With the exception of some clumsy CG effects and the annoying, hastily re-shot ending sequence (that was more silly than scary), I loved Alien 3 the first time I saw it. Warts and all, for a first film effort, David Fincher’s solid direction and vision along with Eliot Goldenthal’s haunting score had me hooked in from the beginning even though I understood the production was troubled from the outset. The trailer I saw looked promising and thrilling, and like many who saw it, the idea of Ripley being stuck out in the middle of nowhere on a prison planet with no weapons and at least one Alien running around made for a must-see flick. I recall reading about some production troubles and that the film was being rushed to make a target date without a completed script, something I found hard to believe for such a big franchise. Then again, the law of diminishing returns dictated the cinema deities must have their sacrifice increased tenfold after any second film in a series, so things were looking grim when I read those first reviews…
20th Century Fox was marketing the film all over TV and in movie trailers as a high-action summer blockbuster, but every review I was reading the day of release pointed in every other direction but up. Personally, I didn’t care what the negatives were, I was super curious as to the hows and whys of the story. A bald Ripley stuck on a prison planet with a bunch of convicts and no means to fight off an Alien? Yeah, I’m in. When I finally went to see the film, I was surprised that the look and overall tone were bleaker than I’d expected, but fit perfectly. Fincher’s decision to go for a hopeless outlook from the start, negating James Cameron’s more rah-rah boom-boom Aliens was a bold move I respected because it took things into a form of closure you couldn’t deny. I remember having an argument with a friend who HATED the film so much because he, like a lot of critics and fans wanted to see an “Aliens II,” or the same film Cameron did… but in reverse. He went on and on about wanting to see a film that had Ripley headed back down to LV-426 to make sure the Alien threat was gone for good, or worse, somehow transporting an Alien to Earth where all hell would break loose.
Granted, while that would have probably done even bigger box office than what the film eventually made, to me, that would have been a bad idea for a few reasons, the first one being I figured Sigourney Weaver wasn’t interested at all in turning Ellen Ripley (nor an Alien film) into A Rambo project. In Alien 3, her portrayal of Ripley is raw and open as she dips into things not seen in the first two movies. There were a few other fine performances in the film, notably those of Charles Dance and Charles S. Dutton, who managed to elevate their characters into more than what was written for them. That Fincher wasn’t shy about dispatching major and minor characters at the most surprising moments helped quite a bit in the fright department, but the theatrical version of the film suffers from too much being chopped out or up to deliver a final cut into theaters on time. That version still nailed the feeling of closure when all was said and done, but it sure was pretty sloppy at getting to the point.
While I liked the film a lot, I’d always wished that I could see more of what Fincher REALLY wanted to do. Thankfully, the Assembly Cut from the Alien Quadrilogy and Alien Anthology box sets have shown me some of what was supposed to be on screen and it makes for a better film. The story behind the production’s woes is well worth seeing if you haven’t, so if you’re interested, the Anthology restores parts of the making of bonus feature from Fincher removed from the Quadrilogy version by Fox. That cut, while still not perfect, adds more character to the characters as well as some revelations clipped from the theater cut, shows a completely different Alien birth sequence and gets rid of the dopey ending in favor of a less nasty and slightly more noble fate for Ripley. I started watching the new edit of the film at least once a month, sometimes having it on as background “noise” when I wrote (the same way I used to run 2001: A Space Odyssey a few years back) because I could look up and always see something interesting at nearly any time.
As for the reason for this column? Well, I’d been thinking about Alien 3 a lot as the lead up to Prometheus came rolling along because a LOT of people who should know better (as always) seem to find it cool to pick on the film all over again as if it’s 1992 all over again and/or they’ve never seen the newer cut that fixes most of the issues the film had when it was first released. I’d actually love to sit down with some of those dopes and screen the updated version just to show them how well it works, but that’s probably not going to happen because some people just love to rest on their opinions because it make them look as if they know something when they make fun of it a wee bit too much.Sure, you have to be in the right mood to enjoy the film, but it works even better now than it did when it was first released. As for Alien Resurrection? THAT works as a mix of horror, sci-fi and bizarre black comedy. I’ve always found it the true black sheep of the series, as the film seems to polarize people because it’s so… alien to them in a number of ways.
That said, I do wonder what would have happened if Ridley Scott decided to do a sequel to Alien in the 80’s and not James Cameron. As nearly all the visual groundwork and many of the basic ideas for Prometheus were laid out in the pre-production artwork and some storyboards for the original Alien, could you imagine how much different HIS sequel would have been? The 2004 misfire, Alien vs Predator tried to cover some of that ground (and quite shabbily, sorry!) but the less said about that entry in the series (and the far worse and just plain nasty AvP: Requiem), the better. I’d imagine heading back to that planet would have been a bit more cerebral and exploratory in nature, yet still timeless and horrific where it counted, just like the current film.
I guess we’ll see what happens should another sequel be green-lit, right. Of course, if you’re a big enough fan of the franchise, you KNOW that heading back to LV-426 will be quite an interesting trip, as when last we saw it, Hadley’s Hope went up in a nuclear explosion “the size of Nebraska.” That said, from a writing perspective, that’s just another challenge to overcome by making sure you don’t forget about that explosion when working on the follow-up. I’d bet there’s more than enough stuff below ground that was spared from the blast that’s worth exploring. As long as whatever is coming is in the right hands, I’ll try not to worry too much…