My contention with the Alien franchise has been that each installment has been about a different sort of fear. The first was the fear of the unknown. That fear of something coming out of the shadows and devouring you. The second was the fear of being overwhelmed. The idea of being swarmed. The third film in the franchise focuses on the fear of desperation and the idea that death is not something that can be overcome.
Alien 3 has a very long and storied history with regards to its production. At one time it was supposed to take place on a desolate wooded planet involving a monastery filled with folks who believed they were living in a post-apocalyptic dark age where technology is shunned and Ripley and the alien’s arrival would trigger internal tensions that would grow alongside the sci-fi horror. That idea was eventually retrofitted into the final product where we got a prison planet filled with religious convicts. The film had multiple directors before the studio brought in first time director David Fincher, who turned in a cut that the brass didn’t quite care for. Reshoots and creative editing ensued. The theatrical cut is pretty well maligned although I always thought it was a pretty damn good film. The main beef fans seem to have is that the death of fan favorites Newt and Hicks before the end of the opening titles. They contend that such a bold move renders the previous movie worthless. I would argue that it really isn’t a break from what the series is about at all. I read an analysis of the series that the trilogy reads like a treatise on terminal illness. Alien is diagnosis, Aliens is about remission against all odds, and Alien 3 is about accepting the inevitability of death. Some complain that Alien 3 is far too nihilistic when compared to the previous installments, but it is a logical conclusion.
Alien 3 has more in common with Alien than it does Aliens, that much is certain. It is only the overwhelming love of Aliens that sinks Alien 3. The concept is sound, the acting is pretty great all around. Charles Dance is amazing as always and by this point in the series Sigourney Weaver has Ripley’s character down to a science. Fincher’s direction works well with the material and he creates a true sense of dread. The only real downside to the film is the creature FX done with CGI. Anytime the Alien is done practically, it looks menacing and macabre. The CGI creature however is laughable and kills the tension when it appears.
Honestly I would recommend giving the “Assembly Cut” of the film a look. It’s got far more character work than the theatrical print and the finale has far more weight because Ripley’s sacrifice plays better without the addition of the chest burster. That is just my honest opinion.
I am going to begin this review by saying that I started the novel on which this film is based and never finished it. I thought it was poorly written and more than a little dull. Don’t bombard me with hatred over it, it is only a matter of personal preference. I thought, structurally speaking, that it wasn’t very well constructed and it doesn’t deserve the praise that gets heaped upon it. It is a lot like The DaVinci Code in my eyes. A book that garners a lot of attention due to manufactured controversy with the actual content between the covers being average at best.
That having been said, I have seen the original film adaptation and felt that all of the problems with the book were still present on film and that it was highly unlikely that they could be fixed without a major overhaul. When talks of the remake started popping up I wasn’t interested simply because of my problems with the novel and the original adaptation. I figured that a remake wouldn’t help those problems and that the film wouldn’t be worth my time. Then I found out that David Fincher would be involved and that the cast included Rooney Mara, Daniel Craig, and Stellan Skarsgard. I was starting to think that perhaps there could be something there of interest to me. I heard rumors that the script by Steve Zaillian deviated quite a bit from the source and that Fincher would be doing a true “adaptation” rather than a direct translation from book to screen. I began to put my trust in a film that I could be forgiven for dismissing.
Then the trailers started to hit and I’ll be damned if it didn’t look like a real Oscar contender of a film. Fincher had seemingly crafted something stunning in terms of texture and mood that hooked me in and really made me want to sit down and watch with an open mind. I went in willing to give the material a fair shot and be proven wrong in regards to my feeling that the story was a dull, plodding mess that strove for intricacy but collapsed under its own sense of grandeur and intrigue.
I will say that this adaptation has mood and texture in spades. It is a well made film. It’s crafted and acted in a way that really is quite amazing. Rooney Mara gives a performance that really showcases her range and subtlety and Daniel Craig does a great job handling the part handed to him. The problem with the film, once again, is that the story is a muddled, dull, and honestly not-that-interesting mess. The narrative is extremely disjointed in the first hour and a half and by the time Craig and Mara finally pair up I had pretty much lost patience with the flow of the story. If someone like Fincher who did such an amazing job weaving the narrative of a film like Zodiac has trouble with something as pedestrian as this you know there’s a problem. The film really did not need to be as long as it ends up being and calling it a slog is being a bit generous. As an acting showcase it’s quite interesting but as an overall film it’s a disaster.
Fans of the novel will probably be pleased with this American adaptation but I can’t muster much excitement about it. I had hoped that Fincher could pull together the parts that did work in the novel and weave them effectively into a manageable film but what he released is a choppy, disjointed, over-long mess and I can’t really say that it was worth the money it took to make with the original Swedish version doing everything this one did. The only difference is a perceived upswing in production value and I do think that Craig did a better job in his part than his Swedish counterpart (who incidentally played the villain role in Mission Impossible : Ghost Protocol and didn’t really bring much to the table there either).
Sad to say, this was a real disappointment, even looking through the lens of my initial low expectations. Hopefully Fincher will put out something with the same sort of zing that The Social Network had before getting locked into the sequels for this because I’m almost certain that my sentiments will not be echoed by the majority of people who will see this and consider it cinematic gold.