Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 54 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Monster Violence, and for Language
Directed by: David Fincher
Written by: David Giler, Walter Hill & Larry Ferguson
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Charles Dance, Brian Glover, Ralph Brown, Paul McGann, Danny Webb & Lance Henriksen
In 1979, ALIEN frightened audiences with its mixture of bleak science-fiction and terrifying horror. In 1986, ALIENS blew audiences away and delivered one of the best sequels in cinema history. In 1992, ALIEN 3 disappointed fans everywhere. To be fair, this film had a troubled production before it even began shooting due to Fox’s heavy studio interference. I wish I could tell you that ALIEN 3 is an underrated gem in the series and doesn’t deserve all of the hatred that it has received up to this point. However, ALIEN 3 ranks alongside THE GODFATHER: Part III as one of the most disappointing sequels ever created. Though it does a few redeeming qualities, ALIEN 3 is pretty damn abysmal.
After escaping the deadly planet in ALIENS, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) awakes as the sole survivor of an escape pod crash. To make matters worse, Ripley’s pod crashed onto a lice-infested prison planet that’s populated by murderers and rapists. Threatening criminals, a newly shaven head, and grief over the loss of her friends are the least of Ripley’s worries though, because another Xenomorph (this time bursting out of a dog) is on the loose. With no weapons at their disposal and a skeptical warden, Ripley must band the inmates together if they wish to stay alive.
ALIEN 3 tries to be radically different from the previous two films. Occasionally, this works out in its favor, but it mostly ends up with disastrous results for the majority of the running time. The decision to kill off Newt (in the worst way possible), Hicks, and Bishop within the film’s opening minutes feels like an insult to many fans of the second film. I understand that this third installment is trying to distance itself from ALIENS and establish an identity of its own, but it feels like this opening renders Ripley’s entire heroic rescue of Newt as completely pointless.
By moving from over a hundred aliens (in the second film) to a single dog-hatched Xenomorph, ALIEN 3 seems like a severe downgrade. The new four-legged monster looks cool in moments, especially with stop-motion effects and slimy man-in-a-suit close-ups. However, there are moments where cheesy CGI renderings of the long-headed beastie simply don’t hold up. The same cannot be said of the film’s dark setting which is actually pretty neat in every scene. The industrial prison planet sets seem lavish, expensive and spectacular. The film also maintains a brooding atmosphere, in spite of its countless pitfalls.
In her third round as Ripley, Sigourney Weaver seems to be phoning it in. There are screams, groans, and shouts that are meant to be dramatic, but had me chuckling (which I’m sure wasn’t the intention at all). The prisoners are a bland, bald bunch, with only a couple of performers sticking out among the generic pack. Charles Dutton is remarkably good as the religious spokesman of the group, while Charles Dance gives us the only charismatic supporting character to latch onto. Dance just might deliver the best performance of the film and I wish he played a bigger role in the grand scheme of things. Also, Lance Henriksen makes a couple of appearances, both of which are decent enough and nothing more.
ALIEN 3 truly falls apart in its story, because most of this film is downright boring and stupid. Still, there are a few neat kills and gory bits. It’s worth noting that ALIEN 3 began filming as the script was still being written and there was no clear ending in sight. That crappy production hell comes across in the finished film. About 30 minutes of scenes were cut out of the theatrical cut and have been re-edited into an Assembly Cut (not a director’s cut). Unfortunately, the Assembly Cut is only marginally better with two halfway decent subplots (involving a prisoner who becomes obsessed with the alien and a rapist redeeming himself through sacrifice) and tiny inconsequential changes. The finale in both versions just boils down to a series of repetitive hallway chases and alien point-of-view shots.
My biggest problem with ALIEN 3 involves spoilers, so consider this a spoiler warning to skip to the next paragraph. ALIEN 3 attempts to conclude the trilogy in a darkly poetic way. There are two major plot holes that come with the decision to put an alien inside of Ripley. The most notable one being that Ripley walks around and remains alive far longer than any other alien victim’s incubation period. Some might argue that this is because she has Queen inside of her, but I call this lazy writing that needed her to stay alive as long as the plot called for it. Arguably more annoying, there’s a scene in which alien-pregnant Ripley realizes that the dog-Xenomorph will not hurt or kill her. She can get very close to it and the monster won’t harm her at all. So, why doesn’t she just kill the Xenomorph right then and there? Why drag the prisoners to their certain deaths in order to trap/kill a creature that she could easily kill on her own? Again, this is bad writing and sloppy storytelling.
David Fincher disowned the third ALIEN outing and nobody can really blame him. He was a hired gun for this tampered-beyond-repair mess that Fox wanted. ALIEN 3 has a few redeemable qualities in most of its effects, two good performances, a handful of cool scenes, and creative concepts (even if they are botched in execution). However, it’s ruined by gaping plot holes, a tedious pace that’s sure to bore the viewer, a few downright idiotic decisions that take a massive dump on fans of the second film, and feeling like a phoned-in cash grab of a third installment. In the right hands and talent, ALIEN 3 might have been something truly special, but it wound up as one of the most disappointing sequels to ever hit theaters.