- Directed by David Fincher
- May 22, 1992
Ellen Ripley is the only human survivor of the Colonial Marine ship Sulaco from the previous film after a fire starts and it crash lands on the all-male penal colony Fiorina “Fury” 161. Soon it becomes apparent that the xenomorph threat has followed.
This is David Fincher’s feature film directorial debut. He is the man behind Seven as well as Fight Club and several other films. The 2003 Special Edition feels much more like what he does than the 1992 theatrical release did even though the ’92 is the one he was involved in. The ’03 release was done without his involvement. I always watch the Special Edition because it is a better film than the theatrical release. In fact that version is an excellent film. It is a much better story and overall feature film. The 1992 release feels like one of the numerous direct to video efforts of the time to mimic the Alien concept. A good try but not quite there in quality.
I had heard Alien 3 was originally to be set in some type of space monastery which is definitely an out there concept but here it is set on a penal colony that’s barely functioning. This prison has going into a caretaker status with a few prisoners and two prison staff on maintenance detail. Still not a bad tweak to the concept but I would have preferred to see the monastery idea done.
The main reason being that the monastery idea was better is that even though this is set on a planet surface in a prison colony it is essentially a rehash of the original film. I am not against going back to what works but they had a very unique idea to play with and they chose to dispose of it. On the whole a monastery in space sounds cool. It would have added religious elements and helped move this back towards horror rather than let the idea drift further towards action.
To the best of my knowledge the only story element really remaining from that concept is the religious conversion of the assorted prisoners. And honestly that gets a bit heavy handed in this film. On the one hand they are scumbags and on the other they are preaching about God. And I can understand if you are trying to make a commentary on religious people not living up to their beliefs, but it did not seem like they were even going for that. It just was something used to pad out scenes.
Alien 3 continues with the “show everything” aspect introduced in Aliens. There are plenty of gory kills, but they are not shocking or even frightening as they were in the first film. You see everything and there is no room for your mind to do the work of frightening you. It goes for gore and show rather than shock and scare. We know what the creature looks like by there is nothing wrong with teasing the audience still. Get us invested in the film by making us wait for what we all came to see.
I also take issue with them killing off Hicks and Newt. They did not even get to participate in the story. They just died before anything really happened. If their death was on screen, even quickly, it would have worked. Their (mostly) off-screen deaths made everything that occurred in the previous film feel kind of pointless. I do not mind the characters were killed off but as I said they were killed off before even participating in the new movie. I am willing to bet you could have gotten Michael Biehn (Hicks) to participate in this. Give a sendoff.
Despite the sin of killing Hicks in the first few seconds, they did redeem themselves with creating a relationship between Jonathan Clemens (Charles Dance) and Ripley. Clemens was a good romantic replacement and an interesting character. He was a doctor that accidentally killed a patient and after serving his time, stayed on as the prison doctor. Weaver and Dance played well off each other and it would have been nice if his character had at least survived. I dare say Dance’s performance was a highlight of the film among the new characters. He was nuanced and complex in comparison to the others. Dance performed his material as a serious dramatic role rather than a disposable action character.
Leonard Dillon (Charles S. Dutton) was maybe a bit of a low point of the film. He is an exceedingly serious character positioned as a leader among the prisoners but looks a bit unable to actually lead anybody. He spouts what they should do but none of the characters actually do it until Ripley (usually) follows up a statement that comes down to chastising them.
The Weyland-Yutani Corporation obsession with getting one of the xenomorphs by this point seems a little ludicrous. So far these creatures have destroyed an ore freighter and wiped out an entire colony along with some Colonial Marines and still this corporation wants to get one of these things. It is pretty clear how dangerous they are, and it just seems illogical that they have this obsession still. There is no way to successfully contain one. I guess though we would not have a movie otherwise.
I do love the planetary environment that they create in this film. It is a desolate and very alien environment that they manage to show. They make you feel as if you really are on another world rather than Earth. The prison sets are stark and industrial with the occasional hint of religion. One background piece looks to me like it was built with the monastery idea in mind before that was dumped.
The majority of the characters are barely fleshed out and are more like caricatures. It is not hard when going into this movie assuming that they all die, and you would be right. Given that Clemens had some depth his death was a surprise though. Aside from he and Ripley, I was not too invested in any one character’s survival.
Reportedly there were behind the scenes issues with several story ideas being turned into scripts before being dumped. Some had parallels to communism while others likened the aliens to HIV (not sure how that works). Unfortunately they went with something more generic and even started filming without a completed script and it shows in the 1992 version. The 2003 version, referred to as the Assembly Cut, is a much better film and the one I recommend watching. The characters come off better and the action is more exciting and there is just a better feel to the film. Neither film is bad, but the latter is a huge improvement over the former.
Neither version of Alien 3 are truly bad movies, but both could have been done so much better. The Alien universe has so much potential. Even so both are entertaining films with the 2003 edition being superior. Watch that one and enjoy yourself.