The Underrated: Alien 3
Well, people, this is rumour control, here are the facts:
Because I’m feeling controversial today, I’m going to do one a real Marmite film. Alien3 is a film that’s pretty universally loathed, and I think unfairly so. This is a review of the workprint on the Quadrilogy, not the original cinema release, as I think that’s the better version.
Alien 3 is a damned good film. I know this is hard for people to get a grip on, but it’s true. It isn’t perfect, and does suffer in comparison with its predecessors (especially the original) but as sequels go, it’s brilliantly written, imaginative, clever and if they had stopped with this film, then this would have been a fitting round off for Ripley as a character. It’s also well acted for the most part (one notable exception), has some great design, is gripping in parts and is also downright frightening in others. This film is damned good.
The negativity surrounding this film invariably seems to be generated by people’s dashed expectations. Comments always seem to be “waaah- they killed Hicks and Newt” or “wouldn’t the Wood Planet have been great”. Regarding the former- fuck off and grow up. Cameron is arguably to blame for a lot of the mess that was Resurrection. People wanted Space Marines and a more action-centric Alien, completely forgetting that Alien is at heart a horror film and a pretty nasty one at that, and so they got it. Cameron’s effort was a superlative action film, but as an Alien film it pales in comparison to the original. Alien3 is an attempt to return to the horror roots of the series, so there’s no gunplay, no space marines, so deal with it. Regarding the Wood Planet (what a shit idea), I for one am ecstatic that they didn’t make it, and anyway lots of the Wood Planet ideas did make it into Alien 3- the monks for example. I know the pedantic out there will point out that they’re not monks but “a bunch of lifers that discovered god at the ass end of space”. They are, however, wrong. They dress like monks, they are deeply religious, and the shaven heads (ostensibly for lice) are also to reinforce the monastic image.So that complaint is bollocks too.
Everyone knows the story behind this film. It was Fincher’s debut and he was on the receiving end of some heinous studio interference. Because of the idiotic wood planet, Fox had gone ahead and ordered a ridiculous amount of sets to be built, and they’d waxed a huge amount of the budget before Fincher was even involved. After that it was one long series of battles on set to get it made, and huge credit must go to Fincher for what he managed to achieve in very difficult circumstances. It’s a shame that he never talks about it, as I’d love to hear his side of the story.
Negativity dealt with, I’m now going to talk about why I think this is a great film. Firstly, the script sparkles. As well as that line I quoted above about lifers, there’s a series of absolute gems such as:
Take off. I gotta “re-educate” some of the brothers!
I’ve taken a vow of celibacy. That also includes women
What part of this plan don’t I like? The part where we’re running around in the dark being chased by the fucking beast
and the absolute classic:
You’re all gonna die. The only question is how you check out. Do you want it on your feet? Or on your fuckin’ knees… begging? I ain’t much for begging! Nobody ever gave me nothing! So I say *fuck* that thing! Let’s fight it!
Seriously, how rousing is that speech of Dillon’s at the end? And Charles Dutton delivers it with real conviction and emphasis. Mel can keep his “Freedom” rallying cry, this is a real call to arms. The whole script is full of touches that give you an insight into character, or moments of wit amongst the carnage. It’s top stuff.
Then there’s the acting, I’ve already mentioned Dutton, but his is one of the great underrated performances in Science-Fiction. Dillon is a hard as nails sociopath, who is probably the only one of them on Fury with genuine religious convictions. Dutton is a big guy, and he gives Dillon both power and gravitas. Weaver, as is to be expected, is excellent as Ripley, Charles Dance is good as Clemens, and Danny Webb is superb as Morse. There’s also good turns from the late Brian Glover and Pete Postlethwaite. the only black mark in the acting stakes (and it is a rotten performance) is Paul McGann as Golic who’s accent fluctuates between cod-yank and verminous scouse.
It’s also damned exciting. The final chase sequence with the convicts running down the corridors shot from the Alien’s perspective is blistering. The camera wheels and climbs round the walls and ceiling and it’s just gripping stuff- especially considering that this is an Alien film, so there’s a very real chance of death for all the characters. Or the moment when Ripley and the beast come face to face.
Finally, I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I didn’t criticise 3 of the oft-mentioned flaws in the film- the first is that there is a gaping plot hole- and it is a monster: How did the face hugger get on board the Sullaco? If you’re like me and can get beyond that, then it’s a great film, but I do understand when people get hung up on it. Secondly, the special effects are aging really badly: they use a lot of nascent CGI and it looks a bit shit now. I keep hoping someone’s going to do a Lucas and fix it. Finally, bringing Bishop back at the end was pointless and unnecessary rubbish.
Alien3 is a fascinating film. The trials and tribulations that went into making it are many and well documented, but I think the end result is worth it, and as I’m starting to get older, I almost think I prefer it to Aliens. All I can suggest is that if you can put aside what you want Alien3 to be and focus on the film we actually have, then it is an enjoyable, albeit flawed, totally valid entry in the series.
Until next time,