After surviving two rounds with the xenomorphs, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) crash-lands on a planet where a few dozen convicts have found God in an abandoned mining facility. But God can’t save them from the alien that stowed away with Ripley, especially after Ripley learns she herself is impregnated with the next alien queen.
Alien 3 was doomed to become the cautionary example of how badly things can go when a studio commits to a release date before having a script or a strong vision for a movie. That the movie is at all coherent or watchable is a testament to the abilities of young David Fincher (Se7en, Fight Club), making his feature film directorial debut under the worst possible studio pressure. To be fair, though, even if Fincher’s dour, grungy vision for the film were unfettered, it was probably never going to satisfy 1992 audiences looking for the sensational scares of Ridley Scott’s Alien or the visceral thrills of James Cameron’s Aliens. Fincher’s style was then a bit ahead of its time, and let’s face it — they can’t all be Alien or Aliens.
Fincher assembles a fine cast to back up stalwart Sigourney Weaver, including Charles Dance as a love interest for Ripley and Charles S. Dutton as the convicts’ defacto spiritual leader. The sets are extraordinary and the photography is often beautiful. Elliot Goldenthal’s music is a beguiling blend of classical elegy and primal horn work. The film has its moments, especially early on, when we’re first brought into this strange Fincheresque environment where everything is wet and worn-down, and who knows what could be lurking in the shadows.
But the film goes out of its way to alienate audiences of the first two Alien movies. Beloved characters Newt and Hicks are dead before the opening titles end, though Lance Henriksen’s android character, Bishop, makes a brief appearance later on. In the first twenty minutes, we’re looking at shots of crawling lice, Ripley’s grotesquely bloodshot eye, an exploding animal, and Newt’s small corpse being sawed apart. Before the first act is over, the audience already knows this is not the sequel they wanted.
It’s easier to judge Alien 3 on its own merits decades after its release. It’s not a terrible movie. The cast do wonders to make the material engaging, and Fincher’s direction is amazingly confident and sure-handed. But Alien 3 fails to deliver either scares or thrills, thus failing to measure up to either of its predecessors. In other words, Alien 3 is a well-made dreary drama about angsty, bald, wet people.
With Pete Postlethwaite, Ralph Brown, Paul McGann, and Brian Glover.
(This review is of the 2003 extended cut of the movie.)
Oscar Nomination: Best Visual Effects