Alien Flashback Review: Alien 3
In the days leading up to the theatrical release of Ridley Scott's PROMETHEUS, we here at JoBlo.com have decided to take this opportunity to look back at the franchise it's associated with: The Alien Quadrilogy. Each day this week, we'll be looking back at one film in the series, with the exception of the ALIEN VS. PREDATOR films, which I think we agree all suck, and are not really canon. Today we look at the controversial, divisive ALIEN 3- a film that seems to be equally loved and loathed by fans of the series.
This movie pisses a lot of people off, and it’s easy to see why. After doing such a masterful job building characters that we cared about in ALIENS, the makers of ALIEN 3 seemingly decided “fuck that”, and had the audacity to kill off Michael Biehn’s Hicks, and Carrie Henn’s Newt- and off-screen to boot. I remember when ALIEN 3 came out in theaters. I was only ten years old, but I had spent the summer watching and re-watching ALIENS, along with reading the Dark Horse comics ALIENS: EARTH WAR series, which imagined a world where Newt and Hicks’ stories continued. I wished then, and I wish now- that that’s how this series had continued.
But alas, it didn’t- and while I angrily dismissed ALIEN 3 when it first came out, now that I have twenty years of distance from it, I can appreciate it for what it is. For those of you who haven’t read the numerous stories, or seen the excellent Quadrilogy documentary “Into the Inferno”, know that ALIEN 3 was a tortured production. After ALIENS hit in ’86, dozens of scripts were floated, and an early teaser even suggested that the third ALIEN would take place on earth. Needless to say, the studio went another way, and eventually David Fincher, who was making a huge name for himself in music videos (read the recent “I Want My MTV” for loads of Fincher- late-eighties, early nineties stories) made his feature debut with this. He’d live to regret this choice.
Accustomed to creative control over his videos (he even produced them himself through his company Propaganda), he was probably ill-suited to be making his first film part of a huge franchise. Eventually, Fincher’s cut of ALIEN 3 was junked by the studio, and to this day, Fincher refuses to participate in any ALIEN 3 DVD or Blu-ray releases.
Luckily, a few years ago, Fox dipped into the vault, and finally released Fincher’s work-in-progress “assembly cut”, and once the Alien Legacy Blu-ray’s hit shelves, it was further refined to the extent that it now seems as polished as the final film. Running about forty minutes longer, it’s easier to see what Fincher had in mind for the third film, and to be sure, it’s a striking film visually.
But- it still feels like this was a step backwards from ALIENS. After seeing Ripley battle xenomorphs by the dozen, it was comparatively boring to see her take on a solitary alien. The only thing they did with Ripley that seemed original was to impregnate her with an alien, but the fact that it took days to gestate, and only emerged at the very end seemed like a goofy reworking of the rules. It’s also worth noting that the FX, compared to Stan Winston’s amazing work in the last film, take a huge step backwards- despite the reportedly huge $63 million budget (big for ’92).
Of course, ALIEN 3 is still a very decent film. The prison planet plot is intriguing, and while most of the prisoners are indistinguishable (not helped by all of them sharing the same buzz-cut), some stand-out, including Charles Dance’s disgraced doctor- who’s Ripley’s first real love interest, and Charles S. Dutton’s kickass Dillon (more on him later). And Weaver’s acting when she learns of Newt’s death, and during the gory autopsy and cremation is terrific.
MUSIC: Elliot Goldenthal supplies an excellent musical score to ALIEN 3, even if it pales in comparison to Goldsmith/Horner’s work on the other films. Goldenthal’s always been under-rated, and his score compensates for some of the films failings (lack of tension, FX).
BEST DEATH: Charles Dance’s death took me completely by surprise, but rather than entertain me, it kinda pissed me off, as here was another character we were starting to like- who gets killed off before the movie is even half over.
MOST BADASS CHARACTER OTHER THAN RIPLEY: Without a doubt, this one goes to Charles S. Dutton as the scripture-quoting Dillon. A repentant criminal that’s found God, Dillon turns out to be Ripley’s greatest ally amongst the prisoners (saving her from an attempted rape), and his heroic death near the end is about as good as it gets. It’s also worth noting that Dutton actually served some time back in the seventies, so the guy brought some experience to the part.
CHARACTER THAT LOSES THEIR SHIT: In this case, it’s pretty much everyone other than Ripley, Dillon, and Dance’s Clemens. Honestly, the character development isn’t so hot here- so they’re tough to tell apart (bald, burly and British), although there was that one guy who let the alien go after they trapped it.
RECEPTION: Despite a strong opening weekend, noxious word-of-mouth did this one in as far as North America went, and it only grossed $55 million, not even covering the budget. Overseas it did better, adding an extra $100 million to the till. However, it did have the positive effect of Fincher deciding to avoid studio tent-poles, and led to an amazing run of films that started three years later with SE7EN, and continues to this day.