We are looking for fans of film and games who want to contribute reviews, lists, or features.
We are looking for fans of film and games who want to contribute reviews, lists, or features.
THE PLACE: Fiorina Fury 1561 – “A barren planet whose surface temperature ranges from 40°C in the daylight to a chilly-20°C at night and while the air might be breathable the howling winds which ravage the flat terrain, combined with the oily and acidic oceans make this not a planet you choose to live on, but one were you leave things you wish to be forgotten”
The Alien saga has continually been a source of much fascination, not only because, like its inspiration Dark Star, it forgoes the usual space-age uniforms and ill-fitting codpieces that littered the sci-fi genre and instead introduces the idea of blue-collar space. With each new entry the universe constantly felt like it was growing while being filled out with interesting and memorable characters and locations as we follow franchise star Ellen Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) ongoing battle with the Xenomorph’s, whose constant appearances in her life seemed to share the same kind of dedication that sharks seem to reserve for the Brody family in Jaws.
With the series having transferred smoothly from Ridley Scott’s haunted house in space to James Cameron’s Vietnam War analogy in Aliens, it came as a shock to fans when David Fincher’s darker vision had Ripley’s escape pod from Aliens snatched away everything that audiences held dear as beloved characters were suddenly killed off or deactivated, leaving a sour taste in the mouth of many fans who still highlight this as one of their main reasons for hating the film. Even now the debate rages on with fans on both sides as its both adored and hated in equal measure. (Here’s one take.)
Born out of a well-documented troubled production which saw the original director Vincent Ward envision a wooden planet inhabited by a group of space monks being the location for the film to take place. When Ward left the production it fell to Fincher, who at the time was yet the household name he is now, instead better known as a music video and commercial director. Much like Spike Jonze and Mark Romanek, he’d elevated his rank through iconic videos for the likes of Madonna and Aerosmith, let alone his smoking fetus commercial which caught the attention of the producers, who did not expect Fincher to bring with him an overwhelming desire for perfection to the set. At one point, Fincher wanted to shoot an exploding head 70 times, which soon saw him clashing with the producers throughout filming, which is now the stuff of production hell legend.
With Fincher now onboard the working script scrapped element from various scripts with, most noticeably, the monks changed out for a group of prisoners as Fincher was forced to try and complete the production even as the script was continually under rewrites. Yet there are still noticeable links between the two visions with the prisoners following their own brand of Christianity, lead by their unofficial pastor/leader Dillon (Charles S. Dutton) who helps them maintain a self sustained lifestyle while they salvage what they can from the derelict industrial landscape, storing toxic waste. The Assembly Cut of the film shows the inmates using oxen to pull the escape pod out of the ocean, which was originally to serve as host for the alien chestburster until Fincher questioned the fact that this latest alien didn’t move like a cow and instead switched it to a dog instead.
While the planet might have once been home to a lead-smelting works and a work correctional facility, by the time Ripley’s escape pod crashes on the planet it is a shell of its former self after both facilities were closed down by the Weyland-Yutani Corperation whose presence once more continues to be felt in the franchise. Now the facilities are maintained by a small group of inmates who choose to stay behind on the planet along with a several minders. The facility is also noteworthy as being classed as a Double-Y Chromosome Work Correctional Facility, the double Y coming from a genetic mutation in the 22nd century, which makes them predisposed to antisocial behaviour. Certainly from the various confessions we hear from the inmates, a desire to commit brutal crimes such as rape and murder or women is prevalent.
Shot in the UK using sound stages at Pinewood Studio for the interior shots including their biggest 007 Stage, the exterior shots are of Blyth Power Station, Northumberland and Dawdon Beach, County Durham used to create the barren landscape combined with crumbling industrial structures encrusted with filth and grime. This landscape really keeps in tone with Fincher’s dark vision, making the planet seem like a kind of purgatory, perfectly matching Ripley’s situation where everything has been ripped from her life once more. It’s a different kind of setting than one we are certainly used to seeing, especially for what at the time was seen as the conclusion of the series, especially (spoiler) with Ripley’s Christ-like swan dive into magma as she throttles the queen chestburster certainly seemed it while being backed up by Weaver openly citing that she was done with the series.
The balance of power and chain of command has throughout the series been a reoccuring theme and here its really what makes this location particularly interesting when viewed for its internal political structure; for despite the facility not officially being open, there is still a clear division between the authority, consisting solely of Superintendent Andrews (Brian Glover) and his sole guard and general assistant Aaron (Ralph Brown) who the inmates nicknamed “85” after his IQ was discovered in his personnel file. Due to maintaining a strong armed authoritative presence, the lack of actual guards never proves a problem to the smooth running of the facility, with Andrews respecting the prisoners religious beliefs, which enable them to self-regulate amongst themselves while understandably knowing that the presence of a woman has the potential to stir things up at the facility and break the delicate peace. It’s a peace which is equally enforced by the prisoners unofficial leader Dillion who re-enforces the religious beliefs and can be seen as the gatekeeper to their community, especially when his attempts to intimidate Ripley fail – he recognises her faith and that she, much like them, is in her own way lost, something that could provide a way into their community.
While the facility might rest on a delicate peace, there is still the wild card in chief medical officer Clemens (Charles Dance) a former medical prodigy incarcerated at the facility after his own ego and general drunkenness lead to him being charged with gross incompetence. Now with no place to go, due to his criminal record and reduced medical license he also choose to stay at the facility when it closed. However while characters can be seen as belonging to one of the two groups, Clemens is the sole neutral party as he doesn’t care to view himself as being one of the inmates, yet seems just as content to constantly provide a source of aggravation to Andrews. Ultimately though, Clemens’ role in this story is to provide another crumb of a normal life for Ripley, much like Newt and arguably Hicks from Aliens, only for the Xenomorph to snatch it from her once more.
With the gung-ho atmosphere of Aliens, this film is certainly something of a step down for fans which is often one of the gripes from the detractors who couldn’t see an enjoyable entry in the series, one that didn’t have firepower. This had been something that Weaver had campaigned for in Aliens when she’d initially fought against the idea of Ripley using a gun until Cameron had taken her on a trip to a gun range. Of course with her star power on the rise between films the requests had clearly turned into demands by the time Alien³ went into production. While the demand might have seen overblown, removing all the firepower and hardware from the story, we are left with a much more interesting situation in how do you stop the ultimate predator when you essentially have nothing to fight it with, something inmate Morse (Danny Webb) outlines to Ripley:
“We’ve got no entertainment center, no climate control, no video system, no surveillance, no freezers, no fucking ice cream, no rubbers, no women, no guns, all we got here is shit!“
Thankfully the film more than manages to find a way to resolve this issue, including a failed attempt to burn the xenomorph out of the vents with a toxic waste fire, which still today might be one of the most impressive uses of fire effects since the gasoline throwing sequence in The Thing From Another World. The end game however sees the prisoners engaging in a deadly game of cat and mouse with the xenomorph as they attempt to lure it into the lead mold could easily had fallen flat, just on the grounds of how suicidal a plan it is, but here thanks some impressive camera work, tense pacing and general fun splatter, not to mention a rousing speech (and equal rousing score by Elliot Goldenthal) from Dillion (a real credit to Dutton’s commanding performance) the audience much like the prisoners are able to get behind the plan.
“You’re all gonna die. Only question is how you check out. Do you want it on your feet? Or on your fucking knees, begging? I ain’t much for begging. Nobody ever gave me nothing! So I say fuck that thing! Let’s fight it!“
It’s also during this final gathering that the film really outlines the master plan of Weyland-Yutani Corporation who’ve been keen to get their hands on the xenomorph for their bio-weapons division when it was first discovered and tore through Ripley’s crewmates in Alien. Here she outlines how each of the so-called expendable groups (Colonists, Marines) were of little concern to the company, and reading a little deeper, it could also be seen as how each of them were really just test groups. It is hard however to say if the company did see the prisoners as being expendable, as she states, seeing how they (spoiler) don’t kill the last survivor Morse but instead take him with them. In S.D. Perry’s book “Alien: The Weyland-Yutani Report” it’s not only revealed that Morse survived being taken away by the company but also wrote a book called “Space Beast” of which Perry’s book also contains a copy where we are told it was banned due to its sensitive nature.
To best appreciate Fiorina Fury 161 you should really watch the Assembly Cut, which is not so much a director’s cut as Fincher refused to have anything to do with the film bar mentioning what a horrible experience it was to make. This version of the film uses his editing notes and adds more depth to the location as we receive more shots of the exteriors as well as character-building for prisoners in restored scenes who as a result, are less interchangeable outside of a few characters who stood out in the theatrical cut. Either way, this remains a unique vision of the future and a unique entry in the series, even if it might not have been what some of the fans / Fincher wanted.