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Alien 3 (1992)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

ALIEN 3 (1992)

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Paul McGann, Brian Glover, Ralph Brown

Written By: David Giler, Walter Hill, Larry Ferguson Directed By: David Fincher

The Short Version

There is a massive amount of popular dislike for this movie.

It’s not coming from me; I like Alien 3.

The dark paranoia of the first film is back.

The cast does a great job.

Forget the naysayers; this is a very worthy entry for the Alien saga.

The Long Version

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Sharper than one may expect; it’s not to everyone’s taste, but it’s good stuff.

Pairs Well With...


You know the warden’s got a bottle hidden in his desk drawer.  You just know it.

“You've been in my life for so long, I can't remember anything else.”

A lot of the world seems to hate Alien 3.  First-time director David Fincher walked off the set after filming but before editing and “disowned” the film.  Before that, writer/producer David Giler walked off the set in part because of problems with Fincher, and has since said he regrets working on the movie.  Actor Lance Henriksen doesn’t like it because it’s too “nihilistic.”  And the legions of fans who pigged out on the James Cameron junk food that was Aliens got pissed after everyone but Ripley who survived that flick got killed off in the first few minutes of this one without even being given the chance to wake up from hypersleep first, after which those fans tuned out and have pretty much never looked back.

Even among those who don’t hate Alien 3, the majority now seem to favor the “Assembly Cut” that first became available with the “Alien Quadrilogy” (which is absolutely not a real word) box set and later with improved audio on blu ray, as opposed to the cut that was originally shown in theatres.

As for me, not only do I like Alien 3 – and consider it a far more worthy part of the series than the massively overrated Aliens – but I also prefer the theatrical cut to the “Assembly Cut.”

Hmm… are those flamethrowers that I see some of you wielding?

I find it interesting that so many people consider themselves fans of the Alien movies, and yet the only movie they ever talk about is Aliens, and when they do mention the others, it’s to complain that they’re nothing like Aliens.  To me, that sounds like one isn’t a fan of the series, but just of one movie.  (Or, to cut right down to it, of one specific director.)  And that’s fine.  But I think it is worth pointing out that Aliens was the second movie, and that it in fact bears almost no resemblance to the first one.  Given that a series generally follows its origin (what a concept!), it would seem to make more sense to judge any sequels against the example set by the initial film.  With that in mind, not only is Alien 3 far more true to its ancestry, but honestly… it’s just a much better a sequel.  Period.

So while there are many who complain loudly that Alien 3 dumps as much baggage from Aliens as it can within the first ten minutes, I’m not going to shed a tear; indeed, I’ll say “good riddance.”  (Those complaints were especially loud at the time of the film’s release thanks to the fact that there had been a very successful graphic novel series based on Hicks and Newt in the interim, and that it was widely known that there were many ideas shopped around for this script more in line with what James Cameron had done than with what Ridley Scott had done.  Oh well.)  Indeed, despite being the end result of a very long pass process, I think this script does an excellent job of getting back into the original groove of what these films are supposed to be about while still giving some acknowledgement to the popular but wildly off kilter piece that came before.  It’s actually a very smooth transition.

And once that transition is made…

Alien 3 brings back the dark, claustrophobic feeling of a hopelessly outmatched group with no normal weapons being pitted against a single, unstoppable creature.  It’s not about zomg explosions or about the overblown testosterone bluster of guys with big guns; it’s about psychology and fear and what the hell you do against the monster that can’t be killed.  It’s a flick that remembers how to tease about the monster so that it’s always potentially there even when it’s not there.  It’s a thriller, and it’s a horror movie, and it does both of those things right.

And despite the fact that the director’s primary experience before this movie involved rock videos, he has the presence of mind to allow the camera to take in the creepy industrial/prison/monasterial setting for more than just an eyeblink at a time so that that audience has the opportunity to soak in all of that grimy, shadowy goodness.  The location is its own monster, and wonderful advantage is taken of every element that it offers under the guidance of DP Alex Thomson.  This is amplified by an absolutely outstanding score by Elliot Goldenthal, combining the creep factor of the first film’s score with choral accents and a very brief visit from a metal riff, all of which serves to bring a much more effective musical voice to Alien 3 than the standard “action brash” model.

Yes, the end result is all very bleak (I think “nihilistic” is a stretch), but, well… duh.  It’s supposed to be bleak.  That’s the horror of it, and the drama comes from how our unlikely heroes face it.  The point is outstandingly made in the dialogue:

“You're all gonna die.  The only question is how you check out.  Do you want it on your feet?  Or on your fuckin' knees – begging?”

Much of the appeal of a movie like this comes from the answer to that question, and it’s all that much more satisfying when the answer isn’t as simple as a machine gun with a grenade launcher.

A lot like how the original film worked, come to think of it.  Imagine that, huh?

Alien 3 also has the benefit of all of that bleak drama being played out by a marvelous cast.  Sigourney Weaver (Avatar) is, of course, back as Ripley, and she delivers the goods once more playing from a script that brings the character to a new stage in her evolution.  Meanwhile, she’s backed up by the likes of Charles Dance (Underworld: Awakening), Pete Postlethwaite (The Usual Suspects), and, on major speech detail, Charles S. Dutton (Nick of Time).  Can these guys handle the drama?  Oh, just a lot.

Is all of this to say that Alien 3 is perfect?  No.  (It’s not quite that much in tune with the original.)  The visual effects are of variant quality.  Some of the wide shots border on terrible (they were still getting a handle on this “digital” thing, apparently); however, the closer-in shots and the interiors are all well-done, and that’s what counts most here.  Bringing Lance Henriksen back for a quick scene as Bishop I is a nice touch; the Bishop II thing pours it on a bit thick.  And for those who go for detail, the “Double Y Chromosome” theory by which the inmates of the prison planet are defined has been generally discredited as garbage.  All in all, though, there’s certainly nothing wrong that falls into the “deal breaker” category.

Interestingly and unusually enough, one might have “studio interference” to thank for that to some degree.

As noted earlier, David Fincher walked off before editing began, and so while he directed the shots, he didn’t take part in the process of putting them together for the theatrical cut, which is also what is seen on earlier releases of Alien 3 for home video.  Starting with the “Alien Quadrilogy” (still not a word) box set, an “Assembly Cut” with alternate scenes and a lot of extra footage became available, which was further improved for the blu ray release with the addition of re-recorded audio from the original cast.  It’s called the “Assembly Cut” because there is no “Director’s Cut” – David Fincher still wanted nothing to do with the film, and so the “Assembly Cut” is the “best guess” as to what Fincher would have done with the movie himself.  This has quickly become the preferred version for most viewers, who generally cite more time being given to flesh out the characters and filling in a disjointed story as their reasons for preference.

Also as noted earlier, I don’t agree.  First, I never found the theatrical cut’s story to be disjointed; it always made sense to me, and I thought it was well paced.  With that said, it’s not so much the fleshing out of characters that I object to with the “Assembly Cut.”  My problems primarily lie with the beginning and the ending.  Originally, the rescue of Ripley by the prisoners featured oxen, one of which… well, you can guess.  Then it was decided that the oxen were cumbersome and didn’t make much sense on this planet, so things were reshot and the unfortunate ox became an unfortunate dog instead.  And while I do feel sorry for the poor dog, I think that the change which made it to the theatrical cut does indeed make more sense.  For the “Assembly Cut,” the oxen are back.  The worst change, though, and the one for which I will gladly condemn the entire “Assembly Cut,” is a single alteration to the last shot of Ripley in the film.  I will not spoil it for those who haven’t seen it, but I will say that the final shot of Ripley in the theatrical cut is the single best shot in the entire movie and, to me, one of the single greatest shots in the entire series.  It is an ultimate definition of Ripley as a character… and it is thrown away for the “Assembly Cut.”  It’s a change that I consider to be nothing short of completely idiotic, and it really hurts the impact of the story.

Which is a shame, because it really is an excellent story, and certainly a better one than much of the popular media has made it out to be over the past twenty years.

Bottom line, Alien 3 is a very good horror/thriller that serves as a worthy sequel to the original film while shrugging off the overhyped junk food that came in between.  Of course, if you’re really into that junk food, you’re not as likely to agree, but if you remember and appreciate the movie that started it all and recognize that as the true genesis of this series, then the much-maligned Alien 3 is definitely worth your time.  Try to watch the theatrical cut if you can; the final shot of Ripley truly makes the movie, and the editors of the “Assembly Cut” made a grievous error by changing it.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, June, 2012

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