Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley looks pretty frisky for someone who killed herself to save humanity from the demon seed in her belly in Alien3. There is more to Ripley’s rise from the ashes than Weaver’s rise in salary from $33,000 for the first Alien to $11 million for Chapter 4. Credit the script by Joss Whedon (Toy Story) for making a joke of it. To the remark, “I thought you were dead,” Ripley replies, “I get that a lot.” You go, girl. In space, no one can hear you scream, “Hey, stupid, ever heard of DNA?” Ripley gets cloned just like the dinos of Jurassic Park. Better to ask: Is there life left in a franchise that began in 1979 with Ridley Scott’s Alien, expanded to James Cameron’s smash 1986 sequel, Aliens, and shrunk – in grosses, not daring – with David Fincher’s 1992 take on the aliens as an AIDS metaphor? You bet.
Alien Resurrection is juiced by the fresh thinking of visionary French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and the teaming of Weaver’s Amazonian warrant officer, Ripley, with Winona Ryder’s diminutive space smuggler, Call. In a shit-can universe where human aggression handily beats out alien retaliation for gross-out depravity, these two female warriors can outsmart any freak of nature, be it man or beast.
Rogue scientists on the space station Auriga have cloned Ripley to remove the alien inside of her and start crossbreeding tests with humans. Raw materials become more plentiful when the pirate ship Betty docks on Auriga with a motley crew including Call, the scar-faced Johner (Ron Perlman) and the evil Elgyn (Michael Wincott) – you know he’s bad when he says that Call is “severely fuckable.”
Such insults bring out Ripley’s protective streak, and since she’s now part alien, she has the strength to back it up. Being dead liberates Ripley. “Here’s a souvenir,” she tells Call, after ripping out the tongue of a charging alien. Call is creeped out, but not shaken. Ryder, out of period duds, delights in the role of a little woman past the age of innocence. Weaver and Ryder have a ball playing yang and yin action figures with a common foe.
Science is that foe, as it is in Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children, the provocative French features Jeunet co-directed with Marc Caro. Like the scientist in the latter film who invades the dreams of children, Brad Dourif’s kinky Gediman – he licks the glass that separates him from an alien’s darting tongue – learns the hard way not to mess with Mother Nature.
Jeunet creates visual marvels, notably a lab in which alien pods take on human form, an underwater chase in the submerged kitchen of the Auriga and a close erotic encounter between Ripley and a semihuman chunk of alien spawn. Alien Resurrection is sometimes glib and repetitive, but it stays worthy of its predecessors by staying close to its two battered heroines. There is more to understanding the bond between them than Johner’s supposition that “it must be a chick thing.” Ripley and Call are fighting for the same thing that Jeunet achieves in making movies: the chance to dream.