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Alien 3

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Reviewing great films is often more difficult because you find yourself piling on monotonous praise. You fall into such fawning that you keep stealing glances at the keyboard to look for traces of drool. I have no desire to write a review of Alien or Aliens because they both get Ten out of Tens, hands down. Much more satisfying, for me anyway, is the chance to defend films that have always been treated like red headed stepchildren. Such is the case for the film that followed those first two titles.

Most people who loved Aliens were immediate pissed off by the opening of Alien 3, which instructs in short order that after Ripley’s narrowly escape, her ship crashes into a penal colony planet and her two companions, Newt and Hicks, have died. Like the beginning of the second film, Ripley finds herself all alone in the world. This is exacerbated by a group of people that either don’t want her there or want her there only for possible molesting purposes. She soon discovers that an alien rode piggyback on the ship and she has to get the prison population organized in order to fight it off and survive.

I’ll mention it once again because it bears repeating: fans were really pissed off that those two characters, who went through so much and had therefore endeared themselves to the audience, were simply bumped off with little fanfare in the first five minutes. I myself was a little ticked off when I saw this in the theater, but I have in years since understood the motivation for this.

The Alien franchise is unique in that it has had the benefit of a different visionary director in the pilot’s seat each time out. The first, directed by Ridley Scott, was a template for horror films for years to come and has been ripped off more times than anyone can count. The second film, directed by James Cameron, was more of an action film. However, it was an incredibly good action film and fans of the first didn’t mind the thematic departure because they were too busy having such a damn good time.

Such a one-two punch of excellent films is extremely rare. It’s damn near impossible to create a third film that at the very least earns the respect of fans. Even Coppola himself couldn’t do it with Godfather 3. So you can imagine what it was like to be in David Fincher’s shoes when he was given the Directing gig for Alien 3. Yet I imagine that the script’s decision to kill off the two characters may have been a relief to Fincher. The writer had essentially broken off this film from the other two and Fincher could go ahead and say, “I’m not Scott. I’m not Cameron. I’m me, and this is what I am going to do.”

The result is a much darker film the the first two (this is the director of Fight Club, after all) that echoes more of the horror in the first film than the gung-ho action in the second. Like the first film, we’re only dealing with one alien and not hordes of them. This is fortunate, because the cast of characters are ill equipped to deal with the threat having no weapons except what they can fashion out of tools. It’s interesting to note that the alien gestates inside a dog instead of a human. The result is an alien that looks different from the ones we’re used to seeing and serves as a mirror of the film itself: Leaner, shorter, faster and a whole different animal altogether.

Most of the characters, aside from the leads, tend to blend together. We’re talking about a bunch of bald British males in the same grubby gray clothing. For all their life expectancy, they might as well be wearing red shirts. Much was made at the time of Weaver’s head shave for the film. A similar coif removal was done by Demi Moore for G.I. Jane (directed by…Ridley Scott!), and that was also a film in which a woman is forced to spend a lot of time proving herself to a bunch of brutish males. Weaver shines in the role that made her a star, hair or no hair. Charles S. Dutton provides solid support, as always, as the religious convict Dillon. And finally, there is a cameo from one of the cast members in Aliens. Without giving it away, I will reveal that their appearance makes logical sense and is, therefore, a nice addition.

The ending is a nice capper to the series. Well, it would be, if Alien: Resurrection hadn’t been made (That film I have no compunction over treating like a red headed stepchild). Anyway, the ending of Alien 3 brings closure to Ripley’s journey. It also echoes, whether intentionally or not, James Cameron’s Terminator 2, released one year before this one. Even after I first saw it in the theater, I realized I had watched a very well made and satisfying science fiction film. If you give the film a chance, then I’m sure you’ll come to the same conclusion.

One final note: Alien 3 contains, in my opinion, the best use of the expletive “F*ck” that I’ve heard in a film. In an early scene, Warden Andrews (Brian Glover) goes to the mess hall to explain to the inmates their current situation while, Queeg-like, rolling a pair of rubber balls in his hand. Ripley runs panting into the room to tell them that the creature is here and that they are all in danger. When Andrews begins to reprimand her, the alien descends from a hole in the ceiling and draws him up with it. The inmates scramble in a panic over metal chairs and watch this in horror. When they see the balls fall back down, the room goes quiet and inmate Morse, played by Daniel Webb, breaks the silence with an empathic “F*ck!”. I know that doesn’t sound special, but you have to see it for yourself to see what I mean. That one word simultaneously expresses shock, fear and, “Oh MAN, are we screwed!”.

Eight out of Ten

Alonzo of Acrentropy

About Alonzo Mosley (FBI)

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com Matt Paprocki

    I was one in the small group that hated Aliens but loved 3. I thought the third was a great semi-throwback to the original. The scene where the guy is working on the fan has a great wide shot of the shadows moving and him kneeling down. The gore is fantastic. My only complaints are with the special effects. It’s far too obvious they’ve used a puppet. Great review that nailed everything that made this one special.

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    If you like Alien so damn much, watch it again. It was good, but not so good that it needs to be remade with the number 3 at the end of the title. That’s what I wish someone had told the filmmakers when they were making the third installment in the series.

    What made Aliens great, on top of the engaging characters provided by its skilled ensemble cast, and the tight action directing by James Cameron, was its greatly expanded scale.

    The traditional horror movie cliche of the one-by-one pick-off worked perfectly for the first film. It took place in an isolated corner of the human interstellar civilization of the future, and involved just one of the diabolical alien beings.

    To grow beyond that cliche, the second film expanded the scale, making the encounter take place between a human military unit and an established hive of the aliens. It showed us a larger piece of the future human culture, and a larger piece of the aliens’ social organization as well.

    The third film also could have been great if it had given us another expansion of scale, showing us more yet again. Instead it shrank down again, beginning with its cowardly abandonment of the second film’s key surviving characters, and getting worse from there. Its narrative skulked back into another dark isolated corner of the future, with another unarmed band of humans being picked off, one by one, to feed a solitary alien monster.

    What makes this all the worse is knowing that the filmmakers had access to a screenplay by one of the best science fiction authors of our time, William Gibson, and they let it get away from them.

    The makers of Alien Resurrection did their best to salvage something interesting from the abysmal wreckage of the third film, but it was a lost cause from the opening sequence of Alien 3.

    Viva Newt and Hicks!

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    Oops. The William Gibson script for Alien 3 is actually here.

    I must have copied and pasted the link from the wrong tab when I made my earlier comment.

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    Something weird happening with links. I checked the URL before posting my second comment, and it was very clearly this:

    http://home.online.no/~bhundlan/scripts/alien3/gibson.htm

    Which is a link to an online copy of the William Gibson script for Alien 3.

    As long as I’m here, in an effort to be more useful, I might as well point out that the word Alonzo was looking for to describe the inmate’s inflection of the word “f*ck” was more likely to be emphatic rather than empathic.

    Notwithstanding that minor error, a fine review, even if I disagree with it.

  • http://draven99.blogspot.com Chris Beaumont

    Good review.
    I hated 3 for years, but have grown to accept it and actually enjoy it for what it is. It is, however, a great “What if….?” This was a case of too many cooks in the kitchen as Fincher was not allowed complete control, the studio controlled a lot of what went down. This could have been much more had Fincher been allowed to retain more control. He is still upset over it, evidenced by his non-participation in the recent box set.

  • http://victorplenty.blogspot.com Victor Plenty

    The temptation to “accept” Alien 3 is self-defeating, although understandable because it’s unlikely the series will ever return to the greatness of Aliens.

    However, in this day and age, when George Lucas feels free to go back and muck up key details in some of the modern era’s most beloved films, it is not too much to hope that someday, truly talented and visionary individuals might go back and fix the horrible train wreck that befell the Alien series after the second film.

    Come on, Fox Studios. Do the right thing! Remake Alien 3 as a good movie. Do it on a truly epic scale, the only fitting followup to Aliens. Do it now while Sigourney Weaver, Lance Henriksen, Michael Biehn and Carrie Henn are still around.

  • Guzz

    Just want to say, that after the initial disapointment that i think everyone felt about 3, it’s now become my favourite. I also think it stands up to more re-watching than the first two.
    Alien, great though it is, is essentialy a scary slasher flick, after the first few watchings when there’s no scares left, you’re left with a bloody good piece of film making, but not something you feel involved in.
    Aliens, well, I don’t watch it any more. Like all of James Camerons films, it becomes less and less with each viewing.
    Alien 3, in my opinion, even when it doesn’t scare you anymore, is still a great film to watch with a great story and characters.
    Alien Rez, oops. I wish THAT had never happened. As for William Gibson’s Alien3 script, I’ve read it and it stinks. The Posedon Adventure in space. (now would that be why they put the homage to poseidon adventure in Alien Rez?. If you don’t know what i’m talking about check out the underwater kitchen scene in Poseidon).
    Just thought I’d stir the pot a bit.
    So Alien 5. Hmmmm.

  • Graeme

    I think that by killing off the characters reminds us more of thee realism to the story. You can’t have all the cast surviving film after film after film…. It would become extremely boring. At least with Ripley’s character in each film, there is a major difference in her performance, which is why she’s a god-damn genious! Although, I do think she is very under estimated; When was the last time they used her in a film ? =[. Alien 5 should be a prequel to Alien.

  • That Jon Guy Who Keeps Reviewing

    Number 3 was just a simply *dreadful* mistake. Although people have bravely tried to put a good face on it – you can’t.

    The description ‘trainwreck’ is indeed a good one, but doubtfully strong enough.

    Kill off 3 central characters, bring one back in a bitpart, forget to include a plot, and stir the whole thing up into a huge pile of UltraBoredom.
    Thats not a trainwreck, it is a grievous insult to everybody involved in the first 2 masterpieces.

    Yes I think somebody is going to have to remake 3, its just one of the most glaring mistakes in Hollywood SF history.

    But I have a feeling it will be done on a low budget entirely in software and become a cult classic, rather than Hollywood just admitting “We did too much cocaine and it sounded good, we didn’t realize what a crime we had committed until we sobered up and then it was too late. We’re terribly, terribly sorry”.