With the Blu-ray release of the Alien Anthology on the 25th of October HeyUGuys are taking a look at the entire Alien and Predator series. From Facehuggers to trophy hunting Predators, from the iconic and classic to the dubious crossovers – this is your ultimate retrospective.
So remember, even if you ain’t got time to bleed, in the Video Vault no-one can hear you scream…
Adam Lowes is our man in the penal colony.
Third entries into popular film franchises are notoriously difficult to get right. For every Toy Story 3, there are the second sequels to Blade, Spiderman, X-Men, The Terminator and even The Godfather, all of which have failed to deliver the goods and satisfy fans by either losing a grip on character continuity or generally been unable to match what has come before.
Alien 3, a departure from the previous film’s “Vietnam-in-space”, action-packed extravaganza, and considered a failure by most critics and audiences upon it’s release, won me over upon seeing it for the first time (thanks to a shoddy cinema copy on VHS) due partly because of it’s attempts to do something different with the material.
If the ending to Aliens had a fairy tale quality to it, with the surviving members of the ill-fated rescue mission all now finally safe and earth-bound, and Ripley having tucked Newt in and wished her sweet dreams, the beginning (and indeed the rest of) Alien 3 is like a waking nightmare. Any chance of living happily ever after for Sigourney Weaver’s iconic character and co. is suddenly gone when the spaceship experiences an onboard fire and launches an escape pod containing the crew, into the stars.
The pod then crashes on Fiorina ‘Fury’ 161, an all-male penal colony, full of shaven-headed (due to space lice) hardened criminals, many of whom have now taken the religious path in seeking atonement for their crimes. Ripley awakens in the prison hospital where she discovers that she too has been scalped and is informed by a kindly doctor (Charles Dance) that she is the only survivor of the crash, well…at least the only human one.
Not even the presence here of Brian Glover (bread advert voice-over extraordinaire and the fascist PE teacher from Kes) as the prison warden was enough to distract me my sympathetic reaction to the grim surroundings and situations Ripley has to contend with in this film. The prisoners all look suitably malnourished and grimy, although that Hollywood conceit of casting all British actors to play them (and the guards) is present and correct, although arguably, this does add another dimension to the film.
I think one of the main problems fan of the series had here was that they couldn’t reconcile the fact that after such a gripping and bombastic second film, this was another similarly thoughtful and meditative take on the material to that of the first film. In many ways, it’s almost the antithesis of Aliens. There is only one creature stalking all the men but (owing to the fact that this is a prison planet) all forms of firearms have been prohibited, leaving the prison inhabitants extremely vulnerable and essentially sitting ducks. The space marines back on LV-426 could easily destroy a whole enclave of aliens with one round from their pulse guns (although they were ultimately outmatched too).
Around two-thirds of the way into the film when you think things can’t possibly get any worse, they do. Ripley makes the horrific discovery that she has been impregnated with an egg from a stray facehugger who must have hitched a lift on the spaceship after the events of the previous film. I remember watching this for the first time and feeling utterly devastated that this strong paternal figure, who had managed to survive two other near-fatal encounters with the xenomorph, was now destined to meet her fate because of the species.
This is why Alien 3 resonated so much for me at the time. No matter the flaws, you will rarely see a mainstream sci-fi picture with such a grim sense of foreboding doom. This was further confirmed to me when I first watched the scene where Charles Dutton (playing the religious leader of the inmates), giving his fellow prisoners a pep talk and uttering the line that they were “all gonna die anyway” so they should do their best to eliminate the source of what was killing them.
It’s been well documented that director David Fincher had a nightmare of a time on his debut feature, clashing with the studio and having to contend with endless, day-to-day rewrites. There have been many of occasions where films with similar problems have failed spectacularly from both a critical viewpoint and at the box office (the recent Jonah Hex springs to mind), so it’s to Fincher’s credit here that he was able to sculpt something interesting and unique out of all the troubles, and maintain a vision of sorts.
The bittersweet and highly touching ending, where Ripley “gives birth” and is a mother-figure once again for a fleeting moment, resonated with me on a far more emotional level than the celebrated ending of Terminator 2, another considerately more successful sequel at the time.
For that reason alone, I will always look upon Alien 3 as a fascinating attempt to take a film series in a different direction to that of it’s predecessors which, for better or worse, still managed to leave a lasting and profound affect on me – a feat that appears to be increasingly harder to do in modern mainstream filmmaking of any genre.