Welcome to the Machine – Alien 3

Alien-3-BStudio interference is not a new phenomenon. Studio suits have always thought they know better than the creative people they hire, which is like hiring a grandmother to suck some of your eggs, but then insisting you show her how it is done. They regard the idea of trusting a creative talent with their money as the equivalent of giving a young man a blank cheque and asking him to drop it off at the bank, even though he will pass a speedboat shop on the way there. All too often, the concerned studio bosses will send a suit to the set to wrestle the “maverick” director under control. In 1992, the young man 20th Centry Fox didn’t trust to deliver his own vision of Alien 3 was David Fincher. You know, that guy who has gone on to be known as the visionary director, David Fincher.

Alien 3 is loathed by most. To the rest it bounces like a ball between mild indifference and sombre enjoyment. While it is not as offensive as many other sequels, neither does it inspire or excite. It merely exists.

In reality, whoever the director was, the project was essentially doomed from the start. With Aliens performing so well, and expanding on the claustrophobic world of Alien, it was only a matter of time before a further sequel would be requested. Producers Walter Hill and David Giler were initially hesitant about approaching another sequel, but in the end a plot was sketched out about the Aliens coming to Earth. A teaser trailer was made with the highly original tagline: “This summer, on Earth everyone can hear you scream“.

This idea was abandoned when Hill and Giler approached “visionary” New Zealand director Vincent Ward (Map of the Human Heart). He pitched an idea that he thought of on the plane to the U.S.: Ripley crash-landing on a planet full of medieval monks. Not just any planet though, a giant wooden one. Ward and the producers could never agree on the logistics of a wooden planet and pre-production got bogged down in creative differences and arguments. Ward walked and Hill and Giler were left with the kernel of an idea which they adapted into a story about a prison full of violent criminals and then hired a young ex-ILM cameraman and music video director David Fincher for the project. Fincher clicked immediately with Sigourney Weaver when he suggested that she shave her head for the part. The studio found him to be scary.

Fincher was so hamstrung and constantly second-guessed during the making of Alien 3 that since finishing the film, he has refused to ever speak about it.

From the outset, he was under extreme pressure. Thanks to the ill advised teaser trailer, Alien 3 had a release date that meant production needed to be rushed to an extreme degree. Consequently, the film is a mess. It started shooting without an agreed script thanks to time constraints and it feels like many different ideas all pulling in different directions. This was actually a sign of things to come as many big blockbusters subsequent to Alien 3 would suffer from patched up scripts, interference and creative tugs of war (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I am looking at you).

The first problem with Alien 3 is that it takes the bizarre move of killing off Newt and Hicks (two of the three surviving characters from Aliens) immediately, before a word is spoken. They are killed in their sleep during the escape pod crash. This has always been seen by many as a strange move. The dynamic between the new family unit at the end of Aliens provided some of the nicest moments in the film. Michael Biehn (Hicks) was not told that they were using a picture of him at the beginning of the film. He was already annoyed as he had found out that they were making a third film without him, he was more annoyed when he found out they were using his likeness for free. He ordered his agent to challenge this and ended up getting paid more for Alien 3 than he did for Aliens. Good move, Michael.

If only that were the only problem with Alien 3. Sub plots are hinted at and then not explored, Paul McGann (a real actor) appears in little more than a cameo and with different accents in just a few scenes. The reason for this is that not only was his sub plot cut out of the film, his character was changed mid shoot as well. The ending had to be changed as it was far too close to Terminator 2 (which had just finished shooting). This meant that Sigourney Weaver had to come back for the extensive ending reshoots, months after her work was done. She refused to reshave her head, so she has to wear a fairly awkward looking bald cap. Effects are shoddy, dialogue is not quite polished enough and the actors seem to be swimming against the tide of self destruction. The general feel of the film is mean and unpleasant. It feels like a gun was held to its head. The pressure and stress is there on screen for all to see, the feeling of it being a rush job is palpable with each frame of film exposed.

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However, somehow it just about works. Certainly when compared to the fourth film, it is a masterpiece.

The positives are many. The Alien itself was once again designed by H.R. Giger and became a sleek dog-like demon, able to run at a terrifying speed (Fincher got this across wonderfully with some superb steady cam work). The look of the Alien is on par with the first film once again. In Aliens the monsters were far too flimsy and disposable – bug like (aside from the superb Queen, obviously). In Alien 3 it is back to being the tall, sleek solo killing machine that stalks its prey and takes them out one by one. The tunnel sequences, in which the prisoners are attempting to trap the Alien, are some of the best in the film and certainly measure up with the rest of the Alien franchise. The cast is wonderful, Charles Dance, Brian Glover and Ralph Brown in particular are stand-out.

At the end of the day Alien 3 is much better than it would have been had they used the Earth plot. It is much better than the appalling film that followed it, but nowhere near as good as it could have been had Fincher been given time, assistance and space to be himself.

Originally posted 2013-06-27 20:01:47. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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