David Fincher, 1992
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Lance Henriksen
After the events of Aliens, the Sulaco spaceship escapes with Ripley, Hicks, Newt, and Bishop, a badly damaged android. A facehugger alien is attached to one of them and the ship crashes on the planet Fiorina, a prison colony that holds particularly violent male convicts. Ripley wakes up from stasis to learn that she is the only survivor, aside from the facehugger, who sneaks off and attaches itself to a dog. A funeral is held for Newt and Hicks. Ripley’s presence is clearly disruptive and she is in almost constant danger, as a number of criminals on the planet are rapists, but she learns that a Weyland-Yutani ship is on its way to rescue her.
A newly born alien, which emerges from the dog, begins killing off the unarmed prisoners. Ripley briefly reactivates Bishop, who confirms that an alien found its way on board the Sulaco. She explains that they have to team up to kill it, but the prisoners don’t believe her. Later, the alien almost kills Ripley, but oddly turns away. She eventually convinces the inmates to team up and use their available resources - such as toxic waste - to defeat the alien. She also learns that an alien queen embryo is growing quietly inside her and begins to suspect that the Weyland-Yutani ship is arriving for more than just a rescue mission.
I have to admit that even though I have a soft spot for Alien 3 and there are plenty of things I like about it, it’s a complete mess. This is largely due to its complicated pre-production history. The studio wanted to make another Alien sequel after the success of Aliens and ran through a number of writers and directors before settling on David Fincher (Seven, Social Network, Zodiac). Alien 3 would become his first feature film. Author William Gibson (Neuromancer) wrote the first script, which largely excluded Ripley and was supposed to be directed by Renny Harlin (The Long Kiss Goodnight). When this was scrapped, Eric Red (Near Dark) wrote a draft involving more Marines. David Twohy (Pitch Black) next worked on the script and developed a prison planet concept that would remain for the final version. Some elements of this were used in Alien Resurrection, such as different types of aliens, cloning, etc. It’s obvious that he also took some of his ideas and turned them into Pitch Black and The Chronicles of Riddick.
Vincent Ward (What Dreams May Come) wrote the next version, which I really wish had been filmed. Ward’s script involves Ripley’s pod crashing on a medieval-style monastery planet, where the monks think the alien is Satan and Ripley is there to tempt them. You can learn a lot more about the fascinating script and beautiful wooden set on the extensive special features for Alien 3 in the Quadrilogy set. Producers Walter Hill and David Giler took a number of ideas from previous scripts and added a few elements of their own, as did David Fincher, who reworked some of their material when he was hired as final director. In addition to all these different people working on the script, the studio screwed Fincher over with the final cut of the film, essentially firing him before editing. They reworked much of his film.
Bleaker and more emotional than the first two films, Alien 3 does have some strong points despite its many flaws. The CGI and some of the effects are very dated, but the grim, nihilistic tone works in the film’s favor, as does the excellent use of visuals and the prison planet set. There are a number of good performances, particularly from Sigourney Weaver and Charles Dance (The Golden Child), a doctor with a questionable past who becomes a thoroughly believable love interest for Ripley. Charles S. Dutton (Rudy) puts in a good turn as the colony’s spiritual leader and Brian Glover (An American Werewolf in London), Ralph Brown (Withnail & I), Paul McGann (Doctor Who), Danny Webb (Doctor Who), and Pete Postlethwaite (The Usual Suspects) all make welcome appearances. Lance Henriksen also makes a brief return from Aliens.
Alien 3 also established the concept of a gradually adapting alien, which would continue in Alien Resurrection and Alien Vs Predator. Fincher wanted the alien to have a more beast-like, four-legged appearance and contacted H.R. Giger to work up some new designs. Frankly, the scenes with the alien hybrid are appalling, though with better effects and less dated CGI, maybe they would have seemed less absurd. There are still some convincing scares and though a lot of the supporting characters on the prison planet are at first hard to tell apart, the script makes good use of the fact that they are unarmed and must rely on the harshness of the planet to defend themselves.
Though it is not, strictly speaking, a good film and is certainly a poor sequel, it has such an interesting premise and moments of undeniable promise that it’s hard for me to write off Alien 3 entirely. Fincher adds a bit too much religion into the plot, but the film’s dark tone is one of its most memorable, successful qualities. There’s also an enjoyable, fitting score from Elliot Goldenthal (Heat, Frida). This is a key example of the negative effects of meddling from Hollywood studios and producers and I don't think it's fair to blame Fincher for the failures.
Both the Alien Quadrilogy DVD box set and the Alien Anthology Blu-ray set contain some great background info that explains why Alien 3 is such a disaster and sheds some light on the amazing film it could have been. Curiously, the documentary on Quadrilogy lacks any involvement from Fincher, though his scenes were restored for the Anthology set. He has little to say other than bashing the studio, which is understandable. Included in both of these sets are the “Assembly Cut” of Alien 3, which is closer to Fincher’s original version and is certainly worth watching. Alien 3 is available in the Alien Quadrilogy DVD set, the Alien Anthology Blu-ray set, and on Blu-ray.