The special-edition DVD of Alien 3 helps make sense of the original.
Originally released as part of the prohibitively expensive Alien Quadrilogy box set, and just recently reissued in a stand-alone special edition, Fox's late-game restoration/mea culpa regarding David Fincher's aborted fucked-from-the-get-go Alien 3 is cause for celebration.
What's that? You say you hated Alien 3?
You're not alone, pal. We all hated Alien 3.
It was one of the most miserable moviegoing experiences of my life. The morning after a prom that didn't go the way proms always seem to go for guys in the movies, Alien 3 was a brutalizing debacle.
I remember staggering out of the theater on opening day with my two best friends--the three of us still hungover, and the movie having made us so nauseous we could barely manage to speak during that long ride home.
Nashville-based film critic Jason Shawhan, a college buddy and tireless advocate of all things Alien-related, spent years trying to make me watch a bootleg black-and-white video dub of Fincher's original two-and-a-half-hour assembly for Alien 3. He was always comparing it to Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, and endlessly insisted there was a great film in there before Twentieth Century Fox went and cut the guts out of it.
Painstakingly restored for the new DVD by editor Terry Rawlings (sadly, Fincher won't have anything to do with any of these assholes anymore and was not involved with the disc), the original Alien 3 assembly boasts more than a half-hour of never-before-seen footage--and suddenly it all makes perfect sense.
It is now and always will be a dark, extremely upsetting film. Fincher makes his intentions clear from the opening credits, during which he brazenly kills off everyone we grew to love during the second picture (what balls!). And that's just the warm-up.
He doesn't just kill the franchise--he eventually even gets around to killing Sigourney Weaver.
Fincher loves to annihilate our comfort zones. Movies like Seven and Fight Club rejoice in upending expectations, using the audience's preconceived notions as a blunt instrument with which he takes delight in bludgeoning us senseless. I don't particularly agree with his pessimism, but I'm awed by it. Fincher's films are all of a piece.
Alien 3 is a dank, moody thing--one that was flutter-cut into incoherence by shithead Fox execs (many are glimpsed during the more than three hours of supplemental material, happily slapping themselves on the back for "stepping in and saving the movie"). They took a nasty Bergman-esque sci-fi funeral and tried to re-jigger it into a summer blockbuster roller-coaster ride.
It didn't work. But the longer, more morose, ultimately devastating new/original version of Alien 3 glimpsed on this DVD rambles along tangents, rooting around in some primal (and seriously ugly) shit.
The studio cut seemed glib and nihilistic because it skimmed across all the brutality without any downtime. The special edition dawdles, hanging out with the characters long before they're cruelly eviscerated. These corpses have faces that linger.
A cutting critique of organized religion (most of the excessive God-centric material has never seen the light of day until now), this movie--like all of Fincher's films--places its protagonist in the face of collapsing social structures and dares them to find a way out. He makes it plain that God and faith have abandoned Ellen Ripley. So where's she supposed to go from here?
If you answered "a big swan dive into a smoldering magma pit," chances are you've seen this movie before. But then again, even if you think you've seen it before, you haven't really.
This time, when she jumps, it actually means something.
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