Review: Alien 3 (Fincher, 1992)

Directed by: David Fincher
Written by: David Giler, Walter Hill, Larry Ferguson
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Paul McGann, Brian Glover, Ralph Brown, Danny Webb, Christopher John Fields, Holt McCallany, Lance Henriksen, Christopher Fairbank, Pete Postlethwaite
Released: 1992 / Genre: Science-fiction Horror / Country: USA / IMDB
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When I first saw Alien 3, shortly after its release in the United Kingdom, I wasn’t impressed. I didn’t like the opening which seemed to make a mockery of Aliens’ finale, I didn’t like the style or execution, and I didn’t like the way the story had progressed. Little did I know at the time, of a rift between the then unknown director David Fincher, and the studio. For Fox, Fincher became a toy to be played with, and eventually any kind of director’s vision was stripped away by the studio, who took creative control from Fincher. What can be referred to as the Director’s Cut’, Alien 3 was shown to test audiences in a longer version to the one that eventually made it into theaters. It was these test audiences, whose largely unflattering critical appraisal lead to the film being shortened into a studio cut which the director now wants nothing to do with. Why was the film critically panned? At the time I thought I knew why, but looking at it now I seriously believe that the very things the critics were bashing it for, are the very things that make it such a good movie today.

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The film begins, like Aliens, directly where the previous film left off, with Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the survivors in hyper-sleep on the military vessel, Sulaco. An electrical problem starts a fire so the ship jettisons an escape pod, with the hyper-sleep pods inside. The escape pod crash lands on Fiorina 161, a prison planet where inmates live and work under the confines of an uninhabited planet. Here Ripley is revived, and finds that she is the only female on the planet. Andrews (Brian Glover) who heads the operation on Fiorina 161, doesn’t believe her stories of the past and does not believe a thorough search of the escape pod for possible alien life form is necessary. However, when an inmate suspiciously gets killed, it is not only Ripley who begins to think there is an unwanted guest on the planet.

A crucial part of this sequel was to get the balance right between how the alien has evolved and how Ripley has evolved since the last movie. Here, we begin to see major flaws in both their characters: Ripley has lost everything she had, again, yet must face her demons once more; the alien, in a wonderful sub-plot, now must rely on Ripley to survive. These elements produce a war we have not witnessed before, putting the film in new territory, the only problem being, they are not executed as well as they could have been.

Fincher is relatively restrained with the camera until a fast-paced finale, keeping his camera slowly viewing events, maintaining a cold atmosphere and a hollow tension. With director of photography, Alex Thomson, Fincher paints an ugly place in greens and browns, with the hot orange glow of the colony’s furnace offering a bright juxtaposition, shrouding the film in a harsh darkness. The sharp, white lights of the interiors give the small rooms life, but only heighten the feeling of being inside a prison, surrounded on all sides by the dark, black hallways, ventilation shafts, and the cold, desolate wastelands outside. Fincher attempts to do what James Cameron did to cut his audience off from everything they know, or thought they knew; to center them in a place, a hell, and cut off every possible exit, squeezing the characters and the audience to create tension, impending doom, and hopelessness. Fincher has a much more raw tone than Cameron, but struggles to maintain the danger and the ultimate horror that the previous film’s director succeeded in doing. Creating hollow tension, which he most certainly does, isn’t a strong enough element, because the pivotal danger’ becomes more of a dormant entity that stings you in the night, rather than the ice-cold menaces that Ridley Scott and James Cameron brought to the screen in their earlier efforts.

The film is graced with a great cast, and Sigourney Weaver again returns to give an exceptional performance. Shaving her head for the role, she reprises her character Ripley, more hardened and toughened than before. It is interesting to see this character she has portrayed in two previous movies, again have to deal with the same horrors once more, but set against the backdrop of a male prison colony. She is the first female they have seen in years, a woman that not only presents something most of them desire, but the very thing they have sworn to neglect. It is also interesting to see that Ripley has faced a deadly enemy, now she is faced with the worst of what humans can throw at her. While this factor becomes a prominent subplot, it falls flat and is never fully realized.

Charles Dance is excellent as the colony doctor, and quickly becomes a major aspect in the dynamic of Ripley’s character. They befriend each other, both finding a uniqueness in the other, and this becomes another interesting part of the film. Dance portrays Clemens with an element of mystery – he is a convict after all, but becomes the most sympathetic of the supporting cast. Charles Dutton is also excellent but vastly underused, and underwritten in his role as the hard talking Dillon. Paul McGann, in what is believed to be a role that is harmed most by the studio’s cuts, is good as the jittery, psychotic multiple murderer, Golic. Brian Glover and Ralph Brown complete the primary cast, as the stout, unbelieving officer Andrews, and his right hand man Aaron.

Elliot Goldenthal had a tough act to follow in terms of the film’s score, but creates an excellent addition, and compliments Fincher’s overall tone. The special effects are however, not up to scratch, with some looking very poor indeed. The word rushed’ comes to mind, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the studio quickly threw in many special effects shots to get the film out on time for its release date.

Alien 3 stands as a worthy addition to the Alien Legacy. It is different to the previous two because it has to be, and it is better off for it. It opens up some very interesting avenues, but unfortunately never fully explores them, and while the original cut of the film could have been a better, more rounded movie, this is still an excellent slice of science fiction.

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Review by Daniel Stephens

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Top10Films reviewsRidley Scott’s Alien / David Fincher’s Alien 3

About the Author
Editor of Top 10 Films, Dan Stephens is usually found pondering his next list. An unhealthy love of 1980s Hollywood sees most of his top 10s involving a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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    fuzzyian Reply

    An underated film, however, I would have liked to have seen what Vincent Ward would have done with it

    Number 4 is awful!

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