ALIEN: RESURRECTION (1997)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sci-Fi Violence and Gore, some Grotesque Images, and for Language

Directed by: Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Written by: Joss Whedon

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Michael Wincott, Dan Hedaya, Brad Dourif, Raymond Cruz, Kim Flowers, Gary Dourdan, Ron Perlman, Dominique Pinon & Leland Orser

Five years after ALIEN 3, Fox proved to have not learned their lesson about unnecessary sequels and ALIEN: RESURRECTION hit theaters. Surely, this third sequel would jump-start a new chapter in the ALIEN franchise, right? After all, the main character of the first three films bit it in the last one and it seemed like a fitting (albeit plot hole filled and convoluted) way to go out. Well, Fox wanted Ripley back and hired Joss Whedon (15 years before directing THE AVENGERS) to write it. Surprisingly, Whedon’s screenplay combined with Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s stylish direction make for a tolerable and (at times) entertaining ride. I consider ALIEN: RESURRECTION to be a bit of a guilty pleasure and there was nowhere to go but up after the crappy third film.

Set 200 years after the events of ALIEN 3, RESURRECITON begins by showing us that scientists have somehow managed to clone Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). After surgically removing the cloned Queen Alien from inside her body, the scientists decide to keep the Ripley clone alive as a side project. It turns out that the Ripley clone’s genetics may have mixed with the Xenomorph DNA. This makes her into a superhero type (fast reflexes, super strength and acid blood). Her skills will come in handy after the vicious aliens break out of their cages on the ship. Aided by a rag-tag group of space-pirates, Ripley and the others must stop the alien-infested spaceship from reaching its final destination: Earth!

ALIEN: RESURRECTION tries to be big dumb fun and that’s something that the series has never really encountered before. The first film was scary, the second film was exciting, and the third film was bleak. This fourth film is just fun. Yes, it’s stupid as can be and not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination…but it’s also fun. There’s lots of humor, action, and “twists” to be had. I put that third quality in quotes, because ALIEN: RESURRECTION recycles pieces of what makes the first two movies so great. There’s one specific plot point that directly rips off a terrifying scene from the first film, though it’s done in a much more action-oriented way this time around.

Sigourney Weaver isn’t playing Ripley because she’s playing a Ripley clone. This allows for a bit of character building in her interactions with the scientists, genetic memories being restored, and an odd motherly connection with the Xenomorphs. The first two plot points are actually quite creative. You just need to jump over the hurdle of scientists cloning Ripley with the alien still inside her, but my theory is that the company likely snatched her DNA from the prison planet. The decision to turn Ripley into an alien/superhero hybrid is a tad too ridiculous. One of the film’s best scenes has Weaver’s Ripley burning ugly failed attempts of past clones. More of a focus should have gone into moments like that, instead of them being fast forgotten in favor of more superpowers and a parental connection to aliens.

As far as side characters go, ALIEN: RESURRECTION has a few notable faces that stick out. Brad Dourif is a blast to watch as the over-the-top creepy mad scientist. It seems like he was allowed to do his thing and there are goofy moments that feel improvised. Dan Hedaya gets a few good moments in as a corrupt spaceship commander, but is woefully underused. Out of the space pirates, the only two of note are Winona Ryder’s action heroine and Ron Perlman’s smart-ass thug. The rest of the pirates are generic one-note stereotypes, including a paraplegic who’s gifted with unbelievable strength during one of the film’s more absurd action moments.

ALIEN: RESURRECTION’s style and visuals raise the film above its by-the-numbers plot. The movie essentially boils down to people running from monsters and trying to blow up a spaceship (kinda like the first movie mixed with the second movie). The outrageous action scenes and highly detailed environments elevate the entertainment factor above the been-there-done-that premise. There’s lots of rust, slime, and blood. Most of it looks absolutely fantastic and lends a slick atmosphere to the proceedings. It certainly helps that the aliens appear especially bad-ass this time around. The suits used to bring them to life are convincing, while the CGI isn’t bad at all.

The film even introduces a new breed of alien to the mix, but this white-skinned monster is laughably stupid to behold. He’s not nearly as intimidating as the Xenomorphs and basically looks like an albino Pumpkinhead. I don’t know what Joss Whedon or Jean-Pierre Jeunet were thinking when they came up with this creation, but it’s rather lame. If they had introduced this monster early on, then there might have been a better story arc. As it stands, the less-threatening alien seems like an easy-to-beat final boss at the end of a video game. That being said, I love the way that Ripley dispatches him as it’s especially gory and crazy.

ALIEN: RESURRECTION is very silly and completely unnecessary in the grand scheme of the franchise. Still, it winds up as a middle-of-the-road experience because there is some fun to be had here. I enjoyed this film as a guilty pleasure when I was a teenager and still have fun watching it now. The fourth ALIEN installment isn’t anywhere near the quality of the first two films and I hesitate to call it good. This is like ALIEN fan fiction got made into a movie and it’s fun to watch in a really stupid way. Take that as you will.

Grade: C

ALIEN 3 (1992)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 54 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Monster Violence, and for Language

Directed by: David Fincher

Written by: David Giler, Walter Hill & Larry Ferguson

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Brian Glover, Ralph Brown, Paul McGann, Danny Webb & Lance Henriksen

In 1979, ALIEN frightened audiences with its mixture of bleak science-fiction and terrifying horror. In 1986, ALIENS blew audiences away and delivered one of the best sequels in cinema history. In 1992, ALIEN 3 disappointed fans everywhere. To be fair, this film had a troubled production before it even began shooting due to Fox’s heavy studio interference. I wish I could tell you that ALIEN 3 is an underrated gem in the series and doesn’t deserve all of the hatred that it has received up to this point. However, ALIEN 3 ranks alongside THE GODFATHER: Part III as one of the most disappointing sequels ever created. Though it does a few redeeming qualities, ALIEN 3 is pretty damn abysmal.

After escaping the deadly planet in ALIENS, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) awakes as the sole survivor of an escape pod crash. To make matters worse, Ripley’s pod crashed onto a lice-infested prison planet that’s populated by murderers and rapists. Threatening criminals, a newly shaven head, and grief over the loss of her friends are the least of Ripley’s worries though, because another Xenomorph (this time bursting out of a dog) is on the loose. With no weapons at their disposal and a skeptical warden, Ripley must band the inmates together if they wish to stay alive.

ALIEN 3 tries to be radically different from the previous two films. Occasionally, this works out in its favor, but it mostly ends up with disastrous results for the majority of the running time. The decision to kill off Newt (in the worst way possible), Hicks, and Bishop within the film’s opening minutes feels like an insult to many fans of the second film. I understand that this third installment is trying to distance itself from ALIENS and establish an identity of its own, but it feels like this opening renders Ripley’s entire heroic rescue of Newt as completely pointless.

By moving from over a hundred aliens (in the second film) to a single dog-hatched Xenomorph, ALIEN 3 seems like a severe downgrade. The new four-legged monster looks cool in moments, especially with stop-motion effects and slimy man-in-a-suit close-ups. However, there are moments where cheesy CGI renderings of the long-headed beastie simply don’t hold up. The same cannot be said of the film’s dark setting which is actually pretty neat in every scene. The industrial prison planet sets seem lavish, expensive and spectacular. The film also maintains a brooding atmosphere, in spite of its countless pitfalls.

In her third round as Ripley, Sigourney Weaver seems to be phoning it in. There are screams, groans, and shouts that are meant to be dramatic, but had me chuckling (which I’m sure wasn’t the intention at all). The prisoners are a bland, bald bunch, with only a couple of performers sticking out among the generic pack. Charles Dutton is remarkably good as the religious spokesman of the group, while Charles Dance gives us the only charismatic supporting character to latch onto. Dance just might deliver the best performance of the film and I wish he played a bigger role in the grand scheme of things. Also, Lance Henriksen makes a couple of appearances, both of which are decent enough and nothing more.

ALIEN 3 truly falls apart in its story, because most of this film is downright boring and stupid. Still, there are a few neat kills and gory bits. It’s worth noting that ALIEN 3 began filming as the script was still being written and there was no clear ending in sight. That crappy production hell comes across in the finished film. About 30 minutes of scenes were cut out of the theatrical cut and have been re-edited into an Assembly Cut (not a director’s cut). Unfortunately, the Assembly Cut is only marginally better with two halfway decent subplots (involving a prisoner who becomes obsessed with the alien and a rapist redeeming himself through sacrifice) and tiny inconsequential changes. The finale in both versions just boils down to a series of repetitive hallway chases and alien point-of-view shots.

My biggest problem with ALIEN 3 involves spoilers, so consider this a spoiler warning to skip to the next paragraph. ALIEN 3 attempts to conclude the trilogy in a darkly poetic way. There are two major plot holes that come with the decision to put an alien inside of Ripley. The most notable one being that Ripley walks around and remains alive far longer than any other alien victim’s incubation period. Some might argue that this is because she has Queen inside of her, but I call this lazy writing that needed her to stay alive as long as the plot called for it. Arguably more annoying, there’s a scene in which alien-pregnant Ripley realizes that the dog-Xenomorph will not hurt or kill her. She can get very close to it and the monster won’t harm her at all. So, why doesn’t she just kill the Xenomorph right then and there? Why drag the prisoners to their certain deaths in order to trap/kill a creature that she could easily kill on her own? Again, this is bad writing and sloppy storytelling.

David Fincher disowned the third ALIEN outing and nobody can really blame him. He was a hired gun for this tampered-beyond-repair mess that Fox wanted. ALIEN 3 has a few redeemable qualities in most of its effects, two good performances, a handful of cool scenes, and creative concepts (even if they are botched in execution). However, it’s ruined by gaping plot holes, a tedious pace that’s sure to bore the viewer, a few downright idiotic decisions that take a massive dump on fans of the second film, and feeling like a phoned-in cash grab of a third installment. In the right hands and talent, ALIEN 3 might have been something truly special, but it wound up as one of the most disappointing sequels to ever hit theaters.

Grade: D+

ALIENS (1986)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 17 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Monster Violence, and for Language

Directed by: James Cameron

Written by: James Cameron

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henriksen, Carrie Henn, Bill Paxton, William Hope, Jenette Goldstein & Al Matthews

With ALIEN being a giant success, a sequel was inevitable. Where to take the property though and who could possibly pick up the reigns after Ridley Scott left his distinct mark on the series? While Scott’s ALIEN focused on scares, James Cameron’s ALIENS was all about action. As you might have guessed from its title, there are many Xenomorphs in this film. ALIENS is a sequel done right in that it builds off the original film to take the series in bold new directions, all while constantly upping its game. The end result is not only one of the best sequels in film history, but also one of the best sci-fi action movies to ever grace the silver screen.

As the sole survivor of the Nostromo, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has been in hypersleep for 57 long years. Rescued from the cold recesses of space by the same company that screwed her over in the first place, Ripley finds that (unsurprisingly) no one believes her tales of an acid-bleeding, long-headed, two-mouthed, bug-like monster. In fact, the planet where the Nostromo originally landed is now a site for colonization. When the colony goes dead quiet, Ripley is called in as a consultant for a bunch of space marines assigned to investigate the oddly silent location. When they arrive, Ripley and the space marines discover hundreds of vicious Xenomorphs. In a race against a ticking clock, they must use their heads and work together to escape the planet.

In my ALIEN review, I complained about how stupid most of that film’s characters were and how they essentially boiled down to slasher victims in space. ALIENS remedies this issue by having a colorful group of characters who make smart choices and come off as instantly likable. While I didn’t care about most of the crew members dying in the first film, the deaths in this sequel make the viewer sad to see another beloved space marine bite the dust. Yes, Ripley is a bad-ass and really gets a lot of room to shine in this second installment. This is especially true during the final 30 minutes that have her saving the day on a deadly solo mission. However, the supporting cast is stellar this time around.

The biggest stand-out of the space marines is Lance Henriksen as android Bishop. While Ian Holm was just plain creepy as the first film’s android, Henriksen manages to be both creepy and charming at the same time. First time viewers, won’t know where his allegiances fully lie and Cameron wisely inserts scenes that could be taken two completely different ways. As other notable space marines, Michael Biehn is charismatic as Hicks (also serving as a possible love-interest for Ripley), Bill Paxton is hilarious as grunt Hudson (uttering one of the most iconic lines in an action movie ever), and Jenette Goldstein is a total bad-ass as Vasquez.

Paul Reiser plays corporate scumbag Carter Burke and owns his transformation from annoying sleazeball (at first) to downright despicable asshole (by his final scene). ALIENS also seemingly does the impossible by bringing in a little kid and not making them annoying in every single second that they’re on the screen. This child-in-danger comes in Carrie Henn as Newt. Henn had no previous acting experience before this film, which makes her performance that much more impressive. She nails the role of this young survivor and has become a fan favorite over the decades, all while providing a reason for Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley to develop instant motherly protection.

James Cameron’s ALIENS is much more of an action movie than a scarefest, but Cameron keeps everything in tact that made the first movie great. This include the freaky-looking planet design, the insect-like monsters, and the sense of constant danger around every corner. Even though there are more characters this time around and they’re heavily armed, that just means there’s more people stuck in the same heart-pounding situation and their ammo will eventually run out. An adrenaline-pumping chase scene through a series of ventilation shafts is every bit as claustrophobic as the best jump scare from the first film, but this time there are aliens coming from all directions and bullets flying everywhere.

Cameron’s sequel further builds on the creatures’ biology, nesting habits, and introduces a Queen Alien to the series (all those eggs have to be coming from somewhere). This towering creature is one of the most intimidating monsters to ever hit the big screen. Think a regular Xenomorph times a hundred and much, much bigger. This makes for one of the greatest human vs. alien battles in the finale too. This isn’t to negate the film’s quieter, more effective moments, because there are a few twists that naturally built and progressively up the stakes in a believable way.

Throughout his career, James Cameron has directed two of the best sequels of all-time: TERMINATOR 2 and this film. ALIENS is not only a perfect example of how to make a stellar second installment that outdoes the original, but it’s also one of the best science-fiction action hybrids to ever grace the silver screen. Adrenaline-pumping action, colorful characters (who the viewer is sad to see die), unexpected plot turns, high stakes that progressively become higher, and an already great mythos evolving are just some of the reasons why this sequel is so phenomenal! ALIENS is entertainment at its biggest and best!

Grade: A+

ALIEN (1979)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 57 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sci-Fi Violence/Gore and Language

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Written by: Dan O’Bannon

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm & Yaphet Kotto

ALIEN was one of the first science-fiction horror films to be taken seriously in film. This was basically a B-movie monster story executed with A-grade talent and scares. The film launched the career of a budding Ridley Scott into the mainstream, delivered one of the best female characters to ever grace the silver screen, and spawned a movie franchise that has lasted for decades. Though this film relies on a simple story and it’s not without a few flaws, ALIEN is essential viewing for anybody who loves movies!

The crew of the spaceship Nostromo are awakened from hypersleep by a distress signal on a nearby planet. According to a clause in their work contracts, the crew must investigate and rescue anybody in distress on their way home. What appears to be a rescue mission turns into something out of a nightmare because the planet is quiet, mist-covered, and downright spooky. When one of the crew encounters an odd-looking egg and, being an idiot, bends down to take a closer look, he winds up with a living organism hugging his face. The crew, being idiots, let the possibly contaminated crew member back on board and soon enough, there’s a full-fledged, blood-thirsty alien running around the ship. It’s up to warrant officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) to remedy the deadly blunders of her fellow crew members.

You might have noticed ALIEN’s single problem from my plot synopsis. The spaceship is populated by characters who do really stupid things and their dumb decisions further the story along. Don’t get me wrong. ALIEN is a fantastic movie, but there are eye-rolling lapses in judgment that seem to slide purely because the story needs them to. The whole film hinges on a dumbass looking into an egg and then another moron letting that dumbass back onto the spaceship. I can let both of those stupid decisions slide, but I can’t stand Harry Dean Stanton’s redneck wandering around by himself because the script demands it. Also, The film’s most egregious example of stupid decisions has one sobbing character refusing to get out of the alien’s way, thus resulting in two deaths. It’s been nearly 20 years since I first saw ALIEN and this moment still seems stupid to me.

With my complaints out of the way, let me dive into ALIEN’s great qualities and there are plenty to be praised! The first one is Sigourney Weaver’s protagonist Ripley. She’s a strong heroine who kicks ass and doesn’t take crap from any other crew member on the ship. She easily seems like the most sensible person of the bunch and we root for her to live from her first appearance. Weaver is basically playing a slasher final girl on a spaceship and does this with a bad-ass persona. Another performance worth praising is Ian Holm as creepy scientist Bishop. You know something isn’t right about him from his first interaction and though his most memorable scene has already been spoiled by plenty of people throughout the decades, Holm still remains unnerving in the role.

What’s most impressive about ALIEN is how much it accomplished with simple technology and effects capabilities of its time. Ridley Scott employed everyday appliances like rubber gloves (for the movement inside the egg), puppets (for the early born alien), milk (for Android’s blood), various animal guts (for pieces of the facehugger), and miniatures/models (for spaceships and planets). However, none of that is what appears on the screen. What we see is another world, freaky organisms, and visceral gore. ALIEN easily has the best effects to come out of the 1970s!

The spectacular effects come to a head when talking about the film’s titular monster. This is a creature feature after all and a lot of the scares hinge on the creature. Using an unforgettable design by H.R. Giger, the Xenomorph is easily one of the greatest monsters to be brought to life by a man in a suit. That man, Bolaji Badejo, was unnaturally skinny and very tall. This brought an eerie effect to the monster and Scott purposely picked Badejo because he didn’t want the eye to naturally think that a person could possibly be portraying the long-headed, two-mouthed Xenomorph. This monster still freaks me out in certain scenes, the biggest of which is easily Dallas (Tom Skeritt) hunting it in the ship’s air ducts. That entire sequence is masterfully executed and delivers one of the best jump scares in cinema history.

While later entries in the series would take a more action-based approach to the material, ALIEN is like a slasher film in space that features a monster and haunted house scares. It’s a nearly perfect combination of science fiction and horror, with a handful of stupid character decisions marking the film’s only flaws. The monster is iconic. Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley is one of the best heroines to ever hit the silver screen. The special effects still look amazing. The scares are effective. The filmmaking is masterful. Simply put, ALIEN is one of the best creature features ever!

Grade: A

GHOSTBUSTERS II (1989)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 48 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

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Directed by: Ivan Reitman

Written by: Harold Ramis & Dan Aykroyd

Starring: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Sigourney Weaver, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts & Peter MacNicol

GHOSTBUSTERS dominated the 1984 box office. The summer blockbuster’s popularity grew to a point where it spawned a line of toys, a cartoon series that ran for seven seasons, and even an Ecto-Cooler drink. Five years after the original film’s massive success, a sequel was unleashed upon the masses. Within three days, GHOSTBUSTERS II had broken a box office record…that was quickly stolen away by BATMAN. Though the original GHOSTBUSTERS was well-received by critics and made a huge impact upon audiences, this sequel never found that same success. Part of this might be attributed to far too much studio interference, but I’d argue that most of it feels like GHOSTBUSTERS II is simply repeating familiar beats from the first film with far less enthusiasm.

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Set five years after the first film, the Ghostbusters have turned into washed up has-beens. For some reason, New Yorkers have forgotten about a giant marshmallow man and ghost exterminators saving the day. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) have become children’s party performers, while wise-cracking Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) hosts a psychic television show and sociopathic scientist Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) conducts social experiments. The Ghostbusters are pulled out of retirement when they discover a pink stream of paranormally charged ectoplasm in New York’s sewer system. With another apocalypse-level event on the horizon and Venkman’s love-interest Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) back in town, the Ghostbusters reunite to uncover a mystery and save the day!

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GHOSTBUSTERS II had a slightly bigger budget than its predecessor and it’s clear that almost all of this extra cash went to the undeniably impressive special effects! There are many more apparitions this time around, besides a brief cameo from Slimer. Most of these ghosts are shown in a comedic montage that features the Ghostbusters doing what they do best and others are showcased around the massive stream of ectoplasm underneath the city. This sequel mostly opts for a more light-hearted atmosphere than the first film, featuring an over-the-top goofy Slimer, some brief comic relief spirits, and some cartoony prisoner ghosts. Still, it has a couple of creepy visuals in a famous ship finally arriving at port (probably my favorite scene in the film) and a floating nanny from hell.

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Vigo the Carpathian (physically played by German wrestler Wilhelm von Homburg and voiced by Max von Sydow) serves as a solid antagonist…even if he’s defeated rather easily during an anti-climactic finale. His plans of world domination are quite similar to Gozer the Gozerian in the first film. In fact, GHOSTBUSTERS II seems to repeat a lot of beats from its predecessor to a slightly annoying degree. This is complete with the dumb plot hole of the Ghostbusters being forgotten at the beginning of the film and having to work their way back into the public eye once again. The plot plays out in a familiar fashion as they encounter a disbelieving dickhead official trying to stand in their way and there’s even a giant creature parading through the streets of New York City (though in this case, it’s eye-rolling and sappy).

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Out of the returning cast members, nearly everyone seems dull or tired. Bill Murray is a comedic highlight, though he’s usually the highlight of any comedy. Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis look bored, even though they wrote the screenplay. I’d be lying if I said that Ramis’s sociopathic scientist didn’t get a few giggles out of me though, especially in his introduction. Ernie Hudson also returns…to do absolutely nothing. Hudson’s character had more development in the predecessor, which is saying something because he hardly received any memorable moments the first time around. Sigourney Weaver seems to be appearing out of a contractual obligation and her chemistry with Murray is damn near non-existent in this second outing. Rick Moranis is still amusing as the nebbish accountant, but newcomer Peter MacNicol seems to be having a blast as villainous Vigo’s awkward assistant.

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GHOSTBUSTERS II hits the typical pitfalls that plague many sequels. It simply repeats the formula that made the first film work and doesn’t add much new material to the mix. Even though the movie has a handful of solid moments and cool 80’s special effects, most of the cast looks bored and there aren’t as many laughs as one might hope. The energy that made the 1984 horror-comedy into a classic has noticeably decreased in this sequel. In only its second outing, the GHOSTBUSTERS franchise suffered from fatigue. As far as I’m concerned, this film is the biggest reason that GHOSTBUSTERS III was shelved.

Grade: C+

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