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18 February 2004

Alien3, Special Edition on DVD

Feels odd watching the additional DVD with everybody loosely defending the movie, finding excuses to this or that, being globally dissatisfied, whereas I like this one much more than the first (too slow, it’s gotten old) or the second (too stupid). Feels odd, too, thinking that my favorite two in the series are the third, disavowed by its director (whom you don’t hear once in the whole making-of), and the fourth, disavowed by its writer (whom I don’t expect to see in the 8th DVD — but considering that all the interviewees are rather honest, I expect them to mention the problems Whedon has with the movie).

The great success, of course, is the general atmosphere (which, incidentally, is responsible for the movie’s lack of domestic success, and the crew’s lack of enthusiasm). As soon as the very first scenes, Ripley immediately finds the mood she should have had in the second episode. Which doesn’t actually make much sense, when you think that all she did in the mean time was sleep — but it totally does if you consider, like I do, that Aliens has never existed.

And then, of course, there’s the ending. It isn’t really logical (in the previous two movies, the aliens were happy to cocoon their incubators so that they’d stay put, so there’s no reason for the beast not to do so with Ripley — not to mention that I don’t really believe the parasite would die with her, nor that she shouldn’t be jumping all around the place for so long before it bursts out), but it does work and still brings tears to my eyes, even though I know it by heart (as much as I can know a movie by heart, which is, not much). What more can you want?

The box’s leaflet announces that the special edition is in no way a director’s cut, because Fincher didn’t have a word on it, and basically they just got back some shots that hadn’t been kept. I don’t quite understand why the released version didn’t include the alien’s birth from a big ox, and I think it was stupid to cut off not-Bishop’s “I’m not a droid!” line showing his blood to Ripley (his wound’s make-up is so bad, with the ear sticking out, I always wondered whether he was actually a robot or not), I don’t really know why Ripley’s suicide shot is different: in that version, the alien doesn’t burst out. It’s more subtle, less disruptive to the scene’s emotion, but it’s less explicit — okay, when I put it that way, I can totally imagine the studio executives demanding that the audience be reminded she’s got a good reason to kill herself. Too bad. Incidentally, I note that this scene is uncannily reminiscent of the end of Buffy’s fifth season — which is all the more troubling as Whedon must have been watching the trilogy over and over as he was working on the fourth movie.

The only negative thing I have to say is about the special effects. Fortunately, as one of the actors puts it, this movie is more about the characters than the beast. I had always been shocked by the failed compositing of Ripley’s suicide, but that doesn’t matter anymore since the shot is different in the special edition, and it’s visibly been edited cleanly, recently, for the DVD. However, I spent the whole movie wondering how come the CGI alien shots could be so poorly integrated, and whether they were additional scenes and hence hadn’t been as carefully processed as the rest (see the second capture, but it’s much more obvious when it’s moving). The bonuses answered me: those are original shots (I guess the problem is less visible in theaters and on TV screens because the alien’s dark anyway) and these aren’t CGI shots, but a puppet filmed in front of a blue screen — and even the compositing isn’t digital. So it’s bound to age badly, now that we’re used to seamless integration; Too bad that Fincher doesn’t seem to be willing to make a director’s cut with updated 3D effects — but all directors can’t be like George Lucas and have nothing else to do than remaster over and over the only one thing they ever did right in their career.

As a conclusion, it’s a good thing there are the third and fourth movies to justify buying (in my case, being offered — I’m not to the point of buying myself DVD boxes) the “quadrilogy”. I’ll recommend in passing the Alien3 bonus DVD’s tale of how studio producers can transform a superbly original idea into an abandoned factory. The movie would have been… different.

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