Saint Ripley And The Dragon

Though all three "Alien" movies boil down to the same basic issue (Sigourney Weaver battles the Beast), what's unusual about the series is that each director has used a different genre to tell the story. Ridley Scott, in the 1979 original, created a haunted-house horror movie in space. James Cameron, in '86, turned it into a matriarchal war movie. Alien 3 is harder to pigeonhole, but it, too, goes its own, rather arty, way. First-time director David Fincher, a 28-year-old best known for such Madonna videos as "Express Yourself," has fashioned a dark, dank horror film that begs to be taken as a quasi-religious passion play, with Weaver as Ripley, head shaved, offering to martyr herself to save the world from the sins of the monster.

Ripley is the sole survivor of a crash landing on a bleak intergalactic penal colony, where the dangerous male criminals have all taken vows of celibacy and have turned into a fundamentalist/millenarian Christian cult. The presence of a woman in their midst seriously rattles their composure, but that's the least of their problems. That acid-spewing, multiheaded, indestructible thing was aboard Ripley's spacecraft--and another beastie is hatching in Ripley's gut. Of course, no one believes her dire warnings ... until the yucky creature starts eating deeply into the cast list. Let the killing games begin.

But just at the point when "Alien 3" should kick into high terror gear, it becomes clear that this hushed, somber sequel doesn't know how to deliver the goods. Fincher has style to spare--and the sets, cinematography and special effects are all first rate-but the nuts and bolts of storytelling elude him. This is easily the least scary, the least emotional and the least cathartic installment of the series. Fincher's action sequences, dizzyingly edited, have a certain abstract beauty, but they lack dramatic clarity: you rarely know exactly what's going on. And except for the scenes between Weaver and Charles Dance, as the penal colony's sympathetic doctor, the human drama rarely comes to life. The David Giler/Walter Hill/ Larry Ferguson script doesn't make much of its fundamentalist ideas, or any others (Fincher may want us to interpret the mutating, unstoppable creature as a metaphor for AIDS: it first strikes just when sex comes to the colony). And the largely English cast of prisoners (except for Charles S. Dutton, who's forceful and direct as the spiritual leader) act as if they were playing Shakespearean rabble in a London experimental-theater production. Credit Fincher for taking risks, but what it all adds up to isn't likely to please hard-core "Aliens" fans or anyone else. its heroine, this peculiarly masochistic sequel seems bent on self-destruction.

Saint Ripley And The Dragon | News