A series such as the Alien films, with hordes of fans worldwide and much acclaim under its belt, has a lot to live up to when a new sequel hits the collective retina. So, with the release of Alien Resurrection, the fourth chapter in the Ripley saga, audiences should be surprised by changes in the heroine we've come to know like a sister.
French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the cinematic visionary who (with partner Marc Caro) gave us Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children, brings an "other" Ripley to life, cloned, transformed, quietly cynical and possessed of inhuman strength.
Working from a tight, quirky script by Joss Whedon (Toy Story, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Jeunet makes this Alien into an extravaganza -- a movie narrated by its own look -- a deep, dark, sci-fi tableau in which the shadows around Ripley throb with malevolence.
Though there's an uncharacteristic newborn softness to Ripley's face, it masks something dangerous, like cashmere covering a steel blade. Sigourney Weaver, in her fourth incarnation as our favorite toughgirl, is simply riveting -- radiant and mysterious. She's accompanied by a supremely visual cast, including the not-to-be-denied Winona Ryder; the King Kong Jr.-esque Ron Perlman; elastic-faced Dominique Pinon; power-eyed Dan Hedaya (probably the hairiest guy in the galaxy) and a slew of striking others.
Jeunet has marked Resurrection with his telltale signature of unsettling, even disgusting, spectacle: A close-up of an ear getting singed by a drop of alien acid; the deep-set, needy eyes of a freak hybrid; even an impossible traveling shot down the throat of a screaming human victim.
Standout sequences include an underwater chase that seems more dream than reality, a horrifying DNA-lab showdown and a truly awesome alien birth.
With members of his French production team at the controls of photography, editing and visual effects, Jeunet has given this film a haunting presence, like the scent of formaldehyde in a jar of caviar.
But this wild tale is also much ado about something. The Alien series, which has always focused on disappearance and emergence, birth and rebirth, gender and power, is here concerned with women at the end of their ropes -- and what they'll do to survive. After three episodes, the saga (which is also a narrative of sexual politics today) has seemed to lose some of its power to hook us in. But not to worry. Jeunet's real achievement is to have made the nightmare totally disturbing again.
George Tysh is Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at email@example.com.