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Beasts of Beauty

Alien Resurrection
Kelp Is on the Way: Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) waits by the seaweed for yet another encounter with her alien nemesis.

Believe it or not, Ripley's back in action

By Richard von Busack

I WENT TO Alien Resurrection as someone who didn't care about monsters hopping but who couldn't wait to see a new Caro/Jeunet movie. With his partner, Marc Caro, listed as a design consultant, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, co-director of the French imports Delicatessen and City of Lost Children, takes this franchise in a new direction. The story, of course, is familiar. A spaceship is infested with killer aliens that combine the most frightening aspects of several unpleasant creatures: tiger, shark, tarantula, hawk and squid. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), returning from her emphatic final bow in Aliens3 through the miracle of cloning, helps out in an escape attempt. Call (Winona Ryder), one of the ship's passengers, becomes Ripley's assistant in the retreat. Jeunet's stars from City of Lost Children, Dominique Pinon and Ron Perlman, could best be described as the seriocomic relief. Unfortunately for all involved, Ripley had been impregnated with an alien larvae shortly before her demise in the last film, and her DNA is mixed with theirs. Worse, she is now psychically bonded with the aliens.

As in Tim Burton's films, the plot and the suspense are secondary to the thick atmosphere. None of the action scenes, except for an underwater escape through the ship's cooling system, is a thrill ride. Nor are any of the shootouts directed with the technical precision of James Cameron (Aliens) or Ridley Scott (Alien). The bug-hunting of Aliens is replaced in Alien Resurrection by exactly what made the original Alien interesting: a fascination with the nature of the beasts. At one point in Alien Resurrection, the eyeless monsters are imprisoned and taunted by a scientist who is seeking to learn how they could be tamed by the government for use in "urban pacification." The scene of a captured animal prodded by its keeper has the usual effect--even if it's this particular type of animal. This is the first Alien movie in which you consider their point of view. Jeunet is enamored of their cold, oily surfaces, and he records the gleam of their chrome grimaces, just as he captures a circlet of lights in the depth of an android's eye. Thanks to improved computer animation, the aliens' faces display a bit more emotional range; they can flash looks of dismay and wrath. Swimming after the humans, they have the beauty of rare tropical fish.

Weaver, who co-produced, credits movement and acting coaches for helping her with her part; the work of both is amply evident. She takes up the story as if it were worth telling and carries it out with the formidable strength that makes her one of the most graceful of modern actors. She seems even more serious about this part than she was as the almost dominatrixlike housewife in The Ice Storm. Only a lazy viewing of the four Alien films would make you think Weaver is a woman dressing up in a male action-hero's part. (Money talks, but she may not be listening--how many dozens of Ramboette roles do you suppose Weaver turned down in the last 20 years?) The newly schizoid Ripley, unpredictably driven to moments of tenderness and violence with a mad, bitter smile, highlights the otherworldliness, the alienness, of this engrossing new episode in the franchise.

Alien Resurrection (R; 109 min.), directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, written by Josh Whedon, photographed by Darius Khondji and starring Sigourney Weaver and Winona Ryder.

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From the Dec. 4-10, 1997 issue of Metro.

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