Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Alien 3 review

    Alien 3 is a difficult movie for me to review. It's, on its own, an extremely well-done horror film. David Fincher (Gone Girl, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) managed to take an extremely troubled production and bring it together in a moving, terrifying, and gritty science-fiction piece. Alien 3 contains numerous memorable scenes, emotional gut punches, and impressive bits of world-building. It also ends Ripley's story arc in a powerful way.

    Unfortunately, as part of a franchise it does suffer several issues. In addition to not only subverting a lot of the directorial decisions of the previous movie, it relies heavily on the emotional investment of fans in Aliens to achieve it's biggest emotional highs. This is a form of narrative "cheating" which I'm not a big fan of. For example, if you kill, say, Han Solo in a movie then that's going to get a big reaction out of audiences but it's not because of the movie's inherent worth but because fans really like Han Solo thanks to previous films.

Ripley has NO idea how bad things will get in this film.
    There's also the general question of whether the finale is narratively satisfying and this has been been debated by Alien far smarter fans than me (just kidding, there's no Alien fan smarter than me). As such, this review is going to present the facts and let you the reviewer judge for yourself with my final score splitting the difference on what I liked and disliked. It is, after all, only my opinion.

    Alien 3 opens with Newt, Hicks, Bishop, and Ripley's cryo-sleep pods being attacked by Facehugger xenomorphs. It picks up almost directly after the events of Aliens, relying on audience memory and emotional connection to the characters to fill the narrative weight of the movie's first half--which works very well I might add. Their spaceship crash lands with all on board killed but Ripley, who is thrown from the wreckage.

The prison-monastery is an interesting setting.
    The planet turns out to be Fiorina "Fury" 161, a former prison facility run by Weyland-Yutani which has since become a defacto monastery populated by former inmates. Rescued by the inmates, who are all men with horrific histories, Ripley is traumatized by the revelation of her friends' deaths. Unfortunately, her nightmare is only beginning as a xenomorph egg was on board the ship and infects an animal that births a new horrifying member of their race.

    It's interesting to note how much of the above storyline was the result of smashing several scripts together after an inability to come up with one everyone was pleased with. At various times, Ripley was visiting a monastery and others a prison. One ending, which is especially notorious, included her entering a permanent state of cryogenic storage based on Snow White.

Charles Dance gives a great performance but he's always awesome.
    One thing the movie does right is restore the terrifying power of the xenomorph. After watching dozens of them get cut down in the previous movie, it's nice to watch a single one of their kind pose such a significant threat to the characters. I'd argue it's every bit as cinematic as the original with its final scene being one of my favorite monsters in monster cinema.

    The cast gives a respectful set of performances with Charles S. Sutton, Charles Dance, Brian Glover, and a nearly-unrecognizable Paul McGann all doing excellent jobs throughout. Lance Henrikson also makes use of his very short screen-time with a powerful death scene as well as an unexpected return appearance. Unfortunately, with the exception fo Charles S. Sutton, the cast is almost exclusively composed of bald white British men so they can be a little hard to tell apart.

    Sigourney Weaver, of course, is the centerpiece of the film and delivers an amazing performance as a Ripley who has not only regressed to her post-Alien PTSD but fallen much deeper into suicidal depression. This is not an unbelievable arc for her character but decidedly unfulfilling. The final moments of the film were, apparently, meant to be liberating but felt more like a grim finality which just left me feeling numb.

Do you think he had a soul, Alfred? A soul of silicon but a soul nonetheless?
    A staggering amount of ugliness exists throughout the film, which includes an entirely unnecessary rape attempt. This is built up to in the first half but never mentioned again after it occurs. While it's not unreasonable given the fact this is a prison full of sexually violent hardcore offenders, it's not used for anything other than shock value either. It's something someone in a writer's room decided would make the movie better but only contributes to the brutal hell Ripley goes through.

    In some ways, the excessive darkness works to the movie's benefit. There's a lot of Christian imagery spread throughout the story which indicates Fury is a kind of incarnate perdition with Ripley serving as a Christ figure. For once, the usage of Christ-figure imagery isn't entirely unjustified as Ripley is willing to give of herself completely to save a fallen world. The flames and industrial underground of Fury is also a pretty decent science-fiction depiction of hell with the xenomorph serving as a demented incarnation of God's wrath. Still, I'm not sure how many people wanted to see the Passion of Ellen Ripley.

Some great scary moments throughout.
    The movie doesn't add much to the mythology of the Alien universe with its chief contribution being the Bishop android's template having a role as a higher-up in the Company. It does add the concept of xenomorph gaining qualities of the hosts it gestates from. The setting of Fury has its own appeal, the concept of a Judaeo-Christian cult emerging among a bunch of ex-prisoners on an abandoned space colony being a cool one even if it came from cutting and pasting plot elements. Unfortunately, we don't get to see much from the xenomorph we didn't see in the original.

    I won't lie to you, I really was irritated by the deaths of Newt, Hicks, and Bishop. They were characters which had special meaning to me. It's a distaste which spread to the whole of the fandom and resulted in a lot of ill-will to the franchise. Had they not, I suspect I would have liked this work much more but it also would have been less powerful so it's a Catch-22. In any case, I enjoy the film on its own but reject it from my personal Alien canon.

The xenomorph is a wonderfully Satanic figure.
     There's no Director's Cut to this movie due to David Fincher's refusal to have anything to do with the film. Nevertheless, filmmakers attempted to restore his original cut before the theatrical release and the results are quite a bit better. There's a much better sense of pacing and build-up to the story which clocks in at about 147 minutes. I recommend this version for the serious Alien fan.

     In conclusion, Alien 3 is a work I have strongly mixed feelings regarding. It is a scary movie with good performances, a harrowing plot, and decent special effects. It chiefly suffers in comparison to its predecessors and the fact it alienates much of its core audience. Still, the movie made me feel and I can't be too hard on it for that.


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