Thursday, January 18, 2007

KBT Presents: A Case for Alien3

The Alien films have always been showcase films for directors of emerging talent. Ridley Scott became an A-list director based on the first films success. James Cameron may have made some big waves with The Terminator, but he cemented his name with Aliens. His film (which has aged a bit poorer than the original) decisively proved that a sequel, written and directed by a different team than the original does not have to be a step down (just a step different). David Fincher went from directing music videos to film director with his much-maligned third entry in the series. His film suffered both from the studio taking the film away from him, and the fans of the action-packed second film crying foul (very, very loudly). He probably redeemed himself with those very same fans with by making 1999's Fight Club. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, who was sort of the French Terry Gilliam at the time, and had already made the dark whimsical tales of Delicatessen and City of Lost Children. He was given a script from Joss Whedon of all folks, who was somewhere in between Buffy and Toy Story. Even though the casting of the film is quite good, and Jeunet would go on to make Amelie and A Very Long Engagement, both cross-over successes from France to North America, I'm not a fan of the forth entry. And the less said about Alien Vs. Predator the better. That disaster is more fan wishmongernig (and bad pandering) than an actual film. Even though most fans of the series would rather that the powers that be had stopped after James Cameron's Aliens, I'm here to argue that Alien3 should be re-evaluated.

If you like your genres mashed together, you really cannot do worse than the Alien films. The first one perfectly blends the horror film with science fiction. The second one is a whopper of a action film with sprinkles of science fiction and lots of soldier of fortune posturing. This brings us to the third film, a film which really, well...alienated fans of the second film.

Gone is the machismo of the marines or the corporate slime of Paul Reiser's company man, or the maternal angled drama intercut between explosive action set-pieces. Instead, in the opening credits, Newt, the little girl Lt. Ripley worked so hard to save, along with very likable Corporeal Hicks, are both killed in a crash landing of the escape pod on Fury 191. Ripley is alone once more until her unconscious form is picked up by the local residents.

This is where Alien3 is actually very juicy. The script was story was conceived by New Zealand director Vincent Ward who likes to deal with apocalypse and spirituality in his films (See his haunting 1988 time travel film The Navigator or his the sugar-laced maudlin failure What Dreams May Come to see what I mean). Here Ward creates a prison planet where the residents worship some kind of Christian apocalyptic fundamentalism to keep level. It's a precarious balance maintained by a pragmatic doctor (Charles Dance) and bad-ass holy leader (Charles S. Dutton). The movie excels when placing pressure on this ticking time bomb, first with Ripley being the first woman seen in the colony in 20 years. Being that Ripley is pretty stubborn and pretty tough, she has no problem wandering freely through the prison to figure out what is going on. Ripley first gets her head shaved (lice problems in the prison) making her feminine form look like a lanky young boy. She then asks the doctor to perform an autopsy on the little girl to confirm that she didn't get impregnated by any left-over alien face-huggers. This autopsy is grim, and the colony hearkens back to sooty, damp interiors of the Nostromo in the first film. It is like Ward wanted to continually spit in the face of the audience friendly emotions generated in Aliens and I can only guess both he and David Fincher knew they were not going to achieve the perfect balance (not to mention surprise factor) of Alien. So the aim for the grim inevitability your time alive will come to an end. Grim material for a horror film, here the horror is loneliness, regret and inevitable hopelessness. That is actually the strength of Alien3. It deliciously drags out the first act, not unlike the first film, but it does so with the knowledge that the audience this time around knows whats coming. Visual treats abound, such as a cross cut a sombre funeral of an innocent, with the aggressively destructive birth of the alien, this time from a carcass of an Ox.

Hmmm. At this point if you have already visited Alien3, even if it was 15 years ago, you are probably thinking: An Ox? I thought it was from one of the prisoners dogs. You would be right. In the theatrical release, the film was edited all to hell by the studio who booted David Fincher from the film when execs were getting frustrated with how the film was going. Don't get me wrong, there was brilliance in the film that shone through the 'hacked' version which played on the big screens in 1992, even if the Aliens fan-boys cried otherwise. But in 2003, the original editor of the film, Terry Rawlings, reassembled what he believed was the work-print of the film that got David Fincher fired. This is what the film should have been. (Fincher has long since given up on the film, but didn't stand in the way of this 'assembly cut' of the film). Here, the many prisoners of Fury 191 are much more fleshed out. This time around the shaved-headed bunch are not a collection of faceless alien-fodder, but actual characters. The plot plays out quite differently in this version, particularly with the brain addled Golic (Paul McGann) who for no apparent reason just disappears in the theatrical cut. This version is nearly 30 minutes longer, and the atmosphere is more developed. Things flow so much smoother. The turn of the screw is much more tight.

Alien3 has always been terribly underrated as a film, and this 2003 version shows just how damn good the film actually is. Sure it lacks the surprise of the original or the steroids of the second one, but it has a look and feel all its own, with a very different take on the xenomorph creature and how Ripley (and the others) have to deal with it. I mean as much psychologically as the fact that there are no conventional weapons lying around. The religion aspects of the film round things out nicely, as religion was completely absent from its predecessors. Alien3 is an immersive experience (with directorial vision) that should be ranked along those that came before it, rather than be pushed off to the side and ignored.

Take another chance on this film and you will (hopefully) see things that you did not before. Come out Thursday January 17th for cocktails at 8pm. Trailers and Showtime at 8:30pm.

5 Comments:

Anonymous mike said...

I have entered the realm of the wiki... and set up what I call the 'Criterion Collection Journal' which is essentially a table of the first 100 CC titles from which I and others are attempting to countdown by year's end. If you have any interest in this geek pursuit you can check it out at http://curio.pbwiki.com
I can give you the password via email if you are interested.

1:57 PM  
Blogger GUO SHAO-HUA said...

if i already love the version i saw, it sounds like i would absolutely love this Rawlings version!

8:50 PM  
Blogger chowyunfatsbrother said...

Aliens may not be religious but god bless that film

10:59 PM  
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