Alien 3 Review
When I first saw Alien 3, shortly after its release in the United Kingdom, I wasn’t impressed. I didn’t like the opening which seemed to make a mockery of Aliens’ finale, I didn’t like the style or execution, and I didn’t like the way the story had progressed. Little did I know at the time, of a rift between the then unknown director David Fincher, and the studio. For Fox, Fincher became a toy to be played with, and eventually any kind of director’s vision was stripped away by the studio, who took creative control from Fincher. What can be referred to as the ‘Director’s Cut’, Alien 3 was shown to test audiences in a longer version to the one that eventually made it into theatres. It was these test audiences, whose largely unflattering critical appraisal lead to the film being shortened into a studio cut which the director now wants nothing to do with. Why was the film critically panned? At the time I thought I knew why, but looking at it now I seriously believe that the very things the critics were bashing it for, are the very things that make it such a good movie today.
The film begins, like Aliens, directly where the previous film left off, with Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the survivors in hyper-sleep on the military vessel, Sulaco. An electrical problem starts a fire so the ship jettisons an escape pod, with the hyper-sleep pods inside. The escape pod crash lands on Fiorina 161, a prison planet where inmates live and work under the confines of an uninhabited planet. Here Ripley is revived, and finds that she is the only female on the planet. Andrews (Brian Glover) who heads the operation on Fiorina 161, doesn’t believe her stories of the past and does not believe a thorough search of the escape pod for possible alien life form is necessary. However, when an inmate suspiciously gets killed, it is not only Ripley who begins to think there is an unwanted guest on the planet.
A crucial part of this sequel was to get the balance right between how the alien has evolved and how Ripley has evolved since the last movie. Here, we begin to see major flaws in both their characters: Ripley has lost everything she had, again, yet must face her demons once more; the alien, in a wonderful sub-plot, now must rely on Ripley to survive. These elements produce a war we have not witnessed before, putting the film in new territory, the only problem being, they are not executed as well as they could have been.
Fincher is relatively restrained with the camera until a fast-paced finale, keeping his camera slowly viewing events, maintaining a cold atmosphere and a hollow tension. With director of photography, Alex Thomson, Fincher paints an ugly place in greens and browns, with the hot orange glow of the colony’s furnace offering a bright juxtaposition, shrouding the film in a harsh darkness. The sharp, white lights of the interiors give the small rooms life, but only heighten the feeling of being inside a prison, surrounded on all sides by the dark, black hallways, ventilation shafts, and the cold, desolate wastelands outside. Fincher attempts to do what James Cameron did – to cut his audience off from everything they know, or thought they knew; to centre them in a place, a hell, and cut off every possible exit, squeezing the characters and the audience to create tension, impending doom, and hopelessness. Fincher has a much more raw tone than Cameron, but struggles to maintain the danger and the ultimate horror that the previous film’s director succeeded in doing. Creating hollow tension, which he most certainly does, isn’t a strong enough element, because the pivotal ‘danger’ becomes more of a dormant entity that stings you in the night, rather than the ice-cold menaces that Ridley Scott and James Cameron brought to the screen in their earlier efforts.
The film is graced with a great cast, and Sigourney Weaver again returns to give an exceptional performance. Shaving her head for the role, she reprises her character Ripley, more hardened and toughened than before. It is interesting to see this character she has portrayed in two previous movies, again have to deal with the same horrors once more, but set against the backdrop of a male prison colony. She is the first female they have seen in years, a woman that not only presents something most of them desire, but the very thing they have sworn to neglect. It is also interesting to see that Ripley has faced a deadly enemy, now she is faced with the worst of what humans can throw at her. While this factor becomes a prominent subplot, it falls flat and is never fully realised.
Charles Dance is excellent as the colony doctor, and quickly becomes a major aspect in the dynamic of Ripley’s character. They befriend each other, both finding a uniqueness in the other, and this becomes another interesting part of the film. Dance portrays Clemens with an element of mystery - he is a convict after all, but becomes the most sympathetic of the supporting cast. Charles Dutton is also excellent but vastly underused, and underwritten in his role as the hard talking Dillon. Paul McGann, in what is believed to be a role that is harmed most by the studio’s cuts, is good as the jittery, psychotic multiple murderer, Golic. Brian Glover and Ralph Brown complete the primary cast, as the stout, unbelieving officer Andrews, and his right hand man Aaron.
Elliot Goldenthal had a tough act to follow in terms of the film’s score, but creates an excellent addition, and compliments Fincher’s overall tone. The special effects are however, not up to scratch, with some looking very poor indeed. The word ‘rushed’ comes to mind, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the studio quickly threw in many special effects shots to get the film out on time for its release date.
Alien 3 stands as a worthy addition to the Alien Legacy. It is different to the previous two because it has to be, and it is better off for it. It opens up some very interesting avenues, but unfortunately never fully explores them, and while the original cut of the film could have been a better, more rounded movie, this is still an excellent slice of science fiction.
The picture is presented in a pristine 2.35:1 transfer, and is anamorphic enhanced. The raw, dark tone of the photography is beautifully rendered on the DVD. Colours are natural, though filmed with a harsh, cutting brightness. Black level is perfect, adding to the harsh nature of the photography with a crisp delineation between the piercing light and the brooding, shadowy black. The print is brilliantly clear offering a distinct sharpness and detail, and sporting no noticeable grain.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is equally impressive, surrounding the room with the moody, groaning score by Elliot Goldenthal. Dialogue is nicely spatial in nature, utilising the surround speakers to good ambient effect. The dialogue is clear, as is the music. Overall, the speakers get an excellent, haunting workout.
Making Of – 22 mins - This is a surprisingly good documentary about the phenomena that is the ‘Alien Legacy’. Various people directly involved with the first three films discuss the original film’s motivation and concept, right through to the third film’s production design. However, the documentary is woefully short, and you can’t help but feel that an extended version would have made a terrific documentary. More people are involved with this one, than were involved on the box set bonus disc’s hour long documentary or Mark Kermode’s Channel 4 documentary of the same length. Many actors are featured on this disc’s featurette including Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Tom Skerritt, Bill Paxton, Michael Biehn, Charles Dutton, Charles Dance, Brian Glover, Ralph Brown, Daniel Webb, Lance Henrikson, and Paul McGann. Director’s Ridley Scott and James Cameron also chat about the Alien series, but there is the notable absence of David Fincher.
The twenty-two minute documentary finishes with a theatrical trailer for Alien 3, which has some quick snippets of scenes that did not make the final cut. Also, a pre-credit sequence montage of quickly edited together scenes, also features some tantalising additional scenes that did not make the cut.
The documentary seems to have been taken from a videotape master, as it lacks clarity and has a distinctive audio hiss throughout. It is presented in a mixture of 4:3 and 1.85:1, because of the inter-cutting of interviews with footage from Alien, Aliens and Alien 3.
Teaser Trailer - This teaser trailer seems to have been made well before Alien 3 completed production as no scenes are shown. The footage in the trailer is directly sourced from an old Alien trailer, with music from Aliens played over it and a newly commissioned voice-over. The trailer in the featurette is much more satisfying. This one is presented in 4:3.
For those who dismissed the film on its release, or have only seen it once, should really go back and give the film another chance. It is obvious why the film struggled to satisfy expectation on its release, mainly due to the fact it was trying to continue a story that had begun with two exceptional films. The film’s execution isn’t as good as it should be, and the film’s premise is never fully realised, but by no-means is it a bad film. As a stand-alone movie, it is great science fiction; as a sequel, it is the perfect addition to the franchise. The film is given a technically superb DVD release, but without the director’s involvement, added features were never going to be extravagant. What we get is an interesting documentary, which is worth watching because of the personnel involved, and a couple of trailers which are worth viewing because the of the additional scenes that never made the final cut of the film. Alien 3 is not and never will be as good as its two predecessors, but that doesn’t mean it has to languish in their wake.