More noise than signal

Alien 3

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

It seems like only a scant few months ago since we last spoke about Fincher’s instalment in the franchise, because, well, it was – in our David Fincher episode, predictably enough. However, future generations would never forgive us were we to simply point you in that direction and skip daintily on to the next film, so as a compromise position, let’s go over the basics here, and recommend the Fincher episode for the full low-down. It’s a good episode. You’ll enjoy it.

Ripley crashes down to the near deserted prison planet of Fury 161 as the only survivor of the Sulaco, a casual sweep of the pen killing Hicks, Newt and Bishop off camera. Well, not the sole survivor, it turns out, as a facehugger hugs the face of an inmates dog, eventually bringing forth a dog-type xenomorph to rampage through the prison population.

An unarmed prison population, at that, meaning that not only must Ripley face down an alien armed with the sharp stick that Hudson joked about in Aliens, but there’s a good chance that she’ll have to fend off the humans too. They’ve all sworn vows of celibacy, under the leadership of Charles S. Dutton’s Dillon, but these will be stressful, trying, and as evidenced by the other films, fatal times for everyone. The skeleton custodial staff of authoritarian tea salesman Andrews (Brian Glover), dunce second in command Aaron (Ralph Brown) and ex-junkie medical officer Clemens (Charles Dance) aren’t going to be a huge amount of help either, once the inmate hits the fans.

If there’s not enough of a clock put on this by the loose alien, a few more appear once Ripley discovers she’s also hosting one of the critters in her chest, and the Wayland-Yutani boys are on course for a “rescue mission”, which is not the most reassuring news in the world. So, Ripley and the survivors hatch a desperate plan to kill the beast while Ripley ponders killing herself rather than hand herself over to the bioweapons boys.

There’s a podcast by itself in the chaos of the various wildly different scripts knocking about pre-production, and the folly of starting to shoot without a script, but in short, it’s frankly incredible that anything at all watchable came from this birthing process, and I’d go out on an increasingly shored up limb and say that Alien 3 is pretty good. With Fincher’s career blossoming after this, it’s easy to see the visual style he carried on through with, in particular Seven, and that elevates a lot of the arguably slender material that they’ve essentially improvised. It was, perhaps a few years ahead of its time, and now we’ve all made our peace with “dark and edgy”, it’s easier to see the positives in Alien 3, particularly the great central turns and the visual distinctiveness of the setting.

I think we three have all re-evaluated Alien 3 over the years, and now rather like it, although I didn’t as a young lad. I don’t think that’s a particularly controversial viewpoint now, but if you haven’t felt the need to revisit this since the 90’s, I again urge you to do so. I also stand by my comment that the theatrical cut is better than the longer “assembly” cut, which I find to entirely ruin the pacing of the film without adding all that much of interest.