My 100 Favourite Films In Review, Number 90 – Alien: Resurrection

90 – Alien: Resurrection:

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So as we close out the 90s, this list of favourites starts to get a bit tricky. When I first made it out, I tried to make a rule that if franchises got involved then I’d only include one film as a representative. But when it came to a certain sci-fi/horror/action franchise, I found myself struggling to leave some films out. And since this is my blog, we can just ignore that rule. So in a confusing way, the first film from the Alien franchise will be the fourth one in the series. It’s also the one people seem to dislike the most. Alien3 was panned completely when it came out, but it seems to have found a few fans. The fanbase for Resurrection seems to be even smaller. But since I’m including it on a list titled ‘My 100 Favourite Films’, obviously I feel that it has more than a few things going for it. Written by the man who would eventually bring us Buffy, Angel and Firefly – Joss Whedon – and directed by the gentleman who brought us Amelie – Jean Pierre Jeunet – I present to you film number four in the Alien series. I should note that, although an extended cut exists, the director has stated that the theatrical cut is his preferred version – the extended one merely being a gesture to the fans. Even so, there are a couple of things I like about the extended cut – so that’s the one we’ll be using.

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Even though I’ll get into more detail when we come to my review of the first film, I’ll still give some background information on the franchise. If you’ve ever wondered at people saying the name Sigourney Weaver like it’s a big deal, this franchise is why. Before getting cast in a film called Alien, Sigourney Weaver was a relative unknown with a handful of credits. Almost overnight she became a star, and she’s held onto that star power to this day. Part of the reason was her being something of a pioneer for female action heroes. But as I said, I’ll get into more detail when I review Alien. I’ll just recap the plot of the third film (which I assure you won’t be on this list) so we’re up to speed. Ellen Ripley found herself impregnated with an alien embryo – that would actually grow into a queen, capable of repopulating the species. As a result, she killed herself and the alien (and to her hope, the franchise along with it). But the studio still wanted to see if they could continue with one more film. They hired Joss Whedon to write a script initially involving the character Newt from Aliens – but they eventually decided it was impossible to do an Alien film without Ripley. Sigourney Weaver eventually signed on after being impressed with the script (and also claiming “they basically drove a dump truck full of money to my house”).

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The opening credits make it clear why Jean Pierre Jeunet prefers the theatrical cut. The idea is that we think we’re looking at the mouth of a Xenomorph, but it turns out to be just a fly on the control panel. And since this is 1997, I present the best CGI fly they could produce.

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Thankfully the visual effects are better when we zoom out to get a full view of our spaceship Auriga. We’re told that it’s a medical research vessel – though the ratio of medical staff to enlisted personnel suggests things aren’t that harmonious. We soon discover that they’ve made a clone of Ripley, and by extension the alien queen inside her. The latter is their main priority, as they extract it easily during an operation. But since the Ripley clone is doing well, they opt to sew her back up and keep her for examination too. Three days later, her scar from the operation has almost completely healed. She also gets violent with her doctor Wren, signalling that this Ripley is a little different to the one we’re used to. For some reason, she also has the number eight tattooed on her arm.

During an interestingly thought-out sequence of the Ripley clone being taught how to speak again, the ship’s general Perez feels uneasy that the clone has some of the same memories as the real person. Doctors Wren and Gediman assure him that it’s an unexpected benefit but he’s not happy. The extended edition now adds a scene where the doctor with Ripley shows a picture of a little girl. Clearly reminded of Newt and her own deceased daughter Amanda, Ripley smiles sadly. Meanwhile, the others now go into another part of the ship, where we get to see how the alien queen is doing.

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“Just dandy, thanks for asking.”

She’s also started producing eggs already, and they’ll be able to repopulate as soon as ‘the cargo’ gets here. Cut to Gediman and Ripley in the mess hall. Gediman explains that they managed to clone Ripley via blood samples from Planet Fury 161 where she died. Ripley still seems to know that the alien inside her was a queen, and she expects her majesty to ensure the death of everyone on board soon enough. In the extended edition she mentions the company Weyland-Yutani, the evil corporation of the previous films. Wren arrives to tell her the company went under decades ago and got a very shameful buy-out.

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For once I’m not kidding.

Ripley is still convinced things will end horribly, especially when Wren claims they want to tame the aliens to benefit humanity. It’s now time to cut to The Betty – a commercial freight ship carrying both cargo and the ragtag bunch of misfits who make up our protagonists. They are:

  • Elgyn (Michael Wincott) – suave captain with a raspy voice ready to serve out sarcasm.
  • Hillard (Kim Flowers) – Elgyn’s main squeeze, who may possibly be the ship’s co-pilot. That or Elgyn just likes the sight of her strapped up in the chair.
  • Vriess (Dominiqe Pinon) – a French engineer who’s also in a wheelchair.
  • Johner (Ron Perlman) – the aggressive and intimidating muscle of the team, with a couple of scars to prove it.
  • Christie (Gary Dourdan) – the Betty’s first mate, with some fancy guns attached to his arms. The joke that the tough guy has a girl’s name is lost on audiences in Ireland – where Christie is sometimes used as a male nickname.

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There’s another crew member – the newest addition in fact. She’s a delicate little child called Call, and she’s played by Winona Ryder. Apparently when Ryder heard they wanted her for the part, she accepted immediately. She had always wanted to be in an Alien film and claims she didn’t care if she was killed off in the first five minutes. Anyway the Betty docks with the Auriga, and Perez and Elgyn start dealing. Perez hands over probably the same amount of money that it took to get Sigourney Weaver to come back for this film. Elgyn is a little suspicious of the cloak and dagger nature of the transaction, especially since the Auriga (a military vessel) is operating outside of regulated space. His silence is bought easily enough however: two days bed and board for the Betty crew. Perez agrees as long as the crew behave themselves and stay away from restricted areas.

We now find out what’s in the cargo, and it turns out to be people. And for those that don’t remember how the Xenomorphs reproduce, now you know. The Betty crew have no idea what the cargo is being used for, as they’re not allowed into the lab. Just in case we need confirmation who the film’s antagonists are, we cut to the people in pods with an alien egg in front of each of them. More light-heartedly, we cut to Ripley playing around in a makeshift basketball court. The Betty crew find her and Johner takes a fancy to her. As this is a Joss Whedon script, there is of course a scene where the group chauvinist gets one-upped by a girl he’s hitting on. When Ripley gets violent, Christie rushes to Johner’s defence by whacking her in the head with a weight. This only gives her a nosebleed.

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“Well someone’s hardcore.”

At this point, Wren arrives to calm the situation down. When he calls Ripley by her name, we cut to a shot of Call looking worried. As Ripley walks away, she throws the basketball over her shoulder and lands it in the hoop. Sigourney Weaver reportedly practised for weeks and managed to get that shot on the first take. They had to cut to another shot immediately afterward, because Ron Perlman turned to the camera and said “oh my God” in shock. Sigourney Weaver apparently lists that shot as the third proudest moment of her life, after getting married and giving birth to her daughter. We now look at a shot of Ripley’s blood on the floor, now having done something rather strange to it.

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After a montage showing the Betty crew making themselves at home, we go to Gediman in the med-lab. And what follows is an absolutely hilarious sequence where he’s face-to-face with an alien and starts mimicking its mouth movements. While this makes sense in context, it doesn’t stop it from being hysterical to watch. It looks like he’s ready to make out with the alien through the glass. This appears to be one of the ways in which the film’s tone differs from the way the script was written. Joss Whedon wrote it as a camp parody, but Jeunet chose to play it straight. Most of the time it works but you get the odd scene like this where it would have made sense if the film had been a comedy. But there is a point to this sequence; the alien tries to escape but Gediman keeps it in line with a blast of liquid nitrogen. The alien shows it’s a fast learner by not trying that trick again. Elsewhere, Call sneaks away from the others, finds Ripley’s cell and prepares to kill her…until she spots the surgery scar and realises that the alien has already been taken out of her. Ripley says they didn’t take it out completely – and runs Call’s knife through her hand, letting the acid in her blood underline that statement. There’s a lot more lesbian subtext in this scene than my writing lets on. This is Joss Whedon after all.

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aaand there it is…

Before we get back to the movie, I feel like noting that you can see quite a few characters in this as prototypes of other famous Whedon characters. The most obvious case is that the Betty crew being the forerunners of the protagonists of Firefly – Elgyn as Mal, Vriess as Wash, Christie and Johner as Jayne. Ripley seems as if she contains elements of River from Firefly and also Illyria from Angel. Even the human cargo being harvested reminds of the actives from Dollhouse – Call even being reminiscent of Echo/Caroline. Anyway Call is quickly caught and the rest of the Betty crew are viewed as equally guilty – despite knowing nothing. Which means all of them die with her. But the poor guards don’t know what happens when you try to hold up a group that includes Michael Wincott and Ron Perlman. It’s Christie who gets the most kills however, bouncing a bullet off an overhead pipe to kill the last guard.

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“Because why the hell not?”

Up in the med lab, the aliens have turned on each other. Well actually they just kill one of their number. As their blood is acid, that burns a lovely hole through the floor and allows them to escape. Gediman makes the unwise decision to go inside and investigate – and is promptly carried off. Another security guard goes in – but feels the effects of the liquid nitrogen Gediman had threatened to the alien with earlier.

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The Auriga is officially in chaos, with everyone being evacuated. This doesn’t go quite that well, with one alien getting into an escape pod and massacring everyone. Perez at least tosses a grenade in there to prevent things getting too messy in outer space. Things get plenty messy on the Auriga, as an alien kills Perez by biting a huge chunk of his head. This was nearly deleted from the film but it was left in after test audiences responded well to it. Vriess – who has been going about his own business elsewhere – gets into a brief fight with an alien on the floor above him. Ripley also hears them coming towards her cell and uses her blood to fry her cell’s wiring – forcing the doors open. I have to say that this whole sequence is expertly done. Even though this is more of an action film, this still illustrates the same horror of the Xenomorphs being loose that the first film got across. Anyway Elgyn ends up separated from the rest of his crew, and alone with an alien. You would think that the Mal Reynolds prototype, who’s played by on-screen badass Michael Wincott, would easily dispatch one pesky alien. But it turns out Mr Wincott is a victim of the following trope…

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I’ve always been in two minds about him dying first. On the one hand, Michael Wincott is great and I would have loved for him to be in more of the movie. On the other, I like that Jeunet chose to kill off the obvious alpha male figure first. And the rest of the crew were all given plenty of lines and focus so as not to leave us with people we barely know. The remaining team consists of Call, Johner, Christie and Hillard – with Vriess and Ripley unaccounted for. As they’ve still got Ron Perlman on the team, their chances against the aliens are better than average. On the Auriga side, the only survivors are Wren and a guard called DiStephano – who turns out to be my favourite character in the whole movie. But as an extra treat for fans, he’s played by one of those guys you really didn’t expect to show up here.

Yes, indeedy. That is Raymond Cruz, Breaking Bad’s Tuco. I’m not actually a fan of Breaking Bad and I only watched the first season. But I actually popped when I saw Raymond Cruz’s name show up in the credits – purely because I love the character he plays in this that much. And in script changes that almost made this movie even more hilarious in hindsight, there was a planned sequence where the survivors would have discovered a marijuana lab on the Auriga. But anyway this group of survivors now have a 50-50 chance since they include Ron Perlman and a future scary-ass drug dealer. They also have Winona Ryder, who feels as if she could be a bit of a badass too. But this is about to be put to the test, as the alien that killed Elgyn is after them now. They don’t get an opportunity to test their chances, as Ripley shoots the alien dead. The way she does it is by pointing the gun through Elgyn’s remains. The movie literally has Sigourney Weaver brushing Michael Wincott aside to say “I’m the badass of this group now.”

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Wren has to kill the testosterone in the air by telling us that there were twelve aliens bred. And the reason none of the other marines have come to help them is because they’ve either already evacuated or been killed. There is a glimmer of hope if they can get to the Betty and fly away. Call is reluctant to take Ripley along with them – since she was the host for the alien queen. The others don’t listen to her and are happy to let Ripley tag along, regardless of whether or not they can trust her. As they walk they hook up with Vriess, who’s unharmed. Ripley can feel that the ship is moving – and Wren explains that it’s an emergency procedure for them to auto-pilot back to home base. When he tells them where home base is, much cursing ensues.

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Nope it’s actually Planet Earth. Which is apparently “a shit hole” some hundred years into the future. Call proposes blowing the ship up as soon as they get off it. Johner tries to keep the mood light by flirting with Ripley, but she’s got something to distract her. They pass a door with ‘1-7’ written on it, and Ripley remembers the number 8 tattooed on her arm. The movie takes a rather freaky turn as we discover what’s inside the lab. If you were thinking that cloning Ripley seemed rather neat and harmless, well it’s time to meet the seven previous attempts. The eight on her arm means she was the eighth experiment. And if she survived with only aesthetic parts of the alien DNA, how do you expect the failed clones turned out?

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Oh, that’s how.

Ripley then finds the seventh one. This is the most sentient. It has a human’s head and begs Ripley to kill her – which she does with a flamethrower. This is the scene that convinced Sigourney Weaver to sign on for the film (along with that dump truck full of money). It’s not hard to see why. This is probably the most sobering scene in the whole thing. It calls back nicely to the scene in the extended cut of Alien – where Ripley has to kill two of her cocooned crew members. The rest of the group have no idea why she’s doing this but even they’re visibly troubled by it. She’s tempted to turn the gun on Wren too when she sees him again. But she settles for Call throwing a punch at him. Things get even darker when they encounter a room full of dead bodies – and the Betty crew recognise the people they brought on board. They’ve found the poor unsuspecting suckers who were the hosts for the aliens. And one of them is still alive. He’s naturally quite panicky at hearing he’s got an alien inside him. The thing that makes this scene unintentionally funny for me is that he’s played by Leland Orser who I literally just saw in Se7en – where he again had to act very panicked. He has a pretty vast filmography but it just so happens that the two I’ve seen have him freaking out dramatically on camera. Dude can’t catch a break. Anyway his name is Purvis, but the movie doesn’t really tell us that. With another addition to our group, you can bet the aliens will start slicing and dicing soon.

The aliens will have the perfect opportunity – as the way to the freight elevator (which will take them to the Betty) is through the kitchen. And the kitchen is now underwater. A line from Vriess tells us that the cooling tanks must have ruptured or something. And poor Vriess won’t be able to take the chair with him underwater, so he has to be strapped to Christie’s back. Speaking of Christie, he gets an extra bit of dialogue in the special edition. He and DiStephano pretty much start geeking out about their weapons – because DiStephano is just the best. You’re probably sarcastically thinking I picked the special edition to review purely for this scene…and you’re right. That’s totally the reason. Because if there is the option to have more DiStephano then why not have more DiStephano? This dude is starting to remind me of someone…

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Yep, I’m pretty sure that DiStephano is what Pinkie Pie would be like if she were in an Alien film. Unfortunately, not everyone in the group is as cheery as him. Hillard is the last to take the dive into the water, and the poor woman is clearly terrified. I’d feel sorrier for her, but the following underwater scenes are some of my favourite in the film. Actually they probably are my favourite part. Very well put together and beautifully shot, this is the most impressive sequence in the film. The image does get tarnished a little when you learn that Winona Ryder is terrified of water and suffered an anxiety attack, Ron Perlman got knocked out underwater and they had to put milk in it to make it look better on camera.

Anyway the aliens attack underwater. Johner is able to dispatch one of them, but Hillard panics and drowns. And when they get to the surface, they find a whole nest of eggs waiting for them. Christie puts those weapons he was talking up to good use – firing a bunch of grenades into the nest to destroy all of them. Wren and Call are the first to get to the door, but Wren throws his villain cap back on and shoots her dead. Things go even further south as an alien pops up from the water and spits acid onto Christie’s face. As he’s still strapped to Vriess, he cuts himself free so the latter can get to safety. Johner eliminates the alien by hanging upside down and shooting it dead, because he’s Ron Perlman m’kay. He’s also human so that when he performed the stunt himself, he ended up ripping up his knees. The survivors hear the door opening and prepare to face another enemy…

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Somehow Call survived being shot in the chest. Although she tries to pass it off as body armour, Ripley isn’t fooled. It turns out that Call is an android. It also turns out that DiStephano is just as much of a geek about robots as he is about guns. In between hyperventilating with glee, he explains that Call must be part of a line of androids that ended up rebelling. And since she’s a robot, she can help them get to the Betty before Wren does. She’s able to get into an access point, but the ship has used up too much energy. They can’t blow it up. Ripley’s solution is to crash it instead. In the special edition, Call alleviates any worries about doing so – as she engineers the ship to crash in an uninhabited quadrant on Earth. She also manages to stop Wren from getting to the Betty – and orders all aliens to that level.

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Talk then turns to the more philosophical elements – as they’re in the ship’s chapel. Call is even programmed to have some kind of religion in her, as she blesses herself in front of the cross. Call is also the first android in the franchise to express any kind of angst over her background, saying to Ripley “at least there’s a part of you that’s human” – and bemoaning about how everything she thinks or does is a result of her programming. Even her attempt to save everyone from the aliens. The special edition has Ripley sympathising with her, remembering her attempts to save Newt back in the second film. But tragically she can’t even remember the girl’s name.

The survivors now make a break for it, towards the Betty. But Ripley gets pulled down below and into an alien nest. Thus comes the most infamous part of the film. I’ll admit that when I saw this movie at fourteen, the implications of this scene went straight over my head. Essentially it’s a love scene between Ripley and the alien. The studio felt icky over this and tried to cut it – but Sigourney Weaver threatened to not promote the film if they did. Some people take issue with the fact that Ripley does it with the alien, but it doesn’t bother me. Mostly because this isn’t *the* Ripley we know; it’s a clone of her. The clone is part alien, and it’s established multiple times that she has conflicting loyalties – both to the humans and the aliens. Although the aliens are trying to kill everyone, Ripley still feels empathy for them. She is still technically one of them. So this scene is actually used as part of a greater character conflict, as opposed to just tacked on for shock factor. Elsewhere the rest of the survivors make it to the Betty – but Wren is waiting there.

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Hence the trio of ‘Oh Crap’ faces.

Oh and Wren has Call at gunpoint, in case you’re wondering why the others haven’t killed him yet. But Wren gets hoisted by his own petard, as the chest burster inside Purvis kind of wants to make with the bursting. He beats Wren to death and the others give him a mercy kill. Back in the alien love nest, we see that Gediman is still alive to provide some exposition. The Alien Queen is now reproducing without eggs – meaning the aliens can now breed without the need for human hosts. She produces a creature referred to in the script as ‘the Newborn’ – a human/alien hybrid like Ripley, only less pretty.

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“Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful, man.”

The prop used in filming had male and female genitalia too but the studio ordered them censored out. And continuing the tradition of Brad Dourif being given all the worst lines in the film, Gediman rattles off sentences like “you are a beautiful butterfly” and “what a beautiful baby”. The Newborn shows what s/he thinks of those comments by killing the Queen dead, and then him. It leaves Ripley alone however, thinking she’s its mother. She manages to escape as the Betty is ready to leave – and the Auriga is ready to crash. She performs a lovely action movie jump from the Auriga to the Betty (though it kind of pales in comparison to her basketball stunt earlier). DiStephano has to set up another one liner in this film when she arrives on the deck.

DiStephano: “I thought you were dead!”

Ripley: “Yeah, I get that a lot.”

But in case it be thought that Ripley is only on the ship to look pretty and rattle off jokes, remember that the two pilots were Elgyn and Hillard – and they’re suffering from a bad case of lack of life. Also remember that Ripley in her past life was a decorated space pilot – so she can fly the Betty out of there. They’re having trouble closing the hatch, so Call goes to fix it. Unluckily for her, the Newborn has stowed away. And being half human has not made it any less bloodthirsty than its ancestors. It might be just me but I almost feel like this sequence is a little nod to the first film. Ripley thought she’d made it to safety, only for the alien to stow away on board. And with this being the last film in the franchise, I quite like the idea of calling back to the climax of the first one. Only this time, Ripley is not the sole survivor. She’s managed to actually save people this time. And out of all the people they pick to go help Call, they have to choose DiStephano.

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You bastards. One of these days I’m going to work on making a fan-edited copy of this movie to make sure he survives. Ripley guesses something must be wrong when Call and DiStephano don’t come back and goes to give the Newborn a time-out. She clearly hates to do it but she flicks some of her own blood on the window of the ship – thus sucking the Newborn out through it. This death scene was originally going to happen to General Perez earlier in the film, but it was deemed too spectacular for such a small character. They made the right choice by giving it to the Newborn instead. And it’s almost ironic that when Ripley has finally eliminated the aliens for good, she feels some sympathy for the creature. She is technically its grandmother. Anyway the Auriga crashes on Earth, Call having engineered it to land in an uninhabited area. The Betty has a rough time getting through the atmosphere but it ends up alright – Johner even kissing Vriess in relief. The theatrical version ends on the Betty, while the special edition has Call and Ripley on Earth amid the wreckage of the Auriga. The last shot of this version shows that they’re outside what’s left of Paris. Either version ends with Ripley saying the following line.

“I’m a stranger here myself”

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So thus the Alien franchise is wrapped up. Or at least until a reboot comes along. I had no knowledge of the intense amount of hate for this film until I was much older. When I saw all four movies, I thought Alien3 was a travesty and horrible way to end the series. I also viewed Resurrection as a return to form. While nowhere near the quality of the first two films, I saw it as a fitting send off to the franchise. The backlash towards this movie is really surprising to me. If I can get really critical I can point to a couple of things – pretty much every scene Brad Dourif is in, one or two unnecessary quips and the implied alien sex scene. But even they aren’t enough to ruin the movie for me. This is one of those films where I’m well aware of the flaws, but I’m still able to enjoy the film and find it to be genuinely good. Joss Whedon has been pretty vocal about his dislike of it. As the director chose to play the campy tone of his script straight, he’s gone on record to say the film is unwatchable. When it comes to the backlash against the film, it’s hard to sort through the people who just don’t find it good and those who are determined to hate it just because Joss himself does. But the beauty of entertainment is that everything is entirely up to everyone’s opinion. I love this film and that’s fine. Other people despise it and that’s fine too. I’ve even come to warm to Alien3 slightly since the age of fourteen – and it’s a film that does have its merits. Comparing the two, I still feel that Resurrection is a more fitting end to the franchise. An incredibly dark and horrific series of films gets a somewhat optimistic ending, all the while saluting the previous films in the canon. But the one thing I will never forgive the film for is killing off DiStephano! Jean Pierre Jeunet, you bastard!

But then I saw Amelie and I got over it.

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Begging your pardon, grades, but FUCK YOU!!!

Ahem.

*Story? A pretty standard ‘trapped in building with a bunch of monsters and guns’ plot. The cloned Ripley and things like the Newborn make for a nice bit of flavouring. It’s not much of a plot point but I’m relieved we avoided the ‘one survivor’ cliché.  C+

*Characters? This has a pretty likeable cast. We actually know who’s who before they start getting killed off. As they’re the forerunners for the Firefly characters, they’re not as good as them, but probably the second most likeable set of protagonists in the franchise (after Aliens). B

*Performances? It’s almost a mixed bag. Sigourney Weaver is clearly enjoying herself, but still seems like she cares about the film she’s in. Winona Ryder is in the middle. Any line uttered by Brad Dourif…well let’s not go there. Ron Perlman, JE Freeman, Michael Wincott and especially Raymond Cruz are all lots of fun. Everyone else is fine. B-

*Visuals? By God I just love the look of this film. It is by far the most visually striking movie in the Alien series. Some of this was caused by actually adding silver to the film strips. This had the effect of giving everything a metallic look, and making the darker colours pop. The sets were also toned down in scale when the budget was lowered, giving a cool claustrophobic effect. Every set in the movie is a treat to look at anyway. A+

*Special Effects? The filmmakers wisely kept CGI use to a minimum. The shots where they do use it don’t look quite as solid as the rest of the effects – the spaceships being achieved with miniatures, and the aliens with prosthetics. But the technology thankfully doesn’t look too dated. A-

*Anything Else? Some excellently directed action sequences – especially the underwater scenes. Again a good use of close-ups to help with the claustrophobic feeling. Although Joss Whedon’s script had a couple of lines that really didn’t work, it still had a nice blend of humour and seriousness. A

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the 80s will start off with Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice.

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