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Tucson Weekly Resurrection Anxiety

Replication is certainly cause for fear in the latest "Alien."

By Stacey Richter

DECEMBER 8, 1997:  BY NOW, I think it's clear that the Alien series of movies is intrinsically obligated to reproduce itself. Like the creature for which the series is named, its very reason for existence is to spawn others like it. And, like the slime-glazed alien creature in every sequel, the Alien movies look so hardy that they just might duplicate themselves forever. The birth of each new Alien movie, then, brings up the intriguing question of life span: Will the series continue forever, or will it die?

Some of its predecessors also seemed hardy enough to thrive for a long time, but most have become extinct. The Planet of the Apes saga (1968-1973), like the Alien cycle, utilized a rich metaphor that practically begged to be mined again and again. Five times issues of race and class, freedom and bondage, domination and submission, were explored via the vicious battle between human and ape. Five times we got to see those freaky guys in ape suits talking without moving their mouths, hardly. But by 1973, it seemed that most of the ape/human configurations had been covered. The waning energy of the civil rights movement probably also took some of the steam out of the Ape movies. Times changed. By 1979, with the first Alien movie, creatures got slimy.

The Alien cycle features a similarly rich metaphor--birth anxiety. All the Aliens are full of slime, bubbling eggs, a shocking variety of pregnancy that can strike any gender, fluid, afterbirth, and vicious maternal love. If this sounds far-fetched, keep in mind that some have theorized that human culture is largely a construction of men trying to compensate for the fact that they are incapable of bringing forth live young. Birth can be a powerful, disturbing thing.

Interestingly, it's the depth of the fear of reproduction that has allowed the series to reproduce itself for so long. The latest in the cycle, Alien: Resurrection, faithfully trots out the metaphor once again. In Resurrection, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is reconstituted from a puddle of blood with some alien goo mixed in. Shortly after they clone her up in the lab, a gooey little piranha is extracted from her stomach via C-section. Yeah, it's one of the nasty critters we are so familiar with from the three previous movies.

We already know that these little ladies are bad company. This particular one is a queen, we learn through some clunky expository dialogue. ("I am not a man with whom to fuck," comments one tough guy--proving writer Joss Whedan had better luck with dialogue in his zippy Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) Before we know it, the entire ship has been converted into a monster breeding center. Eggs like engorged basketballs clot the air shafts. Adult aliens cruise the halls of the ship, sniffing for meat. That clear mucus stuff is slathered on everything.

The mucus, the gut-erupting monsters, the air shafts full of glistening eggs--I'm happy to report it's all still very disgusting. Willies abound in this movie, and I thought it was just totally gross. I take this as a sign that the birth-anxiety angle is still working for the Alien series. But how many times can a person see a lobster claw erupt from a human chest before becoming desensitized to it? How many guys can one observe being eaten from below by a shiny half-ostrich thing with two mouths? How much alien acid can eat away how many faces? I haven't even seen all of the Alien movies, and I knew the territory thoroughly. There just weren't any surprises left--except who would get killed, when, and in what grisly manner. In that respect, Resurrection resembles any standard slasher movie.

Even bringing on Jean-Pierre Jeunet, a director known for his startling visual sense, doesn't do much to jazz things up. Jeunet's City of Lost Children and Delicatessen were full of strange, inventive imagery, but The Resurrection has the same dark, decaying, outer-space look familiar since the late seventies when Blade Runner made it popular. There are one or two fanciful touches, but mostly, this is the standard stuff of the regular old dystopic future.

All these facts indicate that although the Alien series looks healthy, it's actually quite sick. There's something festering, deep inside--a seed of repetition and boredom that will eventually overtake its host and destroy it, leaving nothing but a creepy feeling and a puddle of trembling goo.


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