Friday, August 29, 2014

David Fincher Retrospective: Alien 3 (1992)

Alien 3: The Assembly Cut
Director: David Fincher
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Paul McGann, Lance Henriksen
Rated:  Not Rated

You've been in my life so long, I can't remember anything else.

Its a little odd that I am covering Alien 3 and I haven't done my Alien Retrospective yet.  But, as you'll remember, we've done Blade II and no Blade Retrospective.  It's all because we're doing David Fincher's filmography leading up to the release of his newest film, Gone Girl.  I love going back and doing the filmographies of some of my favorite directors, so every now and then you'll see one.  Last year was Guillermo del Toro, this year we're doing David Fincher.  As, always, I like to try and tie these things into some sort of relevancy so they don't see random.  Then again, I sometimes just do what I want too.  Well, the wheel landed on you, Mr. Fincher.
I've chosen to cover the Assembly Cut of Fincher's first film, Alien 3, as its the closest thing we have to what he originally envisioned for the project.  Quite frankly, its also a much better version of the film.  A film that, the subject of our retrospective doesn't even acknowledge its existence.  David Fincher's jump from music video director to cinematic sci fi epic wasn't a pleasant one.  Alien 3 was already a troubled project from the start and he was thrown into the mix.  A follow up to the largely praised and succesful Aliens in 1986 was proving to be a massive challenge at 20th Century Fox.  We'll spare those details for the Alien retrospective as this about Fincher.  Basically, David was brought in to make a script that was a hodge podge of different scripts and has to force in and work with sets that were already made for another script.  He had to make stuff that didn't work, "work" while at the same time getting a lot of interference from studio heads in the creativity department.
If you own the Blu-ray of the film, you can literally with your eyes and ears, see and hear David Fincher frustrated and struggling to make this film.  His appearance is stressed beyond belief.  Fincher is also past a breaking point as he is constantly bad mouthing 20th Century Fox straight to the behind the scenes cameras and at any chance he can get.  He looks of a man who just wants to get the hell off this film and as far away from a film set as humanly possible.  If you only own the DVD set, you can't see this footage as Fox excised it, but it was restored into the Blu-ray edition (one of the best Blu-ray releases of all time).  The worst experience I think he ever had on a film was his first outing.  It was a mess of a situation and an extremely high pressured one at that.  David Fincher won't talk about this film and acts as if it doesn't exist.  When it comes to bringing people back for commentaries and bonus features, he refuses to partake.
Not helping the fact afterward, is that Alien 3 proved to be a polarizing sequel.  Fans of the first two films were pretty livid upon release and for many years afterward.  They HATED Alien 3.  And really, they only hated the film for an opening act reveal and were pretty much blind to the rest of it.  There is one conceit to be made for the film and that's pretty much the unaccounted for egg laid on the ship.  But, that's not what it was that angered people.  Nope, it was the killing off of two beloved characters from the previous film that set everyone off, ignoring the rest of the film that would follow.  Hicks and Newt, in one swift story stroke were gone and so were the fans' brains.
Their deaths are actually a pretty strong and significant piece of what drives this very emotional and bleak story in Alien 3.  Its a film about coming to grips with fate, to stop running from the inevitable, to face your greatest fears head on.  Ripley suffers great loss in this film, as what seemed to be building a new life for herself has been undercut by the monster that seems to be following her throughout her life.  Yes, this is a very dour and depressing tale, but honestly, its pretty gripping and somewhat moving to see unfold.  To the movie's biggest strength, I honestly feel that this is the finest performance from Sigourney Weaver of any of the films in the series and it truly drives the film.
What Alien 3 wanted to do is go back to the roots of the original film.  The previous entry went so big, that going bigger might just be too much or too ridiculous.  It manages to also feel very much its own, but also perfectly fit in the world that Ridley Scott and HR Giger set up in the first outing.  There's its own sense of gothic settings and feel.  Up'ing the stakes by going more minimal, Alien 3 is essentially the Xenomorph running loose on the Nostromo again, but this time its an old prison facility (now used for mining) that lacks the technologies and weaponry that seemed so taken for granted in the first film.  Adding to the difficulties for Ripley, its inhabited by only males, and murderer and rapists who haven't seen a woman in maybe decades at that.  There's a struggle not only to destroy the Xenomorph, but to become accepted and to once again try and lead a band of strangers.
David Fincher definitely shows his sense of style and thematics in the film, but you can definitely see his influences too.  Mainly, the film looks like its inspired by the works of Terry Gilliam.  Its got that smokey room aspect and the sort of dirty industrial cyber-punk science fiction setting.  However, Fincher makes it his own by getting this even dirtier and downright despicable at times.  In the Assembly Cut, we're treating to a new opening, and one that I think has some gorgeous set design and camera work.  The sort of "sand storm" type thing going on the surface of the planet is super cool.  The costuming with goggles, scarves and the rags worn by the prisoners is all feasible and really feels "lived in" like the original Alien (and Aliens) had going for it.  
This Assembly Cut of the film features a lot of the stories choppy problems that kind of hampers the original theatrical cut.  Even, though, I must say I don't mind the theatrical cut, but prefer the Assembly.  The prisoners become less one note and are much more fleshed out and are quite a bit more 3 dimensional characters.  The final action sequence, chasing the Xenomorph through tunnels is also done a lot better here as well.  Yes, it still has the 90s lens attached to the POV shots, but what can ya do.  Most notable, the chestbursting comes from an ox and not a dog here and Ripley doesn't have the Queen magically pop out of her just in time at the end.  If you weren't a fan of Alien 3 for non-fanboy reasons, I definitely suggest you take a look at this cut of the film.  Its quite an improvement.  Of all the films in the Alien franchise, this is the only Director's/Extended/Unrated Cut that actually improves and betters the film.
Never a hater, always a fan I suppose.  While it was my least favorite in the series when there was only three films to go on, I never hated the film.  I accepted what was given to me.  Alien 3 is actually quite a nice bit of horror in space with plenty of style and a pretty bleak and depressing but touching send off for the character of Ripley.  The biggest problem for Alien 3 upon arrival was that it wasn't the film the fans were wanting, so they immediately turned on it.  I understand a bit of disappointment.  They wanted a followup to Aliens and didn't get it.  But, what we were given wasn't bad either.  Once you give this film a second or third look, you'll see its pretty damn good in its own right.  And I think its telling that David Fincher went on to become such a renowned director like the two men who did Alien films before him.  You MUST remember, while everyone acted like Fincher had big directorial shoes to fill in following Ridley Scott and James Cameron, when they were making their Alien films they themselves weren't that renowned either.  Scott's big jump as a director WAS Alien only having The Duelists prior.  James Cameron hit success with Terminator and then capitalized on Aliens.  If you can see thing for what they ACTUALLY were, Fincher only followed suit.  Alien 3 is a film that I think time has been kind too and hopefully can finally be appreciated on its own accord.

If I can say 1 thing to assist your enjoyment of Alien 3:  Hicks and Newt die right at the beginning of the movie.  Get over it and watch the rest of the film :)

NEXT TIME:  We found out just what it is that's in the box

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