Thursday, May 25, 2017

Directorial Debut: ALIEN³

Welcome to a new installment of DIRECTORIAL DEBUTS, where we look at some of the best, most interesting, and iconic directors and the films that started their careers. This week we take a look at the debut of acclaimed director David Fincher….ALIEN3!

Alien3 is the third film in the Alien franchise and the first film from now world-famous director David Fincher. At the time, Fincher was a music video director and this project that was meant to follow up James Cameron’s film Aliens from six years earlier. Alien3 is one of the most messy and derided films of all time. This film had infamous production issues and Fincher himself has largely disowned the project. That said, I’ll be reviewing it as his directorial debut and thinking about what he brought and why it was good and bad.

The first thing to note in any review for Alien3 is the cut the reviewer is looking at. I will be reviewing the Assembly Cut here. The reason why I’ll be looking at that is because it most closely the vision (or at least purported vision) of David Fincher. And, frankly, it is drastically better and I can be more fair to the film as a whole. That said, I may bring up elements from the theatrical cut as necessary to support certain points I will make.

On the positive side of things, I think that this film took another bold and unique approach to the franchise. We saw a sci-fi horror film. We saw a sci-fi action film. Now we were set to see a sci-fi dramatic thriller. I also thought this film actually built meaningfully on the mythology of the franchise by establishing new kinds of xenomorphs. Finally, I thought that Sigourney Weaver continued to bring everything she had to the role.

Almost everyone who talks about Alien3 admits it is conceptually interesting. This film that toiled in unbelievable production hell definitely had a lot of great thoughts pass through. The primary strong idea was setting it in this penal colony. By having such an alienating and striking human location, the film really puts you off balance in a good way and a better film would have taken great advantage of for ultimate success. It was also clear that Fincher’s vision for thrillers was no less present at this point in time than it would be later in his career. This was a film that never had a finalized script for shooting and the fact that what came out was definitively a thriller really speaks to who he is as a director.

Additionally, this film builds meaningfully on the mythology in a way that has found its way into future Alien storytelling. Many people have wanted a new sequel that would ret-con the material in this film (mostly because they were disappointed with the choice to kill off Newt and Hicks at the very beginning of this movie), but almost no one wants to ret-con the mythological elements of this story. The primary element is about the impact of a facehugger impregnating a non-human host. In the different versions of Alien3 we get to see two different animals (a dog and an ox) attacked and create different xenomorphs with different characteristics (and certainly different characteristics than those we saw from the human made ones in Alien and Aliens). This might seem like a simple idea on the surface, but it is really quite brilliant and important to understanding the aliens (something that the current line of prequel films is seeking to do).

Finally, on the positive end, Sigourney Weaver delivers another strong performance in this film. She is a phenomenally talented actress in any event, but her work as Ripley is truly incredible. In this film that didn’t end up reaching her level of talent, she does not phone in one minute and continues to be the inspiring hero we saw from the first two films. She is more hardened in this film however and it showed growth and progression that was extremely interesting in defining her character.

This movie has some serious issues, however. First, the pacing is atrocious. Second, the story really never comes together into a single coherent narrative. Third, the effects work is this looks incredibly bad, and especially so relative to the rest of the Alien franchise. Finally, the story didn’t treat characters the audience loved with any kind of respect, including Ripley in the end.

Alien3 is a hard movie to watch because of how awkwardly it is paced and structured. Whenever real events happen they go down very quickly, but the film grinds to a halt in between all of its amazing moments and, unlike in Alien and Aliens, doesn’t give us anything compelling to fill those gaps with. You really feel the influence of the 5 or 6 different voices dictating this story and that makes it very much a jumbled mess. The biggest culprit is, honestly, in the Assembly Cut. There is this whole plot about capturing the xenomorph, but after they do it, one of the prisoners opens the door, getting eaten and releasing the beast all over again. If this film had a more clear vision I think they could have managed these dips in action better but, unfortunately, that was not the case.

Further, this movie looks terrible. The set is impressive when you see it in behind the scenes footage, but the film looks incredibly drab and uninteresting (and not in a good “lived in” way). On top of that, the visual effects work is extremely poor. The xenomorphs somehow look worse in this than the previous two iterations, and the very limited computer effects put in this movie were painful to behold.

The last thing I want to say is that this movie didn’t understand its audience or characters. It begins by immediately killing of Newt and Hicks, heroes we became attached to in Aliens. This is not necessarily “wrong” in any way. They don’t need to be in this story. That said, the film pays incredibly short shrift to the emotions audience members had for them. Further, the film ruins Ripley in the end. Sigourney Weaver was great and added layers and dimension to the character, but where her plot goes spoiled a lot for me as a viewer. After the immense struggles she has faced, to ultimately sacrifice herself to kill the alien queen inside her was just not fulfilling. In the Assembly Cut the moment isn’t ridiculous looking, thank goodness, but the concept of going there at all really raises some questions from me.

Overall, Alien3 is not the worst movie by any means, but it is a movie with a boatload of wasted potential and that does some series damage to characters a lot of us love. It did expand the mythology in an interesting way though that is still important to this very day. Oh… and of course we did get David Fincher out of the deal.

Ryan’s Score: 4/10

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