by Vincent Ward
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Alien 3 (Film Novelization) / 0-446-36216-6
I had the highest hopes for this "Alien 3" novel because I always felt that certain parts of the movie were confusing, and I hoped that this novel would clear up those points. In this respect, the book shines brightly - carefully explaining how the facehugger in the Sulaco caused the acid burn on Newt's cryo chamber, and why the electrical fire started and forced the chambers into the escape pod, an opening sequence that always left me a bit bewildered. The birth of the alien warrior is also explained more carefully than I felt it was in the movie - one of the worker animals used to recover the pod wreckage (in this case an ox, not a dog) was impregnated and the apparently lifeless corpse was dragged back to the prison's abattoir, where the alien was born in relative privacy. It is also carefully explained why Ripley didn't initially believe she was infected, how she knows the alien she is carrying is a queen when she does discover it, and why the queen doesn't emerge as quickly as the warriors do - little details that always bugged me when I'd watch the movie.
As far as overall quality, however, I have to say that the source movie is better, particularly in the area of character development. In the book, Ripley displays an unusual combination of squeamishness and vanity, refusing to shave her head until the lice problem becomes painfully manifest. That seems incredibly out of character for Ripley at this point in her life, and I'm grateful that the movie didn't belabor that point. Clemens, too, displays a strange oscillation of character, bouncing from impossibly patient and good-natured to rather pouty and belligerent for no apparent reason, and I preferred the unruffled, even calmness of the actor in the movie, which seems better suited to the situation. It's also not clear whether Clemens is still serving his sentence as a prisoner (Andrews claims he is, and the book reinforces this idea several times), or whether he is a free man who has chosen to stay on as the medical staff (as Clemens himself claims). The movie doesn't present this ambiguity and it feels less like a deliberate moral question on the status of Clemens and more like an accidental mistake in the script.
For good or ill, the Ripley in the novel takes great pains to confirm that the company does in fact want the alien alive, a point that is deliberately left vague in the movie until the final point of no return. In some ways this is good because it underscores that Ripley is an intelligent survivor who isn't the type to throw her life away based on mere hunches, but in other ways this change is bad because it strips away the anxiety that Ripley might be wrong, might be wasting her life in her final gesture. That Ripley might be wrong does not necessarily paint her as reckless so much as a woman driven by her conviction - she is willing to sacrifice her life for the certainty that the aliens are destroyed, rather than save her life and merely hope that the company will do the right thing. Of course, the movie cops out with Bishops final plea, showing us that Ripley has been right all along, but the book strips out even the possibility that Ripley might have doubts, and I'm not certain that addition is a good one.
I definitely recommend reading this novel if you are a fan of the series, particularly if you've read Foster's novelizations of the first two movies. Just be aware that there are some flaws here, but the explanation of some of the more mysterious parts of the movie make the read well worth it.
~ Ana Mardoll
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