Alien and Aliens are tremendous sci-fi movies. They’re both very different in tone, but that makes them great in different ways. Sadly, the next two installments are typically remembered with a shrug. Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection were production nightmares that ended with messy, muddled films. 3 is a glum, dark affair directed by the great David Fincher. Resurrection is a weird Joss Whedon script that teams an early draft of the Firefly crew with a clone of Ripley as they battle the xenomorph menace.
Neill Blomkamp, director of District 9 and the upcoming South African/Australian accentpalooza Chappie is taking over the franchise after posting some very cool Alien concept art on Instagram. As great as the art is, however, is bringing the Alien franchise back to the characters of Ripley and Hicks really the wise way to go?
The sight of a scarred Hicks accompanying Ripley did initially excite me. Michael Biehn plays so well off of Sigourney Weaver in the second edition. As a big fan of that film and those characters, I wanted more. For Newt and Hicks to be killed mostly off-camera (mostly) at the start of Alien 3, well, it’s always been a bit of a big old kick in the nuts.
Is Alien 3 as much of an unwatchable slog as I remembered it? A recent post on Badass Digest and subsequent comments praising the film got me curious. I never realized that there were so many defenders of what many consider to be one of Fincher’s lesser works. I remembered it just being a miserable trip to a dumb prison planet. My taste in movies as an adult, however, is far different than it was as a teenager. There has to be something to it, right?
The third Alien is still a bit of a slog, but just a bit. Oddly, it picks up once one of the better actors involved (Charles Dance, who most of you know better as Tywin Lannister) bites the dust. There’s not a ton of charisma in this cast of criminals, leaving the heavy lifting in the hands of Sigourney Weaver and Charles S. Dutton.
Fincher does his best with a complete mess of a script. The third Alien went through numerous iterations before 20th Century Fox just said, “Ah, fuck it,” and settled on the prison planet nicknamed Fury. There was the version where Ripley took a long nap while Hicks fought aliens and eventually teamed up with the USSR! Then there was the wooden monk planet! The finished product is scraped together from all of this development. It’s a miracle that it’s not worse.
Alien 3 is relentlessly grim with a great deal of disturbing imagery. Deceased Newt especially makes you squeamish, between her frozen expression of horror and difficult to stomach autopsy. The infected dog is downright gross (I didn’t watch the more heralded Assembly Cut with the ox). Then there’s the guy who straps on his goggles just before he attempts to rape Ripley. That’s a thing.
While the imagery is appropriately creepy for the most part, there is a fair share of particularly dated 90s effects. The planet exteriors are crummy (not that they’ve ever been a strength of the Alien series). The use of CGI for the alien is especially craptastic, really taking away from the thrill and suspense of certain scenes. It’s a terrific argument for the use of practical effects.
The tone, however dingy and dire it may be, is thematically appropriate. This is the end of the road for Ripley, as she walks around with what amounts to a cancer diagnosis. You’ve got the rise of Ellen Ripley as she defeats the original xenomorph. You’ve got Ellen Ripley the badass, as she takes out an entire nest of aliens. So Alien 3 being the grim death of Ellen Ripley makes a lot of sense. It’s just not a really enjoyable experience, which also makes sense. I can appreciate the point and purpose of the third Alien, even if I don’t like it.
Alien 3 isn’t good enough to be be upset when it gets wiped out of continuity by a new film (ala X-Men: The Last Stand being wiped out by Days of Future Past). However, it’s not bad enough to really root for its demise. It’s the product of studio franchise demands at their worst, yet it’s still a fitting end for one of sci-fi’s greatest protagonists.