People watching Alien 3 on opening night way back in ’92 will have had a very strange experience.
Everything starts well; with David Fincher (director) having the inspired idea of ending the Fox fanfare with a creepy space wail. The audience are on edge and ready for another two hours of ‘adult’ sci-fi.
Unfortunately, it never arrives. Instead Vincent Ward (the primary writer) kicks the audience in the teeth. The space-pod that Ripley, Hicks and Newt had used to escape at the end of Aliens has crash landed . . . with a conveniently placed egg on board, of course. Somehow Ripley survives, but Hicks and Newt aren’t so lucky.
Not a good start.
Things don’t get much better. But, it’s not all bad; for every stupid plot turn, there is sometimes a wailing Fox fanfare. But, only sometimes . . .
The biggest problem the film has is not knowing what it is; not scary enough to be classed as horror, not exciting enough to be an action movie. This lack of true identity means that it never finds a worthwhile path, and what you end up with is strange mish-mash of genres; sometimes going for chills, sometimes going for straight out action, and a substantial chunk of space-based romance (which starts clunkily and then never really has any chance to develop).
One of the things that Alien and Aliens do so well is give you a handful of side-character that you care about, whether that be the marines in Aliens or the crew members in Alien. That is not the case here. Yes, you care about Ripley (but no more than in the preceding iterations), but all of the other character are just dull, with poorly judged criminals-after-redemption stories and weird prison guards, made even weirder by their off-putting English accents which wouldn’t feel out of place in a Guy Ritchie film. The only character that I thought was remotely interesting was Charles Dance’s Clemens, but, with his untimely demise, he is never explored as much as he could have been.
Another big problem is the cumbersome quasi-religious sub-text and the complete destruction of the pro-female message set up by Scott and Cameron. What started as trying to rectify the sexism in Hollywood has turned into ‘men are awful, and it’s all woman-kinds fault’. It’s a puzzling U-turn and the nearly-rape scene is tough to watch and feels totally out of place. Instead, the aliens are shown as woman-respecting creatures, with the four-legged freak refusing to harm Ripley because she *SPOILER* has the new Queen growing inside her *SPOILER*.
However, as I have said, it’s not all bad. David Fincher, in his first feature film, shows that he does have a good eye and sense of tone. The acting on the part of Weaver and Dance is good, with the latter stealing what little of the show he is alive for and it does get reasonably enjoyable when they knuckle down and decide to catch the alien.
The score should also be mentioned; it’s not in the same league as Jerry Goldsmith’s Alien score or James Horner’s for Aliens, but it works for dramatic sci-fi, reminding me of something more akin to Star Trek than an Alien movie.
A flawed film, especially considering the brilliance it followed and the brilliance Fincher went on to produce, and a step in the wrong direction for the franchise; one it never truly recovered from.