Thursday, June 23, 2016

Prison Planets, Shaved Heads and Xenomorphs: An Alien³ Appreciation

by Melissa Uhrin
It's Prison Day and all hell is breaking loose.


...Or people are being slaughtered anyways. Why? Because Alien³. That's why.

I introduced myself to the F This Movie! community just over two years ago with a brief "all about me" piece in which I proclaimed my love for the film that doesn't seem to get much love.

As the third installment in the trilogy, comparisons to it's predecessors are inevitable. Ridley Scott's Alien, an almost traditional “haunted house” stylized film, applied the dramatic pacing that had us on the edge of our seats. With its breakneck pacing, gunfights and explosions, James Cameron's sci-fi action sequel Aliens is one of my favourite action movies, but I found it lacking in that conventional horror that draws me in, whereas David Fincher's Alien³ is a grim psychological horror about life, death, sin and redemption and is an amazing character film.
Ellen Ripley's (Sigourney Weaver, of course), shuttle crash lands on Fiorina 161, a remote, maximum-security prison planet, where the facility is run and maintained by a skeleton crew of inmates and staff, none of whom have seen a woman in years. A stowaway alien (dunh dunh dunh), has invaded the prison and, while awaiting her rescue shuttle, Ripley and the men must set aside all the bullshit and fight for their survival. I'll leave it as a simple plot outline, as the storyline is not what brings me back time and again.

(I also won't bother going into the pre-production of the film and it's quite in-depth history of re-writes, stylistic changes, studio interference, and how its eventual director came to be. Wikipedia can fill you in much better than I.)

This was David Fincher's feature directorial debut, and his characteristic style, low camera angles, filtered colours and stark lighting are all present and accounted for in Alien³, reminiscent of Zodiac and Se7en, another two films that I love love love.

The film is infused with brown tones, everyone and everything is dirty (bound to happen on a wasteland of a planet) and there is a shit-ton of industrialized machinery that in and of itself could do a lot of harm. Sounds beautiful, right? HA Well, it is, and I found it set the scene perfectly, leaving the characters to be the roses that bloom through all the dirt and grime. It's a beautiful movie, sometimes reminding me of Mad Max.
I find that the film epitomizes everything that an Alien movie should be: fear, confusion and death with the constant underlying threat of the creature itself. The very fact that the film begins by killing off two characters from the previous films shows that Fincher is not afraid to sacrifice the characters. In a true horror, sacrifices must be made. The gradual decline from order to brutal anarchy is both subtle and horrific and I find that Lord of the Flies keeps popping into my mind in a weird, twisted science-fiction-y twist to the tale.

Charles S. Dutton plays Dillon, one of the prison's inmates, who has maintained peace in the facility as the spiritual and effective leader amongst the men. He exudes confidence and his solemn musings on death, particularly the eulogy given for Newt and Hicks, help to bring some of the best interactions between he and Ripley out. Charles Dance is Johnathan Clemens, and perhaps my favourite character in the movie. A former doctor, he wound up as an inmate at the prison after accidentally administering the wrong dose of medication and killing several people. He served his time and then stayed on to serve as the facility's doctor. Even though there's dishonesty between the two, and they each know about it, he and Ripley share moments brought about by their common loneliness and this scene and it's accompanying moments that stand out most in my mind.

We are also introduced to a new kind of alien! A quadruped, having been “born” from a dog (or an ox, depending on which version you watch). This four legged creature seems all the more menacing to me, as it opens my mind to a billion of other combinations of the alien.
And Ripley. With the aliens having taken away her chance at a happy life more than once, this time it's about revenge. The personal connection is solidly stated: “You've been in my life for so long, I can't remember anything else.” And I feel that the ending ties everything perfectly together, and honestly; just as the logo for the film shows, they have come full circle. Ripley and the Alien ending together. (Oh yeah, Spoiler!)

I find Alien³ to be fundamentally a story about hope and the putting aside of differences to work together to achieve a common good. This film is about redemption. In a beautifully dark and ass-kicking way.


  1. i had counted myself in the camp that LIKED the nihilistic Alien3...i didn't think Alien 4 was needed. I also like the shorter version, i always like it when they lop out all the other plot threads and just leave us with the major story... you're on a planet with limited resources and something wants to eat you...what do you do? oh by the way watch your back. 8)

    1. Hooray! There are a handful of us out there haha!

      I was completely unaware of the dislike for Alien 3 until my brother mentioned that he thought it was garbage. Which somehow made me like it all the more.


    2. Thank you, Melissa. It's always nice to know you're not alone in loving a widely-reviled film. For the record, I prefer the extended version, but would've preferred they kept the dog-bursting (as opposed to ox-bursting) for it. This alien is lithe and agile... like a dog. It's a dark and somber film, and stays with you for all the right reasons. And the Goldenthal score is outrageously good. Love it.

  2. I love all of the Alien flicks (not equally).

    Probably because they're all about Ripley & the alien(s) but they're each so different from the other. Each special in their own way.

  3. I have watched it four or five times trying to will myself to really like it but I just can't get there. I am envious of your finding so much in it and being able to write so eloquently about it Melissa. Aliens is still one of my favorite movies of all time and Alien is up there too. That said, the best making of doc I have seen is the one for Alien 3. What an insane backstory of what ifs and on the set chaos. I would have loved to have seen that wooden planet version from Vincent Ward. The Aliens making of is also fantastic, all included in the box set.

  4. Great post! I watched this again recently, and it's got great horror elements that you described. You can tell where things went awry in production about half-way through the just begins to points is even silly. Check out my analysis on it!

  5. Just before Junesploitation, I worked my way through the Alien series. I was surprised how much I liked 3, as a first time viewer with kind of low expectations. Shaved head Ripley is my favorite Ripley.

    I went into 4 with a pretty open mind, and liked it too. The cgi monsters were pretty disappointing, and the tone is completely different, but I still had fun watching it.

    For Junesploitation, I tried to get through Alien vs Predator, but couldn't (there is so much potential for Free Space day, can't waste it). I'm committed to finishing it, and A vs P 2 later this summer....and maybe even the one that shall not be named....

  6. I love how directors, when new to an already established property, make it their own despite what outside(and sometimes inside) sources try to sway them to do. Alien 3 is the quintessential example of a new director taking a property and putting his own identity into it, making it compelling and unique at the same time. One could say even Resurrection finds itself unique in its own way. Definitely one of the greatest sci fi franchises to adorn the big screen.

  7. I saw it with my best friend at a press screening about a month before it´s german release.
    I loved it ever since. Really liked the tone, the kind of gothic horror, the strange surroundings and the great Charles Dance. I think it´s the only Alien film that ever made me drop a tear or two at the end sequence with Ripley falling and Elliot Goldenthal´s score swelling.
    I think pretty much everyone else at that screening hated it.