3rd times a charm certainly wasn’t the case for the alien franchise. The troubled production of Alien ³ is very much storied, and the end result (to my memory) was disjointed, and vaguely insulting to fans of Aliens. I held onto those negative impressions, i didn’t buy the quadrilogy and instead bought the three other movies separately as i deemed Alien ³ to be unnecessary.
But a friend who had watched and liked the assembly cut convinced me to give it a second chance, i did and was frankly amazed at how much i liked it.
Jim Sterling did a defense of it in his short-lived Movie Defense Force on the escapist:
I agree with much of what he says in his defense of Alien ³ with the exception of him asserting it is the best, and that the aliens have stood for loss.
As Alien is the best in the series, and the creatures have consistently stood for one thing: Fear.
Also the film’s very existence renders Aliens pointless, as in both of the previous entries the end result of facing ones fears is victory and survival. This is particularly so with Aliens as its message is that of the benefits of facing ones fears can lead to self-healing, it’s only here in Alien ³ that the message changes.
But i’m getting ahead of myself.
I’ll take the heat, i like the assembly cut of Alien ³. It’s not a return to form, but it is very evocative. Thematically it’s very similar to Alien, but with more pessimism.
The alien is back to being treated like a monster instead of an animal; there’s a return of the elemental aspects of the alien. It thrives in the dark, like our fears; and it’s afraid of fire, of which its light traditionally stands for knowledge (which vanquishes fear). The religious themes are intriguing, with the prisoners taking on a dooms day attitude by praying to god for his return; and their prayers are answered in the worst way. As Ripley’s arrival herald’s their doom; like an Eve amongst Adams. But her temptation is not knowledge, it’s fear.
Ripley facing her fears yields no fruit this time around, there’s no reward for venturing into the dark. There’s no redemption, no innocence to save, no past to make up for, and no end to her misery with a quick and violent death. The creature won’t kill her, and yet she’s doomed anyway; this is truly the antithesis of Aliens. To this end Weaver plays her Ripley as hopeless and exhausted, going through the motions but not believing in much anymore. Too much has been lost, the only constant in her life is fear.
As Jim Sterling describes the characters outside of Ripley are more realised, and compelling. Clemens and Dillon are interesting without relying on catch phrases, or one liners. This helps carry the narrative through as the only real meaningful thing for Ripley to do in the wake of Aliens is die.
The setting of Fury 161 also is more than just a bed for texture and memorable imagery, as it ties into the theme of decay and death. Everything on the planet is rusting and rotting, the only life that seems to thrive on the planet is that which feeds on the detritus or is parasitic in nature; and as a result it’s a perfect place for the Alien and its accompanying themes to thrive.
I don’t know what Sterling is on by saying Alien ³ has the series’ best writing, the entire movie hangs on a very large contrivance. As the question i have to ask is: where did the egg in the opening of the film come from? It’s seen opened underneath the floor boards of the hangar on the Sulaco, and not on the drop ship where it is plausible the Queen could have carried or laid one. As there was no time for it to have done so before fighting Ripley and dying.
Also it must be assumed that the facehugger had two embryos inside it instead of one. As the thought of two eggs being laid stretches believably even more so than just one egg does. Reliance on conjecture like this seldom satisfies me, and i’ll take a gamble and say it certainly helped create the film’s poor reception with other audiences.
To say Alien ³ is maligned is an understatement, and the blame rightfully lies in how it wraps things up for Ripley. As it’s story is invective and philippic of Aliens‘ optimism, offering up few high-octane thrills, and is unabashedly pessimistic and bleak. David Fincher’s career has been defined by pessimism, and while he denounced Alien ³ he undoubtedly hit the ground running with his theatrical debut.
And if you can get past the major contrivances, if you can simply accept that Alien ³ is what it is, and if you watch the assembly cut then you might find something to admire in its ugliness.
OUT OF FIVE