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‘Alien Resurrection’ turns 25: Does Ripley’s last gasp still matter?

Looking back at Sigourney Weaver’s strange last tour of duty in Ridley Scott’s awesome sci-fi universe.

By Benjamin Bullard
Alien Resurrection

It might merely be a blip in the grand sweep of spacetime, but it’s been a whole quarter century since a new, improved Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and her human-android pal Annalee Call (Winona Ryder) gazed out over the ruins of Paris, lone survivors of a Xenomorph debacle left to ponder their next move in the finale of 1997’s Alien Resurrection.

The last proper sequel in Ridley Scott’s iconic Alien franchise, the fourth Alien film was meant as a fan-pleasing, course-correcting fresh start after its oddly-perceived predecessor killed off Ripley — seemingly for good — in Alien 3. But Resurrection ended up dividing fans and critics while grossing the franchise’s lowest box office numbers, and, sadly, ended up leaving Ripley’s big-screen story dangling: To date, it remains the last of the mainline Alien movies.

Director David Fincher’s career was just revving up when he took the reins of 1992’s Alien 3. But his bold stroke of definitively killing off Weaver’s character — the heart and soul of the series — ended things on a decidedly down note, and didn’t exactly give fans hope that the series had a future. So when the Joss Whedon-penned Alien Resurrection spooled up a revival a short five years later, it came packing an impressive pedigree in both Whedon and French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the eventual Amélie director who squeezed in Resurrection between his visually lavish The City of Lost Children (1995) and Amélie (2001) — an irresistible slice of rom-com synchronicity that would earn Jeunet a pair of Oscar nominations.

If that brief peek into Resurrection’s creative history means anything today, it’s that the last Alien movie remains a visual treat in spite of its story’s star-crossed reception with fans and critics. Jeunet already had unloaded a whole lifetime’s worth of imaginative sci-fi sights in The City of Lost Children, and his eye for awesome set-piece spectacles (literally) flooded Resurrection and the inner crevices of the USN Auriga with visual treats that outclassed anything seen before in the Alien franchise.

Even today, though, the movie’s premise feels only a little less half-baked  — all in the name of bringing Ripley back, of course! — than it did 25 years ago. Cloned from her human ancestor’s DNA and imbued with usefully acidic blood (and an equally useful genetic affinity with the Xenomorphs), Weaver’s “Ripley 8” clone comes off as a too-obvious setup; a quick-fix way to reanimate the series’ signature hero without fussy details like logic getting in the way.

Nothing about the film’s whole military project gone-wrong plot expands on the unrelenting fear factor that Scott’s original Alien (as well as James Cameron’s 1986 sequel Aliens) jolted into the series, making Alien Resurrection more of an indulgence in existing Alien lore than a pioneer of new mythology or a launching pad for fresh scares.

That’s not to say Resurrection still didn’t leave the franchise dead in the water when it comes to Alien’s larger legacy, though. It did hit an intriguing reset button for Weaver, introducing a new set of rules and a clean-slate scenario that might have led to an interesting future for Ripley 8 — if, of course, the series had continued cranking out sequels with her in the lead. Instead, the actor never returned to the franchise (though she’s said she isn’t averse to the idea, if the right story comes along). Comic books, not big-screen movies, continued Ripley’s storyline. Scott, meanwhile, soft-rebooted Alien lore with Prometheus, the 2012 sci-fi horror film that treads new-but-familiar Alien-adjacent terrain.

If Resurrection’s awkward fit within Scott’s larger story-verse sounds like a compelling reason not to rewatch the movie today, though, well — it totally isn’t. Mythos aside, the lore misstep sounds worse than it is, especially if you can manage to bring fresh eyes to Jeunet’s spectacular face-hugging thrills, do-it-yourself heroine skills, and satisfyingly gory Xenomorph kills. Just be sure to wall off what you know about the two movies that preceded it and instead carry only the essential story baggage into the experience that Scott set down in his original 1979 classic. Like it or not, Alien Resurrection remains the best way to catch a fleeting glimpse of where the Alien franchise might’ve gone… and hey, at least it’s not Alien 3.

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