In 1979 Ridley Scott crafted a high concept creature feature with the tagline "in space no one can hear you scream”, which would go on to spawn a successful movie franchise. Following the success of the 1979 film, a sequel was commissioned and would take the form of James Cameron’s Vietnam allegory Aliens, a thrilling adventure that excited audiences and exponentially upped the ante from the previous film. Cameron’s rollercoaster built upon Scott's simple concept and cranked the action up to 12. Consequently, Aliens proved a tough act to follow. Alien 3 turned the dial back down with a somber, and at times, depressing tone. Chugging along through a troubled development history, it released 6 years after Aliens in 1992. Upon release, the film became a lightning rod for negative reviews. Expectations were inordinately high, with trailers calling back to the first film with the tag line, "on Earth everyone can hear you scream". Unfortunately, this created an unrealistic audience expectation, and the film fared poorly in North American. Interestingly, itwas more appreciated in Europe and has in recent yearsreceived a critical reassessment, and with good reason.
In this video, I am reviewing the 2003 Assembly Cut which contains different scenes that affect the narrative and fill in blanks that are missing from the theatrical cut. From the very beginning the film sets off on a dark note, even cutting off the 20th Century Fox fanfare. Following the up-lifting ending of Aliens, with the surviving crew on route back home, an alien unbeknownst to the sleeping crew wreaks havoc upon their vessel. This causes the emergency system escape pods to launch and crash land on a maximum-security prison planet called Fury 161, which is inhabited by male monk-like inmates. As the body count piles up, the sole survivor, Ripley (Weaver) must take a "last" Stand with the alien beast that travelled to the planet with her.
Though four additional sequels would follow, in retrospect, it is fitting to view the series as a trilogy, since this aligns with the natural evolution of the franchise’s life cycle subtexts. The first film "Alien" is the birth, the second film "Aliens" represents life at its peak, and finally Alien3 symbolizescoming to terms withdeath and marks a certain sense of closure for the franchise at that point. It is understandable that audiences are disappointed when comparing Alien 3 to the first two films, as Aliens in particular boasts bigger action scenes, more aliens and a more hopeful ambiance. Upon original viewing, I was left with a punched gut feeling, but much like the Alien itself, something grew out of it to an appreciation for what I believe is an underdog of a film. Being part of a series, it is naturally compared to the films that came prior, although as a standalone, is impressive in its own right. It expertly illustrates a vicious universe stripped of all warmth and optimism, leaving the viewer with an emotional open wound. Like the visuals, viewers are left feeling painfully and beautifully tortured.
Fincher paints with a dark pallet, utilizing rust orange in the color scheme to realize the landscape of the forsaken Fury 161. Adding to the foreboding ambience is the set design, thatportrays an indulgent futuristic apocalypse that further cements the pessimism permeating through each individual set piece. To up the suspension and urgency, and as a call back to Alien through it’s uses of tight and claustrophobic environments, the Fury 161 penal facility is an appropriate back drop, filled with dangerously tight corridors. There is a sense of looming danger not only from the beast but from Ripley's surroundings and the population of murderers and rapists.The broken wreak of a facility add a new level of danger to navigate though. The muck and mire are thick, immediately pulling down any glimmer of hope along the horizon. Even potential back-up is an enemy bearing down on the characters in the form of the industrial space-mining company Weyland-Yutani, who want the Alien for military applications. H. R. Giger’s monster designs expertly portray sleek sexy bio mechanics in dangerous and frightening combinations.
The problem with Alien3 centers mostly around the script, whichis heavily edited from the original written by Vincent Ward. Ward’s script illustrates a concept for a wooden planet inhabited by monks, where Ripley crash lands and brings the Alien with her. The studio got cold feet about what they considered to be a weird concept and took Ward off the project. With sets already being built, producers Walter Hill and David Gilertook over script writing duties, melding aspects of the Ward script with an early concept written by David Twohy. Twohy’sprison planet screenplay became the basis of the final film, although it should be noted that shooting started without a finished script.
With few exceptions, the character development is generally weak. A somewhat developed character is Clemens (Charles Dance), who exhibits a heartfelt back story, although the film has him exit unceremoniously fast, doing quite a disservice to the movie and to audiences alike. His relationships with others bring a much needed "humanity " to the darkness surrounding every aspect of this film. Without his presence, the film continues to spiral more and more into dark and depressive tones.
There are also a few situations that defy established series logic, or ask the audience to suspend their disbelief beyond what is reasonable.For example, in the film, a few drops of acid blood cause a whole ship to malfunction. Also, when did the Alien queen lay an egg in the Sulaco at the end of Aliens? Doesn’t a face hugger die after one impregnation? If so, how did he manage to lay his seed twice? In this way, a lot of liberties are taken with the logic set up in the first two films. Although, interestingly, the Assembly Cut does improve the logic flow, at least in some instances, such as with the face hugger being some kind of “super face hugger”.
The core of the film is trulya continued story about Ripley, since the secondary characters are, with few exceptions, pretty thin on characterization. The majority of focus is on Ripley and her trials and tribulations, in this case, coming to terms with the death of everyone she cares about. Ripley knows this “demon” will always haunt her until her final days and that in order for the nightmare to end; she must take the situation into her own hands. Sigourney Weaver (Ripley)gives her best turn as Ripley. She exhibits an unwavering confidence and a masterful control over properly portraying the emotion that the scene calls for. She should have gotten the Oscar nomination for this one as I honestly feel that she truly takes the subject matter dead serious. Sigourney Weaver is a great actress and is not afraid to take risks which shows in this role.
First time director David Fincher doesanadmirable job considering the issues he is dealing with, including on-the-fly rewrites, sets being built before the script is finished, rushed casting and interference from the studio. It later came out that the whole experience was a nightmare for Fincher.A lesser director may’ve imploded under all the stress, but Fincher would persevere through Alien 3 and even bounce back with his own nightmarish vision in the film SEVEN, executing a style he would become famous for and that would earn him continued acclaim. Fincher draws on his background in high profile music videos, which shows throughhis utilization of image superimposition, effective fade ins and outs, slow motion, close ups, and overhead shots. Alien 3 is his first performance to the world that demonstrates a visual style he would carry with him to later films. Fincher’s technical skills are imposing and firmly wedded to his bleak tale. A strong point for me is the underrated experimental score by Elliot Goldenthal, who works closely with Fincher to craft an atmospheric score that seems to almost be fused organically to the dark rusted world the characters navigate. Fincher seems to really want to upset the viewer with this film (actually all of his films) and in that, he succeeds.
Alien 3 ends up being a truly profound tale, which through the lens of retrospection, is unjustly hated. It takes risks and does not play it safe by any means, and deserves commendation, at least for that. Alien 3 exemplifies the old adage that sometimes things don't go the way you would want or hope, but that there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. The extended cut does improve on some things but Alien 3 cannot escape being compared to the first two films, which are beloved classics. If you're looking for a feel-good popcorn flick, I advise you navigate elsewhere. This ride is a morbid tale of mortality, bold and haunting, that will leave the viewer with an emotional aftertaste. The air is depressing andit is by no means a crowd pleasure. But with Weaver's strong captivating performance and alongside the sharp direction mixed with the deep thought-provoking nihilistic aura, the film works for me as a fantastically clunky and inspired closure to an amazing franchise.