After the tour de force which was Ridley Scott’s 1979 “Alien,” and a phenomenal sequel in James Cameron’s 1986 “Aliens,” the 1992 follow up “Alien 3” was doomed. The sci-fi horror flick arrived as the directorial debut from now-renowned director David Fincher. Featuring the return of series protagonist Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), “Alien 3” nonetheless alters the formula. “Alien 3” benefits from a fresh setting, increased horror elements, and new cast of characters. While it’s a far cry from “Alien” and “Aliens,” David Fincher-directed 1993 sequel “Alien 3” remains a decent continuation of the Ripley saga.
“Alien 3” resumes where “Aliens” left off. A fire erupts on the marine spaceship Sulaco. This forces an escape pod to eject with Ripley (Weaver), Newt (Danielle Edmond), Hicks (Michael Biehn), and the android Bishop (Lance Henriksen). the escape pod crashes on the planet Fiorina “Fury” 161 with the crew in stasis. On one of the cryotubes, there’s an alien facehugger.
Fury 161 hosts a penal colony consisting of double-Y chromosome male inmates. Ripley emerges the sole survivor of the crash, rescued by the inmates. Prison doctor Clemens (Charles Dance) treats Ripley’s wounds and cares for her. However, Ripley’s presence and status as the only female incites tension among the prisoners.
Once the alien does burst forth, it’s a rather different Xenomorph. Rather than a human host, the facehugger finds an animal host (a dog in the theatrical cut, and ox in the assembly cut). Therefore the Xenomorph is a quadrupedal, and runs rather than lumbers. This intensifies its already terrifying characteristics.
I appreciate the gritty atmosphere of “Alien 3.” The prison colony features a decaying urban setting that feels akin to a decrepit industrial district. Plus, there’s not only the threat of the Xenomorph, but the prisoners offer a menacing presence. A running alien further amps up the tension and horror, lending an inevitable foreboding to each chase scene.
Killing off most of the previous characters aside from Ripley and (sort of) Bishop ruins continuity. But by the same merit, it yields a new cast of characters. Clemens plays the former inmate who assumes the position of prison doctor. Probably my favorite character (sorry Ripley) is Dillon (Charles S. Dutton). The confessed murder and rapist became the de facto leader of the Fury 161 inmates. Dillon fosters a cohesive unit, keeping the prisoners calm and faithfully practicing in their fervent religious beliefs.
Dutton plays a complex character in Dillon. It’s a mix of superb writing and excellent acting that chisels a likeable character in spite of past misdeeds. Dillon is eloquent and charismatic, even saving Ripley from an attempted rape. While Hudson (Bill Paxton) in “Aliens” was a deep character amidst the one-liners and sarcastic quips, Dillon remains hyper-complicated.
I like the way Dance portrays Clemens’ conflicted backstory. There’s brief connection between Ripley and Clemens, bolstered by loneliness. This isn’t fully developed, but it’s refreshing touch. Cinematography is delightful with oddball, crooked camera angles. Additionally, a return to the franchise’s horror roots suits “Alien 3.” Whereas “Aliens” ushered in an increasingly action vibe, “Alien 3” delivers loads of gore and tension.
Unfortunately, “Alien 3” falters with its effects and poor writing. Characters are well-crafted. But while Clemens and the resident leering Warden Andrews (Brian Glover) present excellent performances, they’re both killed off early in the film. This lends an underdeveloped sense to the plot.
Furthermore, the CGI Xenomorph features increased speed which adds tension to chase sequences. However, the CG looks less impressive and realistic than practical effects from previous series entries. This coupled with an underwhelming narrative, lack of fleshed out characters, and uneven script writing prevents “Alien 3” from surpassing its predecessors.
Nevertheless, “Alien 3” is not a complete wreck, leaving some salvageable elements. I enjoy the darker aspects and new characters, particularly Dillon and Clemens. David Fincher’s taut camera angles and the Xenomorph point-of-view (PoV) offer a fresh take on the setting. Similarly, the evolved Xenomorph which assumes characteristics of its host not only fosters a new dynamic but lends further insight into the alien physiology. Elliot Goldenthal’s magnificent score shines with avant-garde touches such as warbling vocals. Golenthal’s “Alien 3” soundtrack borders on operatic. Ultimately, “Alien 3” leaves much to be desired but succeeds in delivering an “Alien” entry with a dark, gritty tone, new complex characters, and a return to the series’ horror roots.