Director: David Fincher
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Brian Glover, Ralph Brown, Paul McGann, Danny Webb, Lance Henrikson
After the immense success of Alien and its sequel Aliens, the pressure was on for the follow-up. With several different scripts being passed around, it’s ironic that the final product retreads a lot of what the first one did, especially since the previous sequel broke so much new ground for the franchise. We’ve seen a crew pitted against one alien, and we’ve also seen them take on an entire colony of them. So, what’s left to do?
After the conclusion of the second film, which sees Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Hicks (Michael Biehn), and Newt (Carrie Henn) in stasis as their escape pod jets into space, they crash land on Fiorina 161, a foundry occupied solely by male criminals. Ripley is the only survivor, and soon, an alien that had attached itself to someone on the pod, breaks loose, and runs amok throughout the facility.
Just as in Aliens, the first scene establishes an accurate impression for the rest of the film. Except while that of Aliens was one of awe and marvel, showing viewers a heightened sense of scale with impressive visual effects and direction, Alien 3 is underwhelming right from the start.
Remember Hicks, Newt, and the android Bishop from the previous film? Remember how we spent the entire run time investing in them, hoping they would make it out safely, and rejoicing when they finally did? Apparently this movie doesn’t because, those three are killed off within the first couple minutes, when their escape pod crash lands. That’s right – Newt drowns, and Bishop and Hicks are torn to shreds, but Ripley is somehow miraculously unaffected, not even bearing a single scratch.
It’s this kind of writing that cues you in to just how rushed this product was. 20th Century Fox promised a release date of 1992, before the script was even finished. Because of this, it was finished on an extremely tight schedule, without taking the time to ensure proper pacing and a coherent story.
Newcomer David Fincher does what he can with this story, but being so young and with this as his directorial debut, he wasn’t able to salvage a decent product. Not only did this film go through so many different hands before falling on Fincher, but the production process was notorious for the studio being far too manipulative, trying to rush filming and get what they wanted out of an inexperienced director.
Fincher doesn’t even like talking about Alien 3 now. In fact, he’s gone so far as to say that “Nobody hates the movie as much as [he does].” Unfortunately, this disconnect between studio and director, and the lack of time given to complete the project really shows.
The story is far too familiar, with another crew once again facing off against a single alien threat. With the original film doing just that, and the second film already raising the stakes to such a high degree, it’s uncertain if the series was really meant to continue properly.
Still, a familiar, recycled plot can be told well if we have likable characters to follow. After all, that’s part of what made the first two work – we loved watching all of these characters because of their entertaining interactions, senses of humor, and heroics.
The problem is, Ripley and prison medic Jonathan Clemens (Charles Dance) are the only two likable characters in the entire film. We like Ripley because we’ve known her for two previous films, and Clemens, while played with remarkable sophistication and poise by Dance, is only in the first half of the film. The rest of the gang are comprised of prison inmates. Rapists, serial killers, child molesters. It’s impossible to feel any sort of attachment to any of them. Therefore, the danger never feels real. When one of them is killed, it never holds any sort of weight.
Gone is the suspense, terror, and sense of urgency and paranoia from the first two films. And sadly, the visual appeal is also largely missing, and that’s a tremendous loss, considering the Alien films, up until now, both had such an incredible strength in visual storytelling. The imagery was just as unsettling as the alien itself was. Aside from the cold, desolate, industrialized exteriors that introduce us to Fiorina 161, the rest of the film is tiresome to look at.
With color that mostly consists of a dozen variations of brown, and sets that are predominately dull, metallic hallways, the film offers little in the way of striking visuals, which is such a disappointment after following two visual masterpieces.
The special effects also take a dive. While many would assume that this new incarnation of the xenomorph, one that (in the Assembly Cut) bursts from a cow and runs on all fours, was a CG creation, it was actually a puppet keyed into the rest of the footage. However, it still looks cheap, even if it is a practical effect. Close-ups of the creature are where the effects really shine, and continue to show progression with each film.
Although the script is quite messy, never allowing the characters to develop, or allowing the plot to make sense on a scene-to-scene basis (why did Golic let the xenomorph out of its trap, again?), it does play around with a few intriguing ideas. Religion, faith, masculinity, and judgement are all complex themes that circulate within this screenplay, and all show potential to make for an engaging and thought-provoking viewing experience. However, none of these themes are explored to their fullest extent, and soon enough, they become muddled.
And at a staggering 2 hours and 24 minutes, choppy editing and messy pacing plague the film, and fail to engage for its entirety. It really is some sort of miracle that Fincher found a career after this mess, and has since redeemed himself a hundred times over.
The Verdict: While not a total disaster, Alien 3 is simply underwhelming. With uneven pacing, a rushed script, cartoon-ish performances, an overlong run time, and above all, far too much studio interference, the film signifies when the series took a turn from being art to becoming a product. It’s a dull, uninteresting experience with a few good ideas scattered throughout, but not even David Fincher himself could save this bore.