Alien3 (1992) / Sci Fi-Horror
MPAA Rated: R for violence, gore, sexuality, and language
Running Time: 114 min.
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Paul McGann, Brian Glover, Ralph Brown, Danny Webb, Christopher John Fields, Holt McCallany, Lance Henriksen, Pete Postlethwaite
Director: David Fincher
Screenplay: David Giler, Walter Hill, Daniel Ferguson
First-time director David Fincher's (Fight Club, Panic Room) debut proves to be a daunting, if not impossible task, not only because it would be highly impractical to match or best two of the most acclaimed and popular science fiction films of all time his first time out, but because this sequel also wipes away virtually everything the first two entries, Alien and Aliens, had built up so well. Without the atmospheric chills of Alien or the supercharged action of Aliens, Alien 3 seems like an inferior effort all around. Given that the events that transpire within are already something fans vehemently did not want to happen, the fact that this is a work by David Fincher proves to be its one saving grace. While many fans of the Alien series disown it, fans of Fincher regard it as the first of his tour-de-force directorial efforts.
The film opens with Ellen Ripley (Weaver, Working Girl) jettisoning the ship carrying her and the remaining crew from the previous film, landing them near a penal colony inhabited by an all-male inmate population of murderers and rapists. Ripley learns the tragic news that she is the only survivor, and worse, she finds evidence that one of the alien creatures may have stowed away along with her. Her suspicions are right, as the alien facehugger attaches itself to the prison's dog, and becomes a smaller, more agile form than we've seen previously. Meanwhile, Ripley's presence becomes a major distraction for these men who've vowed celibacy, many who have not seen a woman for many years, if ever. The distractions soon pass, as members of the colony begin dying in grisly fashion one by one, but things seem ominous, as the prison has no weapons or much protection, leaving the men almost defenseless. A call for help will only meet with potential disaster, as Ripley is aware that the humans are expendable; the corporation has a primary interest in a live specimen to incorporate into its bio-weapons program.
Many potential scripts for the third Alien film were written and scrapped, including drafts from such heavyweights as William Gibson, David Twohy, and others. In fact, the finished script by David Giler (Undisputed, The Money Pit) and Walter Hill (48 Hrs., The Getaway), the team who produced Alien and co-wrote Aliens, was constantly revised with the help of screenwriter Larry Ferguson (Highlander, Rollerball), with directions in the plot changing on a constant basis during the shoot, mostly prompted by studio meddling. Evidence of this exists in the Special Edition DVD release of the film (dubbed the "Assembly Cut"; it is not a Director's Cut -- only an approximation of Fincher's original workprint), which bolsters the run time by another half hour, while key elements of the plot are drastically different, including the alien host being an ox, cosmetic variances to the alien's appearance, and the events of the final scenes of the film deviating visually (a key "birth" scene is not shown, as it is in the theatrical release). While the scenes of the alien in puppet or costume form are still impressive, the CGI development was rushed, causing some of the external shots and scenes of the alien in full-view to appear less than convincing.
An early draft of the story centered on a monastery, subsequently changed to a quasi-monastic group of prisoners who form their own pseudo-religious credo to live by. The shaved heads are in keeping with the original "monk" look (a lice problem in the finished film). A common complaint is that it is difficult at times to tell the many characters apart, as they have similar looks and very little character build-up. However, good performances do abound where it counts, with Charles S. Dutton (Cat's Eye, The Distinguished Gentleman) adding a voice of soundness amid the mania, and Charles Dance (Last Action Hero, Hilary and Jackie) providing a well-conceived early conduit of background story information between Ripley and the nature of the mining prison.
Compared to the previous entries, the action in Alien 3 is fairly minimal, with the alien attacks coming more out of shock than suspense this time out. The climax of the film, involving a tunnel chase sequence as seen through a first-person alien perspective, is visually exciting, but too prolonged. By comparison, Ripley's final stand with the members of the Weyland-Yutani rescue team is short and confusing. The ending of the film is (understandably) extremely dissatisfying to series fans, and while the emptiness of the final shot does have a sense of the respect to it, for those who've been riveted in Ripley's story since Alien, there appears to have been nothing gained from a story or theme standpoint. For all of the production problems, Fincher's vision is still eye-catching, with a roving camera, claustrophobic environs, gothic stylistics, and an overriding tone of bleakness and despair. It may not be a film that raises pulse levels, but the visual impact is often gut-wrenching, as if Ripley were tossed into purgatory to fight along side lost sinners and miscreants who are trying to find a way to redemption.
Judging the film is difficult, but here's the bottom line (as I see it): Alien 3 is pretty good as its own movie (this explains the positive rating I've bestowed upon it), but as a sequel, it's an utter failure -- in fact, speaking as an avid fan of the previous films, I completely repudiate it. As a standalone piece, separate from the Alien franchise, this film could have met with applause from fans of somber science fiction, instead of the sneers of those who love the characters and direction as delivered through Aliens. Alas, it is, and always will be, an Alien film, and as such, it begins dubiously by killing off the considerable momentum of Aliens within the first few minutes, and attains near-disastrous status by killing off all future momentum within the last few. This is as dour and disappointing a potential series conclusion as one could ever (or should I say, never) have hoped for.
With all of the changes, the creative tugs of war, problems with the production schedule (shut down altogether for a months-long period), re-shoots, and Fincher completely washing his hands of the film before the editing phase, it's a credit that they were still able turn in a respectable, cohesive effort. Sadly, it still wouldn't amount to much, as the film barely broke even at the box office, and the only reason fans wanted to see another sequel would be to restore some semblance of the vital essence of the first two films, and a happier conclusion to the Ripley saga. Too little, too late, as the spirit and momentum of the series had been permanently dismantled by this third entry, as well as most of the fan interest. Like the criminals at the heart of the film, repentance and rehabilitation might still be viable penance for the grave sins committed, but there's no hope for revitalizing a soul that has already been shattered.
-- Followed by an even more inferior sequel, Alien Resurrection, and prequels, Alien vs. Predator and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem.
©2007 Vince Leo