Alien 3 (1992)

“Directed” by David Fincher

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Alien 3 is truly awful.  It’s the dying grasp of a franchise that didn’t need to become a franchise.  Look, the film ends (spoiler)… with Ripley’s death (Sigourney Weaver) as a big fuck you to the group of people who want to harness the embryo of an alien queen from her chest.  But the Alien movies (at least Alien and Aliens) were about a human’s fight to survive the incredible, immediate danger posed by an alien.  This film tries to make the ultimate bad guy the people who want to harness the aliens for whatever militaristic purpose they might have in mind.

It seems as though a lot of movie sequels take an interesting premise and then try to go deeper, but in doing so all they find is a group of people who want to use that interesting thing from the original for unsavory means.  Jurassic World, for example, is about dinosaurs and trying not to be eaten by said dinosaurs.  Than in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, the villains aren’t the dinosaurs as much as the people who want to capture and weaponize those dinosaurs.  Then you have the same thing in Jurassic World, and so on.

The point is, the exciting idea from the original films in these franchises is the monster and the escape from that monster.  It’s simple, but it works.  Alien was so great because it was thrilling, horrifying and straight to the point.  Ripley and her crew mates did whatever they could to survive.  They didn’t sit around wondering about the aliens and where they came from, they just tried not to die.

Now, there was a character, Ash, in Alien who revealed that he was programmed to keep the alien alive under the direction of the powers that be so that it could be studied.  That’s interesting, but the point in the story was just to show the further isolation of Ripley and the other survivors.  Their space ship was their home, and slowly it becomes more and more unsafe until Ripley has to abandon it all together.  Having the alien infect the ship is one way to make it less ‘homey,’ but then revealing that one of the crew is an android whose goal is to thwart them further establishes the danger of their ship.  Everything is infected, tainted and dangerous.

In Alien 3, however, none of that matters.  I watched this right after having seen Alien: Covenant which, while MUCH better than 3, has its own problems.  In both cases there is a reliance on old tropes and character types, and sure I guess that’s okay if you’re just making a campy action movie, but both of these movies feel like they want to be more than that.

Covenant is weighed down, in my opinion (though to be fair I haven’t seen Prometheus), by questions of god and our creator while the plot of the movie is a pretty simple ‘escape from the monster’ story.  Alien 3 plays with ideas of gender politics and… well that’s about it.  But it all goes out the window when the alien wreaks havoc.  I suppose the ultimate victory of defeating the alien is pretty underwhelming since we’ve already had Alien and Aliens, so that might be where the bad guys come in, wanting to harness the alien queen from Ripley’s body.  Th powers that be behind this movie (not David Fincher, I’m guessing, probably the studio instead) want to up the ante, but they don’t do so creatively.

The idea of having Ripley discover that she’s pregnant is exciting and dramatic, and you wonder what the way out is, but the movie then tells you there’s no way out, so she has to willingly kill herself.  And that’s where you get into the ultimate pessimism and just overall dourness of the movie.  Are we supposed to be empowered by Ripley’s death?  Because I wasn’t.  It felt meaningless because while we understand where she’s coming from, we haven’t seen firsthand the threat that those men (who want the alien embryo) represent.  This movie, like the first two, occurs in a very short amount of time in a pretty small area.  Each of these movies is about something going on right now, and then Ripley’s death is meant to address a larger issue which would be more impactful if we had a better understanding of the world at large in the Alien universe.  But as it is, we’re just told what’s happening, kind of, and that’s supposed to be enough for us to agree with Ripley doing what she does.

I guess the common theme between these first three movies is that Ripley is never understood.  She deals with some crazy shit only for the people in the next movie to not believe the shit she just went through.  So the end of this movie is her accepting that no one will ever grasp the danger of the alien (because the people who do are all dead), so she kills herself.  Okay, I can get on board with that to some degree, but the movie felt as though it killed her almost to get back at someone or something, like the movie audience.

My feelings on this go back to the start of the movie.  Ripley’s ship crashes into this male prison planet, apparently taken down by al alien that was still loose in the ship from Aliens.  At the time of the crash, Ripley and her friends are in hypersleep, and when she wakes up, she’s told that none of the others made it, including a goddamned little girl who I’m pretty sure we all liked from Aliens.  So Alien 3 can’t just be so bad it ruins itself, it also has to ruin past movies.  What the hell?

It’s pointless and cruel on some level.  Then you have the big plot point that Ripley is pregnant with the alien queen, but we never see her get impregnated by the face hugger because it happened while she was asleep.  The most important details of the movie happen before the plot even begins and then at the very end.  They felt like unnecessary bookends to the movie rather than anything organic or integral to the story.  In between those cruel bookends was a plot that was just as conventional as you might expect from a slasher movie, which again is fine if that’s what you’re going for, but the bookends suggest this movie takes itself way too seriously.

And you know?  Apparently in the next movie, which I haven’t seen and hopefully will never see, Ripley is back.  Yeah, she’s cloned or something, but her clone somehow remembers Ripley’s own memories, so she’s basically just Ripley again.  You can’t kill your character only to bring her back like that.  It’s stupid and suggests the franchise keeps flip flopping on what to do next.  How about we kill her?  Oh, how about now we bring her back.

Alien was terrific, and while I didn’t like Aliens as much, it now feels like one of the best films of all time when compared to this.  I really don’t have much more to say, but I suppose I should try.

There is a Game of Thrones feeling to this movie, partially because of the brutal gender relationships (one woman, a bunch of horny, aggressive men) and partially because Tywin Lannister shows up for half the movie.  The tone is unique, I suppose.  It didn’t feel mailed in, and it seems like there are questions the movie is genuinely interested in asking, but those questions are tossed aside when it comes time to deal with the alien storyline.  The alien, then, feels tangential to the questions of gender in the movie.  Where Alien felt like it interwove the subtext and the text, here is feels unrelated.

When Ripley is pregnant at the end and chooses to throw herself into the fire rather than fall into the hands of the gross businessmen-ish people, you might see this as a metaphor for a woman’s right to choose, but I think we have already seen the alien impregnation thing enough times to not be surprised by it.  So Ripley’s pregnancy feels more like a retread of old story ideas rather than anything unique or impactful.

The alien itself, in some scenes, is gross and scary as it should be, but when it has to move through space it’s suddenly a completely computer generated image, and god it looks horrible.  It completely took me out of the movie if I hadn’t already been taken out.  The effects of Alien and Aliens was much, much better than 3.

I’m tired of feeling so negative, so I should stop writing.  I feel about the way I’ve written this post the way I felt after watching Alien 3.

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