Alien 3 (1992)
Directed by David Fincher
Screenplay by David Giler, Walter Hill, and Larry Ferguson. Story by Vincent Ward. Based on characters created by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shussett
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Paul McGann, Brian Glover, Lance Henriksen
[to the Alien]
Ripley: You’ve been in my life so long, I can’t remember anything else.
At the end of James Cameron’s Aliens (1986), it seemed impossible that there could be another installment of the Alien franchise. Sigourney Weaver’s on-screen avatar Ellen Ripley had nuked the Company/Weyland-Yutani’s colony on LV-426 and duked it out mano-a-mano with the Alien Queen aboard the Sulaco before going into her cryogenic sleep tube with fellow survivors Hicks (Michael Biehn) and Newt (Carrie Henn). Ripley’s tale, it seemed, was over.
Ah. Never underestimate a studio’s desire for sequels. Eager to replicate the success of Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) and Cameron’s Aliens, 20th Century Fox asked Brandywine Productions to make a second sequel.
As developed in a final screenplay by David Giler, Walter Hill, and Larry Ferguson (The Hunt for Red October), 1992’s Alien 3 is one of the strangest films of the Alien saga. It’s also the weakest and somewhat most perplexing one.
Alien 3 begins on a promising note as, over a wisely subdued main title sequence, we see how Aliens’ happy ending dissolves, literally speaking, as we see troubling hints that sometime during the Battle of LV-426, an Alien made its way aboard the Sulaco, and, as its acid leaked all over the deck, disabled Hicks’ and Newt’s hypersleep tubes, started an onboard fire, and activated its Emergency Evacuation Vehicle, which ejects Ripley and the mortal remains of Newt and Hicks onto the surface of Fiorina-161, aka Fury-161.
This world, which in Ward’s original treatment had been intended to be a forest world with a monastery, was nixed by the studio and changed into a desolate nearly-abandoned foundry/maximum security prison planet (and a particularly nasty one, too, with really bad weather and the Universe’s worst lice infestation).
Ripley, the corpses of Hicks and Newt and what remains of the android Bishop (Lance Henriksen) are recovered by a handful of Fury-161’s remaining human population, which consists of 20 or so former inmates and three Weyland-Yutani employees who serve as warden/chief administrator (Brian Glover), his assistant (Ralph Brown), and the medical officer (Charles Dance).
Dillon: Do you have any faith, sister?
Ripley: Not much.
Dillon: Well, we’ve got a lot of faith here. Enough even for you.
Ripley: I thought women weren’t allowed.
Dillon: Well, we’ve never had any before. But we tolerate anybody. Even the intolerable.
The film, unfortunately, becomes a slow-as-molasses mess early on in Act One and never quite recovers. First, we learn that the inmates, led by a charismatic murderer named Dillon (Charles S. Dutton), have become religious converts to a futuristic form of Christianity and sworn to a vow of celibacy. This means, of course, that Ripley’s presence on Fury-161 is going to cause all sorts of problems in this heretofore all-male society.
Next, of course, we are treated to a somewhat tedious “relationship dance” in which Dr. Clemens’ back story is painfully extracted by Ripley, but by the same token, Ripley isn’t very open with the guy either, especially when she demands that an autopsy be performed on poor little Newt.
To make matters worse, there aren’t any weapons on Fury-161, and it takes days, sometimes even weeks, for ships (mostly Weyland-Yutani supply vessels) to get there, so even though the warden has sent a message to the Company about Ripley’s crash landing, everyone on this world is vulnerable to a single Alien that’s hell-bent on killing and reproducing.
It’s this last bit – reproducing – that provides the film with its most frightening and tragic aspect, and it’s the most interesting aspect of Alien 3, since it’s the emotional touchstone for Ripley, whose life has been upended ever since the first close encounter of the worst kind took place on LV-426 almost 60 years earlier when she served aboard the ill-fated Nostromo.
Andrews: This is Rumor Control. Here are the facts!
Had Alien 3 possessed a coherent and constant creative vision and a director as single-minded as James Cameron, it would have worked well, even if it meant the film would be the franchise’s “Prison Movie.” There’s nothing wrong with that idea: Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien was a sci-fi reworking of the haunted house/relentless murderer theme, while Aliens was Apocalypse Now In Space.
What makes Alien 3 the weakest of the three films I’ve seen isn’t the fact that it was David Fincher’s directorial debut, It’s not even that it totally “cancelled out” the feel-good ending of Aliens. If you’re going to make a third Ripley-vs.-Alien flick, that’s what you have to do.
Unfortunately, Alien 3 is undermined by not only a bit of stylistic overkill as Fincher tries to blend his MTV-friendly sensibility to the Scott-Cameron dynamic that fans love, but by its uneven storyline, slow pacing, and a curious way of diverging from the well-known dynamics of the Alien’s reproduction process.
Also bothersome is Alien 3’s attempt to make the story more intensely frightening by showing obvious clues early on that an Alien has hitchhiked aboard the Sulaco, while at the same time dragging the suspense out. The script is chock-full of red herrings and digressions that make the running time (114 minutes for the theatrical release, 145 minutes for the 2003 Special ‘Assembly Cut’ Edition) seem glacially slow, and we find ourselves questioning some of the story-telling decisions made by the writers and Fincher.
For instance, why are all the planets colonized by Weyland-Yutani always so similar? Why was it so necessary to have Ripley be less-than-forthcoming about what she thinks killed Hicks and Newt? Was the doctor’s tragic back story really that interesting?
Even worse is the fact that most of the former inmates on Fury 161 are played by British actors whose accents get in the way of the dialogue. When I saw this in theaters and – later – on TV before DVDs were invented, I couldn’t make out much of what’s being said, which is bad because this is a chat fest of a film. Only by watching Alien 3 on the 2004 barebones DVD with the subtitles turned on did I finally understand what was going on.
Although it bravely tries to be a “thinking man’s sci-fi action flick” with a few good sequences (particularly in the final third of the picture), Alien 3 is still an uneven and unsatisfying movie to watch. Weaver does what she can with the material, thus reminding viewers that Lt. Ellen Ripley is still an interesting character, while Dutton provides the movie with its most compelling supporting role, but that’s about it. The scene of an Alien’s “birth” from its unwitting host (a poor dog) is extremely off-putting, and some of the chase sequences which Fincher intended to be intense and scary are anything but.
- Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
- Resolution: 1080p
- Aspect ratio: 2.37:1
- Original aspect ratio: 2.39:1
- English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
- French (Canada): DTS 5.1
- Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1 (448 kbps)
- Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1
- English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
- 50GB Blu-ray Disc
- Single disc (1 BD)
- Slipcover in original pressing
- Region free
- Rated: R (Restricted)
- Studio: 20th Century Fox
- Blu-ray Release Date: May 10, 2011
- Run Time: 114 minutes