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Joss Whedon - "Alien Resurrection" Movie - The Unproduced Script
mercredi 9 mars 2011, par Webmaster
Before inspiring legions of fans and winning critical acclaim for his television shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse, Joss Whedon worked as a screenwriter and script doctor on a variety of big-screen productions. The projects he worked on in vary from a handful of animated features (Titan AE, Atlantis : The Lost Empire, and notably the first Toy Story film) to action spectacles (Speed, Twister, Waterworld, and the first X-Men movie).
Whedon was involved in each of these films to a different degree, but two original scripts written by him during this early stage of his career are notable for having a very big impact on his later acclaimed works. Interestingly, the fact that both scripts suffered from poor execution made Whedon revisit many of their ideas and themes in his later works : he wanted to see them realized properly. The first of these two scripts is the teen horror-comedy feature Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which was directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui and released in 1992, later revised by Whedon into his first successful television show. Shortly before working on the show, Whedon completed another script that echoes strongly in his acclaimed television works–the script for Alien Resurrection, the fourth installment in the Alien film franchise. This article examines how the work on this script helped shaping many elements that dominate Whedon’s works to this very day.
The Alien Franchise and Joss Whedon
The Alien film franchise began in 1979, with the release of the first film in the series directed by former set-designer director Ridley Scott. The film followed the crew of the Nostromo, a commercial cargo spaceship on a mission from a big corporation. On the way back from the mission, the crew is ordered to investigate transmissions from an unknown origin, and the investigation turns into a struggle for the crew members’ lives when the ship is boarded by a lethal alien monster. The creature, whose unique anatomy combines organic and mechanical parts, is the perfect killing machine with its great physical strength, the ability to disguise itself, and its acid blood. The most horrible fate that the creature can bring upon its victims, however, is using them as hosts in its reproductive process : implanting its embryos within human bodies that are violently torn apart once the offspring is born. Through the course of the film, the character of Lieutenant Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) emerged as the dominant figure, leading the crew as the fight against the seemingly-invincible monster became more and more desperate.
The clever combination of elements from monster movies, the futuristic dystopian cinema of the 1970s and the high production values of the post-Star Wars era made Alien a big success at the box-office upon its release–and the struggle between the film’s strong female lead and monster that defiles the human body in the most horrifying way imaginable also sparked many intellectual interpretations and discussions, of a volume that is quite uncommon to Hollywood blockbusters.
Subsequent films in the franchise kept the audience coming to the theatres, and they also kept the academic discourse around franchise alive, mostly due to the producers’ choice of choosing a new director with a different vision to each new installment. The first sequel, Aliens (released 1986, directed by future Academy Award winner James Cameron) took the franchise in a more military-action direction while further developing the original film’s subtext of gender roles and motherhood. Alien 3 (released 1992, the debut theatrical feature of music video director David Fincher) attempted to turn in a more metaphysical direction, applying religious subtext to Ripley’s fight against the monster, appropriately ending with her sacrificing herself to prevent the monster’s unleashing upon the human race.
As a prime (and still rare) example of a successful Hollywood horror/action franchise centered around a strong female protagonist, the heavy influence that the first three Alien films exerted can be easily traced to Joss Whedon’s works, and examples will be discussed further in this article. Whedon’s involvement with Alien Resurrection, however, makes the influence of the franchise on his work particularly interesting, because beyond being merely inspired by the Alien films, he also had a chance to give them his own interpretation.
Following Ripley’s death in Alien 3, Whedon’s original script for Alien Resurrection opens two centuries after the end of the previous film, with the heroine resurrected, cloned from her DNA by a team of scientists aboard the military ship Auriga. She finds it hard to adjust to her surroundings, and soon makes the disturbing discovery that her resurrection was merely a byproduct of a seemingly successful attempt to clone the alien monsters–an attempt that caused her, in her resurrected form, to acquire some of the monster’s genes and biological traits. Things take an ugly turn with the arrival of the Betty, a ship owned by a gang of mercenaries hired by the military. The mercenaries bring with them a cargo that later turns out to be live human hosts for the future inbreeding of the monsters. One particular member of the gang, a young girl named Call (played by Winona Ryder), has a secret–as the plot evolves, it is discovered that she is a Cyborg who made it her mission to protect humanity from the alien monsters, and is out to eliminate all of them. At first, she considers Ripley to be an object for elimination too, since she now shares some of the aliens’ genes. But when the monsters bred aboard the Auriga break loose, Ripley and Call must collaborate in order to escape and prevent the monsters from reaching Earth. In the course of their escape, accompanied by the other mercenaries and a treacherous military scientist, it is discovered that like Ripley, the monster’s DNA was also spliced with human genes in the cloning process. The result is the birth of a new monster, a huge alien-human hybrid, with whom Ripley, Call, and the surviving mercenaries fight a climactic battle after crashing on Earth, eventually killing the creature and presumably saving humanity.
Whedon’s script was brought to the screen by French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who gained acclaim for his previous work on the futuristic satire Delicatessen (1991) and the dark fantasy City of Lost Children (1995). The film’s release in 1997 sharply polarized the critics, some impressed with the film’s lavish visuals, others criticizing its failure to generate tension or make the audience sympathize with its characters. Whedon holds a highly negative view of the finished film, and the production process that led to it. However, comparing two versions of Whedon’s original script for the film, and contrasting them with the film in both its theatrical and extended versions, two points need to be clarified about the relationship between the script and the finished film.
First, it should be noted that most of Whedon’s script, in terms of plot and dialogue, made it into the finished film. Some changes were made to fit the film into its runtime of less than two hours, including the decision to remove a character called St. Just from the mercenaries’ gang (giving his trademark two-gunned sharpshooting skills to another mercenary named Christie), while some dialogue lines were omitted as well. One action sequence was omitted for budgetary reasons, a chase-scene taking place in a huge garden aboard the Auriga. Another action sequence, the final battle against the hybrid alien-human on Earth was considerably scaled-down, and in the finished film, takes place aboard the Betty. But overall, the theatrical release of Alien Resurrection sticks closely to the original script written by Whedon, and the extended edition available on DVD is even closer, restoring many of Whedon’s omitted lines of dialogue. Whedon himself blamed the film’s problems less on changes made to his script, and more on what he considered as its poor execution.
Which brings up the second point that needs to be clarified before examining Alien Resurrection in the context of Whedon’s other works : simply put, it is not one of his better efforts. While questionable choices were certainly made during filming in terms of direction, photography, design, special effects, and, in particular, casting and acting, many of the film’s flaws can be equally attributed to the script. It suffers from problematic pacing, moving from an overlong and generally uneventful exposition to sets of fast action scenes, and the passage is not gradual enough to build viewers’ excitement. An even bigger problem is that throughout most of the script, Ripley is apathetic and indifferent, surrounded by other characters viewers have little or no reason to like or care about. The true value of Whedon’s script for Alien Resurrection is as a transitional piece–one from which he took many elements and themes, making them work the second time around in his later productions.
The Unholy Resurrection
The best place to start examining the influence of Alien Resurrection on Whedon’s later works is the ending of the previous film in the franchise, Alien 3. As noted earlier, David Fincher’s film carried a strong religious subtext, and ended with the sacrifice of Ripley. The heroine, who has been implanted with a monster’s embryo that is about to be born, is determined to keep the monster away from the hands of the Wayland-Yutani Corporation (her employer in the two previous films), knowing that the company wishes to use it for the development of weapons. Ending the monster’s threat once and for all, she chooses to kill herself by jumping into the burning flames of a huge furnace.
This scene has a strong parallel in “The Gift”, the fifth season finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The narrative circumstances leading to the episode’s final scene are different, but the scene itself, in which Buffy sacrifices herself to save the world from a coming apocalyptic monster-infestation, closely resembles the sacrifice scene in Fincher’s film. There are even visual similarities : the act of sacrifice in both the film and the show is performed by jumping down from a high place. There are thematic differences–Ripley’s sacrifice, true to the film’s heavy usage of religious iconography, is eventually an act of passiveness : she jumps down with her back to burning flames, spreading her arms to the side in a crucifixion-pose, accepting her fate. Buffy’s sacrifice is active : she jumps down facing the monstrous portal, her dive through it is an act of struggle against it. Whedon, the devoted atheist, obviously wanted to present his heroine as someone who saves the world on her own rather than allude to any hint of divine inspiration. The act of sacrifice in “The Gift”, however, was also presented as part of Buffy’s destiny–even if there was no intention to give it a religious meaning, at the very least it implied that there is some grand purpose, a meaning to life and their ending.
The resurrection of both Ripley and Buffy takes this meaning away. Throughout most of Alien Resurrection, Ripley portrays indifference towards other human characters in the film, not caring if they live or die. In fact, she also seems indifferent towards her own survival, with the film making clear that her resurrection is merely an accident, the result of a scientific experiment conducted for another purpose. She is kept alive only due to the curiosity of the scientists responsible for the experiment, she is the object of a research rather a person in her own right (one of the most memorable scenes in Alien Resurrection occurs in a storage facility where Ripley meets deformed clones of herself–the results of previous, failed cloning experiments). If Ripley’s sacrifice in Alien 3 had a religious subtext to it, her resurrection is an act of unholy meaninglessness.
Season Six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer opened with Buffy resurrected, this time through magic rather than science, but with similar emotional impact on the heroine : throughout most of the season, she portrays a certain apathy, a sense of misdirection and aimlessness, and uncertainty about her existence that is even heightened once she finds out that in coming back to life, some part of her became nonhuman (just as Ripley’s DNA was spliced with the monster’s). This attitude makes the sixth season of the show share some faults with Alien Resurrection : viewers have little reason to care for an apathetic protagonist. But much like Ripley, Buffy is also a victim of her “unholy” resurrection : the sixth season of the show ended with a warning about the dangers of magic getting out of control, just like the magic that resurrected Buffy, or the genetic experiments that cloned Ripley. The resurrection took away something of both characters’ essence and personality.
Sisters and Fathers
Another interesting parallel between Alien Resurrection and Whedon’s later works–in particular, Buffy the Vampire Slayer–is the bond created between Ripley and Call. Though the two characters begin the film with a mutual feeling of animosity, as the film progresses they gradually befriend one other and come to each other’s help when they realize that they are struggling against a common enemy.
The superficial parallels of this relationship to the relationship between Buffy and Dawn are obvious : Like Ripley, Buffy is the skilled human monster-fighter, and Dawn is the artificial life-form, disguised as a young girl–with both character beginning the fifth season of the show openly hostile towards one another, growing steadily closer as it progresses.
But the similarities go deeper : the strength of the bounding between Ripley and Call and between Buffy and Dawn is based on the fact that all these characters move outside the cycle of normal human existence. The resurrected Ripley is no longer sure if she belongs in the human world, and Buffy (even before her resurrection) has accepted the fact that her role as a slayer will prevent her from having anything similar to a normal life. Call is a Cyborg disguised as a human, and as we learn in the film, the production of her model (and the entire android industry) was terminated because this model was just too human in its behavior for organic people to feel comfortable around it–it was her “overtly human” nature that made her take on the defense of humanity as a mission.
Like Call, Dawn longs to be recognized as a human : part of the initial hostility between her and Buffy revolves around the affection of Buffy’s mother, and her envy of Buffy’s circle of friends. While Buffy herself may have given up the chance of having normal life, Dawn sees Buffy’s life as more normal–more human–than her own. The support each character gives to the other, throughout both Alien Resurrection and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, especially in their mutual fight against the monsters, makes them connect to their humanity–to realize that they are, indeed, a part of the human race despite any biological or social difference.
Other than the bond of sisterhood, another familial relationship from Alien Resurrection that influenced Whedon’s future works is the role of fatherhood. Fatherhood is portrayed in an especially unflattering manner in Alien Resurrection : both heroines were made by uncaring “fathers”–the scientists who cloned Ripley as part of a scientific experiment and the company that made Call as a consumers’ product–and both fathers are quick to abandon their “daughters” when they became undesirable (Call was abandoned after the company that made her went out of business, Ripley must threaten the chief scientist in military’s cloning program to help her and the mercenaries escape the ship after the monsters break loose).
The most threatening father presence in the film, however, is that of the ship’s computer–an artificial intelligence referred to as “Father”, which controls the ship according to the directions of the ship’s chief scientist. In one of the film’s key scenes, Call (with Ripley’s encouragement) hacks into the computer’s systems, bringing the ship under her control, foiling the chief scientist’s plans to escape the ship and abandon her, Ripley, and the mercenaries to death–a victory of her sisterhood-bond with Ripley over two oppressive father-figures.
Given the praise that Whedon’s works have often received for their portrayal of female empowerment, it could be tempting also to interpret this scene as a victory of two oppressed female characters over their male oppressors. This interpretation is strengthened by the fact that the choice of the name “Father” for the ship’s oppressing computer references to the name “Mother” given to the equally-oppressive ship’s computer in the first film of the Alien series–substituting female oppression with male oppression. Whedon’s later works featured some notable examples of bad fathers–Hank Summers who abandoned his daughter, and Daniel Holtz, who abducted Connor (Angel’s son) and brought him up to hate his biological father.
But it should also be noted that Whedon’s works had their share of bad mothers as well–Joyce Summers and her initial disapproval of her daughter’s status as Slayer, and an even closer example to Alien Resurrection–professor Maggie Walsh, a scientist whose “child” Adam became Season Four’s Big Bad. The sisterhood theme–not necessarily in the biological sense–was presented in Alien Resurrection as an alternative not just to oppressing fatherhood but to oppressing parenthood in general, a recurring theme in Whedon’s future works.
Bringing Down the Oppressors
Bad parents are merely representative of the greater oppressive entity in Alien Resurrection : authority. The military, responsible for bringing back the threat of the alien monsters, seeks to oppress more than just individuals–it seeks to oppress the whole human race. Even worse, it rationalizes its decision : as explained to Ripley early in the film, the military is confident that by experimenting on the monsters, it brings new options for the further development of the humanity in the form of new “alloys and vaccines”, dismissing comparisons to Ripley’s former employer because the military is not “some greedy corporation” that is “flying blind”. Ripley responds to these claims with a bitter laugh, knowing full well how the process of trying to study the monsters by the humans tends to get out of control.
This is a common trait for oppressive authority agencies in Whedon’s other works : they are involved in a scientific or pseudo-scientific research of supernatural entity or phenomenon, a research that goes wrong not just because they are dealing with powers that they cannot understand, but also because it is the lust for this power that turns them into oppressors. Wolfram and Hart, the law firm that served as antagonist through the five seasons of Angel, deals with monstrous entities as a way of achieving influence.
The Initiative, the military-research section from the fourth season of Buffy, also captures and experiments on monsters (as noted above, in a manner very similar to the military scientists in Alien Resurrection), and even before these experiments go out of control, the desire to remain in control drives professor Walsh to try to eliminate Buffy. The Rossum Corporation in Dollhouse achieves an incredible amount of influence due to its groundbreaking usage of technology, and brings an apocalypse on humanity (vividly illustrated in the series’ two concluding episodes). And The Alliance that rules humanity in the far future, as Firefly fans learned in Serenity, turned its subjects into monsters in an attempt to control them.
More than any other work by Whedon, Firefly is perhaps his most direct attempt to expand on and realize elements that did not work well in Alien Resurrection. Again, the oppressive authority is represented mostly by armed forces, there are (as noted above) the monstrous experiments conducted by this authority, and finally, the rebels who do not see themselves subjected to this authority–the crew of the Betty can be seen as a spiritual predecessor of the Serenity crew.
There are also some specific parallels in the characters–in both Alien Resurrection and Firefly we find the confident captain with a strong female second-in-command (though the nature of the relationship between the two characters is different–romantic in Alien Resurrection, professional in Firefly), a selfish and violent mercenary, and both Ripley and Call have traits that could be recognized in the character of River Tam. But these similarities are superficial, and the mercenary characters of Alien Resurrection remain largely undeveloped throughout the film. The process these characters go through, however, is the true template for the fight against oppression seen later in Firefly : from a group of outlaws that merely seeks to make a living in space, to those who bring about the end of oppression, the downfall of the oppressing authority.
Where Do We Go From Here ?
But what happens after oppression has been defeated ? Alien Resurrection, like most of Whedon’s later works, leaves this question open, for both his protagonists and his audience. The final shot of Whedon’s Alien Resurrection script has Call asking Ripley what they should do now that they have won their battle against both the military and the Alien monster. Ripley replies : “I don’t know… I’m a stranger here myself”. Even after deciding that humanity is worth fighting for and saving it, Ripley fully realizes that she herself is not completely human, and she obviously has her fears about (re)integrating into human society. But Ripley is also another kind of “stranger”–she now embarks on a journey back to the same human society that almost brought the monster apocalypse upon itself. Will it happen again ?
Such an ending note is typical of Whedon’s later works. Buffy, Angel, Mal Reynolds, and Echo have all won their final great battles against the oppressors of humanity in the concluding episodes (either televised or cinematic) of their adventures. Now they face the task of having to return to “normal” life, knowing full well that this will be a hard process, and that humanity may bring further dangers upon itself in the future. Will the protagonist find peace ? Will humanity learn its lessons ? The answers to these questions remain, in Alien Resurrection as in all of Whedon’s other works, open.
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