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Part 2- A Look Back: The Alien Quadrilogy (1979-1997) By Ari Steinberg

ALIEN3 (1992)

Alien 3

Courtesy of IMDb
Alien 3

Part of what made the first two Alien films so great was that the studio releasing them, 20th Century Fox, didn’t really care too much about them, allowing their directors to create the film they wanted without any interference. But with 1992’s Alien3, things didn’t go so well. In fact, this particular installment is mostly known for its incredibly troubled production, and fans weren’t exactly pleased with the final product…

In order to understand Alien3, it’s best to know about its production. This film had so many different proposed stories that it’s hard to count all of them. One had Hicks and Newt fighting aliens on Earth, another explored why the company Weyland-Yutani is so interested in the creatures, and another included an entirely wooden planet inhabited by monks. (Seriously!) Several directors were considered for the project, such as the original’s Ridley Scott, Renny Harlin, and Vince Ward, before a young David Fincher was hired. Fincher would later direct classics such as Se7en and Fight Club, but previously he had only directed music videos and commercials, and taking on such a highly anticipated sequel was no easy task.

Filming began without a finished script and $7 million worth of sets that were already built somehow had to be put into the story. Fincher constantly rewrote the script on set and had to describe each day of filming to the studio, who often interfered with the story and overruled most of Fincher’s decisions. There was not a single person working on the film who wasn’t unhappy in  some shape or form, and Fincher quit as soon as the editing process started. The movie was changed to an extent that it barely resembled what was filmed. A teaser trailer was released that even suggested the film would take place on Earth, which is as far from the truth as possible. The film was a flop, fan backlash was relentless, and Fincher has even gone on to say that no one hates the film more than him. Ouch.

But in 2003, with the release of the Alien Quadrilogy DVD box set, the Alien3 Assembly Cut was released, which incorporated 30 minutes of footage cut from the film’s theatrical release, fixing many gaping plot holes and more closely resembling the film before the studio tampered with it during editing. Because of this, fan reception has been a little kinder over the years, and the general consensus is that the Assembly Cut is a bit of a flawed masterpiece.

The film takes place immediately after the previous installment, with the surviving characters crash-landing on a prison planet, with everyone dying except Ripley. And it turns out that an alien has stowed away with her and impregnated a local quadruped. This then creates a new alien that breaks loose and starts killing everybody. The problem: They have no weapons. Also, Ripley finds out that she has been impregnated by the alien, and her days are numbered…

What initially bothered so many fans about this movie was how depressing it was. After the action-packed Aliens, this was a bit of a letdown. It also killed off two of the most popular characters from the previous film, Hicks and Newt, in the first five minutes. (Which results because of the convenient appearance of an alien whose presence is never explained) And then there is the impending death of the franchise’s beloved protagonist. If you hate the movie just for the characters’ deaths and that pesky plot hole, you will not enjoy the Assembly Cut. But if you can look past that and appreciate it as a dark monster movie, then there is plenty to enjoy here.

True, this movie is not for everyone, but for those who love dark monster movies, this is immensely entertaining, as it is very gory and suspenseful. Because of this, the deaths of beloved characters actually help to establish the movie’s dark and depressing tone. Also, the three movies have different themes: The first one’s is birth, the second’s is parentage, and the third one’s is death.

Another thing the movie does is how it establishes that the aliens take on characteristics of their hosts. We didn’t see this in the previous two films because the only available hosts were humans. But in this installment, the alien emerges from an animal. (A dog is used in the theatrical version, an ox is in the Assembly Cut) Because of this, the alien is now more animalistic, walking on four legs, making more violent kills and climbing up ceilings.

Another thing the movie does well, although not as good as the first two movies, is the characters. True, a pretty good portion of them aren’t too interesting, and the fact that everyone in the movie has a shaved head doesn’t really help either. But, luckily, there are a few standouts. Obviously, the best is Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, who is getting rather depressed from the aliens, directly or indirectly, causing the deaths of everyone around her, and she has to come to terms with her imminent death. Ripley says at one point to the alien, “You’ve been in my life so long, I don’t remember anything else,” which perfectly sums up Ripley’s and the aliens’ relationship throughout the series. This storyline, which supposedly brings the series to its end, gives the movie a great emotional core. There are also the inhabitants of the prison planet, who despite being former criminals, are actually pretty likable characters. The best of them is Charles S. Dutton as Dillon, who can best be described as Samuel L. Jackson if he was a little calmer than usual. There is also the doctor Clemens, played by Charles Dance, who is played up as a caring but tormented character that could survive a good portion of the movie, but then is unexpectedly killed off. And then there is Paul McGann as Golic, a disturbed prisoner fascinated by the alien, who may or may not be insane, and is wonderfully entertaining to watch.

Also, there are the technical aspects of the movie. There are portions of the movie where the alien is actually a puppet superimposed into a shot. Unfortunately, in these scenes it looks awfully fake. But when the alien is actually there in the scene, it looks fantastic. Again, the movie has a great production design, although not to the extent of the first two, and its murky brown cinematography gives the movie its own unique feel that makes it different from the first two. And Elliot Goldenthal’s score is wonderfully haunting, particularly in the film’s opening credits.

The movie is a bit of a mess, but the Assembly Cut helps present it in a positive light, and it could’ve been a lot worse. That said, though, it is wonderfully dark, entertaining, and its emotional side helps bring the series full circle… Until the fourth film came along. It’s not quite as good as the first two installments, but it’s quite underlooked, and it earns a 9/10 rating.

ALIEN: RESURRECTION (1997)

Alien: Resurrection

Courtesy of IMDb
Alien: Resurrection

As bad as fan reception originally was for Alien3, there was a general consensus that it at least nicely wrapped things up. With the death of the franchise’s main character, there was no way things could go any further.

But apparently someone forgot to tell that to 20th Century Fox, and the fourth installment was released five years later. Proving that nothing can stop a studio desperate for money, Alien: Resurrection was considered to be even worse, if only slightly, than its predecessor.

Taking place 200 years later, Ripley has been resurrected by scientists as a clone in order to access her now partially-alien DNA to start breeding aliens. After the aliens inevitably escape, Ripley and a group of space pirates try to survive and prevent the ship they are on from heading to its homebase: Earth. The simplicity, unoriginality, and silliness of that premise alone describes what is wrong with this movie.

After the disappointing outcome of Alien3, a screenwriter for the sequel was hired, then-unknown Joss Whedon. Whedon would later write and direct The Avengers 15 years later. But as good as that movie was, Whedon was not the best choice for an Alien movie. Not to say that he is a bad writer, but his style is very tongue-in-cheek. And when the series is very serious, bringing in a comic-book-esque writer makes it feel very out of place. Then, Jean-Pierre Jeunet was brought in, a French director who spoke very little English, and was under the impression that he was making a serious movie. (His lack of English resulted in many mistranslations on set) As bad as a straight-up silly Alien movie would’ve been, it at least would’ve felt focused if it went all the way. But because it was shot seriously, the meshing of the two tones that don’t work together at all resulted in an unfocused mess. It had a silly script, but was filmed in a way that none of the jokes were funny. It was filmed seriously, but the script had a silly tone. They should have just gone all the way with one distinct tone. And an English-speaking director would’ve helped too.

As mentioned before, the film’s silly script feels awfully out of place. And it’s not just reminiscent of a comic book; it’s also rather stupid and flat. Barely any characters have any personality, the plot (assuming there is any of it to begin with) merely serves as a string for a series of action sequences, so much doesn’t make sense, it feels very poorly-thought out, and again, it’s just too silly.

Sigourney Weaver returns to the franchise as Ripley’s clone. Since parts of the alien DNA are mixed in with hers, she is a different character than the first three films. This could have been very interesting if executed correctly, but the silliness of the script requires her to ham up her performance a little, and she doesn’t seem as interested in the film as previously.

The film also includes Winona Ryder, whose style is good for certain projects but she feels awfully cheesy and forced in here. Ron Perlman is also in it, but he unfortunately doesn’t have a whole lot to do. Perhaps the only slightly interesting character is Brad Dourif as a scientist who may have a few loose screws, to say the least. In the entire silliness of the movie, he is the only character who actually fits.

As many bad elements as there are in this movie, it does have a few standout moments. A scene where Dourif tries to seduce an alien from behind a glass window, pressing his mouth against the glass, is strangely entertaining. There is a shot where Ripley walks away from a basketball hoop, throws the ball over her shoulder without looking, and gets it through the hoop. (This didn’t include any animation or special effects, Weaver actually got the ball through the hoop) Although not quite as scary as in the previous films, the aliens are rather impressive-looking, with a certain beauty to them. (Well, as beautiful as a fierce killing machine from another planet can get) And there is a wonderfully executed scene where the main characters are escaping a pair of aliens through a flooded room.

Despite some good moments, the movie is too ludicrous and silly for its own good. The franchise should have ended with the third film, as it brought the series full circle and any other installments would have automatically felt unnecessary and forced. Alien: Resurrection is a 5/10 film.

Okay, so that just about wraps up the Alien series. To make a long story short, the first two were works of art, the third had its problems but was still immensely entertaining, and the fourth should simply be forgotten about. And this writer hasn’t seen Prometheus or the two Alien vs. Predator flicks, but it should be safe to assume they won’t be that great. (Seriously, the first AVP film has a PG-13 rating. Two hard-R franchises combined to make a PG-13, how does that make any sense?) So, just watch the first three and only watch the rest if you’re really curious.

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