Just good enough to make you wish it was better



The lights go out and I’m ready to watch David Fincher’s early studio piece, Alien 3. I briefly ponder how, as Phil so eloquently worded it, “directing a movie is as much about personal growth as it is about artistic expression.

Certainly, David Fincher has brought us some modern classics. Some that come to mind: Seven. Fight Club. He’s made some excellent movies that haven’t seemed to reach popular acceptance: Zodiac, for example. The Social Network. He’s made some bad movies, as well: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which I couldn’t sit through. Panic Room. Alien 3.

But if we’re to consider Fincher’s third installment (and really, final, since Resurrection is a bullshit back-from-the-dead-for-one-last-55-million-dollars popcorn flick) in the context of the rest of his productions, Alien 3 shows a young, somewhat inexperienced, but extremely talented director showcasing some of his long-time apparent talents.

Those talents are put on display immediately in the opening credits sequence. An ominous score plays over credits, the vacant depths of space, and an escape pod silently floating through them. Inside, the small leftover crew (Ripley, Newt, and Bishop) sleep in preservation chambers.

Until a stowaway facehugger destroys some equipment and breaks through a few of those chambers. The damaged equipment causes fires and explosions, and the pod is sent spiraling through the universe, eventually crashing into a large body of water on a work/prison planet near an installation of such.

This sequence is edited with precision. The facehugger never looked so menacing as it does here, close up, all gloss and skeleton, and clawing its way to the top of Newt’s bed. That this sequence (a) is amazing, (b) gets you through the opening credits, and (c) serves as an exciting, entire first act to the movie shows some directorial talent.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film does not hold up to the opening sequence, except for a few fleeting moments that don’t make up for the other two and half hours of dreadful boredom. What makes the boredom so unbearable is that much of it is unnecessary. One example —

Clemens is the prison colony’s medical consult. He makes for a somewhat interesting character since he chooses to side with Ripley against the prison warden in the interests of science, even though he doesn’t seem to like what Ripley’s up to at the time. That establishes a good dynamic between those three characters. An hour of the movie goes by and you realize you’ve seen a couple of xenomorph birth scenes that lasted maybe a couple of minutes intercut with a full hour of people talking about prison politics. When the alien finally starts killing people (what you came here to see), it kills Clemens long before it even approaches the obnoxious token black preacher guy, leaving the good character triangle in shambles, the token black preacher guy annoying you with scripture-fueled rally speeches, a crazy dude doing infuriatingly stupid shit, and Pete Postlethwaite depositing an easy paycheck for the next ninety minutes.

The movie is apparently supposed to be a character study. Ripley’s been through a lot of shit. She isn’t very afraid of the rape-minded inmates because in a sense, life has already raped her. Twice, actually. So what’s one more time? And now she’s facing certain death – she’s host to xenomorph kin. Sigourney plays it well because she’s a talented actress who was handed some decent writing. She delivers the worst of her lines (“Your ass is already on the line. The only question is… What are you gonna do about it?”) with something less than gusto that lets you know she knows the lines are rubbish. This makes even the worst of her dialog at least bearable (unlike the forced action star one-liners she was handed in Aliens).

But Alien 3 is so goddamn boring that I completely lost interest in even Ripley’s character. I found myself browsing the net and keeping the volume up on the TV loud enough to follow whatever useless conversation was going on at the time.

Useless because it doesn’t take that much walking and talking to explain what we need to know here. The plot of Alien 3, taken in summary, is actually quite good. Ripley crash lands, and fears the deaths of her crewmates were at the hands of aliens. She demands an autopsy, which yields evidence against her hypothesis. But despite the available science, she recognizes a sort of bond between her and the xenomorph, which totally creeps her out. This is shown to us in a tense scene where the xenomom could easily murder Ripley, but opts not to, and proven later with a body scan, but the audience is clued in early thanks to one of those intercut birthing scenes. She knows in order to solve the alien problem, she must kill herself before the one inside her ruptures through her chest. The rest of the movie becomes a series of events trying to destroy the beast.

It’s a good basic plot structure, a natural next phase for our heroine, but it can be told to us in about 45 fewer minutes than Fincher takes to tell it.

Pacing issues aside, the one thing the film has going for it almost throughout is the cinematography. There is an incredible focus in this movie on composition. Each shot is visually tickling in some way. Despite the dreary, industrial interior of the prison facility, each frame is somehow pleasing to the eye. Only a few spots stand out as being particularly bad, and every last one of them involves computer graphics from the early 90s (a symptom of Cameronitis; see Terminator 2: Judgment Day).

When the aliens are puppets and we get to see them up close, they’re horrifying. When they’re CG, they look like a two-mouthed breed of Pokemon. This was infrequent, though, and only a few seconds at a stretch in most cases. Ripley falling into the incinerator looked absolutely terrible.

There’s really a lot to like about Alien 3. The score is even quite good, except for a couple of spots where it really overpowers the tone of the film and seems out of place. There’s enough to like about it to earn maybe 5/10 points from me. It’s just so damn long and boring. If you trim this movie down, it may be closer to a 7 or 8. But I can’t justify watching this entire movie again for a very long time just to see a few cool parts and some pretty pictures.


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