It is unapologetically about dying. There are ‘horror movies’ (ALIENS) and then there are horror movies that genuinely try to horrify (ALIEN). Someone involved–might’ve been the producers–claimed the movie follows Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of dying (grief, anger, depression, acceptance, getting the catering bill for the funeral after-party).
Horror movies put the audience stand-in under great stress, but in the end he or she often escapes after enduring shocks for two hours. ALIEN 3 is about a woman who, unfairly, has lost much to the alien, and COULD lose the last thing she has left, her life–and then she does. The movie is a messy, uncomfortable stumble towards the grave. Besides the inconsistencies in the script and execution, it has a great deal of misery, and very little in the way of comfort or hope, just like life ultimately is for all of us. In the end, Ripley manages a Pyrrhic victory in that she takes the alien down with her. But she doesn’t get much chance to savor that success, and she certainly doesn’t get away.
The art direction. I have issues with some of it. Much of it is unique. Again, the movie goes all the way with its dour vision.
Elliot Goldenthal’s score is a noisy requiem mass, very prominent in the sound mix, not hiding as ‘background music.’ The score was LOUD in the theater, something mentioned in reviews at the time. On the Blu-ray extras the sound effects guys and Goldenthal disagree on some of the sound choices, not surprisingly. In an interview in Film Score Monthly, Goldenthal said that one consideration was to have ONLY music during the violent scenes, and I seem to remember hearing having NO score was also considered. The music is complex and oppressive, with the only moments of heroic, soaring release being scenes involving bodies being obliterated in fire. The music is brutal and fascinating, and it works beautifully with the imagery.
Sigourney Weaver’s performance is her best of the series. Ripley spends the movie suffering the worst case of morning sickness in the history of the galaxy. She is reeling from the despair of Newt’s death (Hicks not so much) and the horrors of prison life (another Hollywood prison inmate who’s innocent). THEN she finds out she’s carrying an alien queen and has hours to live. How she faces this could strike a viewer as too heroic, too unbelievably valiant. Weaver convinces us that she’s in shock, just trying to hold on until she can do this one last thing. That she’s tempted at the very end to let the company take over is a nice bit of writing–she’s got her head shaved Joan-of-Arc-style but she’s no saint, just saintly. If she could trust these people, she’d gladly pass this cup.
She can’t, so she doesn’t.
Charles S. Dutton’s performance is the best supporting work of the series. Not as much fun as some of the supporting characters in the previous two, but heavy as sin. The members of the Nostromo crew are from a very different universe than this guy, and the Sulaco gang are like kids compared to this brutal rapist who’s found God. Dutton makes what could’ve been a caricature interesting and believable–I think there are a lot of men like this.
The monster suit work is impressive. The suits in ALIENS look like Styrofoam forms glued on to performers; they lack the threatening, alive quality of the original. Here, the alien suit looks to be ridged with bones and sharp to the touch. The alien’s skin looks like it belongs to a frog that’s soaked in formaldehyde, or is off something coiled under an old board. It looks rotten.
The rod puppet is a different story, but the alien suit is the best of the sequels. The on-set effects are decent. The dog’s death and the alien’s yukky birth are effective. The alien hiding in the air duct is the equal of anything in THE THING for the look of something truly non-human.
Damaged Bishop‘s brief appearance makes me wish he had more screen time. He sets Ripley straight on her suspicions, and would be a welcome ally if he were in good condition. But he’s on his deathbed, and in keeping with the joy-packed story, Ripley performs euthenasia on him.
In the theater when I saw this you could tell the audience LIKED him (it) and felt a twinge when Ripley shuts him down. Then we’re stuck with glum bald English people.
The assembly cut is more of a dark science fiction movie about end time believers confronting an actual devil. Religious believers vs. a monster of science.
The Company people showing up add a curve ball to the climax. Just when Ripley’s accepting that she has to die, someone tries to tempt her with (false) hope from doing what she has to do. We’ve seen the silly Paul Reiser character and the brutal droid Ash, but this is the first time we’ve really seen what the company can do when they’re threatened. We know they’ve come to take an alien and kill witnesses. But since there’s just one they take him along so they’ve got something to show for all that mileage traveled.
I don’t find many horror/SF movie fans who share my view of ALIEN 3. It has major problems that can impede appreciation of the great things in it. Most people either love its pessimism and edge or just hate it.
I’d love to read what other people liked about it. I’ll write about it again, because I find it fascinating. There are many movies I think are better that aren’t nearly as thought-provoking.