Friday, March 02, 2007

Alien 3 - what went wrong ?

I took my 9 Disc Alien Quadrilogy DVD Box Set off the shelf the other evening and decided to give Alien 3 another go. This set features an Extended Edition' of the film that was put together with David Fincher's permission by David Crowther under the supervision of original film editor Terry Rawlings, who also edited Alien for Ridley Scott. This was the version I decided to watch.

Only 3 shots into the film over the credits and 3 errors had occurred. The first was the design of the Hypersleep compartments that Ripley, Newt, Hicks and Bishop were in on the 'Sulaco' at the end of Aliens, the look of these had changed quite a lot in Alien 3. They were slimmer and a different colour and closer to those seen at the start of Alien.

Secondly the name 'Sulaco' painted black in Aliens was now painted in white, also the ship had some exterior illumination, something the ship never had in Cameron's film.

The 3rd shot shows an Alien egg in what appears to be a locker room, glued up onto some framework, the egg is facing down and open. Now at the end of Aliens the Alien Queen gets no further than the 'Sulaco's' landing bay where the dropships are housed, so how this egg got here is anyones guess. Also in the previous Alien films the eggs only open when a human host is within close proximity to the egg, this egg has not only opened but the facehugger inside has gone hunting for prey.

So already I'm thinking did anyone making this film even watch Alien or Aliens ?

Now this isn't going to be a review of the film, but more of a 'what went wrong' critique. The production was frought with problems from the get go, with numerous writers and directors. Now there was a 6 year gap between Aliens and Alien 3 so it's not like this film was churned out to simply cash in on Aliens, or maybe it was but it took 5 years to nail down a story that they thought worked. Screenwriters included 'Cyberpunk' author William Gibson, David Twohy, Eric Red, John Fasano, Vincent Ward, Larry Ferguson, David Giler Walter Hill and Rex Pickett. Directors hired included Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2) Vincent Ward and Walter Hill before David Fincher came on board. Fincher's background included shooting miniature photography on Return of the Jedi, The Never Ending Story and Matte Photography on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. He also had directed the 'Express Yourself' and 'Vogue' Music Video's for Madonna. The story goes that David Fincher never held a finished screenplay in all the time he was directing as scenes were constantly being altered, rewritten etc... the final film took a year to edit and by this time David Fincher citing constant studio interference had walked out. Most cast and crew never had anything but praise for David Fincher as a director, who went on to prove himself with films such as Seven, Fight Club and Panic Room. So for the most part Fincher wasn't at fault but the lack of a decent screenplay.
At the end of Alien we see Ripley adrift in the 'Nostromo's' escape vessel 'Narcissus' having destroyed the Alien that destroyed her crew. James Cameron had such a great jumping point here to start writing Aliens, he could of had her get picked up 2 days later, a year later or as he did 57 years later, no matter when she got picked up she was going to tell of the threat on the world that 'Nostromo' had landed on. James Cameron wrote an intelligent sequel that not only paid enough lip service to the events in Alien but was also a film in it's own right. At the end of Aliens we see a whole colony of aliens destroyed in a thermonuclear blast. And the Queen Alien blasted into space, our 2 female survivors know they can now sleep and not have scary dreams, end of story. The problem with Alien 3 is Aliens didn't leave it any loose ends to tie up. You get films like Critters, Slither etc... where either the last shot or the scene after the credits have run shows some sort of Alien egg/Parasite still lurking unseen, saying to the audience 'hey look there's a chance of a sequel' Even if the sequel doesn't use this a plot point it's always there just to tell the audience they survived. Had Cameron done that in Aliens it would have been plain naff, Cameron was making his movie, he wasn't planning on starting the next chapter in a franchise during the last shots of his film. So as far as the viewer is concerned Ripley, Newt, Hicks and Bishop take 'Sulaco' and return back to Earth and what happens then is anyone's guess. They didn't expect in a million years to see 4 characters go down in a fiery ball on the 'Sulaco's' EEV (Emergency Escape Vehicle) after an alien facehugger had managed to start a fire which was bad enough to cause the ship to eject them in the first place. 'Sulaco' strikes me as a big ship, surely it would have built in fire suppression systems or emergency wake up protocols in case of this sort of emergency ? Apparently not !
Killing Newt, Hicks and Bishop in the first few minutes of Alien 3 would be like killing Han, Chewbacca, and say R2-D2 in the opening moments of The Empire Strikes Back. It not only left a bad taste in my mouth but was made worse when Ripley orders an autopsy on Newt, which is shown in a fairly nasty manner, with the sound FX of her ribs being cracked open.

The Alien itself in the Alien 3 'Extended Edition' is born not from the dog like in the 'Original Cut' but from and Ox that has died and been brought to the abattoir in the Prison on Fury 161, how the Ox became impregnated is anyones guess. Ripley is impregnated by we assume the facehugger seen on 'Sulaco' at the beginning of the movie, we see one egg (as talked about above) so we'd assume one facehugger, once it's planted it's seed it dies, like the facehuggers do in Alien and Aliens. But in both cuts of Alien 3 a 2nd Alien manages to impregnate an animal which later gives birth to a new type of Alien, an Alien that has taken traits from the host in which it was incubated we assume. What's stranger is that in the 'Extended Cut' we see Murphy played by Christopher Fairbanks holding up a web fingered facehugger in the Abattoir where they've just dragged the dead OX, this is sometimes referred to as the 'Queen Facehugger' or 'Super Facehugger'. See picture here
Yet it's Ripley who's infected by the Queen not the Ox ? It's these sort of continuity problems that tend to plague badly written sequels. I remember the opening scene in Aliens where the 'Narcissus' is boarded by the Salvage Team, not only is is a faithful recreation of the set from the end of Alien but we see Ripley and Jones the Cat in Hypersleep where we left them at the end of the first film, and even the harpoon gun that Ripley used to blast the Alien out of the airlock is still wedged at the bottom of the shuttle door. James Cameron took time to get things right.

Alien and Aliens made large profits for 20th Century Fox and both garnered critical and fan acclaim, and at $18 million budget Aliens was also a fairly cheap production considering Fox Studio analysts had originally budgeted Cameron's script around the $32 Million mark, so I find it hard to think why they weren't willing to take time with Alien 3 and get a decent story nailed down before they ever started committing the project to film. As it turns out Alien 3 cost Fox $50 million, but I'm sure most of that was spent on the years of constant screen writing and pre production. The Vincent Ward version of Alien 3 involving a Wooden Planet populated by Monks is a story in itself and is quite well documented on the Alien Quadrilogy Box Set. The religious element of Ward's story did carry over to the final film and indeed Vincent Ward gets the final story credit.

I'd say the only way that Alien 3 could have continued to the next level of audience expectation would have been to have a bigger action movie than Aliens was. And that would have been to bring the Aliens to Earth. And finish it there. A trilogy !
A theory of how they could get there I bashed about with a mate a few years ago, the trouble was it would have meant James Cameron being in on the plot during Aliens. We theorized that if the Colony on LV-426 has 60 or 70 families like stated in Aliens that could be around 200+ people. The colony has landing pads but we see no sign of any ships. You'd think they'd have some sort of Vessel for colony use.

Our plot went like this - Either on the original fly over of the colony, their first time in colony operations or after the drop ship has crashed they discover that the colony shuttle is missing, a theory is made that a group of colonists could have taken the ship as an escape vehicle during the time the Aliens were over running the colony, Newt maybe could confirm she heard the ship leave. But where too ? Earth !! The opening moments of Alien 3 would have the 4 remaining crew of the 'Sulaco' awake from Hypersleep only to find that Gateway Station is not answering their docking calls, once they've emergency docked they find a skeleton crew of survivors on the battered station, they confirm that the Aliens did arrive aboard a shuttle that was found adrift heading towards Earth. The crew members of Gateway station have abandoned the place after a battle, the Aliens are now on Earth. I had this great vision years before I seen the Borg covered Earth in Star Trek: First Contact of an Earth from orbit gradually being covered in the bio mechanical looking cocoons seen in Aliens, spreading across cities like the red weed from War of the Worlds.

Of course there's problems like why didn't 'Sulaco' detect the colony shuttle passing them heading to Earth as they were heading to LV-426 ? It takes more than Aliens to propagate the species, there needs to be a Queen to lay eggs once the Aliens get to Earth etc... And of course the scenes I mentioned weren't in Aliens so this whole plot falls apart.

Another point is that we'd assume the Derelict ship seen in both Alien and Aliens was a fair distance from the LV-426 Colony, further than the 30 Kilometer (18 mile) blast that Bishop says the Atmosphere Processor blast will make, otherwise why didn't they people surveying the planet spot the derelict during surveys of the area when looking for a place to site the colony ? Lydecker says in the Aliens:Special Edition that 'A Mam and Pap survey team went out last week and he's onto something just past the Ilium Range'. We could assume that 'last week' might be a few days earlier or maybe a whole week earlier, so Newt and her family traveled a fair distance to check out the grid reference that the colony were told to investigate, that being the location of the Derelict provided by Ripley's flight recorder off the 'Narcissus' we'd assume.
So in theory the derelict spaceship is still there, maybe a bit more battered and bruised but it's alien eggs still sat below ground in the ships hold where we first seen them in Alien.

In my opinion Alien and Aliens are the only 2 Alien films worth watching, I won't even get started on Alien Ressurection and AVP doesn't count.
But the trouble is with films like Alien 3, Alien Ressurection, the Star Wars Prequels and the Matrix Sequels is they have become part of popular culture just as much as the other films in the series of which they belong, and although I'm not a fan of these sequels and prequels it's impossible to ignore that they were made. All have the odd cool character, great designs, occasional memorable sequence etc... What I'd love to see with a film like Alien 3 though is for someone like James Cameron or Ridley Scott to wipe the slate clean and do the proper sequel to Aliens, even if this has to have Ripley as a much older character and Newt grown up,married and with kids of her own etc... Of course the chances of this happening are like Jar Jar Binks suddenly becoming popular.

I realize that some of you reading this might be a fan of Alien 3 and the other films I've mentioned, that's fair enough we should all have an opinion !


Jim said...

Awesome post, Andrew!!!
While I could join you in on the analysis, being the total Alien Freak that I am, that would take waaay too much time as I go on and on on.... and well, your post is great and doesn't need my input!

I do recall in maybe the novelization(?) of ALIENS that the Derelict was damaged in an earthquake(?) - you can see it in pieces in the SE, but I think that was more the model had broken - and because of said earthquake, part of the mountain ridge fell, revealing the ship to the colonists. Or something like that.

I really enjoyed your ideas for your ALIEN 3. I spent many hours post-ALIENS trying to figure out a way for a good part 3... funny how Earth is always the logical place - they teased us with that teaser trailer, too! bastards!!!

Have you read the Dark Horse novels? "Earth Hive" and "Nightmare Asylum" are great... based on the comics by DH, they are essentially 10 yrs after ALIENS. Newt is in an insane asylum, Hicks is a wounded, washed up vet whom no one respects and Ripley is no where to be found. A religious faction finds the Aliens homeworld, worships them and brings the aliens to Earth, which they overrun. That's the beginning. There's a 3rd book to the "trilogy", called "The Female War". It wraps up the story, but goes a bit too far in concepts for my tastes (The Mother Alien being one). But its still a good read.

Ok, I guess I've already started to go on and on, like I said I wouldn't.

Great post!!!!!

paulhd said...

Well, I love the 3rd film, plot problems and all. The 1st is excellent and although the 2nd is very enjoyable and a great film in it's own right I always had a problem with how different the aliens felt in that cannon fodder sort of way.
Found the comics way too hit and miss although I did enjoy the 2nd mini series with lovely painted art, and Labyrith was fantastically creepy and icky.
Can never decide if it's better for people to just do there own 'version' of a film (say 'Pitch Black', a film I always maintain has a bit of the Escape From New Yorks about it) rather than a sequel, it can still be lame, but at least a rip off doesn't somehow spoil the original in the way a sequel (or *ahem* prequel) can. And you know Alien was just another version of, part of, Dark Star or Planet of the Vampires really.

Andrew Glazebrook said...

I've not read the books you talk about Jim but I have heard of them. I have however read most of the Dark Horse Comics. I do love Dennis Beauvais painted work in that 2nd story and also Killian Plunketts work in 'Labyrinth' what you also mention Paul.
The other main Alien influence was 'It ! The Terror from Beyond Space' made in 1958

paulhd said...

Wish Killian was a bit more prolific, his artwork on '8th Wonder' was fantastic.
'It!....' is one of those films I know of rather than have seen... mind you I've only seen bits of 'Planet of the Vampires', fantastic costumes!

TimeWarden said...

A truly detailed and enlightening post, Andrew. I can remember reading a draft script for “Alien 3” about twenty years ago in Dreamwatch magazine, I think when it was still a Bulletin! I have a feeling it was the wooden planet populated by monks scenario that you mention by Vincent Ward. I still have it packed away in a box somewhere so I must see if I can find it sometime and reread.

I’ve noticed that, when television rerun “Aliens”, they no longer mention which version they are showing and, these days, it’s invariably the extended one, not the version I watched twice, straight through, in the cinema back in ’86. Shame you can’t do that anymore! I remember glowering at two ignoramuses, in an almost empty theatre, for laughing when Bishop is decapitated!!

Anwar said...

Well, I think I can answer your "critiques":

1) The change in design for the pods and ship was deliberate. Fincher liked the designs Ridley made in the first movie over the ones Cameron did for the second and had them changed for that reason. No story purpose, just a deliberate Director choice.

2) The Queenhugger can infect multiple hosts, a Queen and a Alien to guard her/take out resistance before her birth.

It got Ripley on the Sulaco (that's how she survived the water, it kept her alive by feeding her oxygen) and then when the Prisoners used the Oxen to get the EEV to the prison it attached to one of them.

The "Aliens on Earth" thing would never work, the Producers said so. "If an alien lands in Death Valley, nuke Death Valley". If the Aliens got to Earth just nuke the area they infested (they don't spread very fast) and kill them all, problem solved, quick movie.

And for killing off the Aliens survivors, the Alienverse has little to nothing in common to the Star Wars universe as far as tone and direction are concerned, major chars die all the time in the Alienverse. They had no role to play in A3's story anyways and would've just been killed off to remove all barriers between Ripley and the Prisoners (that's why they killed the Warden and Doctor, so she'd have no protection from the Prisoners). A3 was a drama piece, it was mostly about Ripley's interactions with the Prison society with the alien as a background threat.

It's a fine end to the series.