By Slick Nick
When I judge a sequel, I don’t just consider its merits alone. I tend to think of sequels as remakes initially – you generally have the same characters, same setting, same story, same genre and similar writers & directors, doing the same shit as in the previous film/s.
I also think about how good the previous movie in the franchise was. To better an already great picture is a commendable feat. On the flipside, a film like Nightmare on Elm Street 4, arguably the worst film ever made, wouldn’t jump out at me as being a crap sequel because the previous film in that series isn’t worth much either.
I think a great sequel should be a decent stand alone film in its own right, but also build and improve upon the previous film’s ideas. A crap sequel will do the opposite and be an inferior film.
Aliens itself is a classic film but also one of the best sequels ever made. It betters a classic movie, brings memorable characters, technology and action to the table, and also delivers a shit ton of iconic sci-fi cinematic moments. Who could forget Bishop’s knife and hand trick which revealed him to have sperm for blood?
Alien 3 took all that away. Everything that made Aliens one of the best films of the 80s was missing. All the magic was gone.
In Aliens, Ripley is still coming to terms with the mass murder of her entire list of co-stars from the first film by an athletic man in a suit. She then gets the opportunity to bond with some awesome space marines in a quest to wipe out the aliens for good after they’ve made a mess of a Pinewood Studios set. She acquires a foster daughter in Newt and does battle with the alien queen at the end – metal against flesh, mum against mum.
Alien 3 doesn’t compare. Ripley crash lands on a planet whose only inhabitants are prisoners. An Alien is born from livestock, and goes on a killing spree. It can’t kill Ripley because she herself is carrying an alien queen, though how the alien is aware of this is anyone’s guess. Apparently for the sake of convenience it’s been given x-ray vision. So the protagonist cannot be harmed by the antagonist in any way. Now, excuse me whilst I sit on the edge of my fucking seat through all this narrative tension.
Aliens has a list of unforgettable, richly scripted characters. They all drive the narrative and drama in certain ways and elicit the appropriate emotional responses from the audience. We want Ripley to conquer her demons and save her ‘daughter’. We want Hicks to survive because he’s a generally all round good egg. We want Burke’s throat to be ripped open by a xenomorph, because he’s a greedy, slimey corporate highflying fuckhole. The deaths that happen are iconic and meaningful, and so is the chemistry between characters.
Alien 3 fails almost immediately by having only a single sympathetic character other than Ripley in the entire film, and even he becomes wormfood fairly early on. The rest of the characters are dangerous criminals, exhiled from civilization and adequate dentistry, for example murderers, rapists and the like. Having them confront the alien leaves no room for suspense or hope – we don’t give two fucks if they survive or not because they’re the worst collection of subhuman scum committed to film. Even the authority figures are annoying, one being the arsehole PE teacher from Kes for example. They’re also almost entirely British. Why are the arse-kicking marines in Aliens essentially all-American archetypes, whilst the rotten, ugly prisoners in Alien 3 are from Blighty? Does no other nationality in the galaxy commit horrible crimes? Fuck off.
Aliens had all manner of awesome life-ending gear, plus spaceships, powerloaders, motion sensors, web cams and a commendable pimped up limousine. These still look great even today. Entire films now use the CCTV/reality TV gimick to exist, whereas Aliens innovatively used it in just one gripping, story-changing sequence when the marines first encounter the Viet Cong and get their arses quite convincingly handed to them.
What does Alien 3 have, apart from a sprinkler system and doors that lock? Fuck all. Not even one gun. Brilliant.
This pretty much speaks for itself. Aliens is so packed full of action that you almost forget set-pieces. But the key thing is it’s never meaningless – it all drives the narrative and develops the characters. Each encounter makes Hudson more unhinged until he meets his legendary demise, for example, whilst Ripley only gets stronger and more determined. The final bout between Ripley and the alien queen is dramatic because the script makes it personal, like two old slappers having a scrap outside a Whetherspoon’s in Sheffield. Ripley is also confronting what could be the root cause of her nightmares in the first place.
In Alien 3 there’s only one alien, and no weaponry; all that’s on offer is a lot of running through grim corridors, opening and shutting doors, until they’re in a position to offer their guest a very inconsistent shower to end its short life.
Sequels are supposed to turn the action up to 11. There should be more deaths, bigger sequences, better effects, new enemies and characters etc. that give the audience something more for their money. They shouldn’t take everything further back than even the fucking original movie.
5. Set Design
I love a good set, and Aliens is full of them. Every scene gives the audience something neat to look at. The space station where the marines awake from a long afternoon nap, the colony rooms and corridors, the laboratory, the alien lair, I could go on.
Alien 3, on the other hand, offers nothing. In fact what it offers is worse than nothing. It could have been decent, a hi-tech super prison perhaps with some decent weaponry and futuristic ideas on keeping a population of near animals in line. But no, that would have required too much effort. Instead we get a generic, bland, boring, depressing iron works, with every room and corridor resembling the same bland shit. It’s about as easy on the eye as that little woman/eunuk creature from The Krankies. It’s also poorly lit, as are all David Fincher flicks, and whilst that style does lend itself to gritty, noir-like psychological thrillers, it does little for big concept science fiction.
6. Special Effects
The effects in Aliens were cutting edge in 1986 and still hold up very well today. Cameron knew where the limitations were and shot and edited accordingly. The result is a seamless blend of live action, make-up, costumes, puppets, models and CGI work, a veritable wank for the eyes if ever there was one. Combining this spectacle with the dynamite story and script made Aliens unbeatable. Every scene is fucking gold.
Alien 3 didn’t offer much scope for effects, and those it did depict were substandard. A really ropey, poorly animated and crap-looking alien running around hardly compares to the might of the alien queen, which required the population of Basingstoke to operate. Technically, the CGI was more advanced than in Aliens, but it doesn’t stand up even for a second in the present day.
Alien 3 isn’t necessariy a terrible film in its own right, but it is the worst sequel ever made. It removed tension, narrative, spectacle, action and design and inserted some crap computer graphics as a compensation. It was like someone puking up a slap-up three course meal from a Gordon Ramsey restaurant and offering the bile in a cereal bowl to a dinner party guest. Above all else, the film was just a bore.
I do have hope though that a half decent sequel or prequel will get made, advancing the alien mythology in a good way and giving the audience something unique and entertaining at the same time to enjoy.