Wednesday, November 29, 2006

TRADING CARD CLOSE UP # 8: Alien 3


I've been a long-time admirer of Alien 3, the second sequel to Ridley Scott's 1979 classic, Alien. I'm not one of those fan fanatic bashers who hated the film because the creators had the audacity to kill Newt, Hicks, Bishop or any other beloved character/survivor of Aliens (1986). On the contrary, I've loudly championed Alien 3 (1991) as a great film, in a retrospective here.

Some of what I wrote in that piece:

"Fincher directed a visually dazzling film as determinedly different from Aliens as Cameron's vision was from the Scott original. Perhaps more significantly, Fincher created a film with a message more powerful and relevant than either predecessor. What the Alien faithful actually objected to in Alien 3 was not directorial approach, plot, or even theme, but Fincher's purposeful overturning of every expectation they had carried into the theater with them.

The roots of Alien 3's public relations nightmare can be pinpointed in the very nature of film sequels. The trick in producing a successful follow-up is giving audiences a big dollop of familiar material while also feeding them a diet of something different enough to avoid accusations of "ripping off" or "cashing" in on the source material. Fincher's task was doubly difficult because he not only had to produce a sequel that genuflected to Alien and Aliens, but one that could be heralded as a modern cinematic masterpiece and stand proudly in the franchise valhalla with the highly-regarded earlier movies.

This was no easy task, but Fincher succeeded by adopting an approach he would later repeat in Seven (1995), The Game (1997) and Fight Club (1999), by pointedly toying with audience perceptions and expectations. Although Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, the Bishop Android (Henriksen), the titular xenomorph, and even Weyland-Yutani, the villainous corporation, all returned for Alien 3 action, every plot twist in the third film boldly dashed viewer expectations.

...Appropriately, the film's dialogue echoed the decision to make a surprising, dangerous sequel. The film's lead convict, Dillon (Charles Dutton), gave voice to Alien 3's overall philosophy during a funeral service for the early casualties of Alien 3. Eulogizing the dead, he declared (for the benefit of Ripley and, no doubt, the audience) that "there aren't any promises. Nothing's certain. Only that some get called; some get saved. " It was this application of cruel, random - but realistic, fate, not some kind of "loyalty" to franchise stock characters, that dominated Fincher's challenging sequel."

Anyway, I'm writing about this subject today and featuring Alien 3 as my eighth trading card close-up. Because, let's face it, the execs at 20th Century Fox meddled with Fincher's vision, and Fincher - in my estimation - is one of the few modern "greats" in terms of directing horror/thriller films. Looking at Panic Room today, I can see that he marshals CGI imagery as part of a film's tapestry, not as a special effects gimmick, for instance. In fact, if Hitchcock were alive and making movies today, I imagine he'd use CGI in the manner that Fincher does. So - if execs hadn't interfered in the making of Alien 3, imagine just what a true, unadulterated masterpiece it might have been.

We already know the making of the film was a difficult period, but these trading cards from Star Pics are very revealing. The cards show tons of deleted scenes that would have changed the nature of the film we saw; and would have (perhaps?) remained truer to Fincher's vision. An example: there's a shot of Ripley in the mud of Fury 161 -- what is this? It's a different introduction in the film for her character than the one we saw. There's another card with a shot of her being carried into the prison installation, and it doesn't look familiar either Yet another of her finds her inside a cracked cryo-tube! I also know that in the original (and shot...) version of the alien birth, the xenomorph emerged from oxen, not a dog. Indeed, in the theatrical version of Alien 3, there's an entire subplot missing involving the capture of the Alien, and its release by a deluded prisoner named Golic.

So I gaze at these cards and wonder what might have been. In 1992, David Fincher was decried as a music video director and a hack, and his contribution to the Alien saga was routinely attacked, slighted and misinterpreted. With more than twelve years of hindsight, and a career now composed of great great films, many observers realize the critical community (and fans...) of the day were dead wrong. These cards remind us that somewhere - still - there's a great work of art in Alien 3, just bursting to get out...

And I still think Alien Resurrection sucks.

5 comments:

  1. Anonymous10:41 AM

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for speaking the truth about the Alien saga! I loved Alien 3 from day one. It is one of the coolest science fiction films I have ever seen. I loved it's atmosphere and sense of nihilism. The ending is so haunting. I was happy Newt got killed. She was the most annoying part of Aliens. Have you seen the extended version of Alien 3 that's in the box set?

    Oh, and yes, Alien Resurrection is garbage. 20th Century Fox can keep that Joss Whedon penned piece of crap.

    Chris Johnson

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  2. Lee Hansen1:04 PM

    Wait just a GD minute. Where did all this come from. I thought I was the only one who trumpeted the awesomeness of A3. Now, there are others. Why didn't any of you speak up whilst I was getting a severe beatdown by the haters at Con*Con '97?

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  3. Lee Hansen1:04 PM

    Wait just a GD minute. Where did all this come from. I thought I was the only one who trumpeted the awesomeness of A3. Now, there are others. Why didn't any of you speak up whilst I was getting a severe beatdown by the haters at Con*Con '97?

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  4. Wanted to toss out a tip of the hat here, as your Alien 3 piece was my 'gateway drug' to the blog in the first place. I'd enjoyed it in the theatre quite a lot, but was always rather dismayed by the reactions of others. This gave words to my percolated thoughts. Bravo, say I.

    And I'll echo the comment above re: the box set (which I proudly own), and add that there's some simply fascinating extra features regarding the pre-production and such that shines a light further on what this could have been. Worth making the time for, if you haven't indulged. Posterity and all that.

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  5. I think Fincher is the best director to make his arrival in the last 20 years. (Sorry Christoper Nolan fans) He, IMO, has not made a bad film in his entire career. His nihilistic approach, his dark material is right up my alley and I look forward to each and every directorial effort. 'Alien 3', was unfairly criticized, but it was a lose-lose situation for him from the start. His first feature film, following 2 very successful films in the franchise, by 2 very well respected and successful directors, a powerful star and executive producer in Weaver and sky high-expectations, he was set up for failure and yet he still delivered.
    Over the last 20 years, the film, due in part to the putrid 'Resurrection' and AVP has recieved better reviews and it is about time. Some directors never rebound professionally from that kind of scathing review and it would have been criminal considering the type of A+ talent that Fincher is.

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