Friday, May 22, 2020

Summer '92 Redux - May 22, 1992: ALIEN 3

by Adam Riske and Patrick Bromley
This is the Summer ‘92 Redux entry with the most studio meddling.

Adam: Welcome back to Summer ‘92 Redux, our revisit of the Summer 1992 movie season. Memorial Day weekend was loaded in 1992, with the most anticipated film of the bunch being David Fincher’s feature directorial debut of the long-awaited Alien 3. Entries in the Alien series come with a lot of baggage, such as multiple cuts of the films as well as intense scrutiny and expectations. Alien 3 was a victim of every bit of bad luck a big-budget tentpole could have. The film was long in development, with so many script rewrites and studio interference that by the time David Fincher directed the movie he was in a no-win situation. The experience was so poor he has never wished to put together his own director’s cut, so instead an assembly cut (which was closer to Fincher’s vision of the movie) was made by someone else. We’re not going to be covering the assembly cut for the purposes of this column (that’s not what was out on this date in 1992), but feel free to talk about it in the comments. It’s unseen by me but better than the theatrical cut by reputation.

This viewing was maybe my third or fourth of Alien 3, a movie I never liked very much in the past. It was something of a forbidden fruit for me in 1992, which was the year before the floodgates opened and I was watching horror on a regular basis. I was intrigued by Alien 3 at the time of its release largely because it was the new movie out and it had its own series of trading cards, which I bought a few packs of at the time. I finally caught up with the movie on video and it was my first Alien movie. What a weird place to start! Understandably, I didn’t get it (I remember thinking it was boring) and then I put the movie aside for a long time.

Cut to today. I rewatched the theatrical cut of Alien 3 and it played better for me than it has in the past. I like the movie. It’s flawed to be sure, but if you view it as Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) Logan, it works well. It’s like an epilogue where the hero is spent, and these are her sad last days. It’s a brave choice even if it’s not satisfying compared to what came before it. The funny thing is (especially in the first hour) it’s a movie that doesn’t seem to even want to be an Alien movie. It’s much more interested in being a prison drama and character study. That’s good, because the stuff with the xenomorph in Alien 3 is not great. It’s shot way too close, everything is quick cut and obscured, which makes very little sense artistically. We know what the xenomorph looks like so there’s no suspense to the reveal and Aliens set a high bar with the action so the approach in Alien 3 to go backwards is especially disappointing. And the visual effects (which somehow won an Oscar) look strange even by 1992 standards.
I could talk about this movie all day, so I want to pass it to you. What did you think of the Alien 3 theatrical cut on this watch and did you like the movie in the past?

Patrick: This movie made me tired. I’ve always been a fan of the Alien franchise despite having very mixed feelings on the second two movies. I love the way that each film offers a completely different take on this world, each almost existing in its own separate genre. This goodwill towards the series extends even to Alien 3 even though I wasn’t crazy about it on this rewatch. Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever really been crazy about it, but I keep coming back to it every few years because its very vocal fanbase swears it’s a misunderstood masterpiece. I have yet to see that movie.

I like what you said about this being Ripley’s Logan. I’ve always seen it as being a movie about trauma -- about Ripley being forced to live with the terrible shit she’s been through. The alien inside of her is the literal manifestation of that trauma. She and Bishop have that amazing scene in which he asks to be shut off -- something along the lines of “It hurts too much, I’d rather be nothing” -- that offers one possible way to deal with trauma. Ripley chooses to keep living, even after her surrogate family is unceremoniously taken away from her. Where the metaphor breaks down is at the end, because said “trauma” gets the better of her. I know some people would argue she goes down fighting, literally strangling the alien as it bursts out of her chest, but she’s still making the choice to end her life. I don’t have it all sorted out yet, but I don’t particularly like this ending for her. It’s just too bleak. Then again, this is an incredibly bleak movie. As I said, it exhausts me to watch it and talk about it.

Adam: It does feel too bleak. The end of Aliens was triumphant, so going to a nihilistic tone in Alien 3 feels like making leaps that should have come incrementally over the span of a movie or two. One of my biggest complaints about Alien 3 is that it feels like it hates Ripley for some reason. I wonder how much of that was Sigourney Weaver’s mood about Ripley at the time this movie was made. By this point she had clout over the handling of this character, and she could have refused to play Ripley in this version if she didn’t want to go through sequences of attempted rape and eventual martyrdom. Maybe she wanted to definitively wrap the series up and chose or agreed to the most extreme ways in which to do that.

Patrick: The opening half is the stronger stuff, I think. When it’s more interested in being a prison drama and a character study of where Ripley is at, the movie has me. I like all her scenes with Charles Dance, and I like the whole idea of a prison planet. Though he’s all but disowned the movie, David Fincher obviously knows how to compose a good-looking shot, even if everything in the whole goddamn movie is brown. Once it becomes a more traditional Alien movie, it becomes almost entirely uninteresting to me. The characters being killed off are interchangeable, the alien itself, as you pointed out, lacking any mystery. Nothing new is added to the mythology, making it just a retread of what’s been done before and done better.

Adam: The scenes with Charles Dance are good even though I have trouble hearing him and need to put on subtitles when he speaks in this movie. His and Weaver’s dynamic is interesting, and I enjoy that they see each other clearly for what they are: lonely people who are too tired to judge one another too harshly. As you stated also, the look of the movie is phenomenal too even though it’s drab. It’s like drabness with Tony Scott gloss.

Question for you: Is any of the lore regarding Weyland-Yutani interesting to you? My favorite parts of the Alien movies are always Ripley and the action/suspense. I feel like these movies too often get bogged down with their world building.

Patrick: The Weyland-Yutani stuff rarely interests me, no, particularly because it’s always the same dynamic: the corporation is evil and values the life of the xenomorph above the life of humans. We saw it in both the first and second films done better, so once it comes into play here it’s dead on arrival. Aliens grew the xenomorph mythos in such new and interesting ways that this one suffers by comparison. The only development is that it moves a little differently because it was born out of a dog in a sequence that’s just another example of just how mean-spirited this movie is. It’s almost like David Fincher wanted to burn his directorial career to the ground before it ever got started.
You mentioned the effects earlier, and I don’t really think they work all the time. Xenomorph-vision is a choice I can’t really get behind because it makes the monster less “other” and, by extension, less scary. While the stuff in the practical suit is good, it’s just a retread of what Ridley Scott had done over a decade earlier. There appears to be an attempt to be cutting edge in 1992 by including what I guess are computer-generated effects, but they’re not there yet. Am I wrong?

Adam: We park our cars in the same garage. The Xenomorph-vision doesn’t work because a) visually they did nothing interesting with it and b) the whole point of these movies is “Oh no, I hope the alien doesn’t get me” and not “Go Alien, get ‘em!” What’s the benefit of seeing it hunt its prey especially when it’s 20+ interchangeable bald guy Gilliam-esque bench players?

Significant gripes aside, I still like Alien 3 more than not especially compared to what came after in the franchise. It’s an interesting experiment even if I didn’t need to see Ripley’s “The Last Dance.” I’m guessing I know your answer already but what was your reaction to Newt and Hicks dying during the opening credits of Alien 3? It’s hard for me to wrap my head around how antagonistic that is to this series’ fanbase. I wonder if the opening night crowds were audibly pissed.

Patrick: It’s unforgivable, and the fact that I’m able to like anything that comes after that decision is a testament to the talent and skill of the people who worked on the movie. I know there’s a comic series that came out a year or so ago that works from an Alien 3 script that features Hicks (I don’t know about Newt) and I wish they had made that movie instead of this one. I’m much more interested in the idea of this makeshift nuclear family having to confront another alien as a unit, because it would be an inversion of everything that came before it. Once again, though, David Fincher seems determined to give everyone and everything the middle finger. It’s a tendency of his I like less and less the older I get. His best movies don’t really do it, which probably has something to do with why they’re his best movies. That’s not counting Benjamin Button, of course, which is what happens when someone with no sense of real human emotion tries to approximate real human emotion.

I haven’t rewatched it yet -- I plan to -- but in my memory, I prefer Alien: Resurrection to this one. I know that’s a controversial position and one which won’t win me any favor among movie fans, but I think that’s where I’m at. It’s a weirder, sometimes sillier movie, but I’m more on that film’s wavelength than I am on this one. It’s been years since I last saw it, though, so I might rewatch it and want to take this all back. Anything past Resurrection hasn’t really been my jam, including the two Ridley Scott prequels.
Adam: I haven’t seen Alien: Resurrection in a long time but I remember thinking they wasted a cast with a lot of actors I like, including Winona Ryder, Michael Wincott, and Dan Hedaya. Why the hell isn’t the entire movie just Alien v. Wincott? They both bleed acid! I’m with you on the prequels. It’s just a bunch of wheel spinning in my humble opinion. Let me know how Alien: Resurrection is when you rewatch it.

Also released this week in 1992 were Encino Man, which we’ll talk about at length soon, and Ron Howard’s shot at a David Lean movie - Far and Away - starring then-power couple Tom Cruise and 70mm ‘90s Nicole Kidman, which automatically makes it like 100mm. I rewatched it. It’s not that good. I can’t believe how long they spent on bare knuckle boxing and how little is devoted to the land grab which is by far the most exciting part of the movie. What are your thoughts on Far and Away? It has a good end credits Enya song.

Patrick: I’ve only seen it once and it was many years ago. I don’t remember loving it, but maybe I needed to see it on the big screen. I wanted to break out my DVD and revisit it, but it’s in a box somewhere. Everything is. No millimeters for me.

What should we talk about next week?

Adam: The only wide release, Sister Act! See you next week.


  1. Just a correction: The film was nominated for the Visual Effects Oscar, but didn't win. It lost to Death Becomes Her.

    1. I must have misread. The Academy chose wisely.

  2. Adam, I have those same trading cards! (Complete set, even.) They also had comic book art and behind the scenes pics. The best one was the makeup before-and-after of the guy who got his face burned up.