Friday, March 12, 2021

How I Would Have Done ALIEN RESURRECTION (1997)

Awhile back as a Patreon-only series, Myopia Movies covered the Alien series. One of the films we did was the controversial Alien Resurrection. I actually found it more enjoyable than Alien 3 — that was a serious “shots fired” comment on the podcast when we recorded it in late February — but there were still areas where it needed improvement. 

So, per my usual philosophy of offering constructive criticism rather than just whine, here’s how I would have done the movie.


*Having pirates kidnapping colonists seems like a very risky way to get human Xenomorph hosts. Assuming Perez or Wren wanted human subjects specifically (as opposed to using animals), I’d simplify the plot by having them use military convicts sentenced to death or life without parole. This is a lot more deniable — everybody already thinks they’re dead or simply doesn’t expect to ever hear from them again. The characters needed to be more active could be “trusty” inmates given some responsibility (but under threat of being Xenomorph hosts if they screw up) or prison guards. I’d make Call, Elgin, and maybe Johner and Hilliard the guards and combine the rest of the pirates with the colonists into a gang of prisoners.

Yes, I know this potentially sounds a lot like Alien III with the prison, the inmates supervising other inmates, etc. but it’s different enough (a brig aboard the Navy ship Auriga rather than some kind of privatized prison, in space and able to realistically travel to a populated planet) that it’s not a total retread. And since these are military convicts, they’ll be more realistically able to use guns than the general-population types of Fiorina 161 when all hell breaks loose.

*Although the casting is broadly fine, General Perez (Dan Hedaya) is so hammy and ridiculous. Although it works for laughs exactly once — he dramatically salutes the men in an escape pod a Xenomorph has gotten into before he blows all of them up in space — this is supposed to be a serious film and not a comedy. I would definitely tone him down or, if that’s not an option, replace him completely.

Act One

*The opening sequence in which Ripley is cloned and then the queen Xenomorph is removed from her can stay. One thing I liked about the opening is it gets to the point without draggy exposition. However, I would have had Ripley kept in some quarantined quarters with an actual bed after the queen embryo is removed rather than having her wake up in what looks like a garbage bag on the floor of a prison cell. If they think she’s worth keeping around, it’s in their interest to keep her at least somewhat healthy.

*However, I would have had Ripley amnesiac, not knowing where she is, who she is, etc. Aliens I have no issue with because they’re completely outside of our existing science and people can be creative. However, there’s no science I’m aware of that links genes and specific memories. Given the later reveal that Ripley isn’t fully human and that she has genetic memory inherited from the Xenomorphs, I’d have her original memories and personality slowly reappearing.

(Obviously she can’t be a complete blank slate, since people are seeing this movie for Ripley and not Sigourney Weaver playing someone else most of the time. I’m sure a happy balance can be achieved.)

*That Ripley doesn’t remember her prior life makes the military guys view her as less threatening. Given the severe hush-hush nature of the project it seems like they would deal with any security threat harshly, and Perez is already threatening to kill Ripley if she even looks at him funny. Ripley telling everybody they’re all going to die, that the Xenomorphs cannot be tamed, etc. is going to cause drama and given the lengths Perez and his gang are already going, that would be the sign to start shooting. A disoriented amnesiac isn’t going to be as threatening, at least at first.

*Then a group of convicts from a military prison who’ve either seen something they shouldn’t or misbehaved so badly that the military has decided to dispose of them show up. In true Con Air or No Escape fashion, you’ve got a bunch of legitimate scumbags and maybe a prisoner of conscience or victim of gross injustice or two for sympathy value. If they’re convicts, it would explain Vriess’s paraplegia — he’s being deliberately denied the sort of treatment that would allow him to walk again because he’s a lifer or on death row. We see most of the prisoners being infested by the Xenomorphs, while the trustees (pretty much everybody except Johner and Elgin) and guards like Call, Elgin, and Johner are given some downtime.

*The basketball sequence was pretty well-done. Given Sigourney Weaver’s height, if Ripley did play a sport as a hobby, basketball makes sense, and per the almighty TVTropes, Weaver actually did manage that shot — possibly twice. Furthermore, if we go with my idea of having the memories of her prior life slowly seeping back in, having her interested in basketball but not really knowing why could be a good clue that her old self is beginning to appear. If the guys who mess with her are inmate trustees (although Johner could be the type of guard so thuggy he’s little better than the prisoners themselves) it could explain why they can use the Auriga’s gym but at the same time are odious enough to cause trouble. And in addition to the unusual strength and toughness Ripley demonstrates, that her blood eats into the floor is a major clue that she’s not fully human. Foreshadowing is our friend, ladies and gentlemen. J

*The scene where Dr. Jonathan Gediman (Brad Dourif) interacts with the captive Xenomorph can stay. Not only is there a kooky and slightly creepy character moment (his trying to make out with the Xenomorph through the glass), but the scene with the switch that blasts the alien with liquid nitrogen allows even the lesser Xenomorphs to demonstrate their intelligence. That’s going to be important later, several times.

Act Two

*Having Annalee Call (Winona Ryder) attempting to kill Ripley makes sense if her role taking convicts to the Auriga is cover for being a military intelligence agent sent to investigate Wren and Perez. If Ripley is always watched, the first clue Call isn’t the innocent waif she seems could be that she disables the security cameras and incapacitates the guards outside Ripley’s room. I’d keep the confrontation between Ripley and Call largely as-is (it explains why Ripley is being kept alive), but I’d have had Ripley hint she knows that Call is an android — during the scene where they get weirdly touchy with another I’d have Ripley sniff her. That her sense of smell is so acute is another clue Ripley is more than human. It can also explain why Call is so intent on leaving Ripley to die aboard the Auriga — Ripley knows Call’s secret (both that she’s a spy and she’s an android) and is thus a liability.

*When Call is exposed as a secret agent due to her attempt to contact Ripley, Perez panics and orders the remaining prisoners and their guards immediately fed to the Xenomorphs. The guards and the ex-military prisoners, however, turn the tables and wipe the floor with Perez’s men. No surviving soldier who tries to read charges to the mutineers — that was so stupid. Elgin is killed in the process, as are enough characters to thin the herd. DiStephano, one of Perez’s soldiers, joins the group because he’s gotten so disgusted with Perez and Wren feeding people to the Xenomorphs that he wants to blow the whistle. And like in the canonical film, Wren is taken hostage.

*The alien escape sequence is well-done and well-foreshadowed, including how the aliens use liquid nitrogen to kill at least one human soldier investigating the devastated laboratory. The aliens rampage and the soldiers evacuate, with Perez being killed in the process.

Act Three

*The bones of “escape the Auriga” plot are fine. I did like Ripley’s response to Johner, when he asks her if it’s true she’s faced the Xenomorphs before and what she did, “I died.” Not only is it in-character for her, but it’s a nice bit of comedy.

*The “hall of monstrosities” and the discovery of the agonized deformed Ripley clone was well-done and provided a suitable bonding moment when Call hands Ripley her flame-thrower to mercy-kill the clone. But as one of the characters pointed out, there’s no time for sight-seeing. I’d have set it up so they had to pass through the laboratory to get to the freight elevator rather than make it a prolonged detour.

*In the canonical film it’s rather forced that the pirates decide to take the colonist Purvis, who is gestating a chest-burster, with them. If he’s a fellow prisoner and was possibly in the same military unit with them before they were all jailed, that would make more sense that they might be willing to risk it to potentially save him. And it’s not even that big a risk — a chest-burster is much easier for armed men to kill than a full-grown Xenomorph.

*I liked the swimming Xenomorph sequence. It’s also realistic that at least one character (in the canonical film Elgin’s lover Hilliard) dies — their air supply is limited and speaking as a licensed SCUBA diver, panicking in a low-oxygen environment is a really bad idea. And then things go from bad to worse when they find they’re in an egg chamber.

*However, Christie’s self-sacrifice in the canonical film as it was written came off as unnecessary. The dead alien was hanging onto his foot. Although he was wounded due to acid and I imagine Johner probably hit him a couple times while shooting the Xenomorph that was climbing the ladder after him, he could have at least tried to kick the alien’s claws away rather than go straight to “kill myself.” Given the need to reduce the number of characters, I’d have made it clear he was hurt worse than he looked (blood coming out of his mouth, for example) or the alien’s claws had impaled his foot (it’s rated R anyway, so why not) and it was a much more obvious either-or choice between sacrificing himself alone or trying to survive and dragging Vriess to his death as well.

*I generally liked the canonical reveal that Call was an android, although the way the other crew reacted seemed confusing. Although I expected mixed reactions (Johner’s bigotry, Vriess’s sympathy), it’s not clear if DiStephano is honestly fanboying over Call and simply too socially inept to realize how upset it’s making her or if he’s being bigoted and threatening. His words sound very fanboy, but his body language is very aggressive, including getting in Call’s face and personal space, and he yells a lot. His verbal exposition is also very clumsy. I’d have tightened it up a bit. DiStephano expresses his surprise there are “any of you left” after the “recall,” something that causes Call to visibly flinch as it’s clearly bringing back some very bad memories, and perhaps he then explains a little bit of the history to Ripley, who obviously wouldn’t know. The “machines designed by machines” bit, although TVTropes theorizes that it was the result of androids rebelling against cruel diktats by the government or various mega-corporations by building a new generation of robots with freer wills, is a little clumsy. Maybe DiStephano or the more bigoted Johner says something to the effect that “the newest models were a little too human and didn’t like doing what they were told.” I would definitely kept Ripley’s reaction to Johner’s bigotry — she threatens to tear out his tongue and give it to Call as a souvenir — since that was the part that got me thinking that Ripley was beginning to view Call as a sort of surrogate for her own lost daughter, like how she’d viewed Newt in Aliens.

In case anybody wonders why my version of Call is in military intelligence, Call could simply claim her superiors never knew (unlikely given the medical tests she’d likely have to undergo) or that the higher-ups for whatever reason covered for her. This sort of thing wouldn’t be unheard of — there were full or partial Jews who served in the German Army during WWII and thus managed to escape the fate of their relatives and there might’ve been isolated sympathetic individuals like the Berlin police commissioner who helped a Polish Jewish family get visas to America in 1939 or Georg Duckwitz, the German ambassador who leaked German plans to round up Danish Jews that in turn led to their mass flight to Sweden.

*I did like the idea of Call being a Catholic. After all, Pope Francis said he would baptize a Martian if it asked and a sufficiently-intelligent robot would fall under the same category as “not human but containing a spiritual capacity.” The novelization goes into more detail about her religiosity—it’s legitimate (she’s not just programmed to show respect when entering a place of worship), but she does wonder if she has an actual soul destined for an afterlife or if her death would be just turning off a light switch. That’s something that could be elaborated on a little when Call crosses herself and Ripley asks if this is her programming. This is an area where one could engage in a lot of interesting thinking, but unfortunately it was a bit before its time — thinking machines that believe in God were a big deal in the Battlestar Galactica revival, which came out six to seven years later.

*In addition to establishing Call’s faith, the chapel scene also explores her self-loathing for being an android. Given how Call earlier tells Ripley to her face that she’s not a person but a “construct,” this might be a nice case of what TVTropes describes as You Are Who You Hate. The scene also demonstrates how her condition makes her valuable. I would keep her plugging into the ship and definitely keep “FATHER’S DEAD, ASSHOLE” and her antagonizing Wren over the PA system. That was pretty funny. So was “no she won’t!” when Wren gets aboard the Betty, takes Call hostages, and tells everybody “the synthetic bitch” will guide the Auriga to Earth.

(Call overall is my favorite character in the film and her characterization should stay as close to canon as possible.)

*However, the death of Wren is a moment of unintentional hilarity that really needed to be re-done. Having an infested guy hold an enemy close so the chestburster will kill him too is creative, but in the canonical film it’s ruined by Purvis running at him, getting shot repeatedly, and engaging in a prolonged beatdown while the chestburster erupts. It’s shot at bizarre angles and it looks like it’s sped-up. I would have simply had Wren ignore Purvis as too sickly to be a threat. Then Purvis comes up behind him and it’s over-and-done. No prolonged running sequence, no beatdown, no camera going down his throat to show the chest-burster about to pop, just grab and go. Done. Also, Daniel pointed out in the podcast in past movies people go into seizure when the chestburster starts to emerge. If Purvis is able to grab hold of Wren and then go into terminal spasm, it would be more consistent.

*When Ripley is taken by the Xenomorphs, the shot is so dark it’s hard to tell what’s actually going on. Is she being slowly-slowly swallowed by a gigantic mouth? It looks like later on that she’s being carried off by lesser Xenomorphs, but between the darkness and how they keep fading in and out, it’s really hard to tell. It would have been better just to cut that scene completely. Ripley gets dragged away by the Xenomorphs and when we next see her, she’s in the Queen’s lair.

*I generally liked the design of the Newborn, a new species of Xenomorph with human and alien elements born in a quasi-vaginal fashion from the Xenomorph Queen. The very human-like eyes in particular were a nice touch. It reminded me a lot of Pumpkinhead, a franchise known for its advanced practical effects. I also liked the reveal that it had followed Ripley aboard the Betty by closing the door that Call couldn’t and I also liked how it was probing Call’s bullet wound. It didn’t appear to be motivated by sadism (especially since I don’t recall Call looking like she’s in pain), but by curiosity, like a toddler. The world’s biggest, ugliest, most dangerous toddler, but still.

*However, I thought the Newborn’s death wasn’t handled very well. Firstly, Ripley’s interactions with it seem more sexual than familial. I’ll give them points for creativity with the whole “sucked into space through a tiny hole in the porthole” thing and it’s my understanding they’re going for heartstring-tugging at this human-ish creature dying a prolonged and ugly death, but it didn’t work for me. Maybe if they played up Ripley’s horror at having to kill a creature that views her as a mother, given the role the death of her daughter played in her actions in Aliens (and in her relationship with Call in this film, at least how I interpret it) it might be more impressive. Bonus points if the Newborn is more imploring, reaching out to Ripley to save it, and Ripley has to force herself to refuse. I’m not sure if having the Newborn actually talk would work — there’s scuttlebutt online that you can hear it screaming “Mommy!” and in the podcast someone said the subtitles read “Oh no!” That could crank up the horror for Ripley, but it also risks going from poignant to, in TVTropes terms, Narm (something that’s supposed to be dramatic but unintentionally hilarious).

*When the Auriga hits Earth, based on the size of the explosion it looks like another dinosaur-killer. At minimum, even if it doesn’t cause an impact winter, the Betty crew has just killed millions of people and did quite a lot of local damage even if they didn’t kill the whole biosphere. Given how the Xenomorphs are essentially big carnivorous termites and there aren’t even that many of them, it seems highly improbable this was the least bad option.

(If they wanted to go with that they should have depicted Earth as being this super-urbanized hellhole where even one surviving Xenomorph could become a queen and then breed an army, but Earth from orbit looks rather empty.)

Given what just happened, I imagine a lot of cops and soldiers are going to be converging on the Betty when it lands, especially since the soldiers who evacuated the Auriga are going to be telling their side of story well before them. However, nobody is worried about getting arrested or shot by whoever is governing Earth— instead everybody is gawking about how beautiful the planet is and we get a lot of mediocre cloud shots and overhead shots of what appears to be a relatively unpolluted and intact world rather than what Johner describes as a “shithole.” I’d have made it clearer the Auriga was targeted at an uninhabited area, something I think is in the director’s cut. Bonus points if Call had set up retro-rockets to fire as it enters the atmosphere to reduce its momentum. The Auriga would still strike with the force of multiple nukes, killing the Xenomorphs on board and anybody unfortunate enough to be under it, but no mass murder or ecocide.

*In the alternate ending, Call and Ripley talk about what to do next while looking out over the ruins of Paris. Given how Ripley had been trying to get back to Earth in Alien and the other survivors might be colony-born and never been to the old homeworld, I would think their arrival on Earth and the sacrifices they made to protect humanity’s home should have been a lot more impactful. The deleted scene doesn’t go into a lot of detail on Earth (other than depicting Paris as a desert-like ruin while the rest of the world from orbit seems green), but it would have been an improvement over what we got.

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