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Review: ALIEN 3, June 16, 1992

Me being me, of course I still have the issues of my high school's paper, the Hawk Talk (of James Madison High, home of the Warhawks -- political reference! But I digress). My senior year (1991-1992), I edited its Entertainment section (and wrote for almost every single other section, except Opinion; I think the guys who edited that didn't like me). Here's one of my movie reviews from that year: ALIEN3 (1992), so far the oldest movie review of mine I've shared.

ALIEN3: In script committees no one can hear you scream

Sometimes a movie can redefine a genre, the way Star Wars jumpstarted science fiction and the Godfather films helped to change the world of dramatic movies.

Horror has had several revitalizing films, from Psycho to The Exorcist, but for many horror fans, the 1979 release of ALIEN was a watershed in filmatic fright.

Then the unexpected happened: seven years later, James Cameron's ALIENS became the extremely rare case where a sequel managed to outclass the original*.

Lightning has not exactly struck thrice with ALIEN3.

The latest battle between Lt. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and one of the best-looking monsters ever** demonstrates one simple fact: well-executed atmosphere, impressive special effects and beautiful set design and cinematography cannot make up for a script that doesn't respect the story.

ALIEN3, which is set on a desolate prison planet, has the feel of a movie written by committee***. Over half a dozen writers have been involved with the project, and the result is a mishmash that mostly ignores the events of the first two films.

Of the four survivors left in the last scene of ALIENS, only Ripley survives past ALIEN3's opening credits. The Alien in this film looks different, for reasons never dealt with. (A subplot involving genetic engineering of the Alien was reportedly part of the original story; this too got lost in the process.) The film never explains how alien eggs managed to get onto the Marine Corps ship that Ripley escaped on in ALIENS.

James Cameron wrote the ALIENS screenplay with a desire to flesh out a true human drama. ALIEN3 director David Fincher, a 28-year-old directing his first feature-length movie after a career in music videos (notably Madonna's "Express Yourself" and "Vogue"), has an eye for making a shot or a set look cinematic, yet he is unable to rein in the conflicting elements of the patchwork script.

With a few notable exceptions -- Ripley, the remains of the android Bishop, good doctor Clemmons (Charles Dance), and formidable and tough prisoner (Charles Dutton of TV's Roc) who winds up on Ripley's side -- the characters are not people the audience can have much feeling for.

The ending of ALIEN3 is perhaps the only part of the film that comes close to having true integrity. This moment, when Ripley does what she has to do, is affecting, sad and almost religious.

As the end credits roll, the audience that has just seen ALIEN3 might be struck by how beautiful the film looks and sounds, but disheartened by the fact that the filmmakers were unable to give ALIEN3 the integrity of the first two chapters in the story of ALIEN.

* Hyperbole; it happens. That thought didn't pan out, but it doesn't discount how much I truly love ALIENS. I honestly prefer it to the original.

** I wanted to compare it favorably to the Jabberwock, as John Tenniel drew it for Lewis Carroll's Alice Through the Looking Glass. I cut the reference due to space.

*** I'd read Cinefantastique's especially in-depth cover story about the frustrating process of writing and shooting ALIEN3. I knew it wasn't literally by a committee, but I figured the image was apt.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 29th, 2012 03:17 am (UTC)
Minor nit: the magazine is Cinefantastique, not Cinemafantastique. :)
Sep. 29th, 2012 03:25 am (UTC)
Correctable, and corrected. Thanks.
Oct. 1st, 2012 11:59 am (UTC)
I don't know if this has been addressed since you originally wrote this, but the reason the creature in Alien³ looks so different from its appearance in the previous two films (not counting the translucent cowl on its head, which didn't appear in Aliens) is because it gestated in a dog (or ox, depending upon which version you watch) and is therefore primarily quadrupedal. This is based on the idea that the alien appropriates genetic material from its host during implantation, which explains its basic hominid shape in the first two films.

Edited at 2012-10-01 11:59 am (UTC)
Oct. 1st, 2012 02:45 pm (UTC)
Which I just didn't get at the time. I may have been too busy being bothered and annoyed by the film. (Though parts of Alien3 have grown on me over the years, most notably Elliot Goldenthal's score, and obviously Fincher's proven he's a hell of a filmmaker.) I think I read the explanation of the change in look years later.
May. 24th, 2017 11:30 am (UTC)
Thank you for this. I feel like such an outcast and minority, when I tell people that Alien 3 is my second favourite of the series. I think it's closer to the spirit of the Alien atmosphere than the second movie, and don't even get me started on Resurrection, which shall always be at the bottom of any Alien movie ratings I do.

There was nothing wrong with this film, except for the incessant meddling of people who don't know dick about the franchise and what it's all about. David Fincher is one of the best directors out there, and I hope that someday, he will re-embrace this classic and maybe even work to restore it properly, after the artistic rape it endured under its producers.
Jun. 19th, 2017 11:08 pm (UTC)
I still remember seeing the teaser trailer that implied Alien3 would take place on Earth, which some studio people seriously suggested after the film had been mostly shot*. "Really! We can re-edit it and dub to say it's on an isolated part of Earth!" I wonder if those were the same execs who thought Big should end with Elizabeth Perkins' character reverting to childhood, too. SOME IDEAS ARE BAD IDEAS.

The work print version of Alien3 has been seen, which is at least closer to what Fincher intended before he had to fight for what he got into theaters.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )