Should I Watch..? 'Alien 3'
What's the big deal?
Alien 3 (stylised as Alien³) is a sci-fi horror film released in 1992 and is the third instalment of the Alien franchise. Directed by David Fincher in his directorial debut, the film sees Ripley as the sole survivor of an escape pod that crashes on a prison colony. Awaiting rescue, she quickly finds out that she and the fellow inmates are not alone. The film stars Sigourney Weaver, Charles Dance, Charles S. Dutton, Lance Henriksen and Brian Glover. The film was beset by numerous off-screen issues including multiple script rewrites and changes of director - Fincher was brought in and experienced so much studio interference over scripts and budget that he almost considered quitting becoming a film director. The film was released to a mixed reception from critics and went on to earn global takings of $159 million - the lowest amount in the series so far. Nevertheless, the film did secure an Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects and I believe that the film is overlooked in contrast to the first two films in the series.
What's it about?
In deep space in 2179, a deadly fire breaks out on the starship Sulaco which causes the ship's computer to launch an escape pod containing the comatose forms of Ellen Ripley, young orphan Newt, Marine Dwayne Hicks and damaged android Bishop. The pod travels to Fionina "Fury" 161, a remote penal planet populated solely by male inmates genetically dispositioned to violent and antisocial behaviour. Upon impact, only Ripley survives and is nursed back to health by the inmates led by Warden Andrews and the prison doctor Clemens.
Paranoid that an alien may have followed her onto the planet, Ripley insists on conducting autopsies on her fellow escapees but discovers nothing. However, an alien did land on the planet when the Sulaco escape pod crash-landed and quickly begins to terrorise and kill the local populace. With no weapons to defend themselves with and a rescue vessel still some distance away, what hope exists for Ripley to survive once again?
Charles S. Dutton
Francis "85" Allen
Bishop / Michael Bishop
David Giler, Walter Hill & Larry Ferguson*
Release Date (UK)
21st August, 1992
Action, Horror, Sci-Fi
Academy Award Nominations
Best Visual Effects
What's to like?
Truthfully, I enjoyed Alien 3 more than I should have. It might not be ground-breaking in terms of its narrative but the film has plenty of shocks and scares to keep the audience hooked. Weaver once again brings her tormented heroine Ripley back, this time far more battle-hardened and aggressive than before but still possessing a vulnerability often missing in sci-fi heroes. I especially enjoyed the directorial tricks brought to the screen by an inexperienced Fincher - seeing the camera chase after characters along the floor, up on walls and finally across ceilings is both imaginative and indicative of the Xenomorph's primeval and primitive nature. For the first time, the creature feels like an animal and not a serial killer in a funky suit.
Many of the complaints about the film seemed to stem from the fact that it felt like a reboot rather than an evolution, evidenced by the initial off-screen deaths of characters introduced in Aliens. But I like the feeling of returning to basics - I loved the first film because of its simplicity and the genuine fear of the unknown. This film is reminiscent of that, although the prison complex is surprisingly spacious and has plenty of corridors and industrial sets for our characters to run around. I believe that this is still a strong film but not quite hitting the peaks of the earlier films - not that this is surprising. On its own, Alien 3 is a gripping and brutal survival tale of people well out of their depth and ill-equipped to survive such a deadly predator.
- The film's script had so many rewrites that $7 million of the film's budget was spent constructing sets before filming had started that were ultimately never used. Fincher disowned the film and walked away before final editing was complete, meaning the film spent over a year being edited before its release.
- Fincher isn't the only crew member who dislikes the film - Lance Henriksen only agreed to appear as a personal favour to writer and producer Walter Hill and dislikes the film for its nihilistic themes.
- In all, eight writers tried to claim credit for the screenplay - David Giler, Walter Hill, Larry Ferguson, David Fincher, David Twohy (whose ideas eventually surfaced is his own movie Pitch Black), Renny Harlin, Vincent Ward and John Fasano. Four other writers worked on the script but declined credit - William Gibson, Eric Red, Gregg Pruss and Rex Pickett.
- Such was the film's backlash that it nearly ended Fincher's career as a director before it got started. Two people saved him, though - Weaver stood up for Fincher in interviews, claiming that 20th Century Fox put him in an impossible position while producer Arnold Kopelson didn't respect Fox's management and offered Fincher another project a few years later: Se7en, the film that would put Fincher on the path to becoming one of the most successful directors of his generation.
What's not to like?
Of course, the film isn't perfect. Weaver doesn't get much in the way of help from her supporting cast - only Dance and Dutton get any significant screen time as everybody else is seemingly there to feed to the Xenomorph to ratchet up the tension. But given the strength of the supporting cast - Postelthwaite, Glover, McGann, Christopher Fairbank, Brown, Phil Davis, etc - it's disappointing to see talented actors under utilised in this way. The film's occasional use of CG is also pretty suspect at times which, given its age, shouldn't be too surprising. But the biggest issue is that the film shows us too much of the alien which means that combined with the experience of the first two films, there is none of the fear of the unknown that made Alien so terrifying. Ripley herself seems to have become an expert on the creatures despite usually running away or killing them - she's no scientist. I also wasn't a fan of the love scene which felt needless and tacked on without too much thought.
In fact, the success of both Alien and Aliens proves to be the source of this film's misery. They aren't any real shocks or surprises here, nothing we haven't seen before anyway. The plot feels like a redress of the original's narrative of a group of people in confined spaces trying to outwit an alien lifeform. All of the military hardware and technology from Aliens has been replaced to a stripped-down, fiery industrial hell with no tactics other than Ripley's intuition and paranoia. The film has little joy in it either, meaning that the euphoria you should feel at the end is missing. You almost feel relieved that you've made it to the end which isn't something I look for in movies.
Should I watch it?
The film has its detractors but don't be fooled - Alien 3 is still an intense and rewarding watch for fans of the series. However, it does suffer compared to the horror of the original and the action of the second. This is a quieter and more solitary experience but one which provided Fincher with an early opportunity to demonstrate his skills behind the camera. With more leadership and less interference, this might have been a classic but as it is, it's nothing like as bad as you might have been led to believe.
Great For: forgiving fans of the series, proving studios shouldn't interfere with the film making process
Not So Great For: the squeamish, younger viewers, David Fincher's confidence
What else should I watch?
After the unfair treatment this movie got, things gradually got worse and more confusing. Jean-Pierre Jeunet's divisive Alien: Resurrection proved to be the Frenchman's sole American film and ultimately signalled the end of the franchise as we knew it. After the disappointment of Alien Vs Predator (which shouldn't have been too much of a shock), the series welcomed back original director Ridley Scott who directed a semi-prequel in the confusing form of Prometheus - a film set in the same universe but following its own ideas and philosophies, according to Scott himself. Most recently, we had the second prequel Alien: Covenant which once again saw a crew on board a space ship falling foul of otherworldly lifeforms. One wonders how much further they can go without essentially retelling the same story over and over.
As for Fincher, his career only blossomed after Alien 3 which thankfully didn't derail his career too much. Se7en proved to be the turning point, a dark and gripping thriller that saw Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman tacking down a psychotic serial killer. But it was Fight Club that secured his place as one of Hollywood's best directors - a timely and enthralling adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's novel depicting an underground fighting tournament established by two disenfranchised individuals as a way to take down modern society. Brutal, controversial and brilliant, Fight Club remains as relevant today as it has ever been and is the sort of film any director would kill to have on their filmography.
© 2019 Benjamin Cox