Alien³: Could have been more with a bit less
In 1992, six years after James Cameron's excellent Aliens, David Fincher came out with his own entry in the saga of Ellen Ripley: Alien³. Because apparently this movie is supposed to be Alien to the third power, and not just the third (and supposedly final) entry in the series.
And in some ways, it is the original to the third power, but we'll get to that in a little while.
[Probably some spoilers coming up below.]
But first, the story
Alien³ follows on the heels of the events of Aliens. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the girl Newt, the soldier Hicks (what's left of him, at least), and the android Bishop (what's really left of him) are in hyper sleep for the trip home. In the opening shots, we get to see that somehow a facehugger (or two?) has stowed away aboard the ship and ends up causing an electrical fire, triggering the escape mechanism.
The cryo-tubes are automatically moved to the emergency escape vehicle and thrown mindlessly toward a planet where they crash into the water where Hicks is impaled by a support beam and (in a real nad-kick to the fans) Newt is drowned in her tube.
It really makes you wonder just how this is supposed to be an escape vehicle if it can't even get you away from the danger without killing you.
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The planet they end up on turns out to be a former penal colony and smelting facility run by "the company". The people who live there were violent prisoners who found religion in hell. When the company closed down the facility, these prisoners stayed behind as a custodial crew along with a jailer, his assistant, a medical officer, and a dog.
Anyway, the dog ends up with an alien popping out of its chest and Ripley's fears are brought to life.
One by one, the denizens of hell get picked off by this monster. Along the way, Ripley discovers that she has one inside herself. And clearly she knows it's going to be a queen.
One faulty attempt at trapping the alien later, they lure it into a large lead mold, pour molten lead over it, then shower it with cold water, causing it to explode from thermal differential. Because, you know, these horror movies are all about teaching us real science.
At that, Ripley decides that she's had enough with the series and throws herself into the furnace along with her little baby xenomorph.
Dot dot dot
First off, I would like to point out that after the straightforward and high-octane pass that James Cameron gave Aliens, it's interesting how much Alien³ and Alien Resurrection tend to go for more artistic direction and storytelling while feeling less like Alien style horror than Aliens style big-budget-scifi. This one even has a funeral happening at the same time that the alien is emerging from the dog, really emphasizing the "birth and death" aspect of this creature. A bit unnecessary in some ways, since every xenomorph birth is already accompanied by the death of the host, but it's still an interesting scene.
As a monster movie, this one is actually pretty solid. They've taken it back to the single-creature-in-the-dark format of Alien and there's plenty of life in that format.
The attacks themselves, however, tend to use a lot more blood than the first two movies.
Seriously, if you take out the chest-burster scenes from both Alien and Aliens, how much blood is there in the rest of those movies? They're not completely bloodless, but this one has both of them beaten together. One attack in particular ends up with a guy getting almost his entire head caked with blood, and he wasn't even the guy getting attacked at the time.
And that may be one of the big things that brings this movie's rating down for me. That much blood just isn't scary to me, is a bit unrealistic, and basically leaves me feeling icky.
Alien³ - trailer
What about the monster itself?
Well, while both Alien and Aliens took about half the movie to finally introduce the real threat, this one brings the xenomorph in much earlier. However it's still around half-way through the movie before Ripley finally sees the alien and convinces everyone else that it exists.
The trick is that we've seen this creature already in two different movies, so we've begun to understand what to expect from it, so the unknown element might have a problem.
But the filmmakers took that into account.
They had the idea that the alien creature may end up taking some of the traits of the host in which it gestated. (This is strongly used in the AVP movies.) So this creature tends to run on all fours at high speeds.
Ripley even mentions that this one is different from the ones she's seen before.
However, another thing they add is that this alien does a lot of running around on the ceiling and walls. We get a couple quick shots of aliens on ceilings and walls in Aliens, but this one takes it even further, going so far as to give us several shots from the alien's point of view.
This can add a bit of a "cool" factor but has the tendency to reduce the fear. I know just where the creature is and what it's doing whenever alien-cam pops up.
But it does move faster and more ferociously than the ones we've seen before. And that counts for something.
As a fan of the series, however, I do have to point out the odd bit that this alien seems to emerge from the dog fully developed, just smaller than it ends up. It doesn't look like the chestburster of the first movie at all. But that's more an oddity than anything.
Where does that leave us?
In the end, Alien³ did a number of things right but isn't quite as good as its predecessors. Too much blood starts to ruin my enjoyment (though there may be some of you would feel differently). And too much alien POV ends up reducing the tension in a few of the attacks.
And the death of the main character at the end just feels like a second nad-kick to the fans.
But what do you think?
Personally, while it still works fairly well as a monster movie, as a movie in general, I give Alien³ a 6 / 10. But when you're in the mood for this one, it can still be a fine watch.
Alien³ is rated R for plenty of hard swearing, a bit of indirect nudity and implied sexuality—plus an attempted rape—and lots of gory monster violence.
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