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Where Alien Ends and Whedon Begins (Alien: Resurrection)

Last night, I watched the Joss Whedon-scripted Alien: Resurrection for the first time in a long time (thanks, SyFy), and I realized something astonishing: the same creative qualities that brought The Avengers such critical and financial success make this disowned Alien sequel retroactively worse.

Whedon didn’t direct Alien: Resurrection, but he left his fingerprints all over the screenplay. From the snappy dialogue to the post-modernist sense of humor, it belongs to him as much as True Romance belongs to Quentin Tarantino. And this, even more than the manic visual style and wasted performances, may be the film’s greatest downfall.

Don’t get me wrong: I believe an artist has the right to express himself, to leave a unique stamp on whatever he produces, to create an instantly recognizable body of work (see: Tarantino, Scorsese, Kurosawa). But a truly great writer understands that it’s sometimes better to remain invisible—when tackling an established and beloved franchise, for example.

Unfortunately, Whedon imposes his voice too forcefully on Resurrection’s screenplay, building a universe that lacks the bleak, oppressive atmosphere that defined the previous Alien films. His “heroes,” archetypes he’s recycled throughout his career (often to better effect), sound more or less exactly like the characters in Buffy, Serenity, Cabin in the Woods, and Avengers, which does little to convey a sense of gravity or dread. Even Sigourney Weaver, who made the flawed Alien 3 such a joy to experience—giving us an Ellen Ripley who was at once strong and vulnerable, afraid and determined, bald and beautiful—fails to elevate “Clone Ripley” above the tough-girl cardboard cutout Whedon slapped on the page.

I can appreciate that Whedon wanted to push the series in a new direction after the dark, depressing (and poorly received) third installment. I just wish he’d realized that, after a certain point, he’d stopped writing an Alien script and started penning a backdoor Firefly pilot.

[Originally written June 14, 2012.]

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