I think it was sometime in mid-to late 1991 when I first saw the teaser trailer to ALIEN³ and had my eyeballs pop right out of my head followed by my jaw hitting the floor way too hard in the theater I saw it in. Ladies and gentlemen, do you know how hard it is to clean sticky goo off your eyeballs after they’ve rolled underneath a movie theater seat? Trust me, it ain’t easy. That and yuck-o, stale popcorn and half an old hot dog have the tendency to rather easily get into a fallen jaw if you let it sit down there for more than a minute flapping away in shock mode. Hey, I was busy trying to find my darn eyeballs, thank you much.
Needless to say, I was kind of shocked by this news that we’d get a third film in the franchise and it was coming in under a year. I wasn’t sure I liked the “On Earth, Everyone Can Hear You Scream” tagline at all and yes indeed, I thought bringing that cranky xenomorph to Earth was a bad (not a bad-ass) idea for a few key reasons. Although at that point, I was kind of screaming myself.
It seems 20th Century Fox may have agreed (or at least was pulling a fast one on us because they didn’t really have an idea about the film they were planning to make), as a few months later, this was the follow up trailer:
(Thanks, Media Graveyard!)
After gathering up my eyeballs and jaw again and handing a few people in the theater their eyeballs that rolled under and around my seat (which was quite interesting as I had to wait until the guy who picked up one of my eyeballs by mistake returned it or today I’d be the Jane Seymour version of myself or something like that), I took time to take in the trailer. Bald Ripley. Bald bad men, some bald men screaming and running, NO weapons at all and a reused music cue from the previous film had me both puzzled and really curious as to how the helllllll Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley character was going to get out of this new mess. That said, the art direction and sets looked solid and that finale bit with the Alien getting too close to Ripley had me intrigued as hell, as did my wondering who the heck was this David Fincher guy directing the film.
There were other trailers and eventually TV spots that arrived before and after the film was released, but I was sold before that point to the point that even if I didn’t like the final product, I had the feeling it would be really interesting and maybe even impressive. Let’s just say I kind of got my money’s worth more on the visual side of things and a temporary gumball substitute for an eye after I picked up the first round object that I could touch after they popped out again.
The film begins with a montage sequence that, along with Elliot Goldenthal’s brooding main title (well the entire score is beautifully disturbing), sets the scene for what’s to come. Where Aliens ended on an optimistic note with the three surviving humans (and one artificial person) peacefully sleeping away, ALIEN³ starts off as a fire on the Sulaco has the ship eject its crew’s hypersleep pod which crashes into the ocean on planet Fiorina “Fury” 161, killing two of the three on board and seriously damaging that android. If that’s not bad enough to begin with, the planet just so happens to be an old foundry turned into a prison packed with double-Y chromosome syndrome affected male inmates. Even worse, there’s at least one facehugger that survived the crash and an Alien Queen surprise percolating behind the scenes.
While Ripley survives the wreck and finds a somewhat friendly doctor named Clemens (Charles Dance), the loss of her friends hits hard. There’s a particularly grim autopsy scene that’s hard to watch, but a necessary additional set piece because it adds to the film’s downbeat tone. Ripley also loses all her hair thanks to a lice infestation in the prison that forces her into buzz-cut territory, so the character is pretty much a rawer, stripped down wreck trying to fit in with a group of tightly wound wrecks who don’t want her around. The convicts have adopted a strange mix of religious beliefs and while some shun Ripley, she’s also the target of an attempted rape thankfully broken up by Dillon (Charles S. Dutton), who saves her but really doesn’t like her because he sees her as a major distraction to the men.
She’s also seen a a threat by the warden, Andrews (Brian Glover) and his assistant, Aaron (Ralph Brown), especially when she tells them there’s very likely an Alien on the premises that’s been taking out some of the prisoners. “This is Rumor Control. Here are the facts!” is the line that opens a particularly shocking scene that’s also somewhat funny by its end. While the film has very few laughs going for it, this bit was one where the nervous chuckling in the theater was very well earned.
Earlier in the film, we get to see the facehugger meet up with a dog kept by a convict and the resulting hybrid is a fast and deadly hunter that adds to the film’s horror element. Its attacks are lightning fast and vicious, particularly in one scene where it’s least expected. For some reason, Ripley is spared, but after she begins feeling worse, a trip to a half-busted medical bay reveals exactly why. Spoiler Alert: It’s a girl! Spoiler Alert II: Ripley using that medical bay has alerted The Company to her whereabouts and she discovers after all this time (she’s been in space longer than most people have lived actual lives!), they still want that damn Alien for their research. As that zippy dog Alien is decimating the prison’s population, Ripley now needs to figure out how to dispatch not one, but two xenomorphs before her time runs out.
While messy in terms of editing (or piecing together a film that seemed to be rewritten frequently during the filming process), Fincher’s powerful visual style (along with the mostly practical gore and Alien effects from Tom Woodruff, Jr. Alec Gillis, and many others) is hard to ignore. Fluids, flames and freak-outs are handled with keen camerawork and when stuff goes awry, it really hits the giant fan. The first plan to capture and kill the Alien literally blows up in the faces of a bunch of cons and later, there’s a terrifying chase that takes out most of the remaining men. This is one of those films where any “heroes” are of the accidental and yes, temporary variety and as the clock winds down, there’s only one life that matters… but even that falls to fate at the close.
Still, as visually stunning as the film was (and hey, Fincher’s work only got much better after this), the original 114 minute theatrical cut suffered from a number of issues. It was hard to discern between some of the characters, the story was a wee bit too under-cooked and yeah, that ending… wooo. Granted, fans who wanted an all-out action-packed superior sequel to James Cameron’s blockbuster or even Ridley Scott’s more horror-focused 1979 original were put off by the overall bleakness on display. But I actually liked the film, warts and all. That said, I hated the ending scene because it was a weird case of excess I found out later was due to the studio demanding it (Boo). It wasn’t until the 2003 Assembly Cut that the film got a much better (albeit still flawed) version that added about 38 minutes of deleted scenes, changed the alien spawn from a dog to an ox, altered the ending visual to be less dopey, and made a few of the characters a bit more notable. This is the version you’ll want to see if it’s your first time, trust me. Get the Alien Quadrilogy box set because it’s worth it for the special features, especially the content related to this film and its troubled development.
Speaking of versions, the film got a few fun console versions that were nothing like the movie at all outside a few basic elements. The NES, Sega Genesis, Master System and Game Gear got run ‘n gun/rescue the prisoners style arcade action games, while the Super Nintendo version went for a mix of combat/rescue and side-quest packed gameplay (and of all the home versions, looked the best). Meanwhile, the GameBoy got a strange game that on one hand, was closer to the film’s story, but on the other hand, was a frustrating play thanks to the tiny screen and too easy to die in puzzle rooms. There’s also ALIEN³: The Gun, an arcade game you may have seen in a few movie theaters or arcades and later, Alien Trilogy, which appeared on the PlayStation, Sega Saturn and PC, reorganizing the first three film’s order and making for a primarily action-packed chunk of blasting everything in sight.
The craziest thing about the film by far is likely the too-long development process that resulted multiple script treatments and something like $7 million worth of sets being built (they do look quite lovely in their assorted wreckage-laden states) and the film not having a completed script when shooting began. In a way, it’s amazing the film ended up being completed at all as it was shot during 1991 and kicked into theaters in May 1992 with what I recall a rather crazy amount of ads running seemingly every few minutes on TV at certain times. I think I ended up seeing it five or six times before it disappeared from theaters (and more on cable and disc). But I was also ready to let go of the franchise because looks aside, it seemed to have run its course in this third entry and that ending was very much a no way out situation.
Or so I thought. I’d be proven dead wrong five years later, but that’s another review you’ll have to read. Spoiler Alert: I liked this next sequel a lot more than I thought I would, but man, was it an ugly like back then that took time to turn into a more friendly recommend a few years later. Give me a few days and I’ll spill those beans for you fine folks.
By the way, this post is an early one for The Outer Space On Film Blogathon hosted by Debbie over at Moon in Gemini from April 13 – 15, 2018. You can go bookmark her blog now and maybe (okay, definitely) go check out all of the other posts. No, I do not have an improperly working time machine, ladies and gents. I’m getting this post and a few others up now because of potential health issues knocking me for a few more loops, but let’s keep a few fingers crossed that I’m going to be back and somewhat better (well, as “better” as I can get, given circumstances). I actually may pre-load the next review so it goes up closer to the blogathon date, but as we’re in something like a When Worlds Collide mode in real life, but with no rocket ships ready to jet off to a Brave New World, it’s kind of post what you can before things go all Caprica, eep.