Case No. 3: Alien 3

This Week’s Case: The People V. Alien 3

Released: 1992
Director: David Fincher
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Paul McGann, Brian Glover

Synopsis: After her jettisoned escape pod crash lands on a technology deprived prison planet, Lt. First Class Ellen Ripley, now sans Newt and Corporal Hicks, must again spar with an alien. The murderers and rapists turned fundamentalist who inhabit the planet attempt to assist her, but due to the lack of weaponry and the discovery of an alien fetus gestating inside Ripley, things get a bit sticky.

The Charges:
– Neither scary nor suspenseful
-Overly ‚bleak
– Impossible for an alien egg to have gotten on the Sulaco
– Killing off Newt and Hicks was ridiculous and aggravating
– Script just generally an abomination
– Fails to progress the Alien mythology

The Defense:

Seriously you guys, I can do this.

Let’s get a few things straight:

1. I’m not going to spend a lot of time trying to compare this addition to the Alien franchise with its two older siblings. I don’t care if you’re Mother Theresa or the cure for cancer, if your older brother were Ridley Scott’s original Alien, you wouldn’t want to be compared to it either.

2. I promise not to feed you any ‚I’ve loved this film since I was a kid pap. I used to hate this movie with all of my heart. But present haters be aware: I also used to think that Temple of Doom was the best installment of the Indiana Jones trilogy.

3. I’m going to defend this movie against claims that it’s an abomination, not argue that it’s the Citizen Kane of sequels. The Citizen Ruth of sequels? Maybe.

4. I’m not going to write off all of the movies flaws with an argument centered on all the difficulties Fincher met while making it. It’s generally known that Fincher didn’t have a completed script, was met with nothing but barbs and editing orders from Fox, and was forced to do a number of re-shoots, re-edits, and make a number if film-altering changes during post-production, all of which led to his abrupt disowning of the film. It sucks, and it probably does account for a majority of the movies sizeable gaffes, but blaming Fox does more to make Fox look evil than it does to make the film look good. I’m not here to villianize studios. I’m here to defend their wayward productions.

All disclaimers aside, I’d like to begin by getting the most obvious selling point of Alien 3 out of the way; David Fincher’s direction is amazing. Putting every logic snag and puke inducing plot point aside, Alien 3 is just as beautiful and visually consistent as Ridley Scott’s original film. Though Fincher may find beauty in different kinds of things (dead planets, decaying buildings, eroded people) his direction is deliberate, astoundingly complex, and in possession of some of the best lighting committed to modern film. To call it a bit bleak and depressing is to horribly underrate it; It’s extremely bleak and depressing. The dower mileu suits not only the environment perfectly, but also the overriding plot of the film.

Alien 3 is a scary film. Not necessarily, like most sci-fi action outings, because of the creature but, rather, because of the humans. Alien 3 not only hands the viewer a collection of convicts who have been broken down into nothing more than loose-fitting spiritual fa√ßades concealing hollow, broken men but, even more terrifying, a tired, destroyed Ellen Ripley who has lost everything save for the hope of exterminating a monster that she thought she’d never have to face again. The planet reflects the condition of the characters and the direction, in turn, reflects the state of the planet. It’s unrelenting dedication to images of decay and desperation, though not necessarily beneficial to it’s standing as a genre film or as part of an existing franchise, make it a horrifyingly visceral portrait of humanity that rivals even that of some of Polanski’s early work and even the gritty, working class reflections of directors like Ken Loach.

Now, the Alien egg on the Sulaco and the debatably untimely demises of Hicks and Newt ‚ I can forgive one of the two. The egg on the Sulaco confounds me. I don’t understand it, and, though I like the idea of having Ripley inseminated by the Aliens, that doesn’t excuse the gaping plot hole. I wish I had an explanation. But, alas, I guess the film’s guilty of that particular charge.
I understand the deaths of Hicks and Newt, which isn’t to say that I’m happy about it. As discussed above, Alien 3 is a film about decay and, to some extent, hopelessness. The shaving of Ripley’s head represents not just a physical unity with the destintionless hangers-on that inhabit the prison but also an emotional bond. Sadly, achieving the kind of human drama that Fincher hoped Alien 3 would, required taking everything away from Ripley. Though the film may currently fail as a vehicle for frights and thrills, were Newt and Hicks present, the script would have been just as shoddy and all of the moody humanity would have been lost as well. As it stands, it’s Camus’ take on Alien, and it’s relentlessly depressing. I understand that that turns off many genre and franchise fans, but it doesn’t make it a horrible film.

It’s hard to address the script’s deficiencies without addressing the severe mutilation that both the original script and the final filmic product were subjected to. What it all ultimately amounts to is a 180 minute film made with half a script and then reduced to a 110 minute film compacted into a whole script that was determined post-shooting. The assembly cut of the film, coming in at 130 minutes and available on the special edition DVD, is the best compromise I can imagine, but even this falls short of cohesion at certain parts, such as the aforementioned egg debacle. No matter how one cuts it, Alien 3 has a substandard script. Incredible direction and unequivocal acting do, however, go a long way towards creating a balance (though, admittedly, not an ideal one).

Alien 3 does fail to progress the Aliens’ mythology but, as pointed out above, the Alien really isn’t what this film is about. This movie is about Ripley. Viewers see her reduced to hopelessness, engaging in both her first sexual encounter in an Alien film and the last sexual encounter of her life, deprived of any viable future, and ultimately impregnated with an enemy whose birth means her death and whose salvation, by her other mortal enemy, Weyland-Yutani, would mean the deaths of millions of others. Alien 3 is the third tragic act in the story of Ripley.
The alien is a static character. To prefer a few tepid facts about its planet of origin or historical importance to an exploration into the fate of the franchise’s hero and true hero seems, at best, foolhardy.
Honestly, what upsets me more than the fact that Ripley’s life ends in tragedy is the fact that everyone complained that she died and then complained even more when she was brought back in the regrettable Alien: Resurrection. No, Ripley’s death wasn’t deserved, but I’d never indict a film for realism or honesty. Ultimately, killing off Ripley wasn’t the only way they could’ve chosen to go with Alien 3, but it is the way they chose to go. Debating that point is ineffectual. The only thing to be debated is how the tragedy is handled and, for what it is, it’s handled wonderfully. Ripley dies with honor. She’s completely alone, divest of a future, and forced to choose between her own life and the lives of a million innocents. Given all of that, she makes the hero’s choice and does the franchise proud.

And, yes, I will take this one opportunity to vilify Fox. Fincher’s original cut of the film depicted Ripley throwing herself backwards into the vat of molten lead sans the insert shot of the Alien bursting out mid-suicide. Without the scenes of the new Queen Alien’s birth, Ripley’s death is all the more noble (and can be seen in the aforementioned assembly cut of the film). The theatrical cut leads the viewer to assume that, even had Ripley opted for salvation via the company, it still would have been a mere matter of seconds before her sternum was uprooted and the Alien was born. However, Fincher’s vision gives the viewer the true impression that she had enough time to follow either choice to completion and, granted that, still chose death.

This is Finley, last survivor of that White Noise movie featuring Michael Keaton, signing off.

Written by Finley

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