After the success of “Aliens,” there was a push to make another Alien film. Producer David Giler (who produced the other films in the series) was quoted as saying “Everyone wanted another Alien film, except for us.” Alien 3 went on to become one of the more famous “troubled production” films, still almost 20 years after it’s release. From creating a trailer before having a single script:
Many many different scripts were written, many different directors were hired and then let go or quit. Finally it came down to a music video director named David Fincher, Fincher he had no script. producers questioning his every move and finally not given any final say over the finished film, over 20 minutes of footage being cut. All of this is really well covered in “Wreckage and Rage: The Making of Alien 3” which is the documentary on the DVD, even if you don’t like Alien 3, that’s a must watch. It’s super interesting. But getting past the business side of things there’s a major flaw with Alien 3. And that is, it doesn’t need to exist.
Or at least it doesn’t need to exist as a Ripley story. Now before anyone gets cynical, I realize no sequel NEEDS to exist. It’s all business and blah blah blah. But I’m talking about the stand point of story. The Alien franchise isn’t like, let’s say Friday the 13th. In Friday the 13th, the stories are basically the same from part 2 on. Group of teens run a fowl on Jason, he kills them all. Which entry is better then another depends all on the skill of the director or cast. But the Alien franchise as it’s established is a series first and foremost based on strong writing, directing and everything else. There are more layers to the Alien franchise. The problem with Alien 3 was the decision to stay with Ripley. At some point it was decided, either from producers, the people at Fox or the writers, that “Aliens” means “Ripley.” And there are people who still feel that way today. People who feel Ripley should have been in AvP or hope she’ll pop up in Prometheus some how. But here’s the thing about Ripley, an iconic character? No doubt. Hugely iconic. But Ripley isn’t Rambo, Indiana Jones, John McClain or James Bond. Or at least she wasn’t, until Alien 3 (and later Resurrection) insists that she is. We the audiance made her that way, the fist two films don’t dictate her to be. Trying to make it that you can’t do an Alien film without Ripley. But the first film “Alien” doesn’t set up Ripley to be that type of character, in fact “Alien” isn’t even about Ripley. Watch “Alien” again, really watch it. Ripley though the survivor, isn’t given any more importance in the first hour of the movie the any of the other characters, the stand out thing about Ripley is her height and being the other woman on a mostly male crew. There’s no iconic hero shot of Ripley in the beginning like there is for Indiana Jones in “Raiders,” the first time we meet Ripley is at a dinner table with the rest of the crew, the first shot of her is her waking up, but she’s not even the first to wake up, Ash is. “Alien” is not a film about Ripley, it’s about the crew and what the crew goes though, Ripley is the survivor. “Aliens” however is about Ripley, it’s about the survivor. We find out about her past, who she was, and we even learn her first name. She gets her vengeance and even a family. “Aliens” perfectly ends the story of Ellen Ripley. Speaking from the stand point of “story” “Alien 3” doesn’t further the Ripley story, we learn nothing new about her, no new layers appear for Ripley, from the stand point of a viewer, watching Alien 3 is just to watch Ripley die slowly.
Now there were pitches and scripts for Alien 3 that didn’t involve Ripley. That followed Hicks or a new character completely. Which probably would have been the smarter choice. The Alien universe can be a vast thing, reach way beyond the character of Ripley, but that’s not what happened. Also Alien 3 begins Weaver having way more control and say over the script and story. James Cameron talks on the commentary for “Aliens” that Sigourney Weaver had three rules for doing “Aliens”
1. No Guns
2. Ripley needed to have sex or some form of sexual encounter with the Alien
3. Ripley had to die.
Cameron laughed and said “I didn’t do anything of those things.” Cameron also said of Alien 3 “Well, I guess Sigourney got to make the Alien film she always wanted to.” Though Alien 3 lacks and “Sex with the alien” Alien 4 doesn’t. BUT Alien 3 has no guns, and Ripley dies. So how is Alien 3? With all the problems, lack of purpose, to many cooks in the kitchen and no script? Honestly… not that bad.
I will admit, perhaps I’m looking at Alien 3 as a part of the whole franchise. I think Alien Resurrection is nearly unwatchable, along with AVP2, AVP1 is silly fun that gets dull. Compared to those, Alien 3 is great. Compared to the first two. Alien 3 is lacking indeed. But if you watch Alien 3, watch the “editor’s cut” which is the cut released with the DVD in 2003, which is what I’ll be talking about Let me get the bad stuff out of the way. Some of the special effects are brutal. This is early 90’s CGI, the CGI Alien is awful, it just doesn’t work, it’s like the “Reptile” from “Mortal Kombat” the actors have nothing to work with. The 3rd act “corridor” sequence is very confusing, having watched it a number of times, I have NO IDEA how the plan worked, it’s very odd, I don’t know who’s who, where they are, how they’re getting around or how the Alien is getting around. The geography is honked up. The killing of Charles Dance’s character an hour into the movie does slow the film down. Next to Ripley he’s the most interesting and layered character. And the producers on “The Making of” even agree that the character should have stayed much longer. Also having all the convicts be bald, makes it difficult to tell who’s who. Though I will say, the ones that matter in the end, do have stand out characteristics. Either scars or glasses things like that.
From there, at the end of the day, I do like the movie. Yes, it’s very bleak. Watching it right after Aliens, which is a giant, fun action film that gets your blood pumping, it’s a real downer. Everyone dies, everyone is sad. There’s no moments to cheer, there’s no moments of joy. But what makes it something I’m okay with, the character work is good. Even if it’s bleak, there are characters you can connect to. Charles Dance, Dutton, and of course Ripley. Do these characters even compare to Alien or Aliens? No, not even close. But are there at least characters? Something that is totally lacking from the next three films? Yes. And it does feel like it ends the Alien story with Ripley. It’s bleak and it’s sad, but it ends. Which makes Alien Resurrection feel even less necessary. But how this hurt the franchise was that there was no singular vision. Unlike Alien or Aliens which had Scott and Cameron, the rest of the films from here on out had many producers, many voices, many people throwing in ideas. This film set the precedent that “Alien” was now a franchise, Ripley was Rambo and these were money machines, they were no longer films, they were banks. They stopped being about stories and started being about product.
Tomorrow: Alien Resurrection