It All Happens In The Dark

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Signs of Intelligent Life

Alien 3 (1992)

I don’t remember liking this one a lot the first time I saw it, so I was curiously intrigued to find the film as compelling as I did this go-round. It doesn’t come anywhere near rivaling the original, but (WARNING! WARNING! Massively controversial statement imminent!) flies high above the James Cameron sequel that preceded it. We open with some obvious throwbacks to the 1979 film – the very first frame looks almost identical to the Colour Out of Space backdrop of stars that opened Alien and the soundtrack similarly recalls the score before taking on a surprising operatic kick. The opening credits are pretty spectacular and they not only set up everything for us quickly and effectively but they are done with style and a sure hand. Which shouldn’t be that unforeseen considering this was directed by David Fincher – his very first film, as a matter of fact.

Though the creature has never looked as good as it did in the first film, here it comes close, aside from a few very obvious hockey CGI shots. This one goes with the not showing too much for too long angle – and it works! It still works!

The survivors of Aliens are sent crash landing onto a planet which houses a maximum security all male correctional facility after an electrical fire breaks out aboard their ship, caused, of course, by the hijinks of one of the freshly hatched facehuggers. Everyone dies but Ripley (Sigourney Weaver, back for more) who is rescued and taken inside the facility. A curious dog gets himself impregnated with one of the beasties all The Thing like when he goes nosin’ around the ship and thus the alien, too, makes his way to the penitentiary population.

Upon finding out Ripley is among them, the men of the facility are not pleased. They don’t like the idea of a woman being around, most of them having not seen one for God knows how long, and having taken a vow of celibacy after finding religion in prison. They’re all like it breaks up our harmony and spiritual unity etc. etc. As if Ripley decided she’d take a nice little detour through space and have herself a grand old vacation on their planet just for the fun of it.

The segments with Ripley investigating what caused her ship to malfunction and trying to ascertain if there is another alien threat afoot are some of the best scenes of the film. She gets Charles Dance’s prison doctor to show her Newt’s body, and attempts to examine the corpse, probing and poking to see if she can find or feel signs of infection. She convinces the doctor than an autopsy must be performed and one is, in some exceptionally well written, acted, shot and edited scenes. The later juxtaposition of the alien bursting out of the dog with the cremation services of Hicks and Newt are also a highlight. Ripley gets a nosebleed as the alien first springs forth, while Charles S. Dutton sermonises about “new life.” I liked Ripley’s battle scars, too – her bruised and bloodied eye was a very simple and striking touch – and Sigourney Weaver still manages to look quite fetching, even with her head shaved.

Is this an allegory for AIDS? That might be overreaching or reading too much into it, but I found that question on my mind more than once while watching this.

Alien 3 is a super gritty, welcome return to the feel and mindset of the original and for me, it works. When Ripley goes looking for the alien on her own and says, “You’ve been in my life so long, I can’t remember anything else” it rings true and cuts deep.

The film does loose its steam right around the point that Charles Dance checks out and the characters always seem to use the same tactics in these movies to try and outwit the creature – seal everything off, flush it out – but it all ends on a high note with creepy Government arrivals, a familiar face and an especially bittersweet swan song. B-

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