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David Fincher’s Alien 3 Didn’t Exactly Foreshadow Greatness

Alien 3
Directed by David Fincher
Written by David Giler, Walter Hill, and Larry Ferguson from a story by Vincent Ward
Fox, 1992

To call Alien 3 David Fincher’s first film is just like calling Piranha 2 James Cameron’s first film. Both of these statements are historically correct. However, neither of these films helps us to understand or give us insight into who exactly these people are as filmmakers. And neither film is a good indicator of what was to come in the near future.

Like Cameron, Fincher was brought onboard a sequel to a series of films in which he had no previous involvement. Also like Cameron, Fincher was brought onboard late in the game. Some sources claim that Fincher was called two weeks or so before shooting began, but since Fincher won’t talk about his experience with 20th Century Fox, no one seems to know for sure. Finally, like Cameron, once Fincher was done shooting, the film was taken away from him, dismantled, and reworked without his involvement or consent.

Unlike Cameron, Fincher’s film was supposed to be a big deal. Three years prior 1992, the summer of 1989, a little film called Batman was released and the summer movie season was forever changed. Before Batman there were big movies released in the summer. It’s a phenomenon that makes plenty of sense; kids are out of school, people are spending more money, etc. For instance, in that same summer of 1989 we also got to see Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lethal Weapon 2, and Honey I Shrunk the Kids. But Batman was a different animal all together.

Batman was made to be an event like nothing before it. Warner Bros. spent millions on advertising and did the unthinkable by giving us the preview in December of 1988. The marketing blitzes usually didn’t start until a month or so before the films came out and most films really didn’t have what you would call a marketing blitz. So after the studios saw how Batman reinvented the wheel, you know damn well they wanted in.

Many movies went into production with these grandiose themes in their heads (including sequels to Batman, Lethal Weapon, and Honey I Shrunk the Kids) and the quickest way to get something going is to dip back in your own company’s well, so Fox decided to see what they could do with the Alien franchise one more time.

I think a third Alien film was inevitable, but based on what just about every major studio did once Batman was released I feel comfortable in my assessment. I also feel comfortable in saying they had no clue what to do. Thirty different screenplays were commissioned when all was said and done, and a limitless number of writers were involved in the project. Pretty much anyone that had dabbled in sci-fi, be it movies or literature, were brought onboard at one point or another.

All of the different screenplays had various things in common; there were aliens and someone or something had an alien come out of their stomach at some point. I can only imagine Fox had these bullet points listed whenever they hired a new writer. Everything else about the screenplays was very different. Sigourney Weaver was not even interested in doing the film for awhile and so screenplays were written focusing on the characters of Hicks (Michael Biehn) and Bishop (Lance Henriksen) who were surviving characters from the previous film. This also eventually led to a projected two film story arc that would have a cameo by Weaver in the first film and give her character a more fleshed out storyline in Alien 4. Weaver actually agreed to this, but Fox head, Joe Roth, balked at having an Alien movie without Ellen Ripley (Weaver), and offered her $5 million dollars to become involved in the third film. Guess what? She said yes.

I know I should eventually get into the movie itself and I’m about to do just that. I give you all this set-up because I think all of these precursors make one wonder even more how the resulting film ever got made. When Fincher started shooting they didn’t even have a completed screenplay for the version they decided to move forward with.

David Twohy wrote a screenplay that featured a prison planet being used to do experiments on the aliens. When Vincent Ward (What Dreams May Come) got involved as a director, he decided he didn’t like Twohy’s script, so he wrote his own. His screenplay had Ripley’s space shuttle crashing into a monastery satellite and the alien came from the shuttle itself; it had stowed itself onboard at the end of Aliens. When Ward left the project and Fincher was finally brought on they decided to combine the two stories. So now Ripley’s shuttle would crash on a prison planet filled with prisoners who had taken a vow of celibacy. See how all that fits together nicely?

And like I’ve already stated, the screenplay was nowhere near completion. But Fox had a release date to meet, and so off they went. Fincher, of course, came from doing music videos (He’s most well known for Madonna’s “Vogue” and “Express Yourself”) so this was his first feature film. And while he won’t talk about it, I would assume it was a helpful experience. Surely, if nothing else, it taught him all the things not to do while making a film.

So, Ripley’s space shuttle crash lands on the prison planet, and while earlier drafts featured Hicks, Bishop, and the little girl Newt (also from Aliens), they are all dead in the shuttle and Ripley is alive. Bishop does show back up eventually (Ripley has to reconnect him to get some log info off of the crashed shuttle), but it’s an overall “Fuck You!” to fans of the characters. No matter how one looks at this predicament, it’s a horrible way to start the movie.

As I’ve also already stated, the prisoners have all taken a vow of celibacy. I was led to believe that everyone on the planet had done this but considering the prison’s doctor (Charles Dance) only waits about two seconds before getting it on with Ripley in the sack, I would assume he wasn’t that committed. It’s either that, or he’s just not very good with goal setting.

As you would also guess, there is a face hugger aboard the crashed space shuttle. It finds its way onto a dog to implant some alien seeds. Apparently in a supposed Director’s Cut (that Fincher had no involvement with) which was released in the Alien Quadrilogy Box Set from a few years ago, an ox is used instead of a dog. I however saw the theatrical cut so I cannot comment to the thirty minutes of footage that was put back in or changed.

Eventually, the alien bursts out of the dog’s stomach (off screen, which as an animal lover I enjoyed, but isn’t the chest bursting kind of a thing with the Alien films?) and starts wreaking havoc all over the prison. Eventually, we also find out that Ripley is with child, and by child I mean, she has an alien in her as well. This is pretty annoying on a couple of accounts. One, why does the alien reside in her longer than it has resided in anyone or anything else (this is never even discussed)? And two, it’s just fucking stupid! Of all the ideas you could have come up with for another Alien film, having Ripley being pregnant with a damn alien should have been at the top of the “No Way In Hell Are We Doing That” list.

To judge this movie as a David Fincher film is hard. At this point, we don’t know how much of the film is from his point of view and how much is what the studio reworked it into. One will never know if an untouched David Fincher approved version would be worth a damn. Considering how thinly the whole story is set-up, I kind of doubt it.

It’s still amazing he got this job; Fox must have been desperate. At the time, this was the most expensive film made by a first time director. But like any other director’s first film, one wonders how quickly we would have gotten to his better films if Fox hadn’t given him this shot. This was only the beginning of the time period where you could shoot a rap video and then go make a Jerry Bruckheimer film the following week. Fincher was the first Music Video director I know of that was given this kind of opportunity right out of the gate.

Many people, mostly Fincher fans, have come out of the woodwork over the past few years and touted this film up as an under-appreciated gem of sorts. Until right before I wrote this review, I had not seen Alien 3 since 1992, and over the past few years have been interested to watch it again since all of these positive attributes are now being given.

I disagree. In fact, this movie is way worse than I remember. It just doesn’t work. I already mentioned the horrible decision in the beginning to kill three major characters with no explanation and of course the decision to have Ripley be fucking pregnant. It irritates me to write that, but most everything else about this film sucks too.

Most of the prisoners are interchangeable. And the few that stand out only stand out because they are phoned in clichés. Charles S. Dutton plays a prisoner turned preacher; In the film’s prison yard set attempted rape scene (I guess they had to follow some prison movie clichés for the hell of it too), he spouts off a bunch of religious jargon as he kicks a bunch of ass and helps Ripley get away. Pete Postlethwaite is the crazy but intelligent prisoner (he does get one of the cooler chase/death sequences). And then there is the Warden (Brian Glover) who is a dick even when he has no reason to be other than the screenplay needs him to be a dick at that moment in time.

The film’s central chase sequence is this ridiculous long and boring affair that involves a bunch of dark tunnels. Actually, I’m pretty sure they just keep running down the same tunnels and the editing is too lazy to let you think otherwise. Supposedly, this is how they will trap the alien, but it makes no sense to me. I could also bring up the final shot which I won’t ruin for those few that have yet to experience it, but it is just…I don’t know how to describe it without giving it away but let’s just say it’s really stupid. And it’s also kind of a dick move from the studio. They didn’t make this movie for the fans of the first two films; that I am 100% certain of.

So one has to ask, who did Fox make this movie for? Fuck if I know. The studio was so concerned about the event that they forgot they had to make a fairly intelligent movie to go with it. We don’t ask for much in our summer bonanzas but we ask for more than this.

For whatever part Fincher was involved with, I’m sure he tried his best. The film does look really good. The prison set has a lot of potential that the screenplay doesn’t put to any good use. And while I can’t remember much about the following sequel, Alien Resurrection, I’m pretty sure this one is better. It’s also better than the Alien Vs. Predator movies, but that is faint praise at best. Also, the cast (especially Weaver) does perfectly fine with what they are given.

This is not a great intro if you’ve never seen a Fincher film; it’s for completists only. They do get better, I promise.

Sam Loomis

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