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#AlienDay 2020: The Body Horror of ‘Alien: Resurrection’

The first images that come to mind when I think of H.R. Giger aren’t necessarily of the Xenomorph. The first images are of human frames (mostly female) meshed with robots and alien lifeforms, penetrating each other in all sort of ways. Giger’s Biomechanics is haunting, beautiful, and terrifying.  Thanks to the popularity of the Alien series, these images are scrawled into my brain.

It was my goal with this article to set out and write about Alien: Resurrection. It’s the Alien film I’ve seen the least, and not because I hate it, but because when I saw it as a 19-year-old midwestern kid raised in a religious home, the third act didn’t connect with me. In my mind, at the time, it was too strange. In thinking about an angle for this piece, I figured there must be something within the film concerning the military complex as the villain, in the same way that Ash was the voice of the corporation, manipulating the expendable crew of the Nostromo to their oblivions. Or in Aliens with the “likeable” Carter Burke who, on a more personally terrifying level, cages Ripley and Newt (a child!) in a room with a facehugger. In Resurrection, despite a few moments, like the ship calling itself Father as if the patriarchy were behind their every move, or the first spoken line about evil playing out over images of the military complex, or the scene in which the weasel-y Dr. Mason tries to play off the weaponization of the Xenomorph as also being helpful, the script uses the military’s stranglehold on their lives mostly for the first act. By the second act, the military is sort of undone which is pointedly telling in and of itself.

A funny thing happened, though, in revisiting the film; something else took hold. In my earlier viewings, I was always deeply affected by the scene when Ripley 8 (the eighth and almost fully successful clone of Lieutenant Ellen Ripley created by the United Systems Military) comes across the different versions of her cloned self – the failed versions, or as listed above the doorway: 1-7. Sigourney Weaver’s commitment to that moment brings her humanity back full force, and, suddenly, it’s the Ripley we remember. Watching it this time, it had the same effect, but there was more to it. In fact, as the film continued along, something clicked for me that hadn’t before. I got it. I understood.

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In my thinking about this, I reached out to a friend of mine, Jean-Christophe “Pitof” Comar – who worked on the film as the Visual Effects Supervisor and 2nd Unit Director under director Jean-Pierre Jeunet – to see if he could illuminate and help solidify some of my personal discoveries which I’ll include later.

For me, there has always been something sexual about the xenomorph, but it’s always sex as a weapon (i.e., the rape nightmare) and it’s effective. Injecting something into someone’s throat, leaving a biological goo trail in its wake, the tail acting as sort of a phallic murder machine when it attacks Lambert and again in Covenant with the couple in the shower, or the penile snake living in the pool of black goo in Prometheus. The films are full of sexual innuendo; none of it is sexy, and all of it is terrifying.

But of H.R. Giger’s work, that’s what’s missing. That mystery of being attracted to something on a biological level, but also hesitant to approach it at the same time. It’s counterintuitively beautiful, because it’s also so unnatural. There’s a documentary titled Xeno-Erotic: HR Giger’s Alien Re-Design about Giger’s work on Alien 3, which purportedly created a rift between Giger and FOX. In this behind-the-scenes segment, they discuss that David Fincher wanted something more sexual and panther like. Giger spent a month faxing over a treasure trove of ideas all which you can find in Biomechanics, giving the xenomorph lips, a more feminine body, and a tongue as opposed to the mini-monster mouth. Ultimately, there just wasn’t enough time, and there were too many ideas to parse through.

Then, we have Jean-Pierre Jeunet stepping up to the plate. Already a hyper-realistic, absurdist director with a series of dark, sci-fi fantasies to his name, he dug in and brought forth that cross pollination of sexuality and horror to the forefront in the last half of the film. For me, it was like watching something again for the first time and kind of being blown away by it. Yes, the effects are phenomenal. The eggs undulate and fold open more organically than the eggs in the past. It makes my skin crawl. But it’s also genuinely beautiful as Ripley 8’s body is embraced and engulfed by the pile of xenomorph bodies in an image that comes about as close as we’ve come to anything from Giger’s work. It’s not until we see the nightmare scene of nightmare scenes – the Queen Alien’s pregnant stomach shifting and pulsating – that everything coalesces.

*Below is Phillip Kelly’s interview with Jean-Christophe “Pitof” Comar.

Phillip Kelly: What role did you play in Alien: Resurrection?

Jean-Christophe “Pitof” Comar: On Alien, I was a VFX Supervisor.

PK: Okay.

Pitof: And I was 2nd Unit Director. I directed pretty much half of the movie.

PK: I did not know that.

Pitof: Every shot without Sigourney or leads actors, I shot them. Or the shots with Dominique Pinon, the guy in the wheelchair. I shot the scene with him. But basically, yeah, I shot, well maybe not half, but at least a big third.

PK: Oh, that’s awesome. I did not know that. That’s cool.

Pitof: And the whole scene, when the Queen gives birth to the Newborn, I shot the entire scene.

PK: Now, that’s a scene I definitely want to discuss with you in a minute. That’s a scene, that watching it now, because it’s been about since the middle 2000s since I’ve watched it. So, it’s been at least a decade. I’ve seen it a handful of times now. That scene, as an adult now, really struck me. My jaw kind of dropped. I didn’t remember it necessarily. And it was wonderful in viewing the movie this time. Over the course of all the films, Giger’s work is presented as this sort of sexual innuendo in very violent and dark ways, there’s always something extremely graphic and very horrifying, but in this film, in Resurrection, there is that element, but there is also a sidestepping of that element, with the way that you, Jeunet, and everyone involved approached it. There’s more body horror, it’s a little more erotic at times, which I think grapples with Giger’s conceptual art more directly. You look at Biomechanics and there is something titillating about it, there is something erotic about it. It’s not just dark and horrible. It’s not just the rape nightmare. All these sort of things are more interconnected in a more organic way.

Pitof: Yeah.

PK: So, when you were approaching Resurrection, was that something that was on the table that you were definitely going for?

Pitof: Yeah, sort of. That’s the French take on it. We didn’t have any contact with Giger. Giger was not involved at any level of the film, but I think it’s more like Jean-Pierre. How Jean-Pierre would interpret Giger and how Jean-Pierre would understand and play with Giger and his art and very sexual stuff. It’s really Jean-Pierre who brought that.

PK: And for you, was that something… creative for you? How did you feel about that?

Pitof: I mean. It was like there was no limits. There’s no limits defined. There’s no space you can’t go. There’s no word; You can’t do this, you can’t do that. So, we were pretty free to think and do anything. But there’s no real sex involved, so there’s no boundaries because there’s no scene where the alien may have fucked some girls or whatever. But you know, in terms of the touching, in terms of how things were happening, it was very organic. I mean, with Sigourney, when she was touching the Newborn, it’s between mother and lover, and so Jean-Pierre wanted kind of this seducing thing. Which worked on both levels, because Ripley was attracted by the alien, even though the alien was her baby, even though there was no sex involved in the existence of the alien, the Newborn. But, definitely, Jean-Pierre wanted to bring this ambiguity between them. And, also she’s seducing him in the end, because she’s seducing him in order to kill him. But when she kills it, I mean, she feels something. She knows she has to, but she’s conflicted.

PK: Yeah, it’s heartbreaking. Her performance is really wonderful in the moment. [And the puppeteer work brings to life the Newborn in a very human way. You basically watch a baby die.]

Pitof: Because she’s the one who kills him. But you know, he’s her blood. So, Jean-Pierre wanted to bring those feelings, which is a motherly feeling and a sexy feeling all mixed together.

PK: You said your approaching it with more sensuality is more of a French point of view of Giger’s work. Can you break that down a little more for me? In maybe how the French view things like this in comparison to what you might have run up against in dealing with FOX with some of these elements?

Pitof: I think it’s more of a general attitude the French have regarding sensuality and sexuality, and also Giger’s work is very sexual. I guess as French we are more genuinely and directly connected to that aspect. But it’s an under layer, and FOX never reacted against that. They may have liked it, and maybe that’s part of the reason they hired Jeunet, I guess.

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PK: I always liked the scene where Ripley 8 goes in and she sees all of her other clones. It’s so powerful, that moment, and that carries over into that nightmare fantasy in the end where you see her watching the Alien Queen give birth and it takes that body horror to almost another level; it inverts it. [There are two kinds of unnatural birthing taking place in the film.] It’s so nightmarish and fantastical in a way, this dark fantasy playing out. Now you said you directed that scene. Tell me a little bit about that.

Pitof: I directed that whole scene, and Jean-Pierre came on set to direct Sigourney. I, of course, didn’t direct Sigourney myself.  Jean-Pierre came on set with Sigourney to direct her closeups and her reactions.

PK: Did you guys have it all worked out storyboard wise, or were you given some freedom to do what you wanted?

Pitof: So, the storyboard, it was more conceptual storyboard, and Jean-Pierre just gave me the whole scene to shoot.

[I fanboy out for a few minutes.]

PK: That scene where you see her, basically in the throes of birth, her stomach was moving around, and it was very powerful. When you approached it, yourself, how were you thinking about the scene when you brought it to film?

Pitof: The thing was to make the scene as real as possible. To bring as much as emotion as possible as any mother who is giving birth to something and try to bring the emotion in her eyes when she sees her Newborn coming out of her womb. And you know, the baby, and they have the look together. The look between the Alien Queen and the Newborn, like a mother who is looking at her baby, and is proud and moved, and the same for the baby. In the beginning he’s a Newborn, so he’s coming into a world, and he doesn’t have any clue. And then the violence, killing the mother. So, the whole thing to me, was to bring this moment as a real surprise, so everything is emotion. To me, it was a way to describe, what is a newborn, who is a newborn? Who he is? So even though, it is a monster and stuff, it is a baby. And the mother, same like any mother. The mother is in pain. It’s a process and it’s long and you have this beat [makes a child birthing scream]. So, to me it was almost like filming a birth of any mammal. And you get to the point where the emotion is at it’s highest, and then [makes a monstrous growl]. And the whole thing show’s how dangerous and beyond crazy he is, because he’s killing his mother. And then he goes to Ripley and he has this moment, same thing, you don’t know what’s going on. Is he going to kill this second, this other mother?

PK: For you what is it that stops him from killing Ripley?

Pitof: He doesn’t know. He has this feeling that is not animalistic. For [the Queen], it’s a very strong one on one connection. Okay, that’s the mother, okay now he’s born. He doesn’t need the mother anymore. She’s useless. He’s a new species. He obviously doesn’t look like his mother. He wants to start a new species, so his mother is not useful. And he’s out of the Alien tradition. He doesn’t look like them. He’s different. But when he’s with Ripley, he doesn’t know what it is. He can’t process it, but he knows he has the attraction to her. On one hand, he wants to eliminate her, like with the Doctor, but on the other hand he doesn’t know what it is. He will find out later on, when he’s in the ship with her, because he’s following her. He knows has to be with her. He feels he has to be with her.

PK: More an instinct than anything.

Pitof: But an instinct he doesn’t understand.

PK: One commonly held belief is that Ripley has sex with the alien. It certainly is implied before the Queen gives birth.

Pitof: The sex part is open to interpretation…was it sex or gene manipulation…?

There’s something in Pitof’s answers that takes these ideas of body horror and sexuality and the birthing process one step further. Not only does this gene manipulation create in each race a biogenetic mix up, but also an emotional mix up that we haven’t seen in previous Alien films and, as Resurrection races to its third act, the emotional processes we would normally see in the human characters, we see in the aliens and vise versa. It’s unnatural and adds to the body horror in really magnificent ways. Pitof talks about the attraction to something that doesn’t make sense, that push and pull between Ripley and the Newborn, that same feeling you have when you look at Biomechanics. You are drawn to the Newborn because it looks and acts like a baby, but you are repulsed by it because it’s a monstrosity… that, according to Pitof, was a puppet that stood about ten feet tall. The look and feel of it was decided on at the last second during preproduction, so nothing could be done with VFX.

Pitof went on to discuss how he brought in inspiration for the puppeteers and visual effects artists. He said he focused on large cats and insects, like cockroaches, to help instruct the aliens’ movements. He also shared that inspiration with Weaver, who incorporated aspects of those inspirations into her performance. In her we see the alien, in the alien we see her: through movement, through emotion, and through biological cross-pollination.

In closing, Pitof talked about the joy he gets from the Alien films, that each comes with the vision of the director. Even with Alien 3, despite the fact that both FOX and David Fincher hate it, it feels like a Fincher film. I couldn’t agree with him more. For me, #StoriesMatter even more because of this, when you feel the touch of the artist within the confines of the story. Where will this storyteller take me? What will this storyteller have to add to the artistic conversation or world that we already understand so well? And how will that vision grow with the viewer over time? I’m happy to admit, but Alien: Resurrection has only grown on me over time.

Phillip Kelly, Fanbase Press Contributor


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