ALIEN 3: A Bunch of Lifers Who Found God at the Ass-End of Space

Alien 3 (1992; Theatrical Cut) – Directed by David Fincher – Starring Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Brian Glover, Ralph Brown, Paul McGann, Danny Webb, Pete Postlethwaite, and Lance Henriksen.

ALIEN 3 is a grim movie, soaked in murky olives and browns, but a nonetheless engaging movie until it makes the completely boneheaded decision to off the only two supporting characters it spent any real time developing. From then on, it’s just a movie about killing.

And fire.

Lots of fire.

I want to love ALIEN 3, but I can’t. The opening half of the film is very strong, as first time director David Fincher creates an impressive world for our latest alien installment. Picking up where ALIENS left off, we’re inside the Sulaco as Ripley, Newt, Hicks, and Bishop are sleeping in their stasis pods. (Well, Bishop’s not really sleeping so much as he’s been ripped apart and powered off.) The opening titles are intercut with a facehugger crawling over the pods and then attaching itself to an unseen face. A fire starts, the escape pod is jettisoned, and crashes on Fury 161, a male-only penal colony.

Ripley survives. Everyone else dies.

ALIENS director James Cameron has said that he considers the demise of Hicks, Bishop, and Newt as a “slap in the face” to both him and the fans. I can understand that, but I don’t agree with it.

There are two ways that I like to evaluate deaths in fiction: emotionally and narratively. Emotionally, I hate that these three are dead. In a narrative sense, however, it does work. Ripley is a survivor, after all, and their deaths are just an extension of that premise. It’s cruel and harsh and not what I wanted, but as a plot, it’s not a horrible idea.

For the remainder of the film’s first half, we get to see Ripley try to figure out what happened on board the Sulaco and whether an alien is responsible. The film also starts building up the secondary characters. Fury 161 is a corporation prison planet. Weyland-Yutani wanted to shut the prison down, but the inmates ask to stay because they’ve found God and the corporation lets them stay on as a custodial force.

There are no women on Fury and the Warden (Brian Glover) wants to keep it that way. As soon as Ripley comes to his attention he sends for a rescue ship to come pick her up and tells Clemens (Charles Dance), Fury’s doctor, to keep her locked away from the prison population. Ripley and Clemens ignore the Warden’s request because that would make for a boring movie. Ripley gets Clemens to perform an autopsy on Newt and it’s a pretty brutal scene. Ripley has obviously become hardened by everything that’s happened, but watching her force Clemens to cut open Newt is pretty darn brutal.

An alien has survived, too, of course, and he comes bursting out of a dog. Gross but it’s a well-played sequence as the dog is going through all sorts of convulsions as the prisoners are holding a funeral for Hicks and Newt, who get tossed into the prison’s big furnace.

The alien ends up killing a couple of inmates and the Warden ends up blaming a deranged prisoner named Golic (Paul McGann) and disbelieving the whole alien angle.

Through this part of the movie, I’m kinda digging ALIEN 3. Is it as good as the two earlier installments? Not even close, but it’s not bad, either. I like the set up of having all of this action happen on a prison planet where the inmates insist they’ve found God. Nothing like a murderous alien monster to put these new ideals and morals to the test. We’ve also got three solid secondary characters in Clemens, the Warden, and Dillon (Charles S. Dutton), the prison’s religious leader.

You can see the tensions starting to form as these three men will work with and against Ripley as the alien threat increases. We’ve got the aliens, the prisoners, a closed facility, and a young but clearly talented director ready to put all of these elements into motion. What could possibly screw this up?

Killing two of them off right away would do it, and that’s exactly what the film does for reasons I cannot figure out.

Clemens is killed in front of Ripley, who freaks and runs to the cafeteria, where the Warden is killed right in front of her.

What? Who thought this was a good idea? Who thought offing the two secondary characters the film has spent the most time building up was a good idea? With Clemens and the Warden gone, there’s a massive personality void in the film that Fincher tries to fill with all sorts of killing and fire and planning. Dutton is a great actor but he can’t carry the entirety of the non-Ripley portions of the film. As a result, it’s just a well shot bunch of rather meaningless action.

The feud between Fincher and FOX is pretty darn legendary. Fincher is the only director of the four ALIEN movies that’s had nothing to do with any of the re-releases, as the studio apparently re-cut the film without his approval after he’d turned in his cut and before it hit the theaters. There were massive problems on the set (they began shooting without a completed script), so who knows how much Fincher is to blame for the second half of the movie.

Whether it’s Fincher’s fault or the studio’s, the second of ALIEN 3 ruins the experience. Ripley finds out she’s got the alien Queen inside of her, which is a nice twist, but it just reinforces that the film spent an hour building up Clemens and the Warden only to jettison them. The corporation’s rescue squad shows up to try and take Ripley in because they still want the aliens for their bio-weapons division.

Yawn.

How about a film where they’ve got the aliens instead of yet another movie where this sits in the background?

Ripley ends up tossing herself into the furnace just as the alien Queen comes bursting out of her chest, and it’s a nice ending but an empty one. I do like how the aliens have chosen Ripley to be the host for their new Queen because it shows that they are not simply killing/reproduction machines. Now, maybe the fachugger chose Ripley because she was the healthiest and strongest survivor of the event on LV-426, but it certainly plays as a personal attack.

ALIEN 3 starts out strongly enough that it’s a shame to watch it sputter and clank its way to the end. The prison population could have served as an excellent cast of characters with which to play out this latest installment, bu the film isn’t interested enough in developing their characters for me to care about them.

________________

ALIEN / PREDATOR Review Index

ALIEN: A Survivor, Unclouded by Conscience, Remorse, or Delusions of Morality
ALIENS: My Mommy Said There Were No Monsters. No Real Ones. But There Are.
ALIEN 3: A Bunch of Lifers Who Found God at the Ass-End of Space
ALIEN RESURRECTION: Must Be a Chick Thing
ALIEN VS. PREDATOR: I Think This is a Manhood Ritual
ALIEN VS. PRDATOR: REQUIEM: Small Town America Kills Two Franchises at Once

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