXTRAS: (there are "Play All" options included under the "navigation options" menu on disc 2)
Commentary: This is a commentary from Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, editor Herve Schneid, Alien FX creators Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr., Visual FX supervisor Pitof, conceptual artist Sylvain Despretz and actors Ron Pearlman, Dominique Pinion and Leland Orser. This is generally an enjoyable commentary, as we learn quite a bit about the effects that the film used, some production tricks, casting and how the director added some of his own touches and style to the picture.
From The Ashes: Making of "Alien: Resurrection": This piece does a fine job trying to explain the thought process behind trying to bring back the "Alien" series. Most of the people interviewed express their original dismay at bringing back the series that seemed so finalized with the prior picture. Writer Joss Whedon explains his thoughts on the challenges of not only bringing back the Ripley character, but trying to jumpstart a series that most people thought was over. Weaver's comments here are also interesting, as she discusses her original thoughts on being presented with the idea (and her dislike of the "Alien vs. Predator" idea) and trying to create a completely different take on the character.
French Twist: This piece offers a look at some of the talent that director Jeunet brought to the table to try and create interesting and very different visuals to the picture. It's also interesting early on that "28 Days Later" and "Trainspotting" director Danny Boyle is mentioned as being one of the first directors considered. It's also rather odd that Jeunet keeps saying that he originally had no idea why Fox wanted to hire him or even meet with him. But, overall, this is an interesting piece that talks about how Jeunet brought his own visual style, but also got along well with the studio, as he was willing (cue foreboding music) to listen to their suggestions.
Casting and Characterization: A short featurette about casting.
Also in "Pre-Production": Test footage, Marc Caro character design stills, conceptual art gallery, storyboards and multi-angle/multi-audio pre-visualizations for a few scenes.
Death From Below: This is a nearly 30-minute piece that focuses on the film's underwater chase sequence, filmed right before Christmas, 1996. A difficult sequence that required the actors to be underwater for an extended period of time, the sequence certainly had a great deal of challenges to face (See also: "Under Pressure", the incredibly involving "making of" documentary on the second disc of the 2-DVD version of James Cameron's underwater "Abyss"). For "Resurrection", the production had to dig out a massive, entire stage to create a giant swimming pool that was filled with not only lights and equipment, but props and set pieces. Throughout this documentary, we learn about the obstacles involved in trying to constuct this set, operating cameras underwater and training the actors.
Also in "Production": A short piece on the "basketball" sequence, additional photo archives, a terrific creature design featurette and production stills.
Genetic Composition: This piece focuses on the work of composer John Frizzell.
Virtual Aliens: This documentary looks at the visual FX work in the film - not only does it look at the actual FX work, but gives an interesting view of the pre-production on the effects - trying to break down the script, listing and organizing before FX work even starts. The film did not have a particularly large budget as big-budget sci-fi goes, so the filmmakers had to get creative about building CG aliens and using both visual and practical effects in other areas of the picture.
Critical Juncture: Although the documentary title would indicate that this is more of a response to the severe reaction the film got from both critics and some fans, its more of a "look back" for those involved. While there is some "happy talk" in the interviews, there's also some good analysis of what the film did and didn't do.
Also in "Post Production": A look at the film's miniature photography work and visual effects and promotional photo galleries.
Final Thoughts: "Alien: Resurrection" suffers from little in the way of plot and a mis-casting issue or two, but I've grown to enjoy it more in the years since its release. Also, I certainly appreciate the touches that Jeunet and crew brought to the look and feel of the film. The new DVD edition, as part of the amazing "Quadrilogy" box set, offers both impressive audio and video quality, as well as a great deal of supplements. This edition of "Resurrection" will be available only in this box set until early 2004. The box set - a truly amazing 9-disc affair - is certainly a must-see.
Note: The "DVD Talk Collector's Series" rating applies to the entire box set.