Director: David Fincher
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance
Run Time: 1 hour 54 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Alien 3 is a disastrously compromised motion picture that its director disowned and is largely reviled by all but a select few outliers who hail it as a nihilistic masterpiece. As usual, the controversy around the movie forces people to take strong stances for or against it, ignoring the fact that it’s a completely middling film when all is said and done.
People never learn. They really ought to read my blog more.
In Alien 3, Lt. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) crash-lands on a prison planet, not realizing that an alien Facehugger is along for the ride. Her fellow survivors from Aliens – Michael Biehn and the little girl formerly known as Newt – have perished during the crash. She conscripts the prison’s medical officer Clemens (Charles Dance) to help her perform an autopsy on newt while she chokes down sobs and the camera repeatedly zooms past the girl’s dead eyes like a hungry fly. Then they toss her friends’ bodies into a flaming pit, superimposed over Ripley’s devastated eyes, while in the other room a Xenomorph bursts out of a puppy dog, painfully killing it.
They’re really making a meal out of this.
So yeah, Ripley must team up with the 25 interchangeably British prisoners to fight off the alien once more. They fight a lot about how exactly to accomplish this while the alien mows down the expendable meat who inexplicably decide to wander off alone.
It’s basically a slasher movie, with slightly less phallic symbolism.
Alien 3 has a truly spectacular opening logo. The 20th Century Fox fanfare trumpets from the screen, shifting almost imperceptibly into a blaring minor key musical sting that hits you like a ton of bricks. And that’s pretty much the last nice thing I have to say about the movie.
Alien 3 really revels in being a miserable slog, which is totally fine for a movie to do, even if I’m not a huge fan of that style. But a movie this nibbled-at by production quibbles in no way has the strength of character and tone to sustain such a dismal atmosphere. It’s too unsure of itself, rapidly flitting from idea to idea, to the point that its bleakness is inconsistent. So whenever something truly dire happens, it feels wholly unjustified, and whenever something remotely happy occurs (as rare as that is), it feels manic and forced.
And then there’s the fact that it’s all just wicked emotional manipulation, grabbing you by the hair and rubbing your face in its every bleating misery.
LOOK AT THIS DEAD GIRL! GUESS HOW DEAD SHE IS! VERY!
As if that wasn’t enough, it’s a technical misfire on every level. I’m not going to point fingers at any particular person behind this very tampered-with production, but Alien 3 is just a mess. Scenes bubble up from the plot’s molten primordial ooze with no context whatsoever, the geography of the prison appears to be some sort of M. C Escher thought experiment, and the editing is – in a word – perplexing.
There are some excellent deep focus shots of lurking aliens, but this cosmic ineptitude (and the fact that every single character – including Ripley – looks exactly alike), Aliens is muddled and incomprehensible. Even worse, it’s boring. The action of the third act is defused by the editing making it entirely unclear what is happening and where or why, so all we have to cling to is an endless carousel of scenes of Ripley being angsty at Charles S. Dutton.
Oh, and there’s some abysmal CGI at certain points, but this was 1992. Hollywood was going through some forgivable growing pains.
In motion, it looks more like that dancing cartoon frog than an alien beast.
OK, it’s time to resheath the claws. As insufferable as Alien 3 tends to be, it’s far from the worst thing to happen to the franchise. While there are only one or two things that qualify as categorically “good,” it’s at least operating at a basic level of cinematic decency. It galloped by at a steady enough clip, and Sigourney Weaver is always a delight, even when her character’s actions are entirely inscrutable. If you love to watch Xenomorphs repeatedly drop down onto people from the ceiling, then boy do I have the film for you.
TL;DR: Alien 3 is a miserable, overwrought slog.
Word Count: 748
Reviews In This Series
Alien (Scott, 1979)Aliens (Cameron, 1986)
Alien 3 (Fincher, 1992)
Alien: Resurrection (Jeunet, 1997)
AvP: Alien vs. Predator (Anderson, 2004)
Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (Strause & Strause, 2007)
Prometheus (Scott, 2012)