“We’re on the honor system”
After James Cameron reinvigorated the Alien franchise to huge success with his action-packed sequel Aliens, Twentieth Century Fox’s desire to keep going shouldn’t have surprised. Looking to retain the level of craftsmanship and professionalism of the first two installments, they tried bringing original director Ridley Scott back to helm an ambitious two part continuation from producers David Giler and Walter Hill—eventual cowriters with Larry Ferguson also—to no avail. So with sci-fi writer William Gibson hired to script them way back in 1987, Alien3‘s lengthy gestation period began. Mired in false starts and a revolving door of screenwriters spanning Eric Red, David Twohy, and Vincent Ward possessing a wealth of ideas including excising Ripley and shifting focus onto Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn), not even the debut of future A-lister David Fincher could save it.
A dismal on set experience and full dictatorial coup by the studio afterwards left Fincher sour and unwilling to participate in the much-lauded Alien Quadrilogy box set despite a chance to piece together the film he hoped to make. Still almost two hours post-hack job, Alien3 appears to want a return to the thrill of suspense possessed by the first. This installment moves so far from Cameron’s run and gun fireworks display that it places its heroine Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) on a planet devoid of weaponry(?!). With only knives and fire at her disposal, the cat and mouse game is back on as H.R. Giger‘s menacing xenomorph evolves yet again to become a slim, almost humanoid version. The last surviving creature stowed away on the Sulaco after the destruction of its queen, only Ripley stands in its way before the Weyland-Yutani, (Did I miss the merger?), group captures and unleashes it on Earth.
As though the maternal instincts shown in Aliens were too much, Ripley’s arrival on Fiorina “Fury” 161 increases the amount of X-chromosomes from three to five. A maximum-security prison housing double-Ys with rape and murder under their belts, she finds little hospitality. Needing to fit in with the boys, Ripley’s metamorphosis from officer of the Nostromo to seasoned, fearless fighter is complete. Hair shaved and smile all but gone, this shell of a woman lives only to save the universe from utter devastation. All alone despite risking her life to save Newt and Hicks on LB-426—their deaths providing the studio a clean slate to take the story wherever they wished—you begin to realize how intertwined she and the alien have become. Opposite sides of the same coin, their battle has become a stand-in for humanity’s drive towards progress.
Rather than keep playing with metaphors, however, Alien3 decides to strip the formula down to its barest essentials—a war for survival inside a sci-fi horror flick coating. Blood and gore is higher than ever before while subtlety is thrown out the window. Enlisting the help of chief medical officer Clemens (Charles Dance) and the inmates’ self-appointed voice of reason Dillon (Charles S. Dutton), Ripley joins the men in the grease and soot to finish what she started decades ago. Yes, there are attempts to advance the mythology with a carefully deposited embryo, but it’s all just empty promise trying to mask the very simple concept. But what could have been a lean, mean journey through steam and rusted metal becomes an overly drawn out amble. Thankfully they at least planned an endgame and followed through to make the slog somewhat worthwhile.
The inmates are a ragtag bunch of sickos so farcical you can’t take their badassery seriously with even the late great Pete Postlewaite wasted. With Dutton languishing beneath holier-than-though machinations, only Morse’s (Danny Webb) lizard-like facial expressions and a joke against jailer Aaron (Ralph Brown) are memorable enough to mention. No one is onscreen long enough to care and their existences serve a singular purpose—to be picked off at random by the grotesque monster. Also disinterested with these kills due to lame blue-screen work, the copious amount of blood isn’t able to distract us. Giger’s monstrosity worked because of its authenticity, so superimposing it on the ceiling with way too much image burn does nothing to help. And don’t get me started on the ‘flying’ black scratches every time we catch a glimpse of the outside. What’s the point of those?
The real shame of the whole endeavor, though, is how fantastic some of the ideas discarded during pre-production sounded. What we’re given instead is little more than a cop-out with good intentions never allowed to stand on its own two feet. There was some real potential in its grand revelations towards the end, but a desire to close the book proved greater than seeing what may have resulted. Going further could have mirrored Resident Evil‘s trajectory—I actually see a lot of parallels between the two series in how they spiral further and further from original intentions—but I would rather that than the uneven denouement given. The problem lies in the script and I doubt anything Fincher did would have saved it from proving a disappointment. The material simply wasn’t of high enough quality.
And so Alien3 is a blemish for its disservice to the mythology as well as the well-publicized strife behind the scenes. With Weaver disenfranchised after rumors of an Alien vs. Predator film as well as the lack of excitement in a role becoming more one-note each time she awoke from cryogenic slumber, the writing was on the wall. The series ran its course and only a reboot with Hicks and Newt might have saved it from falling prey to redundancy. We’ll always love Ripley’s relentless pursuit of ruining Weyland Corporation’s designs for the future, but our memories may be better served forgetting she ever came to “Fury” 161. Besides acknowledging the cyberpunk aesthetic and Charles Dance not realizing he was the only actor who cared about giving a natural performance, I’m going to try and do just that.