One of the advantages of not being able to go outside (I didn’t do much of that anyway) at the moment is that I’ve finally been completing the franchise entries that I’ve otherwise missed out up until now. Chief among these is the Alien franchise: a series of films that I’ve seen chronologically from Prometheus to Aliens, though I’d rather die than watch Alien vs Predator Requiem, so don’t ask.
My reasons for taking this long to watch Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection are simple: Alien 3 screws over Aliens in order to exist at all. The deaths of Newt and Hicks at the beginning of the film feels so pointless and mean-spirited that it was hard to take, and I switched it off a half-hour in the first time around.
So I ignored Alien 3 for ten years, refusing to consider it as part of the series continuity, and hoping that Neil Blomkamp’s plan for a new sequel that would eliminate Alien 3 from the franchise would be greenlit. That never happened, and it looks like we will be getting another prequel instead. With this in mind, and with a lack of anything better to do, I decided to finally give Alien 3 a try, ten years after throwing an almighty hissy fit at its creative choices and slamming the eject button after forty minutes like the big cinematic baby I am.
Alien 3 is not a good movie. That much is extremely obvious. Similar to Jurassic Park 3, there were a mixture of creative problems behind the scenes from the very beginning. David Fincher, who was making his directorial debut, has since disowned the film, and it has been revealed that a lot of filing was done without a finished script. It’s a miracle that the film is coherent at all, which brings us to the main problem.
Alien 3 tries too hard to recapture the intense atmosphere and dread that made Alien a classic in the first place. Like the first film, Alien 3 only has one xenomorph picking its way through the inmates of a prison planet in bloodier fashion than we’ve seen before. The cast isn’t up to much either, comprising of a bunch of British character actors, the best of which is Charles Dance’s prison doctor, who never feel as real as the Nostromo crew or the soldiers in Aliens. What we have is just another film in which Ripley runs around in the dark trying to fight a creature that is so clearly superior to the humans it’s picking off, while the film goes to further and further lengths to explain why the bloody Alien can’t just win.
Then there is the film’s most iconic detail: Ripley is carrying a Queen Alien inside of her. This means that the xenomorph that’s loose won’t kill her. A lot has been made of this creative choice in the twenty years since the film’s release – it even leads to arguably the franchise’s most iconic image (as seen above) – but plot-wise it’s a dead end. Alien and Aliens work because Ripley is just as vulnerable as the cannon fodder around her. In both films, she has to use her skills and instincts to survive, as well as rescue Newt. The key to how effective the xenomorph is in the likelihood that it might actually win. Having Ripley running about, immune from attack, kills the tension completely. What do we care about a bunch of self-confessed murderers and rapists getting killed? We don’t.
So, is Alien 3 the worst film in the franchise? No, not by a long shot. Alien 3’s worst sin is that it’s trying to put the genie back in the bottle. It looks amazing despite the behind the scenes turmoil, it’s beautifully shot despite having two separate cinematographers, and some of the action is pretty damn good. When you take out the maddening creative choice of killing Newt and Hicks, what you’re left with is a standard creature feature with a good central performance, because Sigourney Weaver doesn’t dissapoint.
All of which to say: it’s better than the infuriating Prometheus. So, that’s something. I might as well watch Alien Resurrection now. Tune in later this week for a look at the franchise’s very bottom of the barrell!
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By Kevin Boyle
Image Credit: IMDB