Vincent Ward, David Giler, Walter Hill, Larry Ferguson
Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Paul McGann, Brian Glover, Ralph Brown, Danny Webb, Christopher John Fields, Holt McCallany, Lance Henriksen, Chris Fairbank, Carl Chase, Leon Herbert, Vincenzo Nicoli, Pete Postlethwaite
R for monster violence, and for language
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Coming off a hot career as a music video director, David Fincher's directorial debut stands in stark contrast to his later work, making one wonder what the Social Network-era craftsman would have done if he had made Alien 3 today?
As the second film came to a conclusion, it was believed that the aliens that Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) was escaping were eradicated once and for all. Yet, in Hollywood, no one can hear you groan, so a third film was likely inevitable. Six years later, audiences got what they were craving and a solid opening weekend could have presaged a further increase in final box office numbers for the franchise, but somewhere along the way, the Alien films lost their footing. Attempting to create further interesting environments in which to place the characters, Aliens screenwriters David Giler and Walter Hill settled on a lice-infested prison colony on the outskirts of space. With no female companionship, the inmates have come to peaceful terms with their celebacy and have formed a kind of community that would seem anathema in modern civilization.
Along with a handful of compatriots from the second film, an in-stasis Ellen Ripley is jettisoned from her ship when an electrical fire forces emergency measures on the ship. That it was caused by our favorite face-huggers is not at all shocking, but sets up a situation where Ripley, the lone survivor, is once again marooned with a voracious alien creature hungry to eviscerate all that come before it. To further depart the story and tone from its predecessors, Alien 3 becomes even darker, going so far as to rob Ripley of her familiar locks in order to avoid an overzealous population of lice. The prior films were certainly gritty and spoke of a militant future world, but this one takes an even deeper, more cycnical view of the world and makes it viscerally and emotionally unpleasant.
The film itself isn't on very shaky ground logistically. The same fantastic settings and visuals are there, the strong central performance by Sigourney Weaver is there and many of the supporting cast members still generate fine performances. Charles S. Dutton leads the prisoners as a firebrand who doesn't want their harmonious existence disturbed by outside forces, but when his choice becomes accept Ripley and her knowledge of the aliens or being ripped apart by the creature, he stands up and won't take any shit. Charles Dance provides a memorable turn as a conflicted physician whose mysterious past has led him from prisoner to medic, his character becomes the first believable emotional interest for our heroine. Lance Henriksen even makes a brief, but important cameo in the film in the same role he created in the second film. While much of the others are the expected slaughter-fodder, Pete Postlethwaite does well in his under-written role as a prisoner.
There are some questionably ridiculous elements to the plot, including the bizarre notion to shave Ripley's head, but the film still managed to create an iconic scene or two (spoiler warning) such as the alien bursting up out of a molten vat of lead or, more impressively, Ripley's defiant plunge into the flames. These little nuggets keep the film from veering too far off course, but the script could have used some tightening and a more practiced filmmaker might have done that.
Attempting to adapt his video style to film, Fincher creates a film that feels too controlled at times and too loose in others. It's a movie that wrestles with pacing in a way that wearies the audience. What gave the directors of both prior films an edge (Ridley Scott and James Cameron) was that they had prior feature film experience, efforts that gained them critical attention, but honed their craft in the sci-fi genre before tackling the pinnacles of the space horror genre. Fincher's music video career ill prepared him for the task of helming Alien 3, which may account for its weaknesses. Fincher did however springboard from this film into an a career of continually escalating quality, so it wasn't an entire waste, but a prior big screen outing was a necessity.
The first two films in the Alien franchise are undoubtedly masterpieces, but Alien 3 is too far off the mark to be considered more than adequate. Regardless, it's still a fine outing for a second sequel and were it filmed a few years later after Fincher had directed Seven, it might be this film and not Seven that is considered the greater film.
June 7, 2012