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Alien3 (“Assembly” Cut)

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Ripley crash lands on a prison planet, the only survivor of the Sulaco in Aliens. Into this world of rejects she brings another Alien.

What a fascinating mess of a film! I can’t hate this movie, I won’t hate this movie. It’s a noble effort and a decent sci-fi film in it’s own right. It just had neglectful parents. It’s crying out for a Criterion release because I bet they could get uncut features with Fincher ripping into Fox. I’d love to hear the true story of how Fox screwed their own franchise. The twats. That the film is as good and as watchable as it is, is a miracle.

I watched, for the first time, the “Assembly Cut” and it is a very different beast. Without the still bitter Fincher it is as flawed as the theatrical release, but in a different way and more commendable. There is a glimpse of what could have been.

It was doomed from the start. Despite Aliens being a massive success, Ripley’s back story had been removed (restored in the SE) which pissed off Sigourney and so she favoured a script for this second sequel with a reduced role so she could walk away. But the meddling doesn’t stop there and Alien 3 is a mash-up of several ideas, and it shows. The creature design design is a let down (they asked Giger to update it, but he overdid it, so they ignored him) and then there’s David Fincher. Ridiculous move to hire the current wonder-boy then take every decision away from him.

You can’t start a production like that and expect it to work and those fundamental flaws formed the building blocks of the real villain of the franchise, Alien: Resurrection. It seems to me from the features on this film that some threads of the rejected scripts made it into the next film and possibly some of Giger’s more ludicrous designs which make Resurrections Alien/Human hybrid baby look good. Although his work should be honoured, I do think the man is utterly bonkers and his raw creativity was tempered for the first two so us mere mortals could actually understand it. Have you seen his books? He doesn’t think like the rest of us. His design for Alien 3 included lips and the creature would kill by “kissing”! Seriously. Get the man his tablets. Fincher said he wanted to get back to the erotic nature of Alien, so Giger swapped the jaws for big lips. As you do.

Another one who needs medication is Vincent Ward. His version of the screenplay was set on a wooden planet. With monks. Have they even seen Alien? This was almost the shooting script by all accounts. Fincher comes in at the last minute to deal with the new script. Poor sod made a decent go of it really.

So lets deal with what’s on the screen. The good stuff. Lets take a step back and think for a moment. How many good part threes are there? Not many, especially on the back of two genuine masterpieces. At least Alien 3 tries to go back to scary basics of one Alien, while extending the story to a new level. A natural level, because it’s always been about a fight between species and how our human nature keeps crippling us. Here the humans make a stand by becoming less than human.

The first two films are about survival. This is about death. So starting by killing off Newt and Hicks was controversial, brave and for this story, the right thing to do. This is nihilism. You liked those characters? Tough. They’re dead. It kind of puts the viewer in Ripley’s position. We’ve gone to hell and back with her and the reward is more death. Time for a change in attitude, which is only right really, because the shit only hit the fan last time because of her. Go back for Newt, she gave the Queen a ticket off the planet and didn’t check the ship before hypersleep. That’s silly. You always check the back doors locked before going to bed, don’t you? It’s about time she accepted some responsibility!

The idea of her being infected forces the issue. On this world, she’s as alien as the creature. To ram the point home it’s a prison planet. A female is the very last thing they need, especially as their exile is their own doing. They’ve made a conscious decision to separate and form their own society, where they simply function until death which they welcome in whatever form God chooses to deliver because they’ve found religion too. This efficient, unemotional and committed group is the first match for the Alien. There are no cats or little girls to worry about here. They’re going to fight to win, even if they die.

Excellent idea. Brilliant extension to Alien themes. However, it’s miserable. The first two films were just as deep, but remembered to wrap it all up in something recognisably entertaining. A haunted house and a rollercoaster. Here they give us depression. Cheers. Killing two fan favourite characters might have suited this story, but they alienate (snigger) most of the audience.
The assembly cut really improves things with plenty of back story to the prisoners, which only serves to support the excellent performances by the three or four main characters played by Dutton (the funeral is beautifully done), Dance, Glover and a deservedly extended role for McGann. They actually have personalities beyond Bald and Ugly now, which was a serious problem before, and they’re funny. A whole subplot was cut where they successfully capture the Alien and lock it up, before the nut (McGann) who was going on about “the dragon” lets it out again. That reminded me of Renfield from Dracula, obeying his enigmatic master. I loved that angle, absolutely made the film for me and they make me recommend it for you. It deserves a second chance on this score.

I wasn’t so keen on them changing the dog for an ox. I always liked the shot of the dog barking at the facehugger. Here the crash is completely different and you don’t see how the facehugger meets Babe (the name of the ox… just go with it). But the prisoners reaction is funnier when one finds the dead facehugger. The Alien overall is simply not that scary in either version. The sleeker design is cool, but CGI just doesn’t work. There’s even more of it in the SE.

Pacing and editing is an issue and is the biggest black mark against the movie compared with the first entries. No build up to pure adrenalin here and Lance’s cameo is just… odd. Without Fincher on board the whole enterprise was irretrievable, but I really recommend seeing this version. It had some good ideas as I said, looks great and could have been a perfect end to the trilogy.

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