With a brand new Ridley Scott Alien film set for release this week, we at Psycho Drive-In thought it would be fun to look back at each of the films in the official franchise. So every day this week, the Psycho Drive-In All-Stars will be sharing their thoughts, memories, and interpretations of one of Hollywood’s most enduring and important science fiction franchises. For the purposes of writing up these thoughts, I watched “The Assembly Cut” of Alien 3. When the Alien franchise films were re-released on DVD in 2003 as a part of the Alien Quadrilogy box set, new cuts of both Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection were commissioned in an attempt to mitigate some of the more outspoken issues both films suffered in the struggle between directorial intent and getting the product to market. James Cameron had already been involved in a director’s cut of Aliens, released to home video prior to 2003 and the team working on the box set approached both David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet to collaborate on improved cuts of Alien 3 and Resurrection, respectively. Fincher, who was notoriously unhappy with his experience directing Alien 3, declined to be involved and “The Assembly Cut” went forth without his involvement. It’s a shame, the new cut certainly improves upon the theatrical release and with Fincher’s involvement it might have been a better product all the way around. As it is, this version patches some of the more glaring concerns and presents a more cohesive film. I’m in the minority in that I’m one of the few Alien franchise fans who actually enjoyed Alien 3 in its original incarnation, though I’m not so enamored of it that I don’t see its flaws. Let’s get some of those out of the way upfront. One of the most frequent and valid criticisms of Alien 3 is regarding its palette. The film trades the Aliens look of cool blues and blacks for rust, gold and… brown. Lots of brown. The word that gets thrown around the most is “muddy” and honestly, that’s fair. It’s not quite sepia-toned, but the look of Fiorina 161 is very cave-like, with dim incandescent or torch light as the primary light source. Even the xenomorph is inexplicably a strange rusty red color. While I understand this to be a calculated decision to distinguish the film from its predecessors, it feels a bit too overindulged. Perhaps the biggest complaint most fans have with the film relates to its decision to immediately do away with Hicks and Newt as fellow survivors of the LV-426 massacre. Alien 3 is unique in that it is the only direct sequel, it picks up not long at all after the events of Aliens, whereas every other sequel is set decades or centuries apart. It fell to reason that we’d be seeing the relationship between Ripley, Newt, Hicks and even Bishop continue to develop but that rug is violently yanked out from under us in the first few minutes of the film. For many, it soured what was to follow before the story even really begins. I wasn’t quite as put off by it, but it is further evidence of this iteration’s insistence upon being its own entity and telling its own story. That story is more a return to the claustrophobia and stalker/slasher roots of Alien than it is an engagement of the broader action and scope of Aliens. We’re primarily dealing with only a single xenomorph here, no firearms or advanced weaponry of any kind, and a much reduced scope making the film’s tagline “3 Times the Suspense – 3 Times the Danger – 3 Times the Terror” a rather absurd punchline. Still, I find a lot to love about Alien 3 if you step outside of the context of the prior film. The penal colony on Fiorina “Fury” 161 is an incredibly unique setting and a fascinating bit of world-building within the Alien universe. It also provides incredible tension in that it is populated entirely by men; rapists, murderers and the vilest of the vile, who also happen to be religious zealots. This allows for a layer of subtext and social commentary on religion, gender and sexuality more overt than in previous installments of the franchise. There are times where it’s a bit heavy handed, as in a scene where Ripley is nearly raped, but it also allows for more subtle engagement of the themes. We see Ripley for the first time in the series as a woman conscious of her sexuality, shed of the robe of maternal obligation, and when she manipulates a situation to her advantage with sex it’s an interesting power play unlike anything we have seen from the character to date. As with the prior films, there is an emphasis on characterization here to allow us some investment in the characters before they are ushered off to their doom. The cast is impossibly British, entirely male (with the exception of Ripley) and almost entirely Caucasian so we get some wild personalities thrown up on the screen, from the dour Warden Andrews (Brian Glover) to the sharp intellect and wit of Clemens (Charles Dance) to the fire and brimstone majesty of Charles S. Dutton as Dillon. It’s weird to think of religious fanaticism as a grounding element, but Dillon is very often the voice of reason, even if that voice is tinged with Biblical vigor. As a return to the single-xenomorph scenario, the film is effective in building the “anyone could go at anytime, anywhere” element necessary to keep us as an audience on our toes. Many of these characters are real pieces of shit, and it’s often a joy to see them disemboweled, torn apart, or to see their skulls punched open by the xenomorph’s interior mandibles. The fact that there are no guns of any kind on Fury or anything beyond rudimentary melee weapons and homemade torches ups the ante, and it becomes very much a cat-and-mouse situation. The film spares no punches in the gore department, but my favorite scene in that regard involves no human viscera, but rather Ripley restoring a partially melted Bishop, his grisly milky visage hearkening back to and reflecting upon a similar scene with Ash in the original Alien. Only this time it’s somebody (somedroid?) Ripley actually trusts, her last remaining friend, pulled off a trash pile to be momentarily reactivated before asking her to please put an end to his existence. I’m a huge fan of existential dread, it’s practically a lifestyle for me at this point, and that’s probably why I have a soft spot in my heart for Alien 3. The film’s eventual reveal of Ripley’s curse and her decision as to how to handle it is beautiful and elegiac, and would have made for a fitting end to the series. — Adam Barraclough There is a chest-buster scene in Alien 3, but it’s not the most shocking moment. It’s almost a relief, actually, when it finally occurs. The shock comes, cruelly, after a brief respite for the Ripley who has already lost everything. The nuclear family unit she saved from the first film was destroyed, sadistically, in the shadows of the opening credits. She has crash-landed on a prison planet. Where she’s the only woman alive. And the prisoners are already sick, males afflicted with violence-inducing extra chromosomes. They only contain their violence through faith, isolation and shaky discipline. But there’s one sophisticated man, a doctor played by Charles Dance. Clemens is eloquent, tortured, haunted but in ways Ripley can relate to. And they reach for each other in their misery. As the prison leaders (policing themselves in this forlorn wreck of a world) are willing to protect Ripley as long as she follows basic rules, you feel she might almost make it out alive this time … until the alien shoves his tail through the doctor’s chest. With his death goes any sense of hope in their dire situation. From then on, it’s about vengeance. Charles S. Dutton’s Dillon is another source of strength and reason, and there is oddly a kind of tentative chemistry that develops between the shorn Ripley and some of the monk-like prisoners; even after their attempted rape of her in a vulnerable moment, when they are beaten away from her with a lead pipe. She can’t become a mother figure to this misogynist population, so she decides to become their martyr. The metaphors for this movie are of two extremes; messianic and zoological. We’re all doomed animals, and faith is the only solace. And when that’s not enough, what about sacrifice and doing the right thing? Ripley retains her moral core when she kills herself in order to kill the alien growing inside her, refusing to give it up to the human Bishop who arrives offering rescue at the end of the film. This bleak movie somehow manages to have a strange beauty. There’s a reason one of the worst things that happens in the film involves man’s best friend. — Shawn Hill Alien 3 catches a lot of hell from fans and it’s not all entirely undeserved. Granted, David Fincher was a first time feature film director (although he was proficient in the world of music videos), the Alien franchise was huge and the release date for the film was set before they’d ever begun filming. Multiple producers all had different takes on what they wanted to see in the film which contributed to a three-month production shutdown while the script was reworked, and heavy, heavy gore forced cuts not only to avoid an NC-17 rating but to please test screening audiences. Not to mention that fans were understandably upset that Newt and Corporal Hicks were both dead before the film even finishes its credit sequence. That last reason, though, is one of the reasons I love this film so much (even before the superior “Assembly Cut” was made available). There may never have been a more audacious narrative decision in any other sequel ever made. Those final fifteen or twenty minutes of Aliens are some of the most intense ever captured on film up until that point. When Ripley saved Newt from the Alien Queen by going toe-to-toe in her power-lifter, people cheered. It’s a beloved moment in science fiction film. And Fincher said, fuck you to that. That took balls. There’s a brutality to this film that is missing in the previous installments, and with the deaths of Newt and Hicks, Ripley becomes tempered steel. After crash landing in a space prison, surrounded by the worst of the worst, she forces the prison doctor, played to perfection by Charles Dance, to perform an autopsy on Newt and it is one of the most gut-wrenchingly emotional moments in the franchise. But she has to know there was no Xenomorph hatchling waiting to explode from her corpse. She had to know that she really had saved her. Being the only woman in a prison full of rapists and murderers brings what had been subtext in the prior films to the surface and she barely escapes a gang rape before succumbing to a nihilistic ennui that added depths to the character that appeal to me and my own personal psychological damage. And in stark contrast to Cameron’s film, Fincher pulls no punches when presenting masculinity at its most toxic. Any feminist elements are subdued beneath a grimmer and more depressing existential dread that casts all humanity as monsters with only slight glimmerings of hope for spiritual salvation. This is a film that knows we are all alone in the cosmos and has little to no intention of softening the psychological or philosophical devastation that awareness entails. — Paul Brian McCoy I’ve recently become aware of a personal musical affinity for the number three. I can count Led Zeppelin III, U2’s War, The Black Keys’ Rubber Factory, Tom Waits’ Nighthawks at the Diner, and Dylan’s The Times, They Are A-Changin” among my favorite albums. Know what they all have in common? Each was the third studio outing for those bands. The Beatles made A Hard Day’s Night their third US album release (I happen to prefer Abbey Road, but it’s a tight race). I can’t really explain it, other than some sort of alchemical reaction happening between the artists’ craftsmanship and showmanship after their freshman and sophomore efforts. Interestingly, this third rule doesn’t usually apply to film. I mean, Jedi vs. Empire? No contest. I’ll gleefully watch the twisted pretzel of Back to the Future II over III any day of the week. And don’t even get me started on the Christopher Reeve Superman movies or Raimi’s Spider-man. Tobey McGuire’s dance number was pretty dope, though. Not gonna lie. But then there’s Alien 3. I’ve long held a fondness for this movie. I mean, it’s no Alien, but nothing is. Ridley Scott crafted cinematic perfection with his horror/sci-fi/rape movie hybrid, and no one, not even Ridley himself can ever hope to improve upon it. Aliens came along, and I experienced for the first time what I call the Cameron Bubble. It’s a pretty simple three-step process. 1. James Cameron directs a movie. 2. Upon its release, the collective pundits of pop culture go ape-shit over said movie. 3. I go to see the movie and spend the next couple of months feeling isolated from the rest of society because I just don’t understand what everyone’s saying is so great about it. It happened with T2 (I liked the original Terminator), Titanic (my deep, tender, and abiding fondness (lust) for Kate Winslet got me through), and Avatar, which I have attempted to watch on more than one occasion and have yet to stay awake through the middle part (and by the middle part, I mean that part between twenty minutes into the movie and when the credits start to roll). Upon its release, Aliens was sort of a big deal for many of my friends. With apologies to Robert Heinlein, I’ve just never found any attraction to militaristic sci-fi. Alien 3 came along and felt a little closer to how I like my sci-fi. It had plenty of action, sure. And I like action. I also like character development, social commentary, and if you can throw in some weird pseudo-religious apologetics, I’m completely on board. Now, to be clear, we should address the fact that the original theatrical release was a hot mess. The production went through multiple writers (including William Gibson, who penned some kind of a “space Nazis steal alien eggs and wreak havoc at the mall” story – you know, that old chestnut) and directors before a young director out of ILM was finally given the helm of the movie. At that time, David Fincher had only directed music videos. I mean, he had directed a shit-ton of them, but that was the entirety of his directorial resume at that point in his career. The guy directed everyone from Rick Springfield to Madonna (including the video for “Vogue”). Hey, he even directed the video for that obscure Bougeois Tagg song I liked so much in college but could never get anyone else to appreciate! The theatrical release of Alien 3 suffered from weird pacing and logical jumps that left many a theatergoer scratching his or her head. Thankfully, the Assembly Cut was released in 2003, filling in the plot holes and giving the story some room to breathe. When I talk about my fondness for this film, it’s the Assembly Cut I’m talking about. None of which is to say that it doesn’t still have its flaws. Nevermind that the Xenomorph animation during a couple of sequences is enough to make Harryhousen creatures (with all due respect to the great stop-motion master) look like CGI, this film suffers from a complete lack of escalating tension. It starts loud, then gets quiet for a while before getting loud again. Then quiet, then loud, ad nauseum. It opens with an instant souring of any warm fuzzies that may have carried over from the ending of the prior installment, quickly dispatching everyone but Lt. Ripley, and she’s not exactly feeling so great herself. Other than Sigourney, Lance Henriksen is the only other returning franchise player, and his role is severely limited. Instead of a claustrophobic ship or military base, the action takes place inside of a nearly-abandoned penal work facility. The inmates are amongst the worst of the worst of humanity, but have developed their own form of religion, because “men go crazy in congregations” (that’s a lyric from “All This Time”, the opening track of Sting’s third solo album Soul Cages, btw). They are rapists and murderers, barely kept in check by the abusive Supervisor Clemens, serving as character actor Charles Dance’s early study for that bastard Tywin Lannister on Game of Thrones. Paul McGann, much to my Dr. Who fanboy delight, plays the facility’s resident madman. There aren’t many laughs to be found in this franchise, but Lt. Ripley asking McGann’s Golic if he’s the Doctor is worth a self-aware wink and a smile. Of course, it wouldn’t be a movie without a Xenomorph running around. In case you’ve only seen the theatrical version, the face-hugger escaped the crashed pod, attaching itself and gestating inside of one of the mining facility’s working oxen, a fact which was all but cut from the original release. There’s chaos as each of the twenty-five inmates/workers are picked apart (literally and figuratively). At some point, some of the survivors corner the first female they’ve ever seen on the place and try to take liberties. Luckily, their pastor arrives with his divine shovel and knocks their heads around. Of course, it all leads up to a final confrontation between the Xenomorph and Ripley. One thing that I find intriguing about this installment is its attempt to spend some time on the development of Ripley as a character. She’s been through hell and back. Twice. She’s hardened but still holding on to her humanity. She’s more fearless and fierce. There’s an acknowledgment of the original Alien’s rape story subtext in the dining hall scene where she fearlessly faces down an admitted rapist and murderer. She’s seen worse. Hell, she watched John Hurt (hey, he’s another Dr. Who regeneration!) get penetrated by and serve as a gestational pod for a Xenomorphic bastard. But do go on, you’re cute with your rape brag. This little microcosm of a patriarchy is a world where craven men swear oaths of celibacy and hide behind the credos of a manufactured religion in order to prevent themselves from raping and/or killing, and the few white men in charge meet behind closed doors in little rooms make uninformed, impulsive decisions about the fate of the woman and the rest of the unwashed masses. Man, I told myself I wouldn’t make this about Trump’s White House. Here’s the thing. This is a flawed movie. It jumps around. It lacks a consistent flow of tension. It utterly fails to live up to the original film in its franchise. But I still enjoy it. The characters are interesting and acted well. Pete Postlethwaite’s chiseled cheekbones lurk in the background throughout much of the latter half of the movie. There’s a post-feminist commentary lurking just under the surface of it. It’s a dirty and grimy sci-fi monster prison flick. And I personally find it difficult to get too critical about something like that. In my self-appointed role of armchair script doctor, I would have taken it darker and moved the attempted rape scene much earlier and made it more brutal, making the Xenomorph’s attacks on the inmates into a textured rape revenge story as it lashes out in protection of its newfound queen. This would put Ripley into the conflicted scenario of protecting her attackers from the attacks of her protector. And that would have been some badass characterization. Say what you will, I still would rather spend a couple of hours watching Alien 3 over almost any James Cameron flick. — Rick Shingler See larger image Alien 3 Blu-ray Now the survivor of “Alien” and “Aliens” is the only woman on a lousy prison planet with thugs, zealots and the monster. New From: $8.60 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.