1992: dir. David Fincher (2003 Assembly Cut)
Writers: David Giler, Walter Hill and Larry Ferguson
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance and Lance Henriksen.
There was quite the controversy when David Fincher’s ALIEN 3 hit theaters. Not only had a freshman filmmaker been attached to finish the closing chapter in the newly acclaimed franchise following Cameron’s ALIENS, but he had been the second choice to helm the film after a total of three scripts passed through the studio – some even hitting the set during initial production. Things got so bad, Fincher walked out of the movie after principal photography and let the editors supervise the final cut. He even refused to return to re-edit the movie years later, literally allowing the film to be pushed down an assembly line as pieces once removed were stitched back together.
So, were the added scenes enough to salvage Fincher’s original film? Or was the movie dead in the water no matter what?
The Theatrical versus Assembly; where did things go wrong?
It’s been a good few years since I’d seen David Fincher’s ALIEN 3. Time is perhaps our species greatest asset, and after maturing both mentally and through the experience of film watching, I felt it was imperative to revisit a movie that left such a negative mark on me. ALIEN 3 is a film that, in my experience, betrayed everything I loved about the series and capped the franchise in an ultimately unsatisfying fashion. After sitting through the Assembly Cut that pieces Fincher’s original vision back together, I can definitively say that ALIEN 3 is still heavily flawed but ultimately underrated.
Underrated, as in, not the worst movie ever made.
The additions to the film are much like Ridley Scott’s BLADE RUNNER or Zack Snyder’s WATCHMEN – the included scenes add depth to the film that was very much needed in the first place and help flesh out a complete narrative. The problem is, with ALIEN 3, the additions don’t change the core of the film – one that, from the beginning, betrays the very concept that drove both Scott’s ALIEN and it’s brilliant sequel, ALIENS.
ALIEN, initially, was a psychosexual Freudian nightmare who’s sole purpose was to scare the shit of you. Scott decided to change the lead to a woman, and it’s path towards modern day feminism was permanently set. James Cameron in ALIENS took that concept of the sole survivor and put the focus on Ripley using her force of will to overcome her trauma and PTSD, by her own hands, and establishing a surrogate family in the process. She quite literally is the victim of abuse confronting her abuser at the end, and as part of the audience, we feel the high as a result.
Perhaps that is ALIEN 3’s greatest sin, in that we come off that high into a beautifully conceived, but unforgivable, turn of events that literally undoes all the work the franchise had built towards. All the work Ripley did to confront and move past her trauma is literally ripped away from her and she’s forced to endure it a third time – and, might I add, entirely unceremoniously. While the opening credits are tremendously well put together, the entire cast – sans Ripley – is wiped out without a single word uttered.
And then Ripley has to open up Newt’s body to make sure there’s no embryo inside her. She places her hands on her cold corpse, as if to sear the painful memory to her subconscious, then watch her body cut open and splayed wide. Lingering shots of the bone saw’s shadow cross Newt’s dead eyes, as if to reciprocate Ripley’s pain on to us. It is both depressing and offensive.
And it only gets worse from there. From then on, Ripley is a fish out of water, stranded on a penal colony of deranged murderers and lunatics – all men. She’s at the mercy of convicts and bureaucrats, neither of which want anything to do with her; the men here are a skeleton crew who’ve found God and maintained a perfect harmony of insanity. The company’s reps just want the place to operate the way it was intended to. A bit of a symbiotic relationship, but you the get the gist of it.
Back to the main topic; Ripley is alone, and after the events of ALIENS, has become a bit of a hardened badass. Alone and with no weapons to defend herself, Ripley becomes more complacent in her surroundings, using other forms of defense to navigate. She uses her feminine wiles to seduce the stations doctor, Clemens, in an attempt to keep him from ascertaining the odd position she’s in regarding the alien – and whether or not there’s one loose on Fury 161.
This leads us into (IMO) the most controversial part of the movie – Ripley has become a beacon of feminism in a genre dominated by men. So why is it that she’s forced into a position of nearly being raped? Sexual assault is a real phenomena that women all over the world endure on a daily basis, so it’s not far fetched for a strong women to be as susceptible to the crime as anyone else. The decision to include this scene felt unnecessary and contrived – especially after all the open wounds and trauma Ripley was forced into from the very beginning. Was it necessary to make her suffer MORE than she needed to? And to top it off, have her powerless in the situation and be rescued by another man?
Thus, we get to the final portion of my rant. Why is Ripley a side character in an ALIEN movie? The first ALIEN was a haunted house horror film coupled with “and then there was one,” so Ripely inevitably BECAME the main character as the film went on. But in ALIENS? That was all her, baby. Front to back, that was her journey as a broken woman overcoming her own fears and taking charge of her life. So for the sequel, why is she delegated to the sidelines?
Perhaps it would be significantly less infuriating if these male characters that took precedence for Ripley were at least interesting, but in truth, only four were distinctly people – and 85 (as he’s nicknamed) only received any sort of treatment after an hour in. And when you take the theatrical cut into account, Golic was written out entirely at the end. Of those four, only Clemens and Dillon were handled well – and Clemens’ death was so uneventful and random, to boot.
Like I said, rant over. The details added in by the Assembly Cut give ALIEN 3 a more competent narrative that feels more satisfying. The exterior shots, the included lore about head lice, Golic’s subplot, the crew finding the E.E.V. – it’s all stuff that SHOULD’VE been there in the first place, but wasn’t. We aren’t talking a few “deleted scenes” here and there, it’s essential plot details and establishing shots. The movie flows better as a result, but like I said at the beginning, the film was simply flawed in a way that was never going to be fixed with more scenes attached. The high left after ALIENS just crashes and burns at the beginning, and by the time Ripley is attacked and rescued, there was little this movie could do to bring me back in.
A few of the shots were surprisingly clever, and the creature design for the film was neat. Exploring the morphology of the xenomorph has always been cool, playing around with its physiology depending on the host. Unfortunately, the CG shots of the alien are objectively terrible and do not mesh with the settings at all. The effects make the alien look tremendously unconvincing, almost to the point of being laughable.
The ending is perhaps the only part of this film that delivers on its intentions. For the first time, the Weyland Yutani company emerges from the shadows as a tangible force, putting boots on the ground in favor of retrieving the alien embryo inside Ripley. It gets better; the head of the team is none other than Bishops creator, who built him in his own image. The lies and deception instilled within Ripley have come full circle, and as she sees the face of an android she once learned to trust plastered on a man she knows she cannot, Ripley makes the ultimate sacrifice and casts herself within the foundry to be reunited with her surrogate family.
It’s a remarkably poetic ending to a movie that is anything but.
I think the most impressive thing about this movie is the fact that it exists in an almost passable fashion, despite the hellish production it went through; two directors joined and left before Fincher came aboard and completed a somewhat directionless film. Various screenwriters had written drafts, production was well underway with director Vincent Ward in charge before he resigned and Fincher even shot some scenes without a script because rewrites were hitting the set almost daily.
The Assembly Cut of ALIEN 3 proves Fincher was able to salvage something out of the convoluted mess Fox had laid before him. Unfortunately, it also proves that what was salvaged was a convoluted mess to begin with.