By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Charles Dutton, Charles Dance, Paul McGann, Brian Glover, and Lance Henriksen
If there is one polarizing entry in the Alien series, it is Alien 3. Mention either Ridley Scott’s moody original or James Cameron’s bombastic sequel, and you will get the overall majority of fans of the series (me included) saying that in their own way, these films changed the way science fiction films were received by both Hollywood (the constant presence of Weaver being a huge reason for this) and the movie going public in general. But, one must not talk very long about Alien 3 without mentioning its troubled production. Starting with a marketing campaign that jumped the gun by throwing out an early teaser trailer promising us an ‘aliens on earth story’, this production went from bad to far worse. Script after script, combined with studio heads constantly breathing down the neck of newcoming director David Fincher, contributed to the compromising of not only this film, but the franchise as a whole. And, as big of a cult following and set of defenders that this film has (mostly due to the presence of cult favorite director Fincher), there is a big reason why its director left the project halfway into the editing process. There is a reason that Fincher himself has tried as hard as he can to disown it (he was the only one of the four directors of the series not to come back for the Quadrilogy set). And, that reason is, quite simply, that this film is a mess. Filled with plot holes galore, off & on acting, and a change in the main character of the series that threatens her integrity, Alien 3 will not ever be seen as the classics the first two films of this series are. But, I would argue that it is not as bad as its reputation.
First of all, let me start right off with my agreement in a decision that, for better or worse (most, including Cameron and Scott, say worse) changed the series forever. As, when we last left Ripley at the end of Aliens, she was at the forefront of a three shot that included herself, Newt, and Hicks. This would only stand to mean that, at last, Ripley, if ever awakened, would see her dream of re-instating a family (remember, she was told her daughter died in Cameron’s director’s cut of Aliens). Not to be. After setting the tone right away with the morphing into darkness of the 20th Century Fox logo, the film’s foreboding begins. In an admittedly ballsy move, Fincher kills both Newt & Hicks (even having us as an audience bear witness to the 10 year old girl’s autopsy) & dumps their bodies into the burning pit of steel at the plant, leaving Ripley alone once again. And, again, I cannot stress it enough: I agree with this decision. Yes, it is a child. Yes, it is yet another light turned off in this world of darkness. But, it works in conjunction with the feeling of the series as a whole. And, is done in order to make Ripley feel, once again, like she must go about this alone.
What I do not agree with is her ‘relationship’ with Clemens (Dance). What starts off as trying to manipulate him into getting an autopsy on Newt, develops until we see Ripley waking up in bed next to a character she just met. In a universe that has been heralded as being the first to depict women as action heroes, this one step destroys any bit of integrity given to her by both Scott and Cameron’s films. And, compared to the still in its infancy relationship built on respect with Hicks in the last film, makes this one of zero chemistry irrelevant from the start. Also, a lot of the effects in this movie do not look right at all. In fact, knowing this took place one year after Terminator 2, I thought they were bad attempts at digitalizing them. The film’s extremely tight schedule caused some effects to get by that looked like they were done in an hour. A couple rod puppet shots of the alien in this film immediately come to mind. Also, there were a couple times, such as when sets of double doors close, that the cardboard sets used were very apparent.
Now, in talking about the creature, one cannot mention this film’s version of the alien without thinking about what it really is. The decision of having the alien take biological properties of what it is impregnating was established early on, and one of this script’s only good decisions comes when the properties it takes on are proven to be that of a dog. Bringing back Geiger was a great idea, and his designs of the alien in this film made it feel more watchable than it should have been. And, it isn’t as if Fincher isn’t trying. He shows a little of the talent here that he would bring about just a few years later when he implements things such as his use of split screen melding of faces during the autopsy scene, the telling religious commentary and intercutting of Hicks & Newt being thrown in the fire as the alien is ‘born,’ the ‘Alien POV’ shots as it stalks the remaining inmates (more on them later), and the iconic shot of Weaver’s first alien encounter since she’s been back as it hisses and leaks slime, were all indignant in pointing out how much Fincher really wanted to make a good film. These are all brilliant shots from a still learning directorial mind.
But, truth of the matter is, once their plan starts taking shapes and all the inmates are wearing hoods, I started having the same problems that I have when watching the robots of any Transformers movie fight: I just could not tell them apart. Not to mention, absolutely none of them were worth giving a damn about. And, with Ripley becoming more and more unlikable throughout the beginning of this film, there was officially no one that you wanted to see live. When you are a franchise that establishes itself by throwing characters you care about in the most dangerous of situations, this set of circumstances becomes a problem. All in all, given the tone of the film, I think it is impossible to say that it was an enjoyable experience. And, it has to be said that the series never gets as dark as it does here. Alien 3’s themes and ‘we are all going to die’ commentary on life is not endearing to say the least. But, the overall outline of the film’s plot (alien stalking a bunch of people with no weapons, and the wonderment of who is more dangerous to Ripley the alien of the inmates) is very well done, as is a brilliantly touching score from Eliot Goldenthal. All of which make Alien 3 far better than I originally thought. And…how can you not like a film that makes a callback to the last installment by bringing Henricksen back as both a robot AND a human? Worth a look, if only to see the beginnings of what’s to come from a brilliant novice at the time diector.
3 out of 5