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Capsule reviews: Aliens, Alien³, & Alien: Resurrection

ALIENS (James Cameron, 1986)

Mr. Cameron’s film, Aliens, is cer­tainly more gal­va­niz­ing than its pre­de­ces­sor, Alien: he expanded Rid­ley Scott’s clas­sic no-frills hor­ror film  into a clam­orous war film. It’s still per­fectly respectable because the min­i­mal­ism is care­fully main­tained, to a cer­tain degree, but ele­vated accord­ingly with the stakes. Instead of one alien ver­sus seven increas­ingly hap­less peo­ple trapped in an increas­ingly claus­tro­pho­bic space­ship, it’s a hive of aliens ver­sus a dozen decreas­ingly cock­sure Colo­nial marines and a few civil­ians trapped in an increas­ingly claus­tro­pho­bic com­pound. The bad­i­nage and brash­ness of the sol­diers, all decked out with cool weaponry, only makes it more glee­fully tragic when they all inevitably suc­cumb, one by one, to the resource­ful aliens. Mr. Cameron, help­fully, actu­al­izes Ellen Ripley’s moth­erly instincts (and brings out Ms. Weaver’s fero­cious warmth) by replac­ing her cat with a lit­tle girl, Newt, whose wel­fare becomes so pri­mor­dial to Rip­ley that by the end of the film she is bawl­ing “Get away from her you bitch!” to the Alien Queen while wield­ing the full strength of an exoskele­tal power-loader. It’s the most sat­is­fy­ing scene of the film, mostly because it solid­i­fies Ms. Weaver’s char­ac­ter as unequiv­o­cally badass. Like most of Mr. Cameron’s movies, Aliens isn’t sub­tle, but as a com­ple­ment to Alien’s con­sci­en­tiously mea­sured ter­ror, its excitabil­ity is wel­come. A–

ALIEN³ (David Fincher, 1992)

By no means per­fectly respectable, at least when regarded as the third Alien movie, Alien³  how­ever pos­sesses cer­tain charms that might even be con­sid­ered redeemable, were the viewer in a char­i­ta­ble mood. Rip­ley crash-lands in a off-world penal colony full of God-fearing lunatics whose self-established monas­tic soci­ety is quickly upended by this unwel­come temp­ta­tion. Their hos­til­ity is not unwar­ranted how­ever because tag­ging along with Rip­ley is, unsur­pris­ingly, an alien who has already, sur­pris­ingly, killed Newt and placed an embryo inside of Rip­ley. Good heav­ens, what gall! Now Ms. Weaver, with shaved head but a mag­netic pres­ence as always, has lost her only child and gained an unborn demon. Mr. Fincher is at the helm and he takes great delight in, when not ruth­lessly destroy­ing any grat­i­fi­ca­tion gleaned from Aliens’s con­clu­sion, swoop­ing his cam­era down end­less under­ground tun­nels with dizzy­ing styl­is­tic aban­don while the alien, skit­ter­ing around oblig­ingly, pur­sues the wail­ing damned. Alien³ is a shabby, seem­ingly low-budget pro­duc­tion that pro­duces chills and thrills, mostly due to the inher­ent, inspired spook­i­ness of the prison set­ting and its inhab­i­tants. But alien fatigue is set­ting in, and the ram­pag­ing extrater­res­trial, so cen­tral to the film, no longer inspires the same raw fear in the audi­ence. As Rip­ley says, “You’ve been in my life for so long, I hardly remem­ber any­thing else.” B–

ALIEN: RESURRECTION (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 1997)

Where to begin with Alien: Res­ur­rec­tion? It’s impos­si­ble to treat seri­ously, and is gen­er­ally a fiasco from the begin­ning to the end. An elab­o­ra­tion of the plot would be a mis­use of everyone’s time. I was expect­ing strange things from Mr. Jeunet and was not dis­ap­pointed, but the great­est sur­prise came from the screen­writer, who is none other than Joss Whe­don. You see, I really like Fire­fly, and there­fore it’s strik­ing to note that appar­ently five years before that bril­liant show began its regret­tably short-lived tele­vi­sion run, Mr. Whe­don was already toy­ing with the con­cept of a mot­ley crew of space smug­glers in a remark­ably sim­i­lar tone. The shad­ows of famil­iar char­ac­ters are begin­ning to sur­face, par­tic­u­larly the ones of the uncom­monly per­cep­tive, pecu­liarly gifted young girl (here played by Winona Ryder, and in Fire­fly, Sum­mer Glau) and the gung-ho, thug­gish moron (Ron Perl­man, and later Adam Bald­win). So it’s some­what dis­con­cert­ing to rec­og­nize Mr. Whedon’s dis­tinc­tively grounded touch among all the more out­landish aspects of  Alien: Res­ur­rec­tion: the re-imagining of Rip­ley as a simul­ta­ne­ously preda­cious and aching super­woman infused with alien DNA; Ms. Ryder’s vex­ingly melo­dra­matic per­for­mance; the vio­lent debut of yet another new and evolved anthro­po­mor­phized alien; all that super­flu­ously gar­ish blood and gore. You’d be bet­ter off just watch­ing Fire­fly.   C