Saturday, November 03, 2012

Alien 3

1992 ***

I was on the debate team at Barrington High School, and while in college I spent a lot of weekends co-coaching a team from Classical High School in Providence (which, let's face it, is a much cooler high school). My favorite part of overnight debate tournaments was going to the movies afterwards, and it was on one of these trips that Alien 3 opened and the high school kids all listened to me and we saw it. I was all pumped because of the trailer above, which I just saw for the first time since then. I was surprised at the extreme level of cheese, but when he got to "the bitch is back," I could remember what an exciting thing it was to see in a post-Aliens world.

But you've probably guessed how my story ends: with me leading two-dozen sad and annoyed kids out of the theater, all of us issuing a collective sigh as we glumly acknowledged we now existed in the post-Alien 3 world. Sigh.

It wouldn't be right to define this movie solely by that moment; I did give it three stars, because I feel it's adequate, and in some ways I truly dig it. It marks the feature debut of director David Fincher, whose visual style I admire. There's a way he can film windswept heaps of industrial trash and make it beautiful and evocative. I think he perfected that talent with Se7en in 1995 and countless horror movies since then owe some aesthetic credit to that movie. And you can see a lot of it in Alien 3 (and Madonna's "Express Yourself" video a little bit too, if you want to keep going back).

Alien 3 also reverses Cameron's trend away from artsy-fartsy moody sets and towards forgettable utilitarian sets. The world here is once again imposing and oppressively attractive. And that ties in neatly with the nihilistic tone of the movie, which I was able to embrace a bit more fully this time around. If you look at it that way, there's a respectable feeling of destiny to Ripley's fate in the end.

But despite these merits I still feel much the same watching this today as I did in 1992, and there are two main reasons for this and I will address them in reverse order:

It's boring. It's an entire hour before the Alien rampage begins, and we spend most of that hour waiting for the doctor to tell Ripley about his drunken ER accident that resulted in his imprisonment. It felt exactly like being jerked around by a character from LOST, waiting for them to finally unburden themselves and then realizing they could have done so a while ago. Meanwhile Ripley isn't telling him about the Alien because she doesn't think he'll believe her, but there's really no stake in whether he believes her or not. Even after the Alien is public knowledge the movie really doesn't maintain any suspense.

But the main problem with this movie is obvious, and that's the decision to kill off Bishop, Hicks and Newt from the previous movie.

Earlier I referred to Aliens as the only time someone switched genres mid-franchise (from horror to action) and had it work out. What happens here is an attempt to do the same thing again by switching the franchise back to horror -- which in my opinion is indeed a bold move -- but which in my opinion did not work out. Here's a quote from Wikipedia:

"Cameron, in particular, regarded the decision to kill off the characters of Bishop, Newt, and Hicks as 'a slap in the face' to him and to fans of the previous film. Biehn, upon learning of Hicks' demise, demanded and received almost as much money for the use of his likeness in one scene as he had been paid for his role in Aliens. Alan Dean Foster, who wrote the novelizations of the first two Alien films, called the death of Newt and Hicks 'an obscenity'."

Maybe those guys aren't the most impartial jury, but they accurately echo almost all of the reactions I've heard, and my own. Why does that piss everybody off? Alien is five star horror, and it was a total crapshoot who'd survive that movie, right?

It's not a mystery; it all comes down to offing them all in a crash, before the movie really even starts.

When a movie I like has a bad sequel, I almost never think the of the sequel as having ruined the earlier movie. Alien 3 does its very best to do just that, with a bit of narrative hackery that is on par with (and almost the exact opposite of) ending a story with "then I woke up!" and it goes like this: "On the way to the next movie, everyone died in a crash."

Right? Isn't that just a sucker punch? If you came to the theater expecting an action movie's requisite happy ending, you instantly get this: no happy ending for the movie you're watching and no happy ending for the movie that came before it, the movie that got you here in the first place. You already hate the movie you're watching and you still have almost all of it yet to see.

And even if you can instantly accept the genre switch and the uncertainty that comes with it... a crash in the opening credits? Killing off the characters from previous entries is a horror tradtion, but where's the respect? They needed to have Hicks wake from a chestburster dream, go to get a space beer and reveal the hiding Alien when he shuts the fridge door. There are rules, man.

I believe I've only seen this movie one other time since 1992. I watched the alternate longer cut this time, but I didn't experience any real difference. Alien 3 has got game and is worthy of some respect, but it doesn't reach the classic status of its predecessors. As the overly bombastic music rolled to a close and the camera revisted parts of the prison, I thought "Hey look, the cafeteria... so what?" Watch if you're in the mood for something bleak.

(For the record, I mostly really liked LOST, but it did bug me sometimes.)


Catfreeek said...

" They needed to have Hicks wake from a chestburster dream, go to get a space beer and reveal the hiding Alien when he shuts the fridge door. There are rules, man."

If I was a director then I'd hire you to write the sequel to my movie, hell yeah!

Landshark said...

Hm, I don't remember this as a 3.5 star movie, but then I barely remember this one at all. Actually, it's possible I've never even seen it, come to that. This isn't the one with the weird monks and Wynonna Ryder, I gather. (She would have come up in your review, I'm sure).

Anyway, good stuff per usual.

Trevor said...

For me, the disappointment came even before Newt & Hicks were killed (although I agree that that was a slap in the face). In the summer of 1991, before watching Terminator 2, this preview came on...

In it, I was promised an action packed Alien 3 where a futuristic earth would be torn apart by Aliens. According to wikipedia, this was completely the plan for Alien 3 & 4. A two part film that had Hicks and Newt playing a big part. Instead, as you stated, we get 60 minutes of, "why did this prisoner end up in prison"?

I was only 13 when I saw this, but it came pretty close to Phantom Menace in terms of disappointment level. I was excited when I heard about Alien 4 years later, thinking it would put the franchise back on track. Yeah, that didn't work out too well either.

Crystal Math said...

I enjoyed Alien and would watch it time and again. That's the trouble with sequels: they grow exponentially boring with each one.

Octopunk said...

Eh, Landshark's right. I just downgraded my rating to a flat 3. The more I contemplate the bummer feeling of this movie the more I think an "adequate" stamp is generous enough.

DCD said...

I don't think I've ever seen this one actually. Excellent review, although it doesn't really make me want to see it now either!

Johnny Sweatpants said...

I've actually never seen this either but your review enraged me. HOW DARE THEY!?!?! I don't think something this blasphemous would be allowed to happen in 2012 because the fanboys would run them out of town.

JPX said...

You can argue to death about the differences between Alien (horror) and Aliens (action) but at the end of the day they’re both fun movies. Alien 3, on the other hand, is a grim sleeping pill; a Breakfast Club for prisoners. Full of dysthymic, unlikable characters with very little action I think most agree that Alien 3 was a colossal disappointment. I enjoyed the special edition a lot more but it doesn’t change the fact that we watched Ripley fight off tons of aliens in Aliens and now she’s facing off with a solitary alien in a boring environment. Don’t even get me started on the whole Ripley-is-impregnated nonsense.

I agree with your assessment about killing off Hicks and Newt (off-screen too!). It certainly neuters Aliens. I’m reminded of Halloween H20 when Jamie Lee Curtis tangles with Michael Myers one more time. At the end of the film she cuts off his head, which offers a satisfying conclusion to the Halloween trilogy (Halloween, Halloween 2, H20). Buuuuuuuuuuuuut, someone convinced Jamie Lee to make an appearance in the next film, Halloween Resurrection, and Michael kills her in the opening scene (!). Why did we spend decades cheering for Laurie Strode only to have her character killed off in such a cheap, pointless manner. In the end Michael wins, huh? Bullshit!

Nice summary of a largely hated film.