Friday, November 19, 2010

Three Times The Terror

It was Christmas of 1991 when I first saw the poster advertising that there would be a 3rd Alien film in theaters the following summer and I was all a-quiver with excitement.  I had just been introduced to the first and second films earlier that year and was a huge fan already of both the stories and of Sigourney Weaver herself, so the prospect of a new movie was like a dream come true.  I waited patiently (or impatiently as Mom would tell it) for the big day to arrive, reading and watching anything I could get my hands on that would give me a glimpse of the film to come.  The trailers made it look like an action packed and frightening thrill ride to equal Aliens...so what if there was only one alien creature this time and there were no weapons, this was gonna be great.  Finally, the day came when I would be sent to the theater to see the film (with an adult guardian of course) despite my mother's misgivings (she thought I might not be able to take it...with good reason since at the age of 5 I had taken off on a scared screaming fit during a showing of Ghostbusters II, ironically also starring Mrs. Weaver).  I think, since I was only 8, nothing could have disappointed me when I first saw the film...but I do remember being very sad and depressed at the end.  The tone of the film affected me greatly and it was not nearly as action packed as they had made it out to be.  Still, in my mind I had seen a good film...one that would take me years to really grasp the real meaning and themes of.  But lets not put the cart before the horse...I should talk about the movie first.  So without further adieu, here's Alien 3.  (If only I knew how to cube that 3, like the posters).

Picking up right where Aliens left off, the film begins in deep space.  The Sulaco, the marine ship that is carrying the small band of survivors including Ripley and Newt, finds itself in a bit of a jam.  It seems an alien egg was laid by the queen when she was aboard for her brief visit and the facehugger inside manages to cause a huge malfunction that forces the ship to eject its passengers in an EEV (Emergency Escape Vehicle), which then gets pulled into the gravity of a nearby planet, Fiorina 'Fury' 161.  The EEV loses control and crashes into the sea, where it is found by the residents of Fury...a small group of convicts.  They bring Ripley, the only survivor of the crash, inside where she recovers and is faced with the tragedy that her friends and surragate daughter are dead despite all her work to the contrary.  Unfortunately, her time to mourn is cut short when mysterious deaths begin occuring within the prison.  It seems that the alien that crashed the ship came with them and has incubated inside of an animal, creating a new beast that is sleeker, faster, and more preditory than before.  Ripley must now lead the waning band of prisoners in primitive efforts to kill the creature because they have little working technology and no weapons of any kind.  It seems hopeless, but the men have an ace up their sleeve.  The alien will not kill Ripley, for reasons that become horrifyingly clear by the conclusion.

Alien 3 was destined to be a dissapointment the moment that the credits for James Cameron's Aliens began to roll.  That film was so suspenceful, exciting, and optimistic (despite depressing setbacks to the characters and death) that any follow up would need to either be a clone (no pun intended for part 4) or a massive ripoff.  Instead, 20th Century Fox decided to take another risk and do another dramatic departure from the previous film to create a different beast.  Their original plan, which was created by Vincent Ward took place on a wooden planet populated by monks who believed Ripley and the alien to be a version of the devil, was ambitious for sure...but was too expensive an idea for the time.  Instead, the setting was changed to a mining colony used as a prison and the characters were changed to prisoners with religious ideals.  The depressing tone and bleak opening and ending were retained however.  This did not sit well with audiences who felt that the film spat in the face of Cameron's ending, that set up the idea of Ripley and a makeshift family (with the death of Newt to be the most unpleasent for people).  There were also those who believed that the decision to make all the convicts bald made it difficult to identify the individuals (and even more, rather USAcentric people, who throught it odd that so many of the convicts had British accents).  There were also plot holes in the theatrical version due to haphazard editing of director David Fincher's original vision for the film (which was around 2 hours and 30 minutes) which left large pieces of plot unexplained.  Still, I've always liked Alien 3 since the beginning.  Sigourney Weaver's performance as Ripley has many more layers this time around.  She's in mourning, and she's tired and it all shows on the camera.  Your empathy is increased for her because this makes her even more of a real person.  A real hero, after their greatest moment, would not be ready for more the next day.  That person would be exhausted and deeply depressed if they had to hop back up and fix the exact same problem immediately after taking care of it twice before.  The score by Elliot Goldenthal is also amazing as it mixes musical elements with ambiant noises to create something truely haunting.  Now that we have the option of watching the longer assembly cut of Alien 3, I think more and more people are appreciating what they were trying to accomplish with the film...even if they don't like how depressed it makes them.  I still like the film and enjoy the ride as it goes on, because it seems like a natural progression of a realistic story.  People don't always survive and don't always live happily ever after, and that was a good thing for an 8 year old to learn.

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