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The Unloved, Part 1: ALIEN 3

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    By Entertainer


    The above video is the first installment in a new series by filmmaker and contributor Scout Tafoya titled "The Unloved." As the series' name suggests, it will appreciate movies that have artistic merit but which for whatever reason met with mixed or negative reviews on first release. 

    Chapter 1 is about "Alien 3," the debut feature by David Fincher, who's now recognized as a significant cinematic stylist as well as a commercially successful filmmaker. That certainly wasn't the case back in 1992 when this movie came out. As fans of the series might know, "Alien 3" was the third installment in what would later round out as quartet of films about Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), the only crewmember to survive the infestation of the mining vessel Nostromo in Ridley Scott's inaugural 1979 sci-fi thriller "Alien." 

    A key part of this series' fascination is how malleable it is; in contrast to other franchises such as the James Bond films and the "Star Wars" series, the "Alien" films weren't stylistically or thematically uniform. All they had in common were Ripley and the alien, or aliens, and certain images and motifs: eggs, acid, glistening teeth, scuttling tentacles and spindly legs, foggy corridors, desolate planetary landscapes, and battered commercial and military starships that had all the glamour of delivery vans or rusty refinery towers. Beyond that, each film in the series had a distinctive look and pace and rhythm. "Alien" was slow and moody, a true horror film in a nasty seventies vein. The second film in the series, James Cameron's "Aliens," reconfigured the original's haunted-house-in-space vibe as an adventure film: part war movie, part Western, referencing everything from "Apocalypse Now" and "Zulu" to John Ford and Budd Boetticher. Fincher's movie was by far the hardest to pigeonhole, partly because it was a concoction fretted over by many cooks: it was conceived as a quasi-religious parable, set on a wooden planet populated by monks, with Ripley falling out of the sky in tandem with a stowaway xenomorph and proceeding to battle it a la Joan of Arc. Ward's script was not the first attempt at a third entry, nor was it the last; you can read a rundown of writers who worked on it here, including series coproducers Walter Hill and David Giler

    The end product was set on an all-male prison planet, with inmates and jailers instead of monks, but it retained a bit of Ward's flavor. Everyone was bald thanks to a lice infestation; the sight of all those sweaty domes, coupled with the somewhat monastic single-sex cast, the fearful and hateful descriptions of women, and the invocation of religious language and imagery gave the whole thing a faintly Biblical or medieval feel, and as Ripley overcame her depression and near-paralysis over losing her surrogate daughter Newt and maybe-boyfriend Cpl. Hicks in the crash, her possessed, crusading demeanor had echoes of Saint Joan. As Tafoya points out in his video essay, the direction, photography, writing and production design of "Alien 3" reference a long tradition of religious art and tales of spiritual torment, at times even filming the movie's artfully shorn star so that she resembles Falconetti, the star of Carl Theodor Dreyer's silent classic "The Passion of Joan of Arc." 



    Even more compelling, Tafoya argues, is the film's portrayal of Ripley as a woman in a man's world. (In the original film's script, by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett, Ripley was male; Ridley Scott cast the part as female because he thought it made the character more vulnerable and original, and the movie more compelling.) The sight of a woman testing herself against macho environments was always a factor in the "Alien" series, with its threats of rape and impregnation, and its mostly male casts swaggering through landscapes of industrial or military machinery, cursing and smoking and muttering about "the bonus situation" or teasing each other as "ladies." But this aspect becomes more pointed, and more poignant, in "Alien 3." The inmates' misogyny is built right into the storyline. The religious elements are teased out through prayers and talk of devils and deliverance via Ripley's Joan of Arc figure. And much of the story is—when you boil it down to its essence—about a woman who was raped in her sleep by a monster trying to abort the creature in her belly before the company executives who masterminded the crime can reach the planet, cut it out of her, and use it as the seed for a biological weapons program. 

    Because the third film revolves almost entirely around Ripley's desire to protect the integrity of her own body—specifically her womb—"Alien 3" feels more purely feminist than the previous two movies, for all their innovative images of a badass heroine battling spindly space bugs whose ominsexual bodies blended male and female genitalia into a Freudian nightmare of sexual horror. In the first movie, she's fighting to save her crew. In the second, she's fighting to save a little girl, and in so doing, embracing her own latent potential for motherhood; the climactic action scene even brings her face-to-face with another mother, the alien queen, in an egg chamber. But in "Alien 3," Ripley is fighting for Ripley. She has to. Nobody else will fight for her. She has allies but no protectors—nor, it seems, does she expect any, not after enduring so much suffering en route to this hellhole. 

    "Alien 3" certainly has its problems as entertainment: the pacing is, in this writer's estimation, a bit too loose, and once the alien gets loose in the prison, the film becomes a retread of the first movie, but with more explicitly religious dialogue and imagery, bigger sets, and foggier lighting. But there's no denying the movie's imaginative charge, much of which comes from the elements Tafoya examines in this video. In this movie, Ripley is still the "final girl" of horror movie tradition, but she's also a deliverer and a redeemer. But she's mainly delivering herself from evil, and redeeming humankind. 

    By: Matt Zoller Seitz
    Posted: December 2, 2013, 8:31 am


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