I love how this film starts. Acknowledgement of the past yet re-establishing Ripley as the lone wanderer, forever to drift through space – Weaver herself states that she believed Ripley is a “solitary person”. The happy ending that finished Aliens is no more – Fincher (who would go to direct the ever-pessimistic Se7en, Fight Club and Zodiac) is behind the camera. Walter Hill and David Giler dictates that Newt and Hicks are dead – and Ripley is now (Its not a dream this time folks!) impregnanted by an alien - and she has the Queen Alien growing inside her. Alien 3 was famously a troubled production – possible stories considered included a plot whereby Ripley became a minor role and Michael Beihn’s Cpl Hicks became our lead protaganist whilst another plot involved a planet made of wood and inhabited by Monks. Directors considered included a possible return for Ridley Scott and newcomers Renny Harlin and Vincent Ward. It really sounds like producers wanted to make a truly incredible film but simply couldn’t trust a directors singular-vision to follow-through on. At the very least, you can tell from the outset that as flawed as Alien 3 is, it clearly harks back to the single-alien killing off humans one-by-one … rather than an overblown, excessive ‘action-war’ movie. In addition, unlike Aliens, Alien 3 actively tries (and fails) to tackle bigger issues than simply survival – possible themes about disease and evil, faith and class, are all touched upon. The unevenness of the film, I believe, is an attempt at ensuring the film had a certan ‘pace’ and ‘action’ that imitated James Cameron’s interpretation on the franchise. But Fincher’s version was trying to honour Ridley Scotts vision – and so you have a flawed-film … that aches to be so much more.
The story takes place on an industrial, lead-refinery whereby it is inhabited by a group of convicted criminals – effectively a maximum security prison. Ripley crashes down on the planet, Newt and Hicks are dead, and a face-hugger attacks a dog (an Ox in a ‘Special Edition’ version of the film). During a ceremony that cremates the bodies of Newt and Hicks, the alien is born of the canine and consequently begins to kill off the prisoners one-by-one and Ripley comes face-to-face with the alien but is not killed…
Ripley, with the Queen inside her, is immune to the alien … but she knows the creature is growing and she knows that the other alien needs to be killed. The very nature of the story bears a constant theme about evil inside a human. Does such a thing exist? Interestingly, akin to the themes of Ang Lee’s Hulk (Green, alien-creature inside a human), the film seems to constantly refer back to the idea about biological and hereditary evil. For example, the convicts have changed their perspectives through the religion they have adopted, but we question how true they are to their beliefs as Ripley is threatened and attacked by a small group. In another instance, the character of Clemens (Charles Dance) is shown as a character who has been rehabilitated – he committed a crime and is held accountable for it. Dillon (Charles S. Dutton) is equally held on account of being a “murderer and rapist of women” but he leads the prisoners on the inside and ultimately sacrifices himself for another.
I am also aware of an interpretation whereby the ‘evil inside’ represents cancer or AIDS? The imagery within the film depicts bodies with little hair whilst the Queen inside Ripley constantly seems to eat away at her and cause her to become worse and worse throughout the film. Akin to these diseases, you cannot fight it and it preys on anybody- weak or strong. The AIDS parallel continues further as the main setting is amongst men who are isolated from society – potentially highlighting the gay-community in the 1980′s and early 1990′s. Society discriminates them and hides the prisoners from view. The prisoners look for answers too and turn to celibacy and faith – even adopting ‘routines’ but it is still not enough – the alien will still reach them.
This interpretation can be supported further as the ‘birth’ of the ‘disease’/alien is juxtaposed with the cremation of the Hicks and Newt – the two characters who made the family unit. Dillon, a prisoner says:
Why? Why are the innocent punished? Why the sacrifice? Why the pain? There aren’t any promises. Nothing certain. Only that some get called, some get saved…
Briefly, the adoption of faith by the convicts is equally interesting. Does it highlight how people trapped and isolated develop faith while Ripley, unlike the convicts (except Dillon perhaps?) accepts death gladly and gives her own life for the future and life of others. Opposed to dying for a spiritual cause, Ripley dies for a human and earthly cause. Unfortunately, I have not seen Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc, but I understand that this film is an inspiration for Alien 3. At any rate, like Ripley, Joan of Arc was a martyr – so the martyrdom of a woman of faith is contrasted nicely with Ripley – a martyr of no-faith … except her constant-faith in humanity.
The one thing that constantly challenges Ripleys faith in humanity is our favourite company – Weyland-Yutani.Weyland-Yutani, equally representing capitalism and the authority of those in power, portrays a very sinister attitude towards that small sentiment within Alien. “Crew Expendable”. What is the value of an employee in comparison to the value of a businesses financial wealth. What is the value of a soldiers-life – have they not accepted the ‘risk’ of death and gambled their chances? And finally, what is the value of a convicted-felon? A murderer … a rapist … can we place a value on their life? Interestingly, I have only watched Werner Herzog’s three-part series Deathrow about the very question about the state taking a life – and the nature of capital punishment. Alien 3 tackles it in allegory and within the concept of a more sinister evil at work – not the alien – but the power and control of others.
The underlying tension regarding a Medical-Evacuation crew due to ‘save’ the convicts is revealed to save the alien instead. The trust Ripley had for Bishop at the end of Aliens is destroyed as Bishop II is sent to comfort Ripley … revealed as a liar, sent to save the alien. Where is the human element? Where is love for one another? What is the future of the world if these are who control it?
David Thomson writes how the “prison is Dickensian: the inmates are shabby, eccentric, startling characters who share in a type of subdued, oppressed state”. The capitalist-stance manages to control these archaic and traditional attitudes to life – and erases the history that humans have created.
David Fincher was brought to the project late-in-the-day. Much of the story was adapted and changed throughout production. Fincher does not discuss the film much, but he spoke to MTV and stated the following:
My notion was that the third movie would be Ripley’s acceptance of the notion of
sacrifice. She’d had the Me Decade of the first movie. She’d come from the
periphery of the story. Anybody could be the commander as long as they stuck to
their guns and had a moral compass. And then the second movie she found a
maternal instinct. And then I wanted the third one to be that she realizes that
it’s not about her generation. It’s really about the future. The notion was to
put the monster among the wretched. She was going to galvanize the wretched to
self-sacrifice. Giving up their lives to save people who had banished them and
should have been outside their scope of interest and that they would find some
value in dying for the right reasons.
One thing that Fincher’s film did reveal is Ripley’s first name: Ellen. The name she was given at her birth – the name her admirers and family would refer to her by. Lt Ripley is her professional, company name – but Ellen is her personal and human name.
From the corrupted script Fincher was handed, he gave the third film a warmth of colour. The idea of fire and heat, throughout the film almost gave the impression we were in hell. When the filmis edited together and, I would assume the CGI was incomplete, Fincher showed long sequences from the perspective of the alien itself – chasing the convicts around the wide-corridors and sewers of the complex. Yes, I prefer Alien 3 to Aliens – not because it is consistent or perfectly made; it is not. But Aliens aspired to be an action movie – a balls-to-the-wall shoot-em-up. It lacked substance and depth. Alien 3 tried so hard to be something more meaningful and with a depth that rivalled the first film – and that ambition alone, combined with such hard work from Fincher on his debut feature film, cannot be ignored. Personally, if I think about an iconic shot from the alien franchise, it is from Alien 3. I don’t think about Ripley suited-up for me to quote “Get away from her, you bitch!” and if I was to choose a sequence I would obviously choose Kane’s chest-bursting in Alien - but I don’t think I could choose a single shot from that sequence that effectively represents the bloody on Lamberts face and the alien looking-around. I choose the moment the alien holds its face next to Ripley – saliva dripping from its mouth, the inner-mouth millimetres away from Ripleys face as she holds a scream in. That single shot – the tone, the fear, the look-of-Ripley, are all down to David Fincher and the team on Alien 3.