Special Features – In Defense of Alien 3

Anghus Houvouras comes to the defense of Alien 3…

Alien 3 > Aliens
I made this statement while writing a follow up to The Five Most Disappointing Films of All Time article.  There were a few readers who suggested Alien 3 should have been included on the original list.  I debated that assertion and quickly found a growing army of Alien 3 haters who believe the film is an abomination.  Some went so far to claim that there are only two Alien films and that everything after Aliens is nothing more than a sad reflection of a franchise that has been oft maligned and left for dead.
Film fans certainly love the hyperbole, don’t they?

Sure, Alien: Resurrection is not a great film.  The Alien vs. Predator series proved that some concepts can be executed with blunt brutality.  Watching those movies is like witnessing the unrelenting murder of an interesting idea.  Ever since the tease in Predator 2, the idea of putting an Alien and the warlike Predators into one cinematic universe seemed like a great idea.   Paul W.S. Anderson managed to make you regret thinking that.

I’m not sure if we need to drag Prometheus into this discussion.  Yes, it’s terrible.  Yes, it’s connected to the Alien franchise.  And yes, it’s just as bad as Paul W.S. Anderson’s AVP movie.  Equally stupid.  Poorly plotted.  Terrible, worthless characters.  Did you ever think you’d see a Ridley Scott movie that was as bad as a Paul W.S. Anderson movie?  And yet, it happened.  I’m sure people will find that statement offensive.  People are quick to defend the terrible work of talented directors based on the quality of their past work.  However, if we’re being fair: Prometheus was terrible.  As terrible as Alien: Resurrection or AVP: Alien vs. Predator.  Just because it had superior talent in front of the camera and state of the art special FX doesn’t make it a better film.  In fact, I would think it would be even more damning since they had all the right resources and still delivered a beautiful looking pile of trash. Ridley Scott helped birth the Alien world into existence. I suppose it’s only fair that he got to put the final, terrible nail in the coffin.  But I digress…

To me, if we’re ranking Alien movies, it goes like this…

1. Alien

2. Alien 3

3. Aliens

Between three and four is an epic descent in both quality and watchability.

4. Alien: Resurrection

5 (tie). AVP: Alien vs. Predator

5 (tie). Prometheus 

6. AVPR: Aliens vs Predator – Requiem

Alien 3 is a masterpiece of mismanagement and an odd kind of classic.  It’s a movie that was forged in the fires of production hell going through a dozen different writers and being pulled in every direction by the creative forces behind it, torn to shreds, and then reassembled into a bleak and confounding movie that I have learned to love.I liked it the first time I saw it. In those pre-internet days, you weren’t able to tap into the cultural zeitgeist at a moment’s notice.  So for many years, I was under the assumption that Alien 3 was a fine movie, and not the hated bastard stepchild of the Alien franchise.  It’s only in the last ten years or so that I’ve realized just how many people hate this movie – including the director, David Fincher who blames “studio meddling” and the creative economics of Hollywood as the cause for the film turning into an unsalvageable nightmare.  And even knowing all this, I still say it’s superior to James Cameron’s action filled, steroid fueled take on Alien.  It also serves as a fitting finale to the series.  Alien 3 is like The Empire Strikes Back of the series, but it happens last.

Now I’m not saying Aliens is a bad movie.  Far from it.  It’s a big, crazy, fun action movie.  It’s exactly the kind of over produced confection that James Cameron is known for.  In the wake of Alien, Cameron decided to go another way.  Where I would call Alien a horror film, Aliens is very much a big Hollywood action movie, filled with your typical James Cameron characters and various personality types posing as people.  Every choice he made seemed predicated on taking everything that worked for Alien and cranking it up a hundred decibels.  Big guns, big explosions, big Queen aliens, big mech suits, FLAMETHROWERS.  To his credit, it was kind of awesome.  Though at times it felt like a cartoon.  Bill Paxton and Paul Reiser, I’m looking at you.
Alien 3 brought thing back to a more confined world.  It’s also dark.  Real dark.  As bleak a science fiction film as you’ll ever see.  It was returning the movie to its horror roots.  Something that is difficult to do after Cameron turned the franchise into an action spectacle.  A quieter, simpler Alien movie was difficult to appreciate after Cameron had blown out everyone’s eardrums.

I will always appreciate Alien 3 more because it is so damn bleak.  Because they take the happy ending that James Cameron handed audiences on a silver platter and take a good piss all over it.  All the audience pleasing, mainstream moves Cameron made to turn the franchise into a roller coaster like theme park ride is crushed.  Newt drowns in her cryo-pod.  Hicks is impaled by a safety beam.  Bishop opts to be shut down rather than stick around to witness the gruesome events that are about to unfold.  And our hero, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is left on a prison planet full of rapists, thieves, murderers, AND an alien.  This is the kind of dark, cold, and unforgiving scenario that seems fitting for an Alien film.  There’s a certain degree of parity with the original.

Alien 3 sheds all the high tech, infinite ammunition mentality of Aliens in favor of a down and dirty slaughter.  I think many film fans couldn’t adjust to a joyless, generally explosion free experience.  Cameron upped the ante.  And rather than double down, they flipped the table, doused it in lighter fluid, and reduced it to ash.

I rather respect that sensibility.

Just to be clear, I do like Alien 3 as a movie.  It’s more than a nihilistic example of a franchise being doused with napalm.  I like the prison planet scenario.  I really like the idea of having to face down the enemy without weapons.  And more than anything else I love the ending with Ripley cradling the alien spawn in her hands as she descends into a pool of molten lead.  It’s a fitting end for the dark world of Alien.  The third installment presents such a bleak world view.  It presents humanity at it’s most unflattering and pushes Ripley to terrible new territory.  As a character, some of Ripley’s best moments are showcased in Alien 3.  The truth is Ripley is one of cinema’s most fascinating transformations.  In the first she’s the typical horror film survivor forced to use her wits to overcome a horrific creature.  In the second she transforms into an action hero who can will herself out of the deadliest encounters, spewing trailer-worthy catchphrases.  “Get away from her, you bitch!”.  The third film is where we really get to know Ripley.  In this tragedy that is unfolding before our eyes.  Where all the fighting, all the struggles, and all the horrors she has witnessed has not brought her any closer to salvation.  She has been dropped into the hell of Fury 161, to suffer this last alien encounter without aide.   Without the spunky sidekick she picked up in Aliens, or a devil-may-care Colonial Marine to save the day.

Alien 3 is brave in a way so many other sequels aren’t.  They didn’t just mess with the playbook, they eviscerated it.  They took their iconic main character, shaved her head, threw her on a planet of psychos and then impregnated her with an alien.  Within the first forty five minutes you know that Ripley is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.  A walking death sentence.  She’s not walking away from this one.  The entire movie is almost like a eulogy for a fallen hero who has sacrificed everything for ultimately nothing.

You could argue that her nose dive into molten metal did prevent the evil Weyland-Yutani corporation from getting their hands on an alien, and thus doesn’t constitute ‘nothing’.  Still, Ripley’s life was marred by constant tragedy.  In three films she had been transformed from survivor, to hero, and finally to pariah.

I understand the criticism some express for Alien 3.  And most of it comes from the differences it has with Aliens – differences that I see as strengths.  Jettisoning the largess of Aliens, turning up the tragedy, and allowing the story to end in an unconventional way. These are risks most large franchises would never take.   Alien 3 is a film that is both compelling and frustrating. There are people who will never be able to see past the choices made and the direction taken.  But I contend Alien 3 is not only a sequel worth consideration, but a dark piece of science fiction tragedy that is only bested by the original.

Next up: In defense of Alien: Resurrection.   Just kidding.  That movies is heinous.

Anghus Houvouras is a North Carolina based writer and filmmaker. His latest work, the graphic novel EXE: Executable File, is available from Lulu.com.

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  1. The One They Call Dan says

    An excellent assessment of an oft-maligned film. While I have always preferred Aliens myself, I do think that this was a worthy conclusion to what should have remained a trilogy. <br />Really, when you consider all the script rewrites and studio interference, the fact that the final product is so solid is a testament to Fincher&#39;s skills (even if he did end up disowning it).

  2. Lazza says

    Sorry but Alien 3 is a good looking turd and you are mental to suggest that it ranks higher than Aliens. It&#39;s a crying shame because we can all now wonder what it might have been if Fincher had a little more control on the gig considering what he went on to do with work such as Se7en. Whilst the bleak setting of Fury 161 and dumping Ripley with no weapons amongst a bunch of convicts was a

  3. TheImperialMince says

    I laughed that after you made a comment about how film fans love hyperbole, you almost immediately went on to equate Prometheus with a Paul WS Anderson level of filmmaking. It seems you are right. Film fans do indeed love hyperbole!

  4. says

    that wasn&#39;t an accident. though i will contend that the only reason Prometheus got such a pass while being such a terrible film is because Ridley Scott has made some good movies, whereas Paul WS Anderson has not. But if you&#39;re claiming that Prometheus isn&#39;t deeply flawed with some absolutely terrible filmmaking going on, then you sir need to put down the crack pipe.

  5. TheImperialMince says

    Oh no, I very much recognise that Prometheus is indeed a frustratingly flawed film (albiet an entertaining one). I&#39;m simply not high enough to equate the quality of filmmaking to the likes of Paul WS Anderson&#39;s Aliens vs Predator. Could you send me your dealers number?

  6. MaestroDRAVEN says

    For me, the only way to watch Alien 3 is the Special Edition cut on the DVD and Blu-Ray packs. There&#39;s simply too much good stuff that got put back into the film. Honestly, I quite liked the original theatrical cut, as well. I felt it was bleak, hopeless, and very much in tune with the nihilistic tone of the Alien franchise. But when that Special Edition came out, it was like a complete

  7. Matt says

    If we&#39;re talking the extended alien 3 where the characters are more fleshed out and things actually make sense, then I understand where you&#39;re coming from. The theatrical cut is a mess.

  8. Jamie says

    Sorry Anghus, but Alien 3 is a brave failure, at best. <br /><br />For all its lofty goals, it still can&#39;t carry Aliens&#39; jockstrap. Nor is it even remotely within shouting distance of the Ridley Scott original.<br /><br />I&#39;d rank Alien 3 about even with the disappointing Prometheus and Alien: Resurrection films, and only about a notch above the AvP trash. Perhaps if the studio had

  9. Spud85 says

    Dude Alien 3 was horrible. The setting, script and cast except for Dutton and Weaver were pathetic.What was the point of leaving Bishop, Hicks and Newt alive after Aliens just kill them in the first ten minutes of A3 absolutely stupid. The whole prison thing made no sense and through away any continuity from the first two films. A3 sucked plain and simple. If they would have stuck with the

  10. Game over man! Game over! says

    I really enjoy Alien 3 a lot too, even though my friends don&#39;t. For me it&#39;s where the alien franchise ends. I hated Alien:Resurrection so bloody much and it was 10X worse than Alien 3. AVP&#39;s were pointless. I loved how it ended…perfect. The producers extended cut make the move make a lot more sense(except the dog alien which came out of a cow). I loved the extra stuff of the crazy

  11. says

    I try to imagine an Alien 3 that would have met the expectations of anyone who anticipated a bigger/better/badder version of Aliens. The original teaser trailer indicated that the Aliens were finally coming to the planet Earth which in itself prepared us for the expectation of a global battle that could have told the tale of how the worlds armies/governments finally come together to take on a

  12. David Curry says

    this is an article i could agree with, if i took what i remembered about alien 3 from the 90s. having just watched the movie, it&#39;s tragically bland in the horror and pacing. after the autopsy, there are no scares or chills to be had. the alien almost has to find something interesting to do. alien was as much a psychological thriller as it was a &quot;slasher flick,&quot; and aliens merged

  13. slipnslide says

    Loved these two disappointing film features – and agree with much.<br /><br />But let&#39;s talk briefly about Alien 3. What spoiled it for me from the go, as a UK watcher, were all the British TV actors playing prisoners (Brian Glover, for God&#39;s sake, among others – and at that time Charles Dance was mostly known as a TV actor – though a good one….), so those regional Brit accents and

  14. Comfosa says

    I was not thrilled with the third installment initially as it didn&#39;t seem to really make sense. Then I saw the &quot;extended version&quot; on the DVD where they add back in some scenes and entirely change the entrance method and gestation creature and reinsert what I feel are critical scenes to establish some of what goes on in what is left. I was quite satisfied with the extended version,

  15. ChristopherMoonlight says

    I personally wanted to see a better Alien 3, but there were a lot of brave attempts at making the best film possible, against all odds. They were just under the rule of the studios who didn’t know what kind of movie they wanted to make. Studio ADI pulled out all the stops with some new ideas in special effects that had never been tried, and were even nominated for an Oscar for their efforts. Now, they’re braking out and trying to do something that they feel fits the mood of what they were trying to attempt, but doing it their way. It’s called Harbinger Down, and it’s worth looking into: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1117671683/harbinger-down-a-practical-creature-fx-film/posts

  16. 5secondfuse says

    I think Alien 3 Directors Cut is a great movie. It has it’s own unique feeling like the previous two movies and is a very bleak impending doom movie. Weaver has never been better and the supporting characters are great and so are the performances. The only thing that lets it down for me is the ending. Once the all powerful sinister Weyland Corp arrive I wished they’d managed to freeze her in time and take her back with them. That would set the scene for a final movie in the franchise which would be more like Aliens.

  17. spnr says

    I’ve been defending this movie for years, I’ve always loved it, and this has helped me realise why I love it so, cheers.

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