There is a stigma to Alien 3, the third installment in the massively popular Alien franchise and David Fincher’s first directorial effort. Pulled out of the world of music video directing, Fincher was given the lofty task of continuing the sci-fi horror series. The end result was massive studio interference that led to two drastically different cuts of the film.
The 1992 theatrical cut was heavily edited down, leading to a far less cohesive film. It is still a fine film from a visual standpoint (those low-angle and POV shots get to be a bit much, though). But the tone was left less tightly wound up in suspense, the characters less meaningful, and the action more haphazard.
The director’s cut of the film is a much different feel. It may come off a bit bloated, and certainly some of the scenes are pared down in the theatrical cut for a reason. But the “Assembly Cut” of the film uses its added time to good tonal effect.
The pace of the film is more deliberate early on, and it takes the time to establish the characters in the prison environment in a way that makes their arcs more meaningful. This is particularly evident in Golic (Paul McGann), whose acts of mania are more insidious in the extended edition. The politics of the Weyland-Yutani organization, too, are elaborated upon briefly in intriguing ways.
On the larger scale, both versions still lack what the first two Alien films have in spades: energy. In the original, it is the pulse-pounding dread that is manipulated expertly through mise-en-scene and suspense. In Aliens, it is the white-knuckle desperation for survival carried out over various brilliant action set pieces.
In Alien 3, the energy is religious. Literally, it comes in the form of people waiting for salvation in an environment that promises none. The film, at its essence, is about faith. This isn’t a veiled theme, mind you, and it doesn’t necessarily play out in any nuanced way.
But this is the intrigue that the film has to offer. It is a film about sinners sent to hell to face their demons, which just so happen to manifest themselves in the form of a hungry Xenomorph that rips their heads to shreds at a moment’s notice.
The signs of religious allegory are rather obvious. The prison planet is occupied by a group of reformed prisoners, led by the ranting preacher of Dillon (Charles S. Dutton). Lice and maggots and cockroaches run rampant under the surface of the facility—plague imagery. A lack of sunlight and a heavily orange color scheme indicative of a Hellish setting. A late-introduced character creates objects in his image. Ripley assumes the position of the cross more than once.
Alien 3 is a film that relies too heavily on its environment. The mise-en-scene is great, and it houses the Xenomorph adequately. But even with the extended characterization, the cast of characters are largely expendable and a few too many in number. Watching them meet their fates is less satisfying than in the previous two films.
Contained within the franchise, Alien 3 suffers as being the first black sheep. By no means is it the worse, but it was the first film in the series to show cracks in the otherwise full-proof high concept mold.
Alien 3: B-
Check out my other Alien reviews:
As always, thanks for reading!
Like CineFiles on Facebook for updates on new articles and reviews.
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)