Redeeming The Dragon: Examining The Alien Legacy Part III

The Alien 3 Characters

Many fans complain about these minor characters, whose roles are mostly occupied by white, skin-headed British actors who are difficult to differentiate from one another. This criticism is valid aside from Morse (Danny Webb), Golic (Paul McGann), and Dillon (Charles S. Dutton), the prisoners of Fury are indistinguishable Xenomorph fodder. It’s the same sort of top-heavy cadre of supporting characters that Aliens fell prey to. There’s a dearth of characters that exist only to be bumped off and who, for the life of me, I cannot remember aside from Bishop (Lance Henriksen), Hudson (Bill Paxton), Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein), Gorman (William Hope), and Apone (Al Matthews). If you run lines from the film with me, I’m apt to remember Frost (Rico Ross) and Drake (Mark Rolston), but names like Corporal Ferro (Colette Hiller), Private Spunkmeyer (Daniel Kash), Private Crow (Tip Tipping), etc. are lost on me no matter how many times I watch the movie.

I’m not entirely sure why this is considered a bad thing. It makes for a narrative imperfection, sure, but it’s an entirely calculated one – while I never remember the names of these characters, I’ll always remember their faces and purpose in the film. Colette Hiller will long be haunted by a mailbox filled with fan printed, intended-for-autograph 8 x 10 pictures of a Xenomorph wrapping its spindly claws around her face. Mark Rolston will always be Vasquez’s lanky-looking sidekick. Just the same, Holt McCallany will always be remembered as that guy who strapped on goggles to rape Ripley (a very surreal, classically Fincher touch) and Pete Postlewaite will be, uh, the character Pete Postlewaite plays (you have to admit, he sort of took off in the years that followed).

These prisoners serve as nameless sheep for the wolf-like (right down to canine hybrid) Xenomorph, thus stacking the odds against their shepherd – the film’s true male lead, Dillon.

The Badass of Badasses

As mentioned before, one of the most prominent David Fincher set pieces of the film is the attempted rape scene. Ripley is overpowered by eight inmates (led by Jude) only to be rescued by Dillon and his trusty lead pipe at the last second (making the one-liner “I’m going to have re-educate the brothers here” a fan favorite). While one might cry fowl on this scene (James Cameron wouldn’t let Ripley get sexually assaulted), it is important for two purposes – one, it demythologizes Cameron’s Warrior Woman archetype (which, if pushed harder, could have ventured into self-parody a la Alien Resurrection), grounding Ripley as a human protagonist rather than an over-the-top action heroine. Second, it highlights Dillon as an absolute fucking badass of the highest order.

You wouldn’t know that if you were to just glance at the character. He’s short, he’s stout, he wears thick-rimmed glasses – but when you hear him speak at Newt and Hicks’ funeral (is there a finer introduction for any other character in the series?), there is no doubt. If there is any benefit from the death of Newt and Hicks, it is the trade-off for Dillon.

Dillon works not only because of Dutton’s magnetic voice and screen presence, but because he’s so goddamned well written. I understand that’s not the most eloquent way to describe Walter Hill and David S. Giler’s work, but I think Dillon himself would approve. Hill/Giler should justifiably be admonished for many of the decisions made during the production of Alien 3, but Dillon needs to be separated from that pack of mistakes. He is a classic character of the Hill/Giler mold – an antihero constantly at odds with everything but his faith.

If you had Sam Peckinpah write a passion play, Dillon would be very at home in it. Though devoutly devoted to God and a spiritual guide to the prisoners of Fury, Dillon is an incredibly violent man who always seems to be teetering on the brink of his old ways – especially in his earliest scenes with Ripley. He doesn’t entirely trust himself and refuses to take on the role of leader against the Xenomorph, though he seems to be a born one. His dialogue is profane and poetic all at once. To top it all off, he fist fights the Alien while molten lead poured on them both. If that isn’t the most badass way to go out of this life, I’m not sure what is.

Dillon is the foundation of Alien 3 and Charles S. Dutton’s performance is, without a doubt, the finest in the series. Dutton himself has a history of incarceration, having served nearly a decade in prison for possession of a deadly weapon. To say that he brings that sort of pathos and experience to the role is a gross understatement. In the process, his and Hill/Giler’s work on Dillon creates the foundation on which Alien 3 flourishes.

Alien 3 ingeniously doesn’t even set him up to be the film’s male lead. Eloquent English actor Charles Dance as Clemens, Fury’s medical doctor, fills that role, offering the franchises’ first explicit romantic interest for Ripley. While the previous films hinted at sexual tension between Dallas and Hicks, Alien 3 gives Ripley a legitimate lover in Clemens.

Ripley’s Dimensions

The notion of romance is sheer speculation – following the death of her pseudo-adopted daughter and would-be Marine suitor, the idea of finding a soul mate is likely the furthest thing from Ripley’s mind. One gets the feeling Ripley’s feelings for Clemens never extend beyond that of “fuck buddy.” Sure, any woman could fall for Charles Dance under normal circumstances, and the haunted Clemens is a nice antithesis to Hicks – a healer, not a soldier – but for Ripley, he represents the opportunity to be a normal human again and indulge in something beyond grief for the death of her comrades and Alien ass kicking.

This is yet another important point raised by Alien 3: it isn’t hellbent on making Ripley likeable. Alien introduced the character as the most stubborn, cold, and tactical crew member on the Nostromo (aside from android Ash, of course). She is the least appealing character on the ship – not allowing Kane back on the ship after his contact with the facehugger due to the risk on infection, constantly contradicting Dallas, getting into a cat fight with Lambert and immediately wanting to blow the ship upon the Xenomorph’s escape into the ducts. Her intelligence, determination to destroy the Xenomorph and save the Nostromo crew are what make her redeemable as a hero, but she sometimes goes about these goals tactlessly and, besides them, is somewhat thin as a character otherwise.

Aliens gave Ripley more dimensions by making her a mother figure, extending the maternal overtones of her relationship with Nostromo feline mascot Jones in the previous film. The only thing cuter than a yellow cat is a 10-year-old Carrie Henn, whose Newt has a pluck and savvy akin to Ripley. She brings out the best in Ripley and Hicks, forming a nice family unit. This isn’t to say Ripley is a perfect heroine – her grenade-launcher revenge against the Queen alien’s hive of eggs can be speculated as part of the reason why the creature hitched a ride on the Sulaco at the end of the film – but she’s a mended, thoroughly three-dimensional character that audiences universally fell in love with.

Alien 3 puts faith in the audience’s trust and affection for the Ripley who was established in Alien to carry through the majority of the film. Where the previous film softened her for family life, Alien 3 returns her to the role of a hardened survivor. Fans of the previous films should retain her perspective of existential angst as a major factor that colors her often detached persona in the film.

Some more on the religious iconography after the jump…

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