How do you follow up one of the greatest sequels in film history? One that advanced the story and added marvelous new lore to a franchise? Expand it further? Add more new, exciting elements? Or…just remake the first movie again with less interesting supporting characters? It seems, after a long pre-development and various incarnations (some of which sound much better than the end result) the final producers of Alien 3 chose the latter.
David Fincher’s Alien 3 once again picks up where the previous film left off. Last time Ripley was found after slipping through a number of safety sweeps by a chance salvage crew. This time the Sulaco, the ship in which they escaped at the end of the prior installment, crash lands on a prison refinery, and Ripley is the only survivor… Ok, it may not be fair to compare Alien 3 to Aliens but it must be done so I’ll get it out of the way. Aliens spent a lot of time effortlessly making you absolutely love each character. Their deaths, even those of minor characters, are felt as the audience is included like a member of the team. The characters who survivd are a perfect mix. Those we care about saving the most and those we are the most invested in. So naturally in Alien 3 they kill everyone off camera with no narrative or adequate reason. Hicks, who so masterfully took control of the marines after the initial disastrous engagement and supported Ripley: dead. Newt, who we were completely devoted to saving and loved for her ability to survive on her own: dead. Bishop, who allowed us to trust a different kind of being and helped save the day at least twice: dead. Why? So they could hit a massive Deus Ex Machina reset button on the franchise and get Ripley helpless in a lonely environment against a single alien again.
We also see, in the opening sequence, there are alien eggs on board the craft that infect some of the stasis crew with alien eggs. Ok… Now barring any nonsense excuses…how did the eggs get on the Sulaco? Since the ship had never been on LV426, the landing craft only touched down long enough to get everyone on board, and since the xenomorphs don’t have tyranid-style harpies to send to the vessel, where did the eggs come from? Certainly not from the alien queen who was briefly on the Sulaco, but Aliens makes a point of showing her detach from her egg sac in order to chase Ripley. One explanation is that Bishop put them there. Which not only goes against his characterization but adds the further question…where did he get them? During one of his off-screen lurks around the queen’s egg chamber in Aliens that didn’t get him ripped to pieces and no one knew about, showed, or ever mentioned? So the Deus Ex Machina pulled two eggs from the asshole dimension in order to get aliens on board the ship. Even though it’s a plot hole big enough to fly the Nostromo through we’ll just have to accept it as read to continue the review.
Clearly Alien 3 has derailed the terrific ride left by its predecessor. For the sake of fairness and sanity I’ll stop direct mentions of the previous sequel and judge the film on its own merits.
So Ripley is alone in her knowledge of the alien again, this time in a monastic prison environment for double-Y chromosome ultra-aggressive violent criminals. It’s not a bad set up and in a way puts her in a similar situation as the first film, except all of the other characters are threatening and dangerous not just passive aggressive or broken robots.
Naturally an alien gets loose on the ship and, in one of two decent expansions of lore; the facehugger infects a dog, resulting in a slightly different kind of alien. One that moves differently from the ones we’ve seen from humans. AND we see alien POV which gives a fisheye camera angle as the alien skitters around through tubes and on the walls and ceilings.
We also discover Ripley has an alien inside her, as she was…somehow…infected while in stasis (I guess the facehugger had a cat burglar glass cutter and crept inside her pod for a snuggle at some point) with an alien queen no less. Seeing that alien queens can be gestated just like standard aliens was an interesting piece of info we’d never before seen.
Being a prison monastery there are of course no weapons, so the prisoners and Ripley choose to fight the alien via craftiness. By luring it through a dedicated path and trapping it inside a mold, which can be filled with molten metal. The idea is great for suspense as we POV the alien chasing scared prisoners and show the panicked prisoners fleeing from locked door to locked door, channeling the alien the desired direction. It doesn’t quite pass the logic test as it’d be like a crippled cockroach trying to corral a bitey mouse through a massive wheel of cheese. Not only that but how, even with a serious head start, this plan would last beyond the first prisoner is a major flaw, since aliens move like giant pissed tiger beetles and can leap from wall to wall like Jackie Chan on speed. But it still creates a taught and exciting sequence.
Sigourney Weaver is also still excellent as Ripley, even though some of her character growth we experienced through the first and second installments is a little muted. Charles S Dutton is great as Dillon, the tough but devout prisoner who we trust the most but we can feel his roiling rage underneath. The rest of the prisoners, even Clemens (Charles Dance) who Ripley connects with and the warden Harold Andrews played by Grian Glover are good characters but we never feel a part of their world or really invested in their stories. Still, they do help create a nice, dark atmosphere with a constant threat of violence from both the alien and Ripley’s supposed allies.
The last element is the introduction of Weyland-Yutani Corporate soldiers (boy will we be tired of them by the end of this review series…) as Ripley sacrifices herself to prevent the queen alien from hatching and creating a new brood. A satisfying ending for this movie, even if it isn’t the narrative many of us wanted to follow after the fantastic environment setup in Alien and the masterful execution of Aliens. It felt as though this installment was intended to be the end of Ripley’s story. And it does at least succeed in finishing her story in a satisfying enough way for the narrative they crafted for Alien 3. Though many fans may have liked to see the series spin off to focus on other characters, Hicks, or even Newt as a new showrunner, if we had to stay with Ripley, we did let her go out with honor and with her final revenge on the company that used her and the aliens that tormented her.
But as we’ll see in the next review…some franchises can’t leave well enough alone…
For Alien 3 though, the film is decent enough on its own and is an entertaining if flawed piece of sci-fi horror, which had the grave misfortune of being the first step on the road to disappointment for the series. Still a good watch and can provide some thrills in the dark helplessness of the situation and our investment in the aliens story. Not amazing but it earns an adequate and allegorical 2.5 busted Bishops out of 5.