This is not a post about three aliens in one movie, but it is a post about one alien film times three, logically leading us to conclude that we deal with the third instalment of the Alien-Saga. Which is really just a lot of blabber to welcome you to another review in “February is Alien month.” If you want to read the other stuff posted in relation to Alien month, click here to get to the master-index.
Two of the most memorable moments in the Alien saga happen in this instalment: Ellen Ripley, our own very favorite female superhero of choice, gets to have some sexy-time with a man (who doesn’t get to let this experience sink in for too long), and our beloved Fiorina161 resident Alien gets an up close head-to-head shot with a very scared and bald Sigourney Weaver.
Ellen Ripley shaved her head before G.I. Jane did (and yeah, where did Demi Moore’s career go?), and I’m glad she did, because it adds much to the movie in that it reveals how people might look very alike and be in very similar circumstances, but are nevertheless individuals and thus react and behave very differently.
But let us enter into this discussion with a little more grace and get done with the technicalities first, hokay?
Alien³, opting for some typographical terrain nouveaux, was released to theaters in 1992, so in real-life-time, the third act arrived 13 years after the whole thing started, which seems like an awful long time to wait for me. Then again, the stories are pretty much self-contained, it is not like there was this huge cliffhanger that kept us all waiting for how it is going to get resolved.
By now one thing becomes crystal-clear: Sigourney Weaver IS Ellen Ripley (yeah, I think being an actress is actually her role) and the Alien series attracts director-talents. David Fincher took the job, who also directed music videos and movies like Se7en, Fight Club, Benjamin Button and most recently The Social Network.
I’ll be upfront about it: for a long time I considered this movie to be the weakest of the original three, and practically on par with the fourth film Alien – Resurrection. But the tides have changed, folks, nowadays I appreciate it much more than I originally did, although I still don’t think it lives up to the standard that Alien I and II have set. Lemme ‘splain, will ‘ya?
Much criticism back in the day, from such prominent likes as previous director James Cameron, was directed at the decision to kill of the three characters (Newt, Hicks, and Bishop) that survived Aliens with Ripley. I strongly disagree, in fact I’m happy for the decision, cause I think it makes Alien³ a stronger film. Watching Alien movies I have certain expectations, and I feel that if we would have witnessed Ellen Ripley with new quasi-daughter Newt and potential military husband Hicks it would have been, ermh, problematic. Too much melodrama is never a good thing (which is where some of the problems of Alien 4 are located), and I’m glad we got around it.
Alien³ is a harder and tougher film for it. Given, it wants to be, with all the macho-males in prison blah, but the grit and roughness stems much more from the cold-heartedness of events and Ripley’s character. The prime example is her basically ordering the autopsy of Newt, having the doctor cut up the girl and searching her intestines for an alien-parasite. It upsets everyone around her, and they don’t understand. Ripley does, but she’s not dramatic about it.
The cold-heartedness lies at the very center of Ripley’s character. I’m glad we got to see the softer side of her in Aliens, when she kind of adopted Newt, but ever since the original movie Ripley has been the pragmatic type. She appreciates you more when you’re level-headed and girl is out to survive. And give her a break, will you? She sums it up so perfectly herself in this movie: her life has been dominated so much by the existence of the aliens that she cannot even remember how it was without them. And it is hard to imagine an Ellen Ripley with a life devoid of Alien-struggle. Ever since the Nostromo woke her from hibernation she had to fight for survival. There is nothing (or at least not much) else.
The little else we get this time around is getting cozy with the prison-doctor Clemens. They have sex, share intimacy in an environment that is highly unlikely for any sign of affection, and while it seems to relieve Ripley somewhat from all the struggle, we also get the sense that she is detached from it. She is not falling in love here. She takes a little break from fear and anger and both of them know that this is pretty much it. Plus, Clemens does not stick around for a love affair, the alien makes sure of it.
The approach to the topic of sex in Alien³ is one of the fresher aspects of the movie, specially in terms of feminist readings of it. For the first time (and the only among the first four) an Alien movie does not pass the Bechdel test, since Ripley is the only female character alive in this picture. While that is somewhat lame, it is also explicitly deliberate: it’s not like in other movies that the singularity of female presence just happens by chance (yeah, right…), but it is the premise of the narrative. The ship crashes down on a prison planet with only male inmates and Ripley suddenly finds herself in an hostile and sexist environment. Interestingly, the movie thereby highlights our position as viewers: the female character, envisioned and directed by male writers and directors, consumed by us through this male gaze is being watched, evaluated and desired by an ensemble of male characters.
It makes us realize once more how bad Ripley can kick ass, but it falls a little flat because most of the prisoner-characters (including the religious revival thing and the deliberate seclusion) are rather one-dimensional and ultimately uninteresting. They’re alien-fodder and we know it, it’s not like we expect them to outshine Ripley or even survive (though some actually do). The idea of the prison planet Fiorina 161 is amazingly neat though, cause once more the SF-reality feels more real for all the grit and human darkness that we are presented with. And it is Australia. ?, I know. But once more the colonialism-idea is taken up and we witness a planet being colonized for the sole purpose of dumping convicts there. Wicked, sez I. The whole industrial-complex-ness of it makes for some amazing images along the way, including chopping up of people by large fans, drowning the alien in liquid lead, and finally those huge ovens that serve as the grave for someone we know.
In retrospect it is fascinating to see, how much the whole Alien saga surrounding Ellen Ripley is connected to the issue of motherhood. It is of course not unproblematic, especially if one wants to argue for the feminist position of Alien movies.
The interesting thing about the third Alien movie is how it puts a spin on the whole motherhood issue. If the series had ended here we would have been left with an indeed feminist stance on womanhood and the rejection of motherhood – because Ripley’s children (her biological and adopted ones) all are dead by the beginning of Alien³, and she decides not to “give birth to” the alien queen, a quasi-abortion by killing herself (though technically you could also argue for child-slaughter). On the one hand the whole thing is terrible, because Ripley is dead, but the justification lies in the fact that she erases the alien queen that would bring more terror to the universe. But if we remind ourselves how hard the whole franchise plays on the motherhood imagery that comes along with being an alien-host, there is this other ring to it. (Oh and let me clear it up here, before shit hits the fan, I don’t consider motherhood to be detrimental to feminism, but glorifying female-ness and consider women to be complete only when mothers, that is something I consider to be very unhelpful to the feminist cause).
Having Ripley finally being the victim of face-hugger-y that “impregnates” her with a chestbuster rounds up the whole issue of constantly crossing paths with the deadly being. It’s cool, but what is kinda sucky IMHO, is the whole chosen-one crap about it. I get it, Ellen Motherfucking Ripley, special connection, yadda yadda, but did it have to be a queen she’s got in herself? Like, the ultimate antagonist, there’s nothing less to settle for? While it’s thrilling the first time around, thinking about it reveals the inherent lame-ness of the concept. Way better is the encounter with the one alien of this film, though only enabled by her being with a queen (yeah, my dilemma, I know), when they are literally face to face and Ripley is in terror. For all her kickass-toughness, she is afraid of these beings and that is what drives her. She ultimately overcomes the fear, and it makes her stronger, but only to the extent that she knows about the desperate situation she is in. She will die, inevitably, by the hands of an alien, one way or the other. The only thing she can do is to take matters into her own hand and end her own life. And that is what she does. Ellen Motherfucking Ripley, heroine of all universe, jumps into molten steel and dies a tragic, quiet death on Fiorina 161. No press, no parade, no friends nor family. The alien exits her body – literally and figuratively – but she takes it down by killing herself. Bam, devastation hits us in the face.
Some unresolved issues to talk about are our favorite corporate friends from Weyland-Yutani, who are still only interested in the alien for the profit it might generate, and their wicked little realization that extremely friendly Androids could be more efficient in getting human beings to do what you want. We thus encounter a “fake” Bishop who stands in stark contrast to the broken version she talks to in the prison-dumpster, who is all the more human for his pragmatism and honesty.
Also extremely fascinating, at least to me, is the realization how little human beings mean to the aliens: the alien they fight in part three is one who was “born from” a dog. Whatever, it seems to say, I just need a host, why not use the dog. Do you wonder, too, what being connected to the organism of a dog does to alien psychology? I see a whole field of research lying right in front of us…
I’m kinda glad I didn’t see Alien 3 when it came out, cause I was just too young and innocent. It probably would have killed me to know: this whole thing is over. Ripley is dead as can be and so is the last Alien the human species knows of. Case closed. As intriguing as it is to see something really end (cause as we’ve witnessed by now, franchise extensions are not always for the better), I’m glad there was – and hopefully is – more.
Yeah, you know the drill: Go watch it!