(This review was originally published in Under the Ozone Hole #1. August 1992. Updated comments in red.)
The movie Alien set itself apart from most other SF/horror/monster movies in a number of ways. For one thing, the alien itself was genuinely scary. Not "giant gorilla scary," or "huge blob with one eye” scary, but really seriously scary. This alien helped the film to win a well-deserved special effects Academy Award (although some irate Star Trek: The Motion Picture fans disagreed with the "well deserved" part).
In addition to the well designed alien, the sets (including such things as the mining ship Nostromo, the derelict alien space ship, the egg chamber and the hostile planet) were unusual and bizarre but terrifyingly believable. The Nostromo felt real. It looked as though people hand lived and worked in it for decades.
The final point which set Alien apart from other films on the genre was that the progression of the plot didn't rely solely on the stupidity of the characters. We were spared the "Oh, no, thank you. I don't need to stay here with you kind people. I'll just go on alone and stay in the cold, dark, abandoned house that belonged to my presumed dead mass-murdering uncle, who legend has it lives in the attic that I will enter weaponless the first time I hear a noise up there..." bullshit that seems to be the mainstay of hack horror. When they did something they shouldn't have, or failed to do something they should have, there was a reason. For example, they didn't cryogenically freeze Executive Officer Cain when he had the alien face hugger stuck to him, even though Parker suggested it repeatedly, because that their science officer Ash was an android programmed to keep the alien alive.
Alien 3, however, had the entire cast acting as if stupidity were next to godliness. The movie rides on the premise that Ripley would have gone into hypersleep without checking the Suloco for any traces of aliens, especially eggs! We are meant to believe that a squad of double-Y chromosome, violent psychopaths couldn't conjure up weapons more effective than scissors and fire axes. These people had bottles and flammable liquids but couldn't make something as simple as a Molotov cocktail. These murders had access to explosives and pipes but couldn't take a lesson from Kirk’s battle with a Gorn & fashion a simple cannon. The plot of Alien 3 made little sense to me until a thought occurred. An over-used cop-out thought, but a thought nonetheless. It's possible that the entire movie is meant to be Ripley's hypersleep dream on the Suloco. I recognize that the argument that "this is exactly the sort of nightmare one could expect Ripley to have" is, alone, unconvincing. There are, however, many other indications that this may be the case:
--The director of Alien 3, David Fincher, was apparently chosen for his ability to film "dream-like sequences" for music videos.
--The second scene of Ripley in the movie shows her in hypersleep in R.E.M. state.
--A full torso autopsy is done on Newt when the scanner in the escape pod could have shown her insides far more effectively, and in a far less "nightmarish" way.
--A single face-hugger somehow impregnated both Ripley and a dog. (Every other face hugger dies after implanting one creature.)
--For no readily apparent reason, the alien hatched from the dog is different than any seen before. (The suggestion for this is that the aliens take on some of the features of the creature they gestate in.)
--Ripley carries an embryonic alien inside her for
days, instead of a single day;
--Ripley sees a CAT scan of the alien inside her and somehow knows it is a queen (keep in mind that she has never seen an alien embryo of any type before).
--We see Ripley smack an alien upside the head with a metal pole, but the head turns out to be a pipe which looks nothing like as alien head.
--The Company sends people to get the adult and embryo aliens from Fury 361, instead of grabbing all the eggs they could possibly want form the hive under the alien ship craft on LV426. (When this review was originally published, some people suggested that Ripley would have nuked the Alien ship on LV426. I think the movie Aliens should have ended with that scene. Maybe an epilogue after the credits finished. KJ 2004)
--The Company rep who comes to Fury 361 looks exactly like Bishop (In spite of Bishop having saved Ripley, she might still be suspicious of him because of her earlier experiences with Ash. A psychological conflict of this sort could easily be resolved with a dream featuring a human who looks like Bishop turning out to be a scumbag).
--Ripley experiences an alien breaking out of her chest without screaming, saying "ouch," or even changing her expression.
To me, the above points add up to the story being either a dream or a good example of bad writing. If you’re unconvinced, consider the final dialogue from the movie Aliens:
NEWT: Are we really going to sleep all the way home?"
RIPLEY: All the way home."
NEWT: Can I dream?
RIPLEY: Yes, honey, I think we both can.
As well, Ripley's final line in Aliens is, "Sleep tight," a line which could easily start your average human mind thinking about "bedbugs," and such bugs were a ubiquitous in Alien 3.
We are told, even shown, in Aliens that Ripley has
recurring nightmares about aliens. In the novelization, we are told that she
was "sleeping under sedation necessary to mute the effects of recurring
nightmares." At the end of Aliens when she decides she could dream,
she likely would not have taken these sedatives.
Dreams are mentioned several times in the novelizations of both Alien and Aliens. The first book mentions that some people are "pro-dreamers" who have their dreams recorded for others to experience. About Ripley, it is said "...a little more effort, a greater intensity of self-recognition and she would have made a pretty good pro-dreamer. Or so she told herself."
At the end of the novelization of Aliens we read, "She could only hope not to dream."
The intro to the novel Alien 3 provides even more evidence that the story is Ripley’s dream:
Funny thing about nightmares. They’re like a chronically recurring disease. Mental malaria. Just when you think you have them licked they hit you all over again, sneaking up on you when you’re unprepared, when you’re completely relaxed and least expect them. Not a damn thing you can do about it, either.”
Does all this mean we can expect Alien 4: Ripley Wakes Up to premiere in 1994? Maybe not. Perhaps the filmmakers purposely left ambiguous the idea that it was a dream. However, if there's money in it, they'll probably film it.
(Originally Published in Under the Ozone Hole #1. August 1992)
Review by Karl Johanson
In rewatching the movie, I note that it ends with a playback of the audio recording of Ripley’s transmission from the Nostromo’s shuttlecraft, from the end of the first Alien movie. This is suggestive that both the second and the third movies are her dreams while in hypersleep.
Alien 4, was released in 1997.