Alien: Resurrection is a wild departure from the tone of the previous films. Where the dirty run-down Blade Runner aesthetic of the previous films got progressively more bleak, the visuals in Resurrection seem to delight in the idea of the future. Everything is falling apart and old, sure, but it's brightly lit and colourful. This is very different from the future of run down and spartan ship designs in the earlier movies, and yet still distinct from the pristine 2001 visuals that Alien felt like an argument against. Partly this can be explained because it takes place hundreds of years after the events of Alien 3, but mostly this is just the very particular vision of the director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
The Alien quadrilogy of films is unique in that each one is handle by a talented director. Ridley Scott, James Cameron, David Fincher, and now Jean-Pierre Jeunet. And I think each of the films is also in a different genre. Alien was a horror movie. Aliens was a Vietnam war movie in space. Alien 3 was a prison movie. And Alien: Resurrection was a crazy French dark imaginative joyride.
Who hires the director of Amelie and Delicatessen to take the reins of an Alien movie?! And then they hire Joss Whedon to write it? Such an insane choice, but one that I'm glad they made. Because what we get is a very interesting exploration of a theme that has become pretty central to the Alien movies: Motherhood.
On the other hand, why can't we have a strong mother character without it being an attack on female autonomy? Motherhood is a part of the human experience, and is just as valid a theme for exploration in a horror movie as any other. Unfortunately, this isn't a way to further explore Ellen Ripley's character. Often in Aliens the character seems completely eclipsed and replaced with trite expressions of motherhood. Aliens is also notable for introducing the alien queen.
Alien: Resurrection plays out like Joss Whedon heard the criticisms of motherhood in Aliens and then laughed to himself and dialed it up to 11. Ripley has been cloned, and the alien queen that was growing inside of her when she killed herself has been saved. But now the two mothers are almost one and the same. Their genetics have become confused. Ripley is now more alien, stronger, more animalistic, less caring. And the alien queen has changed too, developing a human style womb rather than laying eggs.
Whedon has gone on record saying he hated the final movie. He doesn't like the way that Jeunet and the actors interpreted his words and ideas, and it is very clear when watching Resurrection that this is not how Joss Whedon would have done the movie. In this case, I think that's a good thing. Joss Whedon likes ideas, and he likes cleverness and layers of meaning and they serve this movie well. His re-imagining of the android type as young and idealistic is refreshing. And you can even find a group of smugglers that read like early character sketches for his TV show Firefly. But Whedon's style is also very straightforward, and Jeunet's strange and almost impressionistic visual obsession with biology and the body make this film so much more fun to watch. There's even a scene where Ripley stumbles upon a room full of early failed attempts at clones of herself, suspended in glass tanks. And, in a scene later echoed in Baldur's Gate 2, one living creature begging for death.
Alien: Resurrection is not even remotely scary, and to its credit it never tries to be. This is a deeply weird and crazy film, and well worth another viewing now that some time has passed and nobody is expecting another Aliens. This is not another Aliens, but I also think its unlikely we'll ever see another Alien Resurrection.