25 July 2010
The opening titles of Alien³ (1992) feature a quick succession of shots that, intercut with the credits over a span of four minutes, serve as an expositional bridge between this movie and its predecessor. Aliens (1986) ended with the crew of the Colonial Marine spacecraft Sulaco all but destroyed by the hoards of xenomorph warriors on planet LV-426. The only survivors of that failed expedition were Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Rebecca "Newt" Jordan (Carrie Henn), severely injured Corporal Dwayne Hicks (Michael Biehn), and bisected android Bishop (Lance Henriksen), now sleeping in suspended animation for the journey home. Alien³ opens almost immediately after as everything goes to hell aboard the good ship Sulaco and sets the stage for the story to come.
Since it all happens so fast I went and screencapped the entire sequence for analysis. There are so many split-second visuals cut between the film credits flashing by in such a short period of time that I put them all together here for the sake of convenience. I'm including every individual shot from the first four minutes of the film for examination and then select shots from the next two minutes after that wrap up the narrative of the opening sequence.
Spoilers lie ahead for whoever hasn't seen these movies.
THE OPENING SEQUENCE
The title screen.
Interior of Sulaco's cryotube bay. From front to back: Newt, Ripley, Hicks.
Exterior of Sulaco's hull as the vessel flies past.
Back inside, an alien egg stuck onto a rack or support of some kind.
Note: Only time we've seen an egg positioned in any direction but upright.
Queen facehugger's legs reach up from below.
Close up of Newt in her cryotube as the facehugger crawls up the glass canopy.
Newt asleep in her cryotube.
The glass canopy of Newt's cryotube cracks.
Alien acid spills onto the deck, dissolving through the
Smoke rises toward what is apparently a smoke detector.
The cryotube's life monitor registers a problem: "Stasis interrupted."
The life monitor transitions from green to red as the occupant's readings go haywire.
The ship's computer announces: "Stasis interrupted. Fire in cryogenic compartment."
A red warning light begins flashing.
Another monitor displays a bio-scan showing a facehugger attached to the occupant's face.
The bio-scanner pans up to reveal the full queen facehugger attached.
A 3D model produced from the MRI scan showing a human skull with the facehugger attached.
The MRI scan rotates to reveal the skull and facehugger from other angles.
Blood spreads quickly across a piece of linen.
The warning light is still flashing.
Some sort of pressure gauge. The fluid inside is rising.
More of the warning light flashing away.
Ripley is convulsing in her cryotube while bathed in red warning light.
Another monitor depicts apparent irritation in a person's throat. Their brain is highlighted in red.
That monitor zooms in on the head. The brain fades to pink.
Close up on this thing...
...which promptly explodes. Presumably it is an explosive bolt on the safety system.
Ripley continues to convulse in her cryotube.
Fire bursts into the cryotube bay.
Ripley in her cryotube. The glass canopy is broken.
Ripley's cryotube slides out of frame.
The cryotube is transported down an escape tunnel.
Newt's cryotybe emerges from the escape tunnel into the EEV (Emergency Escape Vehicle).
Newt's cryotube comes to a stop. Her glass canopy is intact.
The hatch to the escape tunnel closes.
This wheel pops out and rotates, apparently sealing the airlock between Sulaco and the EEV.
Ripley in her cryotube...
...transitioning to the EEV detaching from Sulaco.
The detached EEV gains distance from Sulaco.
The EEV with the cryotubes inside falls away from its mothership.
The EEV moves towards planet Fiorina 161.
The EEV in orbit of the planet.
The EEV tumbles towards the planet.
The EEV enters Fiorina 161's atmosphere.
During reentry the EEV freefalls toward the planet's surface.
The flaming EEV plunges through the atmosphere.
The EEV falls toward the ocean.
Prisoners discover the EEV and examine its contents through the open hatch.
Frank (Carl Chase) climbs in amongst the broken cryotubes looking for survivors.
Bishop is in the foreground, wrapped up in plastic sheeting.
Behind him is Hicks' smashed and blood-splattered cryotube.
Ripley is discovered, still alive inside her cryotube.
Ripley is removed to the prison infirmary for treatment.
INSIDE THE EEV
For the record, here are two extra two screencaps of the EEV's interior from a little later in the film.
Inside the EEV after being hauled ashore and brought to the correctional facility.
In the foreground is Newt's generally intact cryotube. To its left is Ripley's tube with a shattered canopy.
In the background is Hick's destroyed cryotube, impaled with a ceiling support strut.
Ripley spots acid burns on the outside of Newt's cryotube. The first sign of trouble.
The subsequent autopsy reveals no alien infestation and proves her cause of death as drowning.
THE QUEEN FACEHUGGER
Aside from the brief glimpses of the queen facehugger during the opening titles, this creature is hardly glimpsed during the film. There are two additional shots that reveal its unique properties. Not only is it far larger than an average drone facehugger but it also carries two eggs rather than one. The first of these eggs is intended to produce a queen xenomorph. The second egg will produce a drone to assist her. This is why the facehugger does not immediately die and, after laying an egg within Ripley, goes on to also place an egg inside a dog (an ox in the Assembly Cut, below).
00:07:14 (Theatrical Cut only)
The queen facehugger reacts to a dog barking at it.
00:26:30 (Assembly Cut only)
Murphy (Christopher Fairbank) discovers the dead queen facehugger after hauling in the dead ox carcass.
THE ASSEMBLY CUT OPENING
The 2003 Alien Quadrilogy box set included a new edition of the film, the so-called "Assembly Cut." This version of Alien³ includes nearly thirty minutes of originally cut footage as well as a handful of alternate scenes. One alternate scene was the discovery of Ripley after the EEV crash. The opening sequence is identical up to this point.
Clemens (Charles Dance) witnesses the EEV's reentry and landing.
The EEV bobbing in the Fiorinan ocean.
A body washes ashore.
Clemens approaches the body.
Rolling the body over reveals it to be Ripley, wrenched free of her cryotube during the crash and washed ashore.
Now she's Clemens' problem, to say nothing of Fiorina 161's prison population at the correctional facility.
It is maybe an unrealistic premise that an electrical fire would cause the computer to quietly abandon ship. At best, the shipboard computer should have awoken anyone in the cryotubes to deal with the problem. This is, of course, presuming that Sulaco doesn't have some sort of fire-control system. Considering that Sulaco is a warship carrying great quantities of on board munitions (as seen in Aliens), the lack of a fire-control system seems unlikely. If anything, given the sheer size of the ship and the fact that it carried fifteen occupants in the previous movie (itself a ludicrously small number for how many individuals a ship that size could potentially support), it also seems unlikely that there were a shortage of cryotubes.
The nature of the damage also does not seem inherently devastating to the spacecraft. It is extremely unlikely that Sulaco was destroyed in this accident and that Ripley, Newt, Hicks, and Bishop were evacuated (and, save Ripley, subsequently killed by that evacuation) for reasons that were perhaps unwarranted. Moreover, one wonders about the value of a lifeboat that is almost guaranteed to kill whoever is on board, given its apparent lack of parachutes and the assumed likelihood that the EEV is only capable of hard freefall landings. Then again, this is a universe that made its big business priorities clear in the first film: "Crew Expendable."