In the third chapter of the most terrifying saga in sci-fi history, Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) crippled spaceship crash-lands on Fiorina 161, a bleak wasteland inhabited by former inmates of the planet’s maximum security prison. But an Alien was aboard her craft…and soon the body count begins to mount.
eyelights: Sigourney Weaver’s ballsiness. Charles Dutton’s presence. its gritty realism. its daring spin on the series.
eyesores: the plodding plot. the xenomorph effects.
To say that ‘Alien³’ has a checkered history is an understatement. Development on this sequel took years and went through a bevy of writers and directors, changing shape from a two-part war epic to a dystopic prison planet piece to an unusual space monastery setting and then to a mishmash of the last few elements – the parts for which were put together during the actually filming, as they didn’t have a completed script when they actually got started.
The key problem throughout the film’s metamorphosis: the 20th Century Fox studio heads.
The making of this film was so wrenching that David Fincher, the film’s director, refuses to be associated with it to this day – he still considers this his worst filmmaking experience ever. It was such an unpleasant first time out for him that he went back to making music videos and commercials: after having had all his choices vetoed and having the movie recut by the studio, he had lost all interest in being in the business.
It would explain why I don’t recognize any of Fincher’s signature moves in ‘Alien³’. I’m so used to his slick traveling shots, and other visual flourishes, even in movies like ‘Panic Room’, that I was expecting a little bit of eye candy in this picture. Alas, there is nothing much to look at; as far as I’m concerned, ‘Alien³’ is as uninspiring-looking a film as they come. In fact, it’s got a downright grim and dirty look to it – a far cry from the stylistic ‘Alien‘ and the polished ‘Aliens‘.
‘Alien³’ basically plays like a low budget prison drama, but with a xenomorph in it. It’s an interesting notion, because it essentially traps the characters in a planetary jail with the alien. This should have created a feeling of claustrophobia and tension – but, somehow, it didn’t.
In my estimation, there are two key problems with the picture. For one, the film is far too lighted to work; the xenomorphs look better and are creepier when they can barely be seen, when they are prowling about in the darkness; knowing they are they are around is scarier than actually seeing them. Secondly, we’re faced with the fact that we already know what’s going to happen with the xenomorph – to make matters short, what worked in the first film simply can’t upon repeat performance.
This is why James Cameron was right in changing the series’ formula on the second go-round. I much prefer the original because of the slowly-building tension that Ridley Scott hinged his picture on, but I have to admit that Cameron couldn’t have succeeded this as well. I have to give him credit for making the choice he did. So whoever made the choice to try to recreate the vibe of the first picture in the third film (whether it be Fincher, the screenwriters, and/or the studio heads) simply didn’t get it.
Frankly, I’d love to know what Fincher would have liked to do with ‘Alien³’, if given a chance, because I tend to like his style, even if I often find his most popular films (‘Seven’, ‘Fight Club’) massively over-rated. Had his hands not been tied by the studio, I have no doubt that he would have put together an incredible film; even if the script had been exactly the same, it would have looked different and it have been constructed in a very different fashion. Fincher is, after all, a stylistic director – and, being his first feature, he would have tried to impress.
I’m also curious to know exactly how Sigourney Weaver was involved in the making of the picture. As co-producer, she must have had some say in what happened. So, in which way did she influence the production? Well, one way or another, I will forever be impressed with the fact that she decided to go butch on this one, following Fincher’s suggestion that she be bald for the part (it’s probably better that way because her hair didn’t match ‘Aliens’, which also didn’t match ‘Alien’). The fact that a Hollywood star had the guts to do this, is saying something.
The fact that she also desexualized Ripley by dressing her up like a tomboy, hiding any femininity and then made her sexual advances extremely bold also says something about Weaver. In 1991, for a leading female character to be so androgynous, if not manly, was a rare occurrence – if not a first. I would love to know who came up with this image off Ripley, even if it’s really Weaver who needs to take credit for going ahead with it: very few of her peers would have done the same.
There’s not much I can say about ‘Alien³’ without going into spoiler territory, but let’s just say that it’s a slow-burn picture. I’d even qualify it as a drama more than a suspense film. And it’s certainly not an action piece. This is a HUGE issue coming off ‘Aliens’, which delivered one pulse-pounding moment after the other (or almost): expectations were very high for the follow-up and most people were severely disappointed – critics and fans alike, in fact. Between hitting the brakes and the troubled production, ‘Alien³’ simply didn’t work.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
Even what should have been the most poignant moment in the picture, Ripley’s sacrificial move at the end of the picture lost all its meaning by being predated just a year before by James Cameron’s own ‘Terminator 2’.
The idea of having an iconic character destroy themselves by plunging in a massive fiery pit is a memorable moment, but you can’t do that twice in a row and expect it to play nearly as well the second time around. Whoever decided to echo Cameron’s box office giant was extremely short-sighted.
Too bad, too, because Ripley deserved better – something less diluted, less forgettable.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
Still, ‘Alien³’ is one of those movies that gets probably way more flack than it deserves. I’m not saying that heaps of love should be showered upon it, but the general consensus is that it’s a terrible picture. I disagree: it’s a decent one – it’s just that it pales in comparison to its predecessors. Taken on its own merits, it’s a pretty good motion picture, with interesting themes and a good, if plodding, plot.
Admittedly, though, it’s not terribly engaging: if someone were to see this film first, they likely wouldn’t want to see the rest of the series – not unless they were curious to see what got Ripley stranded in this prison community. The problem is that all of the first two’s secret are revealed in ‘Alien³’. Or you can watch them in sequence, in which case its lost in its predecessor’s shadows.
Sigh… there’s just no way to come out a winner with this one.
Post scriptum: I’m more curious than ever to see the alternate cut that came along with the Blu-ray. It may not be a director’s cut, per se, but at least it won’t be the studio heads’ version of the film, and it will reintroduce many elements that Fincher would have wanted had he had his way. And that’s a pleasing idea in and of itself.
Date of viewing: February 7, 2013