ALIEN 3

THREE GUYS AND… A MOVIE

series created by Marvin Mercer and Nick Stephenson

“ALIEN 3”

written by Dominick Cappello

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POSITIVE:

Critics of this third entry in the beloved “Alien” franchise are too critical of this film. While rough in places, it is bolstered by the exceptional directing of David Fincher and is mostly a satisfying experience. Fincher had the odds against him – he was less known at the time, was following in the footsteps of filmmaking giants Ridley Scott and James Cameron, and the script was inconsistent. With another draft or two, its many competing elements could have been brought into greater harmony.

Elliot Goldenthal’s beautiful, haunting score opens the film and sets the stage for its engaging intro. A fire breaks out aboard the U.S.S. Sulaco and an escape pod jettisons with the four survivors of the previous film. The pod crashes on Fury 161, a led refinery with twenty-five convicts working as custodians for Weyland-Yutani, the evil company from the first two films in the series.

The only survivor of the crash is Lt. Ellen Ripley (the irreplaceable Sigourney Weaver, as natural in the role as ever). Though devastated by the loss of her friends, Ripley becomes romantically involved with Dr. Clemens, played by none other than Charles Dance before his reign of Westeros as Tywin Lannister. He displays the same menace, charm and steel he inhibits his more famed role in this outing and is among the highlights of the film. Brian Glover, who some may remember from “An American Werewolf in London” (1981), played Andrews, the warden of the facility. All of the convicts have taken up religion and anointed Dillon, played by Charles S. Dutton, as their spiritual leader. As part of their newfound religion, they have taken a vow of celibacy, a vow soon tested by Ripley’s presence. Dillon comes to her rescue in a particularly nightmarish attempted rape sequence, just one of many scenes demonstrating Fincher’s ability to create tension and a sense of mounting anxiety through editing and atmospheric composition.

It would not be an Alien film without the competing threat of a xenomorph, and the film smartly introduces the monster quick. We constantly have a sense of Ripley being in danger because of both her allies and the monster, which is initially an embryo inside of a Rottweiler. This new breed of four-legged xenomorph is born during the funeral of Corporal Hicks and Newt. The creature strikes first by knocking one of the cons into a giant spinning fan. It’s a shocking, imaginative sequence that led me to conclude the directing is under-recognized. A sleek alien suit was designed by Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr., protégés of the great Stan Winston. His mentorship is evident in their excellent work.

The next casualty is Dr. Clemens. After his death, the alien slobbers in Ripley’s face, but doesn’t attempt to harm her. An iconic image used in all of the trailers. I cannot help but chuckle when Andrews is killed because Morse, a convict played by Danny Webb, hilariously yells “FUCK!” immediately afterwards. Aaron, played by Ralph Brown, is next in the chain of command, but nobody takes him seriously. They’ve stuck him with nickname “85” because that is his IQ. Ripley bands together with the cons and they attempt to capture the alien, which is no easy task because there are no firearms on Fury 161. The alien fights back and ignites an explosion which kills several of the cons. Some have wondered why they didn’t leave the prison, but they do point out that the freezing temperatures outside would kill them even quicker than the alien.

Ripley has been feeling ill, so she has Aaron examine her and they discover that she has been implanted with an embryo. A queen no less, capable of laying thousands of eggs. The protagonist of the series is now doomed. This gutsy creative decision amps the dread and fatalism of the movie, taking it from merely surface-level scary to existentially worrying. The brilliance of this narrative turn cannot be appreciated enough. Ripley knows that she must die before the queen can gestate. The alien won’t kill her because she is being used as a host, so she turns to Dillon. He agrees to end her life, but only after she helps to destroy the alien that is already wreaking havoc. Since Weyland-Yutani wants the alien alive, the cons use themselves as bait, redemption for past atrocities. Aaron refuses to help. He’d rather live to see his family than dare defy the company. Dillon scraps with the alien, sacrificing himself, until it is submerged in molten led.

Ripley and Morse then encounter a medical team, lead by Bishop II, also played by Lance Henriksen. They blatantly lie to Ripley about wanting to destroy the alien growing inside of her. You have to credit the film for taking a heroic character like Bishop and recasting him as a villain. Ripley knows better than to be duped by the company after they execute Aaron, so she commits suicide by falling backwards into the furnace just as the queen bursts out of her chest. Sacrifice was the major recurring theme of this film. Morse is taken into custody and Fury 161 is abandoned. In the escape pod, a recording of Ripley from the original film plays as if she was saying farewell to the audience. It brought tears to my eye. Fans were disappointed back in 1992, yet ultimately “Alien 3” is a film that took risks, challenged its audience, dared to move us in unexpected ways and beyond anything else, was as much a movie of ideas as it was of visceral thrills. I encourage a re-appreciation.

– Dr. Jelly

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INDIFFERENT:

Even though director David Fincher refuses to acknowledge this film because of how he was treated by 20th Century Fox, the 2003 assembly cut hints at what this film could have been if the footage was edited properly. Charles Dance’s character is introduced on a beach, rescuing Ripley after she washed up on shore following the crash. This was one of the few scenes to show the planet surface before the sun set and the characters were confined to the interior of the prison.

The escape pod is dragged out of the sea by a team of oxen. This leads to the first major deviation. Instead of a Rottweiler, a dead ox is the host for the alien. One of the convicts discovers a dead super face-hugger. It’s a wide shot, but the DVD special features reveal that this face-hugger had physical characteristics associated with the alien queen. Though, I have to say that the actor seemed pretty nonchalant. If I saw a giant black spider / crab / scorpion creature, I definitely wouldn’t pick it up even if it looked dead. I’d get the hell out of there. I can see why the filmmakers changed the ox to a dog during re-shoots because dogs are more fierce than oxen. Also, you can garner more sympathy with a dog. Heck, I felt worse watching the dog die in agony than when most of the human characters bit the dust. Also, I’m pretty sure that a xenomorph needs to gestate inside of a living host. That was actually part of the backstory. The alien was originally inside of Newt, but it climbed into Ripley after the girl drowned because it needed a warm body.

The assembly cut runs for about two and a half hours. You get to see all of the character development which ended up on the cutting room floor. Who was shortchanged the most in the theatrical cut was Paul McGann as Golic. A character who was an outcast even amongst the other convicts. He was the first to witness the alien and live to tell the tale. He was already mentally unbalanced, but seeing the alien pushed him off of the deep end. He develops a rapport with the beast. A spiritual connection of sorts. Likely, this was a holdover from Vincent Ward’s script about monks living on a wooden planet.

Golic’s admiration for the alien comes into play after it is captured. Yes, in the assembly cut, the plan is successful and the alien is captured in a toxic waste storage tank. After the explosion, the convict who attempted to rape Ripley sacrifices himself so the others can trap it. It’s an uneasy scene because they want to rejoice, but they can hear the guy screaming from inside the tank as the alien kills him, so it would be inappropriate to do so. Golic escapes captivity and slashes the throat of the convict who was guarding the tank. Insanely, Golic frees the alien, thinking that the two of them will become friends. Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. The alien kills Golic and runs away. All of this was nixed from the theatrical release, which cut from the explosion straight to Ripley and company finding the body of the convict whose throat was slashed, making it seem like he was killed in the explosion. The subplot with Golic makes the film more exciting and should have been including.

Since the assembly cut clarifies that Bishop II is actually human, who the heck is Lance Henriksen playing in “Alien vs. Predator” (2004)? The implication was that Charles Bishop Weyland was the basis for the Bishop android, so perhaps Bishop II is a clone, who secretly runs Weyland-Yutani? I will choose to believe that Bishop II is a clone, so that these films somewhat make sense. Also, it establishes the cloning process for “Alien: Resurrection” (1997).

Since the assembly cut clarifies that Bishop II is actually human, who the heck is Lance Henriksen playing in “Alien vs. Predator” (2004)? The implication was that Charles Bishop Weyland was the basis for the Bishop android, so perhaps Bishop II is a clone, who secretly runs Weyland-Yutani? I will choose to believe that Bishop II is a clone, so that these films somewhat make sense. Also, it establishes the cloning process for “Alien: Resurrection” (1997). When Ripley commits suicide in the assembly cut, she falls in a crucifixion pose, but without the chest-burster. I think it was important to show how close Weyland-Yutani was to getting their greasy hands on the alien and remind everyone why she is making this sacrifice. A plus for the theatrical cut.

Some folks do enjoy “Alien 3” while others think that it is truly awful, but I believe somewhere in this footage is a solid film. It’s a shame that David Fincher will never return to complete “Alien 3” and its legacy, despite any good intentions, will be as the film that sent the franchise into a nosedive that it has never fully recovered from. David Fincher isn’t to blame. It’s the fault of the studio for starting production without settling on a script.

– Dr. Rochester

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NEGATIVE:

“Alien” (1979) was like visiting a haunted house. “Aliens” (1986) was like riding the roller coaster. “Alien 3” (1992) was like taking a stroll through the hall of presidents because it was boring as hell. Director David Fincher has disowned this film, as should we all. It’s a no-brainer, human fools: the creator of this unholy mess disregards the work!  The tagline was a disgusting lie. “On Earth, everyone will hear you scream.” The film is not set on Earth. I suppose the marketing team never saw the film it was responsible for selling. This sort of “who cares, what are we even making attitude” permeates and infects this schizophrenic, pointless, slopped-together-for-a-profit disaster. I knew at once I was in for a sludge, in seeing the awful Elliot Goldenthal resposnible for the score. That is, for the ignorant, the monster behind Joel Schumacher’s “Batman” films.

The producers debated as to whether the film should be set on a prison planet or wooden bio-dome populated by monks. They compromised and combined the two concepts, satisfying no one. The film was set on prison planet, but all of the convicts have embraced religion, but nothing interesting becomes of this dichotomy. A wasted opportunity. Rather than making satire of this oddness or truly interesting characters, we instead have a line up of perfectly identical looking idiots, who are impossible to care for since we cannot distinguish them. And since they lack any recognizability, the film is absent of any tension. Pete Postlethwaite stands out only because we recognize him from “The Usual Suspects” (1995) and “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” (1997) but other than being a familiar face he is given nothing worthy of his talent to perform. He might as well be another no one, for he is as blank faced, clearly wondering what he is supposed to do in any given scene.

Oh, and before I forget, Corporal Hicks and Newt were killed off during the opening credits, so if you were big fan of “Aliens” and rooting for these characters, this film was a proverbial slap across the face. “Aliens” was a successful sequel because it didn’t take anything away from “Alien.” In fact, it added greatly to the mythology. “Alien 3,” however, retroactively lessens fans enjoyment of “Aliens” because you now know that Hicks and Newt are going to die despite of Ripley’s heroics. Can you believe that Ripley approaching the alien queen in a power loader and saying “Get away from her, you bitch!” was a complete waste of time? Newt actually died a much worse death later on. She drowned in her cryo-tube while desperately clawing at the glass, so you know that she suffered terribly. Was such a fatalistic choice, the killing of a child, really necessary in a series about a ruthless monster that kills people? The film would have benefited from killing these characters later, if at all, and given us a reason to be invested as it went along. You see, nothing can dramatically match the intensity of the film’s opening. The most emotional moment happens to soon, afterwards there is nothing that can horrify us as much.

There are no firearms on this planet. They operate on the honor system. A prison which operates on the honor system? Bullshit. What is stopping these cons from killing the warden and hijacking the next supply ship? Absolutely nothing. Sigourney Weaver was a co-producer, so she must share in the blame. James Cameron states on the DVD audio commentary for “Aliens” that this no gun crap was her idea. Luckily, he was able to ignore her.

The film swiftly kills one of its few potentially interesting new characters, Charles Dance, before ever exploring his potential. When Ripley informs the cons that Weyland-Yutani doesn’t care about them, I realized that I had a lot in common with the sinister company because I didn’t give a crap about these guys either. Ripley was also quite perceptive because she knew that the embryo inside of her was a queen despite no evidence to support that. Wait, how does she know it’s a queen? On the scan it looked exactly like every other alien. Did she see the script in the scanner?

Besides not knowing which character was which, there was no sense of geography. It just seemed like people were running in circles during the chase scenes. If you’re going to set your film on a prison planet, you can have it be a maximum security facility with guards armed to the teeth and badass convicts. I can see the action figures now. The cons should take advantage of the situation and revolt. Attica in space. As the xenomorph outbreak gets out of control, Ripley could unite the survivors in time for a final showdown. Or, you can have it be “Escape from New York” (1981) in space. No guards, no walls, just the prisoners and the worlds they have created. Each gang could have its own territory with makeshift weapons. I would’ve loved to seen Ripley in a scenario like that.

The final chase scene was lousy. Again, a bunch of bald guys, indistinguishable from the next, ran around in circles. Yawn. Also, all of the wide shots of the alien were achieved by superimposing a rod puppet into the frame. It was a good puppet, but it looked terrible when the images were melded. This movie was not scary. I understand that the filmmakers wanted to get away from the action of “Aliens” and return to the horror of “Alien,” but they failed. I don’t want to hear anyone say that this is good movie simply because it’s depressing. John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982) was depressing and it’s way more awesome than this clunker.

I’m not even sure how the alien was killed. Ripley turned on sprinklers and it exploded. What? Water made it combustible? How? Never mind. I don’t care. But, who in the holy hell was Bishop II? Some say that he was human because his blood was red and not white like an android’s, but he doesn’t seem to register the pain of having his skull bashed in during the theatrical cut. Aaron even calls him an android. Yes, the 2003 assembly cut clarified that he was human, but a movie shouldn’t be so convoluted that you must wait eleven years for a special edition DVD to explain what the hell it is you are watching. No worries though, Morse survived in the end. Ripley, Hicks, Newt, and Bishop are all dead, but Morse, one of the random bald dudes with barely any dialogue survived. By the way, I’m being sarcastic. Who gives a crap that Morse survived? Anyone? No? I didn’t think so.

– Dr. Frisbee

Author: Marvin Mercer

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