Sigourney Weaver can’t quite quit intergalactic torment in “Alien 3,” Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman travel “Far and Away,” and Pauly Shore weases the ju-oose with Brendan Fraser in “Encino Man.”
Nutshell: After surviving the war of LV-426, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) finds herself stranded on a remote penal colony populated with felons and maniacs, along with Jonathan (Charles Dance), a sympathetic doctor. Discovering her loved ones are dead, Ripley finds the nightmare restarting when evidence of an Alien presence on the planet arises, creating panic in a community without weapons to combat the creature. Discovering an Alien queen gestating inside of her, Ripley sets out to destroy any trace of the Alien, preventing corporate types from claiming the menace for their own wicked designs.
1992: The build-up to the release of “Alien 3” was excruciating for fans of the series. It started with rumors, worked through development pains (resulting in more rumors filling the pages of geek magazines and trade papers), and finally came together in 1991, where 20th Century Fox, desperate to finally capitalize on the unexpected smash success of James Cameron’s 1986 bulldozer “Aliens,” just sort of tossed a sequel into production out of sheer fatigue, hoping Sigourney Weaver’s commitment and the now powerful “Alien” brand name would be enough to feed starving fans.
Then that puzzling, promising teaser trailer arrived in 1991, which I discussed last year. Fires were sufficiently stoked.
As a teenage boy, I was absolutely ready to tear into “Alien 3” upon release, and took in a rare evening showing to be a part of the opening night club, unable to wait another day to gobble up film. Slipping into a sold-out house of ardent “Alien” fanatics, it was clear the crowd was primed and ready to cheer on anything the suits at Fox had cooked up. The studio could’ve released a still frame of Ripley clutching Newt and a pulse rifle scored to “Yakity Sax,” and this audience would’ve screamed with delight. The mood was electric, with applause greeting the Fox logo. Here it was, finally. Another “Alien” extravaganza.
110 minutes later, what was once a giddy celebration of all things “Alien” had turned into a funeral. As the end credits rolled, tickets buyers sulked out of the theater, faces ashen and knees buckling. It. was. crazy. how radically the tone of the evening shifted, with the zombified hordes piling into the cars for the long drive home, attempting to deconstruct what nihilistic poetry they just spent their beer money to see.
Me? Goddamn it, I loved the film.
Well, maybe it wasn’t love at that specific moment, but I was blown away by director David Fincher’s artful cut and paste job, knocked to the ground by the picture’s sepia stillness and obsession with malevolence. “Alien 3” was an ugly movie drained of its blockbuster pace, bleak as the day is long. Its primary sin was that it wasn’t “Aliens.” A careful suppression of comparisons exposed a gorgeously mournful effort, daring in tone, style, and conclusion. It was one thing to kill off Newt and Hicks in the opening minutes (Fox bastards), but to end the picture with Ripley’s suicide was a filmgoing moment of perfection. In many ways, “Alien 3” was a mess. However, it was a creative, daring jumble of blood and guts that attempted something different, something dire (making the feature’s promotional tie-in push awkward). It made a sizable impression, forcing me to contemplate what I just watched, and I was ready to wade back into the sludge of despair for another viewing right away.
Sufficiently punch-drunk after that initial showing, I scribbled a few notes about the viewing experience, admitting the picture wasn’t as riveting as its predecessors were, but happily dishing up praise for Fincher and his detached vision. In a rare occurrence for the Brichives, I rewrote the review after a second viewing a few days later, now fully relaxed and ready to accept “Alien 3” for what it was versus what I was hotly anticipating. Over the summer, I returned two more times to soak up the misery, ultimately placing “Alien 3” fourth on my list of the top ten movies of 1992.
And since this diary won’t carry that far, yes, dear friends and enemies, I think “Alien Resurrection” is pretty darn neat too. It’s not a picture that treads lightly, but a crazed run of mischief in a film series famous for its ruthless atmospheric changes.
2012: Believe me, I understand why franchise fanatics grow irate at the mention of “Alien 3.” “Aliens” was brash, Americanized, and armrest-rippingly suspenseful. “Alien 3” is glacial, British, and gloomy, marching into the least expected direction every chance it gets. It’s not for everyone, but I wish there was a larger fanbase for the movie, a collection of folks willing to regard the picture as a challenging work of despair, with its tension peeled away by production madness, not directorial slumber. It’s such a beautiful bummer, a real risk for the studio where they least wanted one. Although its backstage woes have been well documented, a question bears repeating: how did this grimy film slip past the Fox gates?
Although David Fincher has disowned the feature, his moviemaking fingerprint is perhaps more evident now than ever before, with the picture’s freakish atmosphere of agony playing like a prequel to 1995’s “Seven” and 2007’s “Zodiac,” practically demanding the viewer look away from the screen. It’s an “Alien” film in its monster moves, but the rest is an art-house effort that hit the jackpot with a studio budget, taking such extraordinary care to make Ripley’s third adventure a phallic-shaped Quaalude with a gut-punch ending, populated with unlikable felons of varying threat. Viewed back-to-back with “Aliens,” and “Alien 3” looks like beautifully produced practical joke, with beloved characters dead in the opening minutes and Ripley taking her own life in the finale. Surely this is not how the story was supposed to continue?
Get past a few hasty creative decisions and the deaths of Newt and Hicks (Fox bastards), and there’s just an endless stream of creative delights to devour in “Alien 3.” Alex Thomson’s cinematography is anamorphically glazed and forbidding, with Finchery lighting and painterly close-ups, working around intimidating, hellhole production design achievements from Norman Reynolds. The furnace sequences are enormous and chillingly industrial, generating an unease to supplement the Alien intrusion. There’s also an exceptional score from Elliot Goldenthal, who provides the picture with a few thriller bursts, saving his best ideas for the mournful scenes, including the hasty funeral for Newt and Hicks -- a stunning sequence that sets the heavy tone for Fincher’s aborted vision. The tech highlights are plentiful, rivaling the original feature in execution. The visual effects are sub-par at best (ok, ok…most are atrocious), but the creature work (guy-in-suit stuff) is marvelous, introducing a slightly distorted Alien presence to shake up the formula.
“Alien 3” also furthers Weaver’s exemplary work as Ripley, this round highlighting a pronounced sadness that’s superbly communicated in the character’s beaten gait. After her hellblazing performance in “Aliens,” it’s intriguing to watch Weaver nurse Ripley’s depression throughout the feature, almost faking hope and defiance when it comes time to figure out a way to trap the Alien. She’s strong here, especially in intimate moments with Dance, pulling the film down to a strangely personal level, away from the horror show. It’s rough going for Ripley (back when a shaved head meant a major thespian sacrifice), with the mental and physical breakdown of the heroine a major selling point of the second sequel.
I remain utterly in awe of “Alien 3” to this day, even after being inundated with frightful behind-the-scenes stories shared by the cast and crew, and watching Fincher treat the experience like a case of the clap. It’s an undervalued stunner, gracefully capping off a trilogy of terror experiences that run the gamut. Again, I recognize the film fandom fury that comes with such a drastic continuation, yet there’s a big brown world of unusual cinematic risk here to consume. “Alien 3” remains such a potent, mesmerizing force of doom. I adore its big black heart.
(Note: I rewatched the theatrical version for this diary entry, keeping in step with the print I saw in 1992. The Extended Cut of “Alien 3” is an even more fascinating piece of the picture’s puzzle, essentially restoring substance, religious dementia, and deliberation to the story. Running 30 minutes longer, it’s the preferred assembly of the film at this point, even without Fincher’s participation.)
Far and Away
Nutshell: Facing eviction and humiliation at the hands of his landlord, Irishman Joseph Donnelly (Tom Cruise) is hunting for revenge. What he actually finds is the company of Shannon Christie (Nicole Kidman), a privileged young woman fearing a stifled life in Ireland with suitor Stephen (Thomas Gibson). Escaping to America, the twosome discover a young land offering limited opportunities, forcing them to fight to survive, with Joseph taking to bare-knuckle boxing as a means of financial support. While their struggles are monumental, almost killing them, Joseph and Shannon develop an unexpected bond that blossoms into romance, soon put to the ultimate test when an opportunity to partake in the Oklahoma Territory Land Run of 1893 arrives, placing their dreams within reach.
1992: “Far and Away” wasn’t the last large-scale motion picture ever made, but it certainly was the last feature to advertise its literal size for a wide release. Shot largely in 65mm, the marketing attempted to generate a regality surrounding the release of the film, baiting moviegoers with a photochemical tease, back when such luxuries didn’t immediately activate a boost in ticket prices. “Shot in 65mm!” adorned standees and posters, recalling a classic Hollywood era of exhibition prestige, hoping to add to the already summery promise of a Tom Cruise love story released on Memorial Day weekend. 35mm was for chumps. Take that nonsense over to “Encino Man.” If you bought a ticket to “Far and Away,” Universal Studios was promising a theatrical event in a grand widescreen tradition, hoping to generate some pop culture electricity with an aged sense of hucksterism.
Well, it worked on me. Granted, I would’ve seen “Far and Away” no matter what, but the 65mm angle was fascinating, especially during an era when filmmaking specs flattened out, with the same tools used repeatedly. Here was a gimmick, but one I was interested in learning more about, having missed the heyday of 70mm, Cinemascope, and all those dandy niche technical triumphs that kept crowds rolling into movie theaters. It was a chance to sample a taste of the old school, hopefully prompting a resurgence of studios taking to larger scopes to tell their stories.
Unfortunately, there really wasn’t a theater within reach that could do the image justice, blasting Tom and Nicole on a screen the size of a skyscraper. I had to settle for a dinky suburban four-plex. Ah, well. I was just glad to be in the room.
“Far and Away” didn’t blow back my hair as promised, but I found it to be an engaging adventure that was more entertaining that penetrating, enjoying Cruise’s boyish energy and wobbly Irish stomp. Director Ron Howard held up his end of the bargain by delivering a palpable sweep, smoking John Ford ashes while staging massive sequences of competition and American discovery, keeping the immigrant experience sufficiently fresh and eye-popping. Draggy spots are noted in the Brichives, but I came away with an appreciation for the feature and its size, also carrying a curiosity about Kidman and her general ginger oddity wedged into a studio blockbuster.
In the ensuing years, I jumped at the chance to view “Spartacus” and “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” in 70mm, along with “Oklahoma” in Todd-AO. I can’t clearly recall the impression “Far and Away” made that weekend afternoon, but it triggered an interest in higher-resolution exhibition opportunities that remains to this day, with all of the IMAX craziness going on. The feature didn’t exactly affix itself to my memory, but its format distinction imprinted deeply on my moviegoing soul.
2012: “Far and Away” is not a picture to be taken seriously. It’s fluff from Howard, who’s attempting to construct a homage to the classic widescreen entertainment of old. It’s a film of bigness, from accents to locations, and there’s an endearing quality to the production, an earnestness that helps to swallow the occasional laborious scene or funky supporting turn. It’s an easy movie to watch, but not something that requires intense study to appreciate.
The cinematography from Mikael Solomon (who also shot “The Abyss”) is genuinely magical, alternating between dreamy acts of intimacy and bold outdoor adventures, capturing the bustle of the immigrant experience, flooding the frame with extras and ornate set design. With the 65mm hype comes some serious attention to enormity, highlighting one of the last productions to attempt such a feat without heavy CGI support. It’s a treat to just stare at the screen, enjoying colors and depth -- Howard seems like he’s having a ball on Universal’s dime, staging huge moments of movement and chaos, really digging into the potential of the production. With its slanted Irish homesteads, sweaty saloon interiors, and vast western expanse, “Far and Away” lives up to its title.
As for Cruise and Kidman, they share obvious chemistry despite their disparate appearance, and their banter is amusing if not completely charming. The script takes one too many pit stops with the couple, never shy to keep matters on a tragic routine of setbacks and disasters, but the pairing is pleasurable, with Kidman looking especially period-appropriate in flowery costuming and frizzy hair. Cruise is a little harder to swallow as an Irishman, boasting a forceful Lucky Charms accent. However, his fist-first commitment to the brutality of the character keeps attention away from the specifics of the performance, peaking in a goofy scene where Joseph, bubbling over with sexual frustration after sharing a room with Shannon, sprints off into the night, ready to pound the stuffing out of anyone who dares challenge him. It’s a not a technical piece of work, but it clicks on a visceral scale, feeling the burn of a guy who can’t catch a break or feel up his traveling companion.
It’s also a relief to find the land race climax still thrilling and seemingly reckless, with riled up horses and teetering wagons blazing across the virgin land all at once. It’s a gigantic closure that pays off the story in a thrilling fashion, sending the viewer away with an explosive, furious finale of gamesmanship. Howard milks the sequence for all its worth, but it’s a corny concentration that’s deeply satisfying, topped off with an Enya end credit musical hit that’s decidedly 1992 in sound, but proper in its synth-slapped lift.
“Far and Away” is not without its flaws, but it’s friendly escapism. It’s like three sticks of bubblegum squeezed together, providing big flavor and plenty to chew for 140 minutes of tribute and old-fashioned spectacle.
Nutshell: Dave (Sean Astin) and Stoney (Pauly Shore) are two high school losers who’ve uncovered a frozen Neanderthal while digging out a pool. Once thawed, the caveman, nicknamed Link (Brendan Fraser), is in dire need of a 20th century education, growing to trust the two dorks with his appearance and vocabulary. While Dave pines for school sweetheart Robyn (Megan Ward), Stoney turns Link into a hallway stud, with the student body falling in love with the Cro-Magnon spaz, much to the irritation of bully Matt (Michael DeLuise), who sets out to expose the creature and ruin Dave and Stoney’s reputations for good.
1992: Somehow, without the benefit of cable or a broad appreciation for the teen comedy of my day, I was a Pauly Shore fan. Although saddled with one too many gimmicks, Shore revealed a few sides of sly exaggeration in his stand-up comedy that tickled me. Away from the dudespeak and we-HE-sa-HAL antics was a silly man who seemed genuinely eager to entertain, happily riding the Hollywood escalator upwards towards mainstream acceptance. “Encino Man” marked his first step toward mass appeal, moving out of MTV monkey business and into the multiplex, where the kids of America could use their allowance money to vote for Pauly. And they did. For exactly two movies.
“Encino Man” is largely credited as the oddball sleeper hit of 1992, launching the career of Brendan Fraser. I bought a ticket because of Pauly (fueled by repeated listens of his “Future of America” stand-up cassette) and the general teen comedy aspects of the picture. What I ultimately received from “Encino Man” was a headache, contending with a droopy laugher that kicks off with some amount of flair, only to crash in a laborious second half. Even at the perfect age for such nonsense, I couldn’t deal with a spotty comedy that preferred grunts and frog consumption over something more inspired. This stony, crusty bud just wasn’t interested.
And yes, I did praise Fraser’s performance in 1992. I would go on to rue that initial appraisal. The Shore fandom I would later disown as well.
2012: “Encino Man” is a cartoon, and I suppose it makes sense that younger audiences flocked to the picture at the time. Aimed at the high school crowds, the film is a playful creation, just one that’s rarely funny. Unless Fraser in full LOOK AT ME BE SILLY mode is your weakness, there’s very little here that belongs outside of 1992, with Astin looking increasingly pissed as he’s written out of his own movie, while the rest of the cast is basically making it up as they go, each introducing eccentricity to a feature that could use some quality time zip-tied in a corner.
Was “Encino Man” a Pauly Shore vehicle from the scripting stage, or did the basic cable giant steamroll over the production, insisting his cheeky stoner parlance be rubber stamped all over the feature? It’s a question for the ages. Nevertheless, Shore’s stand-up personality is smeared all over the picture, hogging the screen with his trademarked bits. It’s actually funnier to see authentic actors try to figure out what type of film they’re in while Shore dances in the background, enjoying his brief ride of fame.
The gags are obvious (of course), but they aren’t sold with a dazzling imagination. Director Les Mayfield (IMDB his filmography and be horrified) has only a tenuous grasp on the plot, spending more time dinking around with Fraser and Shore, losing the flow of suburban discoveries. After a promising start with Stoney and Dave unearthing Link, teaching him to live as a modern man, the picture takes a nosedive, caught between broad comedic adventures and, oh lord, genuine sympathy for Link’s displacement, with the caveman reduced to tears once aware of the life he lost. Talk about a buzz kill. Well, most of buzz was already killed off by then, thanks to the bully character played obnoxiously by Michael DeLuise, who, like Shore, was rarely refused any opportunity to massage his screwball impulse.
Ke Huy Quan in a supporting role!
“Encino Man” is frighteningly dated, but it was never made to be timeless. I just wish the picture had more laughs or instinctive madness. Unbelievably (though the end of the flick promises one), there was a made-for-TV sequel in 1996 (“Encino Woman,” natch), with none of the original cast members electing to return. That’s right, there was once a time when Brendan Fraser turned down not only a paycheck but also a chance to make a total ass of himself. It was a magical year.
Coming next week…
Whoopi Goldberg impersonates a singing penguin.