Thursday, May 31, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Alien 3 (1992) ***½

R, 144 min. (special edition)
Director: David Fincher
Writers: David Giler, Walter Hill, Larry Ferguson, Vincent Ward, Dan O’Bannon (characters), Ronald Shusett (characters)
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Paul McGann, Brian Glover, Ralph Brown, Danny Webb, Christopher John Fields, Holt McCallany, Lance Henricksen

Many were disappointed with the third film in the “Alien” series, with good reason. When I originally saw it in theaters, I enjoyed it; but it didn’t have the substance behind it established by its predecessors. The mother and company themes were sprinkled into its plot, but hardly featured heavily into its execution, which was more concerned with creating a situation where a limited number of people without any weapons were trapped to be hunted down by a new type of alien. That alone made for an exciting movie, but it wasn’t something amazing.

More interesting was the behind the scenes story of “Alien 3”. The movie went through several directors in its concept stage. Taking a queue from James Cameron, it was decided early on not to simply repeat the same characters and situations of it predecessors. However, when Fox finally settled on first time director David Fincher, it may have been a power play to control the content of the movie. Fincher had great success directing music videos, would go on to make Oscar-winning movies, and even make successful movies for Fox again. But, as a first time director, he held little power over his movie. It’s said he even tried to get his name removed from the cut of the film that was eventually released in theaters.

Thanks to the DVD revolution, however, director’s cuts became a new market for movies. Fox was gracious enough to realize the mistake they had made when it came time for a DVD release in 2003. They asked Fincher to come back and assemble a director’s cut for them, but since they hadn’t even allowed him to film many of the scenes he’d planned, he declined due to the impossibility of getting his original vision on screen. Fox decided to do the next best thing and restored Fincher’s first assembly cut. The fact that the assembly cut is so much better than the theatrical cut shows just how good this movie would’ve been had Fincher been allowed to produce his vision for the film.

Almost entirely removed from the theatrical cut was the new element that Fincher introduced to the series, the religious angle. The Christ imagery of Ripley in the film’s final moments is impossible to miss, even in the theatrical cut; but the original script had religious allegory and references throughout. The movie is filled with lessons of sacrifice and temptation. The all-male prison colony that becomes infected by both an alien and a female includes some Genesis symbolism. And, the introduction of the human Bishop, architect of the Bishop android played by Lance Henricksen in “Aliens”, has some not very subtle suggestions about creation and how we are supposedly made in God’s image.

The conclusions and statements “Alien 3” has to make on its themes aren’t as clear as the ones made in its predecessors. The theatrical cut is really not worth watching while the Special Edition exists, since so much has been removed from the theatrical version, including parts that simply make the action of the film clearer. If you can watch that Special Edition, however, it’s worth it for fans who were disappointed by what they saw in theaters or even on video for many years.


t-rocc said...

i really always liked this movie, even the version i saw in the theater (back when i saw movies in theaters). i'm stoked to check out the "director's" cut now.

thanks man!

Andrew D. Wells said...

I'm glad I could steer you to something, man. I liked it in theaters too. I saw it on a huge screen the first time and those chase sequences from the alien's POV were really intense. After that I dragged Russell to it. Then I became aware of the negative backlash against it and began noticing its weaknesses. I still like the theatrical cut, but the special edition adds some interesting elements. The alien's life cycle is given more consideration in the longer version and it turns out that it wasn't birthed from a dog (that was one of Fox's reshoots) but came from a steer. That sequence in much better in the SE. There's a rather fascinating doc on its production woes in the Alien Quadrilogy box set. I don't know if it's included on the new Alien Anthology box set.