Updated: Oct 28, 2020
Review by Kelly
“200 years after her death, Ellen Ripley is revived as a powerful human/alien hybrid clone. Along with a crew of space pirates, she must again battle the deadly aliens and stop them from reaching Earth”
Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien: Resurrection is the black sheep of the original four Alien movies. It isn’t well liked for many different reasons. I personally have always liked it and it was great to revisit it for Space Horror Month and to see it again through a feminist lens, which I developed over the last few years by exploring academic work on the horror genre. The film was released in 1997 and written by an absolute favorite director and writer of mine, Joss Whedon. Although Whedon was not a fan of the execution of his script--or the end result--some think this project was a trial run for the creation of his much-loved (but short-lived) space-western series Firefly (!!), among other projects. The cast is epic: Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Brad Dourif, Ron Perlman, Michael Wincott, and Dan Hedaya. Weaver was actually a co-producer on this installment of the series, as well as Alien 3 (1992).
Alien: Resurrection takes place 200 years after Ripley offed herself to save humanity, and her own life, from control by the xenomorphs and the nefarious Weyland-Yutani conglomerate. Scientists working with a new company called United Systems Military have cloned her--along with the Alien Queen she had inside of her--and are experimenting with DNA splicing in order to study the xenomorphs. This all takes place on the spaceship USM Auriga. When a rag-tag group of mercenaries hired by the company to do some of their dirty work arrives on the ship with the intention to stay the night, the xenomorphs cleverly escape their cages and all hell breaks loose. Obviously.
A general theme that runs throughout the Alien franchise is that of control over bodies, whether it be by the powerful xenomorphs and their incredibly efficient way to reproduce, or the “Company” (mainly Weyland-Yutani). Ripley has had to fight against both to maintain bodily autonomy. This comes to a head at the end of Alien 3 as she takes the leap into death and frees herself from this control, once and for all. Now, 200 years after this self-chosen liberation, she has been forced back into life, resurrected, with alien DNA mixed into her own. Ripley is the science experiment of the United Systems Military and is now owned by them. She is now less human, and more of the species that she detests. She has become a commodity, with the company forcefully removing her agency and sense of self. Ripley, once again, has to fight for her life and fight to win back her autonomy.
The resurrected Ripley displays a new sense of strength, cleverness, and sexuality, but also a level of apathy and seeming detachment. The audience is left to wonder where these changes stem from. Is it the alien DNA? Is it the fact that she is alive again and will witness humans retracing their steps and failing to learn from their mistakes? The Ripley of Alien: Resurrection is a major departure from the Ripley from the last three films. Although, it’s amazing to see her tell the scientists of United Military Systems, regarding the Alien Queen, that “she’ll breed, you’ll die.” When she is, of course, right, and everyone dies, it’s almost another “fuck you” to the oppressive, patriarchal system that she has been fighting against for hundreds of years. And this time, hopefully, she can finally live her newfound life as she sees fit.
Ripley ends up connecting emotionally to the android, Call, a member of the unlucky mercenary group. Call has an intense desire to help humanity, something that Ripley used to believe in as well. She used to feel so passionately about it, but the trauma induced by her experiences have made her cynical, possibly misanthropic, or even defeated. Ripley tells Call, “When I sleep, I dream about it. Them. Every night. All around me, in me. I used to be afraid to dream but I’m not anymore.” When Call asks her why, she replies “because no matter how bad the dreams get, when I wake up, it’s always worse.” Though she does help the team kill off all of the xenomorphs, I think something that she says in Aliens (1986) comes back to her: “You know Burke, I don't know which species is worse. You don't see them f***ing each other over for a goddamn percentage!”. Humans are the worst and they rarely learn from their mistakes.
Alien: Resurrection contains an incredibly powerful scene where Ripley finds a lab filled with all of the previous clones that didn't quite work. One is still alive, hooked up to machines and tubes; she heartbreakingly asks Ripley to kill her. Ripley is visibly shaken by this and sets fire to it all. Who can she be if she isn’t Ellen Ripley, the woman from 200 years ago? However, due to the mixing of her DNA with that of the alien queen, Ripley is able to “efface the opposition between self and body, identity and materiality” ( (In)alienable Rights: Property, Feminism, and the Female Body from Ann Radcliffe to the Alien Films). With her newfound strength, cunning, and acid for blood, she is a brand new being and woman, perhaps even better than she was before. Yet, even though this has allowed her to become a new and improved version of herself, she remains uncertain. Can she accept and enjoy this? And, if so, at what costs? The genetic memories remain, causing her to not only still be owned by the past but suffer from it as well. And this is all thanks to United Military Systems, whom she is indebted to. Women’s bodies have long been seen as property, something to be bought and sold, used and abused. They created her and now she will destroy them.
Alien: Resurrection, I think, is a great addition to the series, despite its flaws. The xenomorphs are mostly practical effects, though oddly very moist, and still scary as hell. It’s action-packed but not as strong of a movie as Aliens, though I think it still has a lot of merit. I would have personally enjoyed having the series end with that beautiful death in Alien 3, but, alas, it’s Hollywood. I think Alien: Resurrection is a fun movie with some incredibly poignant themes and moments. It’s also greatly acted by an amazing cast. However, I found the ending to be a bit bland and anticlimactic, though that might just be because I think the end of Alien 3 is so intensely moving. It’s the ending I wanted for Ripley. Joss Whedon’s involvement in the film highlights the many parallels between the two warrior women, Ripley and Buffy, that I now see so very clearly--the self-sacrificing after years of fighting, only to be forcefully resurrected. Perhaps you will see more on this next month...
If you haven’t seen or re-watched Alien: Resurrection in a while, I think it’s time to change that. Ripley’s journey is an incredibly fascinating one, especially re-watching the series at this time in my life, as a 35-year-old woman. I always knew what a bad-ass she was, but this has been an enlightening, moving, and frightening experience. Now, I love her and this film series even more.
Happy 40th birthday Alien!