Alien 3 (Director's Cut)
Being the last person in the Western world not to have seen the Alien films, watching and reviewing them has been a fascinating project. Last January, I gave Alien only 2 stars, to the chagrin of many Ripley fans. Then, in June, I was somewhat redeemed when I gave Aliens a full four stars. When I sat down to watch Alien 3, I was expecting to see Ripley come full circle, with a character combining the determination and methodical thinking of the first Ripley and the badassness of the second one (minus the mommy stuff).
It would not be an overstatement to say that I was horribly disappointed. Though her bald head may make her look hardcore, Alien 3's Ripley is a pale shadow of her former characters.
In the first two movies, whether she worked for you as a heroine or not, Ripley was clearly the strong, major character. She made the decisions, she got the action. In Alien 3, this role was, for the most part, subsumed by Charles S. Dutton's Dillon, the spiritual leader of the prison planet on which Ripley is shipwrecked. Don't get me wrong--Dutton does a fantastic job with the Malcolm X-like character, but he does take the film away from Sigourney Weaver in a way that didn't happen in the previous films.
Alien 3's Ripley is also much more a victim and a martyr than her previous characters were. One of my favorite things (in fact one of the only things I liked) about Ripley in the first Alien film was her absolute insistence on her own survival. So how disappointing is it to watch her sacrifice herself at the end of Alien 3? Particularly after seeing her nearly be raped in the first part of the film and be rescued by a man. (Side note: One thing that is interesting about the attempted rape scene is that Ripley, a white woman, is rescued from being raped by a gang of white men by a black man. I don't think this is something I've ever seen in a movie before.)
Another troublesome aspect of Ripley's character in Alien 3 is her sexual encounter with Clemens (Charles Dance, who I thought was great in the film) and subsequent alien "pregnancy." Although the two episodes ostensibly have nothing to do with one another, I recognized the disturbing trend of women have sex (particularly sex they initiate) --> women get pregnant with alien spawn from Angel, and I didn't like it anymore here than I did there. Especially since I was otherwise really happy with the way the film gave Ripley a self-initiated sexuality she hadn't had before (and I really liked the exchange between her and Clemens when she tells him that she can be bold because she's been out here a long time--it was a great play on the "these men haven't seen a woman in years" prison vibe the film has). The film seemed, albeit subtly, to punish Ripley's character for having a non-passive sexuality, and I really hate that.
Alien 3 does a better job with race than with gender. Though there is a single character of color (much like the single female character), I think he comes off as the movie's hero, rather than Ripley. Even though he is supposed to be a hardened murderer and rapist who has just found God while imprisoned, he gives the impression of being the film's sole caring and compassionate character much of the time, as well as the guy with the most level head. An argument could be made (and was, by my partner, who watched the film with me) that he is effectively neutered as a character by his role as "spiritual guide," but I didn't find him to be that way at all. At the end of the film, when he tells Ripley he won't kill her until she helps him save his fellow inmates, you get the first true comradeship I've seen in any of these movies, all of which were ostensibly based on situations that are in some way a brotherhood (a ship's crew, a Marine force, and a prison population). That's worth quite a lot.
Alien 3 is a pretty all-around terrible movie. I was mad at the time I wasted watching it. Though director David Fincher did a good job with a lot of the shots and definitely gave it a post-apocalyptic prison feel that I enjoyed, his video-honed style didn't work nearly so well here as in Fight Club. Mostly, it just felt fragmented. The special effects were also poor, taking a giant step backward from the second Alien film. I still give it two stars, one each for the Dillon character, who I really thought was well done, and for the striking image of a shaved headed Sigourney Weaver and the big deal that was at the time. Honestly, though, I'm being pretty generous.