The deaths of Newt, Corporal Dwayne Hicks, and Ellen Ripley in 1992’s Alien 3 created a significant obstacle to the franchise’s continuation. Five years later, Alien: Resurrection answered this problem by resurrecting central heroine Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) as a clone, spliced with xenomorph DNA thanks to the alien queen embryo gestating within the actual Ripley before her death. How Resurrection handled this pesky problem, and the return of the xenomorphs proved extremely divisive upon release, with one notable, unifying exception: the mesmerizing underwater chase sequence.
Resurrection takes place two centuries after Alien 3 and follows the mercenary crew of the starship Betty. The mercs deliver their human payload to the USM Auriga, a military ship deep into their extensive scientific study of the xenomorphs. So much so that they’ve cloned Ripley numerous times over and have full-grown xenomorphs in captivity, which happen to break free while the Betty crew are on board, prompting a fight for survival from both the damaged Auriga and the lethal aliens.
With the ship under heavy damage and the high death toll, the remaining members are forced to make their way through the ship’s flooded kitchen for an escape route. The protagonists must hold their breath for an extended period, dodging obstacles and debris underwater with two apex predators closely in pursuit. It creates one of the franchise’s most intense yet visually thrilling chase sequences.
Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen, The City of the Lost Children) kicked off production with this intricate, elaborate, and dangerous sequence. Filming this intense chase required multiple weeks of training with stunt coordinator Ernie Orsatti and underwater cinematographer Peter Romano, followed by a month of shooting the sequence in an enclosed set completely submerged in over 12 feet of water.
The Alien: Resurrection featurette, “Death from Below,” chronicles the challenges involved. Winona Ryder, who plays surprise clone Annalee Call, recounts how a near-drowning experience at a young age instilled severe anxiety when approaching this scene, while Broadway obligations left Weaver unable to attend much of the training to prepare for the scene. Gary Dourdan had to accommodate Dominique Pinon, strapped to his back as paraplegic character Dom. That so many characters were involved meant it was even trickier for stunt and diving coordinators to track them all at once, creating more than a few harrowing brushes with disaster. There was also the matter of the fully submerged kitchen set accumulating debris and bodily fluids over the weeks it took to film the sequence.
Scarce oxygen and limited vision affected none more than special makeup effects legend and creature performer Tom Woodruff Jr., who played the lead xenomorph in this sequence as well as the Alien Queen and Ripley’s newborn hybrid. The fiberglass, foam, and latex xenomorph suit meant the creature actor couldn’t see or hear and had to put complete trust in the stunt team to help guide him.
The camera tracks eight different characters into and through the watery kitchen, followed by two inhuman creatures. Not all of them make it to the water’s surface alive. Jeunet effectively captures how ill-equipped the humans are underwater; their clunky movements, the way the weapons and added weight slows them further, and the desperation to find air before it runs out add to the suspense. It’s all contrasted by the sleek way the xenomorphs glide and maneuver through the water, underscoring how well they adapt to any hostile setting. The almost otherworldly underwater sound gives way to a nail-biting score, signaling imminent danger that heightens the tension to a palpable degree.
This stunning sequence took an incredible amount of labor and craftsmanship, and the effort was more than worth it. For one intense, edge-of-your-seat scene, Resurrection slowed down time for a showstopping moment that threw impossible odds at its characters in the most breathtaking (pun intended) way.
Scene Screams is a recurring column that spotlights the scenes in horror that make us scream, whether through fear, laughter, or tears. It examines the most memorable, and often scariest, scenes in horror and what it is about them that makes them get under our skin.