IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: ALIEN 3

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Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the underwhelming third film in the ALIEN franchise, ALIEN 3 (1992):

Alien-3-poster

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

By

Michael Arruda

I’ve always wanted to like ALIEN 3 (1992).

In fact, every few years, I say to myself,  “It’s time to give ALIEN 3 another chance.  It really can’t be that bad.  Heck, it’s directed by David Fincher!  Sigourney Weaver is back, and it takes place inside a creepy prison, what’s not to like?  It’s gotta be better than you remember, right?”

I keep thinking that perhaps it’s gotten better with time.

And then I watch it, and I’m reminded of all the reasons why this just isn’t true.  It hasn’t improved with time.  It may never.

It’s difficult to believe that a movie with as much talent behind it as ALIEN 3 is as flawed as it is, but it’s true.  Which is sad because, I mean, you have ALIEN (1979), one of the best science fiction horror movies ever, and then ALIENS (1986), a non-stop thrilling sequel directed by James Cameron, two of the top films of their kind in horror film history.  ALIEN3 has just got to keep things rolling, right?  Wrong.

ALIEN 3 gets off to a bad start right from the get-go. When the escape pod carrying Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) crash lands on the prison planet Fiorina Fury 161, we find out immediately that her fellow passengers and characters from the previous movie ALIENS, Hicks and the young girl Newt, have died.  Likewise, the android Bishop (Lance Henriksen) has been damaged beyond repair.  These were three central characters from ALIENS and to kill them off without any fanfare— especially the child Newt, who  Ripley was extremely close to and  went to great lengths to keep alive— – simply leaves a foul taste in one’s mouth.  Not good storytelling at all.

That being said, it’s certainly not a deal-breaker.  While I’ve never liked this plot point, it certainly doesn’t ruin the movie for me.  It’s simply the first strike.

Ripley regains consciousness and learns from the prison doctor, Dr. Clemens (Charles Dance), that she is now on a prison planet and that Hicks and Newt have died.  The prison contains only the most hardened and dangerous criminals, murderers and rapists.  These early scenes where Ripley becomes acclimated to her new environment are some of the better scenes in the movie, as the prison setting is both cool and creepy, the perfect setting for another Alien thriller.

And it is another Alien thriller because there was an Alien on board Ripley’s ship and it’s now in the prison.  Which means that before you can shout “Great Ridley Scott!” the creature is slinking around the prison killing every inmate in its path.

Which brings me to the number one reason I never seem to be able to enjoy this movie:  the Alien scenes.  Go figure!  Somehow, almost unbelievably so, the Alien scenes are lousy.  They’re not stylish, they’re not memorable, and they’re not scary.  Director David Fincher would go on to make some excellent movies, but you wouldn’t know it from watching this one.

True, the bigger story here is behind-the-scenes there were supposedly all kinds of problems on the set, things like producers meddling, multiple re-writes, and it sounds like it was a huge mess.  The final product certainly plays like one.

Every time I watch ALEIN 3 I’m amazed at how ineffective the Alien scenes are in this movie.  I’m not sure what Fincher was thinking when he shot these scenes, but scaring people didn’t seem to be on his mind.

Also, the Alien simply doesn’t look as good in this third film in the series.  While the special effects team does not employ the inferior CGI effects used in the next film in the series, ALIEN RESURRECTION 1997), the Aien in ALIEN 3 nonetheless looks more puppet-like and nowhere near as menacing as the creature in the first two films.

As much as I enjoy Sigourney Weaver, her performance in this third movie seems a bit tired.  She doesn’t seem to have the same intensity she had in the first two movies.

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Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in ALIEN 3 (1992)

I like Charles Dance a lot as Dr. Clemens.  He’s one of my favorite characters in this one.  Unfortunately, he gets killed off early on.  At times, it seems as if director Fincher and the screenwriters were trying too hard to make this film stand out from the first two movies, and many of the choices made here in the interest of shaking things up just don’t really work, like killing off Clemens.

alien 3 - charles dance

Charles Dance as Dr. Clemens in ALIEN 3 (1992).

Charles S. Dutton is also very good as head prisoner Dillon.  He’s the moral leader of the prisoners and eventually teams with Ripley to lead the charge against the Alien.  Brian Glover also makes his mark as the head of the prison, Andrews.  I always remember Glover from his role as the outspoken chess player in the tavern in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981).

That being said, none of these guys really make for memorable characters.  You’d think that a prison full of hardened criminals would be ripe with cinematic characters, but that’s simply not the case.

The screenplay by David Giler, Walter Hill, and Larry Ferguson is muddled and flawed.  It gives us an atmospheric setting, the prison planet, but never manages to take full advantage of it.  It also never fleshes out the characters to any degree of satisfaction.

ALIEN 3 was a major step backward for the ALIEN franchise, a slide that continued with the next film in the series ALIEN RESURRECTION (1997), and didn’t improve all that much with the two ALIEN VS. PREDATOR movies.  And while Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel PROMETHEUS (2012) had its flaws, it’s still the best “Alien” film since the second one, ALIENS (1986).

ALIEN 3 has potential written all over it, but no matter how many times I view it, it remains  an underwhelming chapter in the ALIEN franchise, a blip on the Nostromo radar screen, a footnote in the Alien canon, fodder for Alien face huggers, and a sad photo-op for Sigourney Weaver in a crew cut.

I wish I could say I like ALIEN 3, that it’s three times the fun.  But it’s not.  If anything, it’s three times less fun.

Maybe it should have been called ALIEN 1/3.

—END—

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THE HORROR JAR: The ALIEN Movies

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alien-movie-posterTHE HORROR JAR: The ALIEN Movies
By Michael Arruda

We finish off the 2014 year with THE HORROR JAR, the column that lists odds and ends about horror movies. Up today in the midst of frigid winter we look at the terrors of cold space, as seen in the ALIEN franchise.

The original ALIEN took moviegoers by storm in the summer of 1979, and I remember when I first saw this one at the movies upon its initial release being disappointed it wasn’t scarier. Of course, I was just fifteen years old back then. ALIEN is one of those movies that I have enjoyed more with each successive viewing, and for me, it’s the best of the series.

Here’s a look at that series:

ALIEN (1979)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Screenplay by Dan O’Bannon
Music by Jerry Goldsmith
Ripley: Sigourney Weaver
Dallas: Tom Skerritt
Lambert: Veronica Cartwright
Brett: Harry Dean Stanton
Kane: John Hurt
Ash: Ian Holm
Parker: Yaphet Kotto
Running Time: 117 minutes

Iconic horror movie with famous tagline “In space no one can hear you scream” is one of the best shockers ever made. Deftly directed by Ridley Scott, this one is not a gross-out shocker— although there are some very graphic scenes— but a cleverly composed thriller with creative touches throughout. The intensely frightening Alien creature is hardly shown at all yet director Scott uses this to his advantage as the beast is there one moment, gone the next. My favorite scene when Dallas searches for the creature in the dark ducts with a blow torch simply uses a blip on a video screen to generate suspense.

Features a fantastic cast led by Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, a role she’d reprise three more times. Infamous scene where the baby alien bursts from John Hurt’s chest is now the stuff of horror film lore. Won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects. A classic of the genre, it was followed by five sequels and as of this writing one prequel.

ALIENS (1986)
Directed by James Cameron
Screenplay by James Cameron
Music by James Horner
Ripley: Sigourney Weaver
“Newt”: Carrie Henn
Hicks: Michael Biehn
Burke: Paul Reiser
Bishop: Lance Henriksen
Hudson: Bill Paxton
Running Time: 137 minutes

James Cameron’s big budget blockbuster is for many the best film of the series. It’s certainly the most ambitious and the most fun, as it features an army of the Alien monsters rather than just one, and in true James Cameron style it’s flawlessly made. That being said, I prefer the cold chilling style of the original over this high flying sequel ever so slightly.

The cast while still very good isn’t as impressive as the one in the original, although Sigourney Weaver is back and is arguably even better here in this sequel than she was in the original- heck, she was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress. Lance Henriksen impresses as Bishop, Bill Paxton chews up the scenery as the big mouthed emotional Hudson, and young Carrie Henn is memorable as “Newt” the little girl who Ripley rescues. The film won two Oscars, one for Sound Effects Editing and the other for Visual Effects.

ALIEN 3 (1992)
Directed by David Fincher
Screenplay by David Giler, Walter Hill, and Larry Ferguson
Music by Elliot Goldenthal
Ripley: Sigourney Weaver
Dillon: Charles S. Dutton
Clemens: Charles Dance
Bishop: Lance Henriksen
Running Time: 114 minutes

OK third film in the ALIEN series pales in comparison to the first two, and after the rousing spectacle of ALIENS, this one really falls flat. It’s sufficient to say that director David Fincher’s best work lay ahead of him, as he’s gone on to make some terrific movies since, including 2014’s GONE GIRL.

The setting of a space prison planet where Ripley lands after the events of ALIENS is a good one, and this film tries to return to the cold scary style of the original, but it ultimately falls short as none of the scares are noteworthy, nor is the story anything to brag about. Suffers from the “been there done that” phenomenon throughout.

ALIEN: RESURRECTION (1997)
Directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Screenplay by Joss Whedon
Music by John Frizzell
Ripley: Sigourney Weaver
Annalee: Winona Ryder
Johner: Ron Perlman
Running Time: 109 minutes

More of the same, and none of it as good as what has been done before. ALIEN: RESURRECTION is probably my least favorite of the ALIEN movies starring Sigourney Weaver. It’s certainly the least memorable of the series. Screenwriter Joss Whedon, who would go on to write CABIN IN THE WOODS (2012), and write and direct Marvel’s THE AVENGERS (2012) must have had an off day when he wrote this.

AVP: ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004)
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
Screenplay by Paul W.S. Anderson
Music by Harald Kloser
Alexa Woods: Sanaa Latham
Sebastian de Rosa: Raoul Bova
Charles Bishop Weyland: Lance Henriksen
Running Time: 101 minutes

First ALIEN movie without Sigourney Weaver is certainly the goofiest and the most contrived. It’s saved only by its crossover gimmick with the PREDATOR series. Absolutely ridiculous story makes little sense. Still, the Alien vs. Predator battles are a lot of fun and provide a guilty pleasure in this otherwise lame-brained movie. By far the weakest of the series.

ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM (2007)
Directed by The Brothers Strause
Screenplay by Shane Salerno
Music by Brian Tyler
Dallas: Steven Pasquale
Kelly: Reiko Aylesworth
Morales: John Ortiz
Running Time: 94 minutes

This second “Alien vs. Predator” flick takes place in a small town and ditches the ridiculous storyline of the previous installment. Keeping things simpler this time around makes this film slightly better than the last as small town folks find themselves in the middle of a war between the Predators and the Aliens. I actually enjoyed this one, and the fact that it has some frightening moments helps.

PROMETHEUS (2012)
Directed by Ridley Scott
Screenplay by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof
Music by Marc Streitenfeld
Elizabeth Shaw: Noomi Rapace
David: Michael Fassbender
Meredith Vickers: Charlize Theron
Janek: Idris Elba
Running Time: 124 minutes

Ambitious science fiction film by original ALIEN director Ridley Scott takes place in the same universe as the ALIEN movies, and so serves as a sort of ALIEN prequel, but the film is much more than just an ALIEN tie-in. I wanted to like this one so much more than I ultimately did, as it is full of big ideas and some very interesting science fiction concepts; however, it doesn’t quite make good on its promises and falls short of its lofty goals. It does have a fantastic cast and it’s certainly very well made, but the story doesn’t always hold water. Based on the premise and set-up for this one, I wanted and expected more.

In terms of the ALIEN tie-in, it is a prequel to the first film, but only on the most peripheral level, as it’s more a case of both films taking place within the same setting, with the events of PROMETHEUS having little to do with the events in ALIEN other than taking place on the same planet.

Back in 1979, when I first saw ALIEN at the movies, I was disappointed, and then over the years with each successive viewing I liked the film more and more. Perhaps the same will happen with PROMETHEUS, that over time, I’ll like it better. We’ll see. I’m about due to watch it again.

So, there you have it, the ALIEN movies. In a nutshell, the franchise begins with two classics of the genre, ALIEN and ALIENS, both outstanding movies, moves on through two mediocre redundant entries ALIEN 3 and ALIEN: RESURRECTION, bottoms out with the lowly ALIEN VS. PREDATOR movies, although the last one ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM was actually rather enjoyable in a B monster movie sort of way, before being reborn in a prequel of sorts, the highly imaginative science fiction movie PROMETHEUS which takes place years before the events of the first film on the same planet where the crew of the Nostromo first discovered the Alien creature.

And that wraps things up for today and for the year

I hope you enjoyed reading my posts here at This Is My Creation: The Blog of Michael Arruda throughout 2014, and I look forward to your joining me in 2015 for more articles about movies, the horror genre, science fiction, and more as we move on to another exciting year.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

Print edition of IN THE SPOOKLIGHT now available!

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InTheSpooklight_NewTextI’m happy to announce that my horror movie review collection IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, previously available only as an EBook, is now available in a print edition at https://www.createspace.com/4293038.

So, for those of you who don’t do EBooks and prefer the printed page, or if you simply haven’t purchased an e-reader yet, now you too can own a copy of IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, a good old-fashioned book you can hold in your hands (not that there’s anything wrong with electronic books, mind you.)

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT is a collection of 115 “In The Spooklight” columns, all originally published within the pages of the HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION NEWSLETTER.  It’s been a staple of the HWA NEWSLETTER since 2000, where it’s still published each month.

In this book, you’ll read about horror movies from the silent era up until today.  You’ll find articles on Lon Chaney’s silent classics, the Universal monster movies, Hammer Films (of course!), the horror films of the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and into the 21st century.  You’ll read about the greats, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., Lon Chaney Sr., Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price.  You’ll read about the supporting players, people like Edward Van Sloan, Dwight Frye, and Lionel Atwill from the Universal movies, and from the Hammer years, Michael Ripper, Thorley Walters, Francis Matthews, and Andrew Keir.

You’ll read about the leading ladies, Fay Wray, Helen Chandler, Veronica Carlson, Barbara Shelley, Ingrid Pitt, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Sigourney Weaver.

You’ll read about the directors, James Whale, Tod Browning, Terence Fisher, John Carpenter, John Landis, Ridley Scott, Peter Jackson, Christopher Nolan, and even Ingmar Bergman.

You’ll read about Ray Harryhausen, Rick Baker, George Pal, Willis O’Brien, Roddy McDowall, Claude Rains, John Carradine, Peter Lorre, Fredric March, Robert Armstrong, Steve McQueen, Harrison Ford, Gregory Peck, Simon Pegg, and Donald Pleasence.

You’ll meet your favorite monsters, Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolf Man, the Invisible Man, the Mummy, Mr. Hyde, the Phantom of the Opera, Dr. Phibes, King Kong, Godzilla, the Ymir, the Blob, Michael Myers, the Alien, and Baron Frankenstein.

In addition to these columns, you’ll also be treated to introductions by both Judi Rohrig and the Gila Queen herself, Kathy Ptacek.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT puts your favorite horror movies in the spotlight and treats them the way they’re supposed to be treated, with reverence and respect.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t share a laugh or two, because we certainly do.

I think you’ll enjoy IN THE SPOOKLIGHT.  Thirteen years of satisfied HWA readers says you will.

—Michael