#5 in my Ranking of the Alien Franchise.
Literally every change and addition in this cut improves the film. It doesn’t make the movie good. It still has a lot of the flaws the theatrical cut has, but it helps with some of the others, strengthens some of the images, and creates a more cohesive experience overall. It can’t rise above mediocrity, but at least it’s not mired in badness.
Skipping the plot summary and diving right into the improvements. This is not meant as a comprehensive list, just a quick look at some of the major changes and how they affect the film.
So the two biggest single additions or changes are at the beginning and in the middle. The beginning, right after the opening credits, is completely different. Instead of the prisoners just opening Ripley’s hatch, we have Clemens finding Ripley on the beach and a team of oxen pulling the escape pod from the water. It’s one of the oxen that ends up impregnated by the facehugger instead of a dog. The image of Clemens, with his bulking large coat, holding the lithe nearly naked frame of Ripley into the prison is a rather striking image considering the size difference of the two bodies. The use of the cow works better than the dog, I think. Killing dogs is generally a cheap emotional punch in order to involve the audience. The image of the cow as the first victim, implying a sacrifice of some kind, holds greater symbolic power.
The other major changes in this section of the film involve Charles S. Dutton’s character Dillon. In the theatrical cut he’s a religious man but provides little else to the film. In the expanded version he has a lot more to do. It’s a lot of little things like leading the convicts in prayer before the warden’s rumor control, but the sum effect is to introduce an idea that’s obviously left over from Vincent Ward’s original ideas. The contrast of Dillon’s words and the image of the alien bursting from the cow imply a connection between sin and the alien itself. The implication is that the alien is the manifestation of the wrath of God upon the unrighteous. It’s an interesting idea that has a more natural home in a story about monks on a wooden world rather than convicts in a prison colony, but at least it’s an idea. The movie eventually just drops it in favor of the brainless monster movie of the final act, but it’s something to latch onto.
The middle section has the single largest addition in the form of an actual ending to the first attempt to trap the alien. The way this section ends is kind of confusing in the theatrical cut. There’s an explosion, some characters disappear, and then we seem to have jumped to an unrelated scene, which is exactly what happened. There’s about fifteen minutes added into the assembly cut that shows the successful trapping of the xenomorph in a giant vault, and Paul McGann’s crazed convict freeing it in some sort of pseudo-religious ceremonial manner (involving the attacking of other guards). This gives the first attempt at capturing the alien at least some resolution, even if, again, it’s in service to an idea that doesn’t seem to quite fit the film.
The final big change is really only one small series of shots at the end. In the theatrical cut, producers apparently thought audiences didn’t understand that Ridley was throwing herself into the furnace in order to kill the queen inside her, so they had shot footage of the queen bursting from Ripley’s chest and her hugging it as she falls into the molten liquid below. The assembly cut assumes a modicum of intelligence on the part of the audience and doesn’t make the queen’s presence, which we already know, so explicit. I think it helps the somewhat awkward scene play a bit better.
The big chase in the furnace is still a confusing mess. Clemens is still an odd red herring that doesn’t really work. Ripley still takes an hour to figure out what we know in the first few minutes of the film. The changes don’t come close to fixing everything, but they do fix some things. The movie is appreciably better, even if it’s still appreciably less than good.
If you want to watch Alien 3, the assembly cut (or special edition, or workprint version, whatever you want to call it) is the way to go.
Netflix Rating: 3/5
Quality Rating: 2/4