1992 saw David Fincher’s step into a project late, with an unfinished script and attempt to keep the Alien franchises’ streak going with Alien3. Previously a rock music video director, Fincher has gone on to make some visually stunning films like Fight Club and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but he cut his feature film teeth on Alien3. Following on from Ridley Scott’s science fiction benchmark Alien and James Cameron’s game-changing action film Aliens, the third installment was dogged with script-writers coming and going, long-running production issues and a fluctuating budget. The deck was stacked against Fincher.
The escape pod containing the survivors of Aliens crash-lands on a prison planet with only Lt. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) surviving. Unknown to her an alien egg was also on the escape pod and after a facehugger attaches itself to a dog, which produces a dog-like alien xenomorph that begins terrorising and killing the inmates one at a time. Ripley, who has befriended ships doctor Clemens (Charles Dance) discovers that a lot of the inmates have adopted an apocalyptic religion based on Christianity and see her as an outsider, but as they get picked off they all turn to Ripley for help.
Alien3 was in trouble from the opening scene. After James Cameron had created such engaging and likeable characters in Hicks, Newt and Bishop it was a huge mistake to kill them off within the opening moments of Alien3. Fans of the series so far, who had investment in these characters immediately turned on the sequels’ premise and it never gave the audience a reason to get involved. From atmosphere, to casting and central idea, Alien3 was fighting a losing battle.
Fincher’s now trademarked style of gritty browns and blacks didn’t help matters as it gives the whole film a dour and downbeat atmosphere. This works with interesting characters blazing bright against the dark background, but Alien3 has no such characters. In fact, other than Ripley who is simply retreading ground from the original film, all the other characters look the same. All shaven-headed, dirty and vaguely angry about something or another.
Then there’s the alien xenomorph itself. In Scott’s Alien, there was one creature, but it was the unknown killing machine, imbuing the whole film with a sense of tension and dread. Cameron then upped the ante by having an army of aliens fighting a squadron of marines. Like a great big outer space Rourke’s Drift. Alien3 takes a step back, presumably trying to recapture a sense of the first film rather than the sequel, but it becomes redundant, tired and even clichÃ©d. We’d seen it all before, but better paced and acted and that was 13 years before. Alien3 had nothing new to offer, except the mindless and insulting slaughter of beloved characters for no reason.
Since Alien3‘s release there have been documentaries about the troubled production and a general dismissing of it from almost everyone involved. There have been rumours about what the original plan was and where they hoped to take it, but as it stands, it can only be judged on the finished article and the finished article is horribly, and disappointingly flawed throughout. Fincher would go on to direct some great films, but his debut is an incomprehensible mess that almost single-handedly killed the alien franchise.