Alien 3

 Today I continued my gradual trawl through the Alien Quadrilogy DVD set,  watching Alien 3 for the first time in 7 or 8 years. It’s a much-maligned film, and  while I remembered it as being pretty solid, I was expecting to think much less of  it given that a lot of time has passed and how deeply impressive I found the first  two films in the series to be when revisiting them over the last couple of months.

So I was surprised to discover that Alien 3 isn’t half bad. It’s not a great film, nor  even a very good one, but it’s not a disaster. Director David Fincher offers a new take on the original’s one-monster-vs-group dynamic with characters that are decidedly less heroic but more proactive than those of Scott’s film. Ripley’s experience allows them to formulate a proper plan, which results in some stellar chase sequences including from the alien’s point-of-view. Plus, Sigourney Weaver is great yet again, really selling the emotional impact of her staggering bad luck with these bloody aliens, which this time has resulted in the death of Newt, who she came to love like a daughter in Cameron’s Aliens. Narrative decisions like this contribute to Alien 3’s unrelenting bleakness. The deaths are numerous and brutal, both the prisoners and their keepers cold and oppressive, and Ripley herself cannot catch a break – Newt and Hicks begin the film dead, the only other character she becomes attached to is slaughtered in front of her, and she has been impregnated with an alien herself. Although the ending allows Ripley to take a stand and decide her fate, this is not the triumphant conclusion to a trilogy.

I imagine it seemed incredibly difficult to follow up on Ridley Scott’s and James Cameron’s entries in the series, not just due to their calibre but because they used the alien in two completely different yet equally logical ways. Scott employed it in a pick-em-off horror picture, and Cameron followed a divergent path and used dozens of the creatures to craft an action/siege movie. Fincher and the screenwriters try to avoid repetition by placing Ripley and the alien in a new environment that’s hostile in its own ways, but Fiorina 161 and its prisoners are not compelling or well-developed enough to move Alien 3 into new territory beyond Scott’s original. Looking back from today’s era of ubiquitous sequels and trilogies, a more encompassing and epic story seems more appropriate for what was intended as the final instalment in the Alien series rather than this distinctive but insular monster movie. Cameron continued the plotline of the nefarious Company who wanted the alien for its own ends, and while they feature in Alien 3, nothing new is really offered. Instead of Ripley crash-landing on a planet, surely a more decisive resolution to this plot thread would have been more satisfactory, perhaps on Earth, so that the themes of playing God and the folly of controlling the uncontrollable could come to the forefront and give the third film a unique purpose in the series. An Aliens-on-Earth film has been fantasised about for decades, and it would have been a logical location for such an introspective theme and for the climax of a spacebound trilogy.

But for whatever reason, the producers of Alien 3 decided not to go in that direction. Besides, the film hardly had a smooth ride to the screen. Beset by script problems from day one (over thirty drafts were commissioned, including one by William Gibson) and the dismissal of original director Vincent Ward (The Navigator, What Dreams May Come), Alien 3 exuded portents of doom from the get-go. And this was not a film whose poor script was miraculously rescued by strong direction. Fincher rarely talks about this film these days, and declined the offer to create his own cut for the Quadrilogy simply because it would be impossible: the film was compromised before production even began, and to salvage it would be redundant (the Quadrilogy does feature a 30-minute longer ‘assembly cut’ that represents the film before outside editing took hold and will be intriguing to watch, but a Fincher cut is unavailable and implausible). I’d be interested to discover how much of the conflict came from the core concept of the film rather than on-set disputes. Were other, grander plot ideas ever mooted? Perhaps budget concerns for Aliens on Earth scuppered a more epic instalment. But then, such a film would have risked resemblance to Cameron’s film instead of Scott’s, which encapsulates Alien 3’s fundamental obstacle.

It’s redundant now, of course, as this and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien Resurrection have tarnished the series for many, and to resuscitate it now would seem necrophilic, despite James Cameron and Ridley Scott’s rumoured discussions a few years ago regarding a fifth instalment. The franchise’s time has passed. But Alien 3 still stands as a decent movie, albeit an empty one. It lacks the precision and control of Scott’s film and the masterful carnage of Cameron’s. To be honest, it probably shouldn’t have been made at all, as the first two films did tremendous things with the novel Alien concept. But it stands as a captivating footnote in film history of how a series can turn sour and how studio financial considerations can hijack a movie. Watching Charles de Lauzirika’s documentary on the film in this set should prove riveting, even though the real meat has allegedly been cut out by Fox, cautious about public insight into its past indiscretions and power trips. It will be a shame not to witness the full explanation behind this unfortunate project, but this can stand alongside the series conclusion fans of dreamed of in the annals of unseen stories.

4 thoughts on “Alien 3

  1. Theeph says:

    You pretty much sum up my attitude to Alien3. The first time I watched it, I had not seen the preceeding two movies in a long time, so I didn’t have that huge wall of expectation that a back-to-back viewing would inspire. Bearing that in mind I found it a cool, moody Alien movie that was quite enjoyable.However I think you encapsulate just what sucked about it by pointing out: it’s no way to end a trilogy. Especially not one as seminal as Alien.Also, I found it visually dull, even for an Alien movie, which is suprising given that Fincher went on to Se7en, The Game and Fight Club (all visually bleak, admitedly, but I feel that the bleakness augments the mood unobtrusively in the latter three cases).Sadly, while Se7en went on to single handedly give birth to Tony Scott’s direction style, all Alien3 gave birth to was Alien Ressurection.I’m looking forward to Zodiac. It’s a case that really interests me anyway, and if anyone can take it on I’m sure Fincher can.

  2. Jack Reed says:

    Exactly – as a standalone film, it’s not too bad. As an Alien film, it’s severely wanting.I had the same response to the visuals, but watching the doco and its montage of the sets and vistas (which don’t get much play in the movie) and the work and influences that went into them made me appreciate them more. But compared to the masterpiece of art direction that was the first film, not so great. But not much can compare.I absolutely have to see the rest of Fincher’s films – I’m really lacking in that area. Need to see Seven, The Game, and Panic Room. It’s terrific that we’re getting two Fincher films in quick succession – Zodiac, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett and based on an F. Scott Fitzgerald book about a man who ages backwards.

  3. Theeph says:

    There are vistas?!Wow, I have to rewatch that. I might have vague memories of vistas if vistas equal orange-lit fan-forced corridors. I have heard they do not however so investigation is required.Se7en and The Game are nust sees, especially the former for it’s amazing visual quality. Think Fight Club with it’s green, washed out, fading look, combined with an (unobtrusively) Americanised version of something out of Wire in the Blood, or Rebus.Panic Room I’d skip unless you’re really into the technical side. Great shots, but a cereal box story.Benjamin Button sounds interesting… but juxtaposed with Zodiac, after seeing how well Fincher does the serial killer vibe, I’m a little lukewarm. Trailers will perk me up no doubt.

  4. Jack Reed says:

    Well, it’s not Blade Runner in terms of vistas, but there are a few nice ones, and the set design inside is pretty cool – seeing it on DVD no doubt makes them more appealing. I haven’t watched the special edition yet, but it apparently opens on the planet surface with Charles Dance discovering Ripley on a beach. The shots of it in the doco look pretty spiffy, perhaps even vista-y. The Wikipedia entry on the film says that most agree that the SE (a 30-minute longer approximation of Fincher’s original cut before the studio took it away from him, made with his blessing but not his involvement) is a huge improvement. I’m looking forward to seeing if I agree. But I’m such an enormous sucker for lost and unseen versions that I may be too biased :DAnd yeah, I’d like to see Panic Room for Fincher’s visuals, but not much else. It’s definitely last on the list. I can’t wait for a trailer for Zodiac (now called Chronicles). The film has been delayed until early next year, so hopefully one will emerge in the next couple of months.

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