Alien 3, or, a case study in alienating the viewer

Alien 3 is possibly my least favourite movie ever. It does this not just by being bad, but by trampling on everything that had gone before it.

It does this during the opening credits, when it kills off two characters whom we’ve become invested in. Just throws them out. They could have left Dwayne and Newt out of the film without killing them off. They could have included them, and used them to torture us through the course of the movie. Instead, they threw them out.

When the opening credits are so staggering, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the film.

Alien 3 is set on an all-male prison planet. This both conveniently gets rid of the need to have more than one female character and makes any women watching the movie super-uncomfortable while they wait for someone to try and rape Ripley! The movie even kindly highlights the threat:

We’re 25 prisoners in this facility. All double-Y chromos. All thieves, rapists, murderers, child-molesters. All scum. Just because they have taken on religion doesn’t make them any less dangerous. I try not to offend their convictions. I don’t want to upset the order. I don’t want ripples in the water. And I don’t want a woman walking around, giving them ideas…

While I didn’t expect any rape attempt to succeed, I was still waiting for it. It was a relief when it came, because then it was out the way.

One of the prisoners in particular was our point-of-view character for the beginning of the film. Clemens was the most sympathetic of the prisoners, the most intellectual, whose crime was one of incompetence rather than malice. He admires Ripley from the start.

Ripley straight away wants to sleep with him. A man who she doesn’t know, whom she has no especial chemistry with … and to be quite honest, who is no Michael Biehn. This made no sense to me … until I realised that I wasn’t meant to be placing myself in Ripley’s shoes. I was meant to be empathising with Clemens’s perspective. Because, I, the audience, am presumed heterosexual male, and of course I want to imagine Ripley would want to immediately jump my bones.

I’ve never been thrown out so strongly by the male gaze in a film. Ripley was so thoroughly the subject and not the object in Aliens that the difference was disconcerting as well as offensive.

Thankfully, Clemens doesn’t survive very long. After he dies; after three men have tried to rape Ripley and failed; after that the film picks up, gains some narrative drive … and still fails to be truly engaging.

I have friends who disagree, but for me the film has no redeeming features. It’s like they thought too many women liked the first two movies, so they had to alienate them as much as possible. If nothing else, they were effective in that.

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