Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Back Injury Theater: "Alien 3" the "Assembly Cut"

First off, we've had a bit of a crisis at ArtEvolved, but it looks like it will have a happy ending. Glendon Mellow did a fine recap of Monday's events here, and if you are a Deviant Art member, you can still help us.

I also want to re-re-emphasize something in that link. On behalf of all illustrators, if you like our art and you want to use it then please don't be afraid to just ask us!


With David Fincher in the news with "The Social Network" (aka, "Call it 'That Facebook Movie' One More Time and I Will Hit You as Hard as I Can"), and me needing an excuse to finally show some love to the "Alien" film series, I decided it was high time to revisit Fincher's first feature-length film. It was time to see what the altered cut of "Alien 3" (available on the excellent "Quadrilogy" set and -yes!- for rental through Netflix) was all about.

Shamelessly copy-pasted from IMDB: "In December, 2003, the 'ALIEN QUADRILOGY' boxset was released with a newly created cut of 'Alien 3' entitled 'the assembly cut.' It attempts to reconstruct David Fincher's workprint (which the studio balked at), but goes one step further and adds color correction and remixed 5.1 sound. Several scenes, however, suffer from poor on-set audio quality (mostly due to the use of fog machines and steam which obscures on-set dialog). Optional subtitles transcript the dialog."

This is not a director's cut. Fincher considers this film to be his Old Shame, and did not participate in making the new version, although he approved of it. It's easy to understand why he has a hard time with this movie; if you were an "Alien" series fan in the early '90s, then you may recall that this film's production was... troubled.

The surprisingly frank bonus disk (also Netflixable) tells the long, strange story over nearly three hours worth of special features. To start with, there were several wildly different ideas for the film kicked around in the late '80s. Four of these made it to script form:

William Gibson's script is probably the most famous but is barely acknowledged in the special features here for some reason. It involved several ideas that would later show up in the fourth film (Xenomorph-human hybrids) and the comic (more fun with Hicks and Newt!)

Eric Red's script was the reason for the infamous "on Earth,
everyone can hear you scream" teaser. Way to go, Fox.

David "Pitch Black" Twohy wrote a version that introduced the concept of a prison planet...

And Vincent Ward's script turned the prison into a monastery (these ideas would be rather bashed together in the final film). The DVD spends a lot of time with this version, possibly because it has the most surviving pre-production material. This version would have been extremely surreal, with horrifying nightmare sequences.

Turns out the theatrical cut of "Alien 3" began filming with no script at all; just all these half-formed ideas hovering around. The result was a movie that -even the cast and crew admit this on the DVD- isn't very likable.

Fincher is not to blame, however. I can tell when a director has been assigned a movie that has been in development hell for years and years, because the director will usually be, like, "F*** it". (As an example, I have a hard time blaming Tim Burton for "Planet of the Apes".) In this case, however, since there was no script and vast galloping herds of executives ready to meddle, it looks more like David Fincher was, like, "F*** you, Fox."

"Well, that was all very interesting, Trish, but what is the 'Assembly Cut' like?"

You should know that I've never seen the theatrical cut of this movie all the way through -- but I have seen enough of it (it's probably on FX right now). I could tell right away that the Assembly Cut was practically a completely different movie. Without spoilers, the opening sequence is very different, the closing sequence is slightly different, and there is a
lot more character development. Heck, even the Alien itself becomes a more interesting character in this cut.

Though that brings us to special effects. Perhaps it is simply because it is, for all intents, the work print, but the animation simply does not hold up. However, I learned through the special features that the Alien here is not a CGI character at all ("Jurassic Park" was still a year away); it's actually a small puppet animated in a manner somewhat similar to Phil Tippett's Go-Motion creatures. In that respect, it could be considered the last of it's kind.

I should mention, for David Fincher fans who have not seen this film yet, that it is very, very dark even for him. Really, from the studio logo on, this movie is like the cure for joy. There is almost no humor at all in it and -- well, you may have heard that it has a sad ending...

However, it is a fascinating film to watch whether you are a curious Fincher fan or an "Alien" series fan who was disappointed in the theatrical cut. Just leave your pet ox out of the room when you watch it; your dog can stay though.


Ye Art of Ye Day! So much text! Here is a very elaborate digital painting to make up for it.

Soul Silver team


Zach said...

Love that Breloom.

I haven't seen Alien 3 in a very long time--it's something I should watch again. I'm surprised that after its poor reception, they went ahead and made Resurrection at all (which was also hounded by pre-production difficulties).

Also, I think Fincher's last film was the movie about that serial killer. The name escapes me now, but it had Jake Gyllinhall (however you spell that) in the starring role.

I'm gonna Netflix both Alien 3 and this special features disk you speak of. They both sound interesting.

Peter Bond said...

Thanks for this review, Trish! I am a huge fan of the Alien series, er.. Alien and Aliens. While I find the third thoroughly depressing, I still kinda liked it. If the reworked version is so different, I really need to see it.

I hope you feel better soon and thanks for your help with the ArtTheft fiasco! Wicked!

Glendon Mellow said...

Wow, I had no idea there were that many problems surrounding Alien 3. It's quite possibly my favourite of the series. As you say, a cure for joy. But it's so wall to wall seamless and's my favourite not in a "what a fun movie" way, it's my favourite in "what an effective piece of art" way.
- -
I like the little green guy in the corner best.