"Alien Resurrection"

Icky babies, Ripley reborn and bombastic special effects, but the extras here are strictly commercial.

Published March 22, 2001 8:00PM (EST)

"Alien Resurrection"
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Ron Perlman, Dominique Pinon
20th Century Fox; anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio)
Extras: Trailers from all the "Alien" movies, featurette

"Alien Resurrection," the fourth installment in the "Alien" franchise, threw together the creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," the makers of the French black comedy "Delicatessen" and three movies' worth of "Alien" lore. It should have worked, but instead the project produced several scintillating pieces that never gelled together. You get the sense that the studio packaged every element of the story in pre-production, realized it needed one more thing to make the movie marketable and then popped the champagne once Winona Ryder signed on.

"Alien 3" ended with Ellen Ripley's (Sigourney Weaver) self-sacrifice into a 1,000-degree furnace; she made the leap to kill an alien queen that had shacked up in her body. Now, 200 years later, a crew of military doctors has managed to clone her from some leftover genetic material.

As "Resurrection" begins, doctors surgically remove an alien from the comatose Ripley's chest. She's the detritus of the experiment; they keep her around as an afterthought. The Ripley of old returns, but now things aren't quite right physically: She heals fast, she can dunk on a regulation NBA hoop and her blood eats through metal like acid.

The scientists have ordered up a fresh batch of human subjects as hosts for the newborn queen's eggs. A stealthy freighter packed with a crew of misfits featuring Ryder, Ron Perlman, Gary Dourdan and Dominique Pinon delivers a cargo of bodies in suspended animation. Meanwhile, the scientists are busy making sure that all the bodies become alien hosts. They think they can train the aliens with Pavlovian conditioning, but in the future no one reads "Frankenstein," so they're all bound to fall into the pit of hubris.

Along the way there's plenty of time to admire the gloriously grimy production design and wonder at the energy costs for all those strobe lights and constantly hissing steam vents. If you stick with it long, the real payoff is watching the niftier special-effects moments: aliens swimming through water and Ripley's half-breed alien son. (The new alien seeks his human mother's affections with a cute tongue bath that turns into an erotic meditation on maternal bonds. Then Ripley does the right thing and kills them all.)

Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's quirky comic bombast and fixation on details -- black blood, coursing streams of acid -- make his action scenes engaging, but the lithe cinematic world that animated "Delicatessen" and "The City of Lost Children" doesn't translate into more than window dressing for a stereotypical Hollywood action script. The wasted talent ends right where the incompetence of 20th Century Fox's DVD begins. Someone decided it would be a great idea to wrap all four films together in an "Alien Legacy" package and retail it for $100 with a list of extras that appear only on the first two movies in the series. "Alien Resurrection" contains exactly five extras: the trailers from all four movies and something called a featurette that is really just a three-minute advertisement -- another opportunity to witness the triumph of marketing over value.

By Max Garrone

Max Garrone is Salon's Vice President for Operations.

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