Sunday, July 20, 2014

Alien 3 Review

Alien 3 is a film loathed by a majority of those who have seen it, or at least it feels like a majority. Anytime I mention that I am a fan of it, the looks and strongly worded comments I receive as a result seem to indicate that I am very much in the minority, but I truly do believe it is a remarkably interesting, courageous work that is not worthy of such derision.

I should clarify quickly before I continue that this review is based on the extended version of the film that was released in 2003, also referred to as the "assembly cut". While I have never hated the film in any format, I do feel that this longer cut is more richly explored thematically and as a result it is the superior version. If you have only seen the theatrical version and dislike it, I do suggest you at least attempt the extended cut with an open mind.

Alien 3 was the first feature film by the now beloved auteur David Fincher, and rather than try to determine who was at fault for it being a step back from the incredible first two films of the series, I choose to admire it for going in a bold, different direction even if it does fall a bit short. The tonal shifts from film to film is an aspect of the series I have always enjoyed, going from the haunting horrors of the claustrophobic Nostromo in Alien, a single creature lurking in the darkness killing off crew members one by one in a terrifying fashion, to the chaotic action packed assault of Aliens, a team of Marines facing off against countless xenomorphs, the bullets and the death coming in bunches. Alien 3 reverts back to tone of the original, ditching the ammo and action for the slow burn effect of one monster stalking numerous men with nowhere to hide. It would have been easy to attempt to build something even bigger and more bad ass than Aliens given its success, hiring a filmmaker who would up the ante with double the weapons and quadruple the body count, but such a path was not taken.

Right off the bat the film makes it clear that it is willing to be bold in very unexpected and unpopular ways, killing off two fan favorite characters from the previous film before the audience has even had a chance to get comfortable in their seats. I can understand the distaste for such a choice given all the emotion poured into their survival in Aliens, but I admire anyone willing to try something so risky even if it doesn't always work. Also, given the way the rest of Alien 3 plays out, these deaths proved to be necessary to make the story and its themes resonate.

The setting of the film is one of my favorite aspects, a gritty and dour prison filled with convicted felons guilty of heinous crimes. It is far more challenging to attempt to garner sympathy for such people, and honestly the lack of secondary characters that an audience could possibly connect with likely did the film a disservice. That being said, I am unsure of what changes I would have made in this regard. It couldn't possibly have worked to keep Newt or Hicks alive, having them tag along with Ripley the entire time because it would have flied in the face of the deeper themes of the work. Alien 3 is a film about death, both the literal and emotional loss that accompanies it. It is a film about a search for God, for hope, in a place that seems so cold and hopeless.

The weight of grief continues to pile on Ripley as she yet again finds herself in a foreign situation, an absence of ties to her life before this moment, but the fact that she continues to fight despite such deep, dark scars further portrays her as a powerful, heroic female character. Even the way she is filmed throughout is important to take note of, as the camera is often times positioned in a fashion that makes her stand tall above our perspective, as if she is always the most powerful person in the room especially when she has her guard up. Pay attention to a scene in which she enters the dining hall, every man in the room sitting as she stands above them all. Most (including myself) would cower to an isolated area of the room and hope to be left alone, but Ripley not only takes the seat she wants, she also takes control of the situation. The only significant time on camera she appears vulnerable is when she is alone with Clemens, a man she quickly learns to trust and care for, a man she doesn't have to fear in a place full of scary, dangerous men.

On a performance level, I believe Sigourney Weaver shows us her strongest work of the franchise in this film. The depth of pain she portrays during a autopsy scene alone is on a whole new level for the character. The only actors that are given a chance to shine in this film are Weaver and Charles Dutton as Dillon, and I do believe both took full advantage of the opportunity, performances sorely needed in order to make the film work.

Don't get me wrong here, not everything about Alien 3 soars and it certainly isn't on the same level as its two predecessors. While I admire the courage to write a sequel to Aliens that includes literally zero weapons, I do question the plausibility in a maximum security prison not concerning itself with owning even just one single firearm. Worse yet is the explanation given during the film, that they are not needed because the inmates have no place to go and live in fear, as if this guarantees that no individual violent outbursts or organized riots could ever occur. As a result, the no weapon plot device felt lazy, an attempt to raise the tension and the already overwhelming helpless feeling without a convincing reason why this would be the case.

Still though, Alien 3 is a hated film and I simply cannot wrap my head around why. The exploration of the importance of religion in the prison is enough on its own to allow me to recommend the extended cut to anyone willing to give it a spin. I was reminded of the aphorism "There are no atheists in foxholes" used to illustrate that at times of intense stress, when life is at its darkest and the end is something approaching that should be feared, absolutely anyone can find a connection with God in hopes of salvation. Those that occupy the prison in the film are the lowest examples of humanity, rapists and murderers, and yet they regularly join together in prayer. When all hope is seemingly lost, even the most logical and level-headed individual may be searching for a miracle.

Alien 3 is far from a cinematic miracle, but a pretty great work nonetheless.


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