– Summary –
Director : David Fincher
Year Of Release : 1991
Principal Cast : Sigourney Weaver
Awards : Academy Award Nomination: Best Visual Effects.
Approx Running Time : 120 Minutes
Synopsis: After she’s ejected from the Sulaco and crash lands on an inhospitable prison planet, Ellen Ripley must once again fight to survive against the alien menace; a menace made more problematic due to there being no weapons at all on the planet.
What we think : A brutally difficult film to enjoy, Alien 3 is as dark as it gets in the franchise’s history. Directed under almost impossible conditions imposed by Fox, David Fincher has crafted an iconic, melancholy, and grimy Alien film that often achieves greatness,yet seems stifled under the oppressive weight of its own intent. Devoid of obvious humor, overtly violent (often seemingly for the sake of it!), Alien 3 is by far the least accessible film in the series.
It was always going to be an impossible task. The ugly third child of the Alien franchise had the enormous task of trying to follow up from James Cameron’s cult classic Aliens. A film that had taken the series to incredible heights of action, terror, and effects. As a studio, Fox had the problem of trying to obtain more money from the franchise, but very little idea on how to do it. Returning to an oft-used well is problematic in a film sense, considering the Law of Diminishing Returns usually applied to most once-successful series. After a relatively bumpy start, in which various directors and concepts came and went, then-newcomer David Fincher was brought onto the project to meet the films scheduled release date. The fact that the release date couldn’t be moved didn’t help Fincher’s cause, but since this was to be his first foray into feature films, he wanted to make a good impression. With a script still being meddled with, and not locked down, Fincher had to not only try and bring a sense of cohesion to a project spiraling out of control (thanks mainly to a garrulous 20th Century Fox) but to stamp his own aesthetic on the finished product. It was a project fraught with difficulty and conflict, but were it to be achieved, success could reward all involved.
Alien 3 is a direct continuation of the events of Aliens, with Ripley, Newt, Bishop and Hicks all inside the Sulaco rescue pod on their way back to Earth. However, one of the creatures is inside the pod with them, and upon its destruction of various life-support systems, the pod crashes onto a wind-swept, barren planet. The planet is Fiorina (Fury) 161, a prison planet on the outer edges of human colonization. Hicks and Newt are killed, Bishop is rendered almost inoperable, and Ripley survives with relatively light injuries; she is, however, stuck inside an all-male prison with no weapons of any kind. The prisoners range from the completely psychotic to the voluntary, all of whom have earned their place inside the facility, along with a light selection of employed facility management. The trouble is, an alien has also landed with Ripley’s craft, and as the creature grows, it begins to attack the inmates randomly, causing panic and anger to set in. Using her wits and ingenuity, Ripley must concoct a plan to both defeat the Alien, stop the one now growing inside her from escaping, and manage not to be gang-raped by the sex-starved inmates of the prison.
Yeah, just another day battling vicious, acid-for-blood marauding alien creatures for Ellen Ripley. Alien 3 really isn’t an audience friendly film; it’s a dark, nihilistic venture into perversity and madness, all accompanied by a wonderful score from Eliot Goldenthal. Fincher’s sparing use of CGI for the Alien creatures, as well as some atmospheric visuals and set design, creates room for the franchise to move in a subtly different direction to the stark, militaristic motifs used in the previous two films. The prison looks like a slum, and it’s inhabitants have long since given in to despair and desperation, if not acceptance, of their situation. Throw in an Alien, capable of murdering them all, and despair gives way to hope; the hope of rescue and survival. It’s a great story dynamic, and one I think lends itself well to the franchise as a whole. Ripley, as the sole female on the planet, becomes a target not only for the alien (since she’s carrying a Queen Egg) but also the more sinister, sex-starved contingent of prisoners in the facility. That, plus the unheeding Warden’s inability to comprehend the dangers facing them all, make her mission all that more difficult, and it’s a great acting stretch for Sigourney Weaver. Ripley’s brash, arrogant attitude is almost exactly the same as the convicts around her, meaning her foot-stomping and pleas for action are lost in the mix.
Because of it’s dark nature, Alien 3… ahem… alienated its audience to a certain degree, which I tend to think is largely as a result of it not being a carbon copy of Aliens. There’s nary a weapon to be seen, the film strives desperately to be some sort of indictment on human misery, and yet, for all it’s sturm und drang, Alien 3 remains a mystifying, lackluster affair. There’s a depressive melancholy across the entire film, due mainly to the seemingly cavalier way in which most of the surviving characters from Aliens are killed off in the opening title sequence. This immediately sets the audience on edge (I believe) by indicating that in this film, nobody is safe. Anybody could, and does, die here. For me, the darker nature of Alien 3 brings out a hardness in the film, a more grimy, grungy sci-fi flavor that marinates the film rather than hampers it. Many will find the film too oppressive to “enjoy”, in the truest sense of the word, but the narrative is technically strong, the visuals appreciably melancholy, and acting all above-par. It stands to reason that a technically proficient film should have been more enjoyable, more approachable to modern audiences. Yet it remains one of the lesser lights of the franchise, perhaps because of it seemingly cavalier treatment of the previous films’ cast, and Ellen Ripley’s ultimate fate in the final act.
Sigourney Weaver is undeniably the star of the show here: Ripley is the definitive female sci-fi character in cinema, and she plays the role with the conviction and enthusiasm it deserves. Her verbal sparring and mutual respect of fellow Fury 161 inmate, Clemens (Charles Dance) is interrupted by an encounter with the new dog-coupled Alien creature. Dance, perhaps best known for his role as the central villain in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Last Action Hero, does a great job with his limited time on-screen. Charles Dutton, who plays inmate Dillon, is one of those actors you know from other films but can’t quite place the name. Here, he’s essentially Ripley’s de facto protector, a kind of self-serving rapist and murderer (self confessed, too) who’s trying to make the best of a bad situation. Both Dutton and Dance are the key characters of the film in terms of their emotional connection with Ripley, whilst the rest of the case simply exist as potential fodder for the marauding alien. Bit roles by Ralph Brown, Paul McGann, Brian Glover and Pete Postlethwaite add dressing to the films melancholy tone. The Alien itself, a mixture of puppet and full CGI creation, is a lot sleeker and more agile than it’s previous cinematic cousins: having been implanted into a dog for gestation has given it a leaner and more 4-legged styling, which accentuates the speedy ability to dispatch it’s victims.
A lot of fans of the franchise often describe Alien 3 as the ugly stepchild of the saga: a far cry from Cameron’s blue-hued action-fest, and more about the violence of man than the horror of terror. Already upset at the death of three of the previous film’s most beloved characters, audiences felt this entry into the franchise deviated too substantially from the saga’s overall tone. Personally, while it may be a hard-sell for the majority, I actually find the film a change of pace from the previous installments, and quite a rewarding, if not entirely accessible, journey into more Alien madness.