Five Days With The Alien Anthology – Day Four

Okay, let’s get ready to rumble.

I’m 100% committed to the argument that Jean Pierre Jeunet’s Alien Resurrection is not only a better film than Alien 3, it’s actually the secret weapon of the series. It’s a matter of record that Joss Whedon, the film’s screenwriter isn’t too pleased with the outcome, and I think that fact has played some serious part in spreading the negative feelings that surround the picture. But writers are so often their own biggest critics, and he certainly can’t see the finished product without it being fogged up with his memories of intent and ambition, from before the crystalline ideas in his mind started getting grounded in reality.

Of course, that doesn’t fully account for the bad reviews the film accumulated. The best I can do in standing against those, really, is tell you what I think about the movie.

Jean Pierre Jeunet’s style is clearly at odds with all of the previous films, and also some common audience assumptions about how a modern sci-fi film should look and feel. There’s a more whimsical feeling than typical – in the design, the performances, the image composition. None of which is to say it’s flat out chintzy, flea market ornament stuff. But it’s not an off-the-peg tone, and it might be described as an acquired taste. To get over this, however, all that’s needed is an open mind.

The film’s themes are very well suited to the alien mythos. We’ve got a new take on the body horror rooted right at the heart of the series, this time reflecting on abortion and right to life issues, mutation and genetics. This also feeds into the film’s set-up with a huge, anti-creationist ark carrying an unholy, man-made monster to Earth. And don’t overlook the switcheroo from the first film’s Freud-baiting, back-stabbing computer, Mother (or MU-TH-UR) to Father (FA-TH-UR?), which the film’s artificial (ie. man made, not God made) robo-character patches into via a port in the chapel. So, a man-made woman logs on to the Father computer and declares “God’s dead, asshole” – such jolly japes.

And the film is studded with this stuff. I can’t help but love it.

When I saw Resurrection in the cinema, I was lucky to see it wonderfully projected from a specially-developed print processed with the silver left in – as cinematographer Darius Khondji  had previously chosen to do, most famously, with Se7en. It looked quite astonishing, particularly in any scenes of high contrast. Shots of the xenomorphs glimmering, gleaming with their glossy secretions had never looked harder, colder, more alien.

So chalk up that success as a disappointment for the Blu-ray box set. There’s not really any way to replicated the luminous presentation of a silver-retention print digitally, but it can be simulated. While the presentation of the film here is, undoubtedly, very strong and dramatic, it doesn’t come close to capturing the look of the 35mm reels I saw. It’s worth noting that most release prints were closer to this Blu-ray transfer, that the silver-retention was not the norm.

As with Alien 3, Resurrection‘s transfer is not new, and it therefore doesn’t really compete with the look of Anthology‘s Alien and Aliens discs. All the same, it’s a significant step up from the DVD. There’s some irony in that the better this film looks, the less satisfying the “newborn” is when we finally see him, but those scenes still have drama in this presentation, not least because of Khondji’s fine lighting and the powerful, dynamically presented score.

If you haven’t seen this film more than once, or you haven’t seen it in some time, or you’ve never chosen to watch it actively and engage with all of the details and subtext, then give it another shot. A lot of the best stuff is pretty low-key, and that might not be what most people would expect, from either the series overall or, in fact, this picture itself with it’s big and broad surface details. Put the effort in, though, and this is a far richer experience than the consensus would have you believe.

Coming up next: the extraordinary wealth of special features material.

In the UK, Alien Anthology is out on Blu-ray 25th October. US readers will have to wait until the 26th.

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