Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.
Ellen Ripley wakes up on a prison planet – her spaceship has crashed, her companions have been killed, and it soon becomes clean that an alien has got loose…
The cast: Sigourney Weaver’s back, playing Ripley for a third and final time. (Spoiler: she dies at the end.) Due to the prison’s lice problem she has to shave her head. Also returning is Lance Henriksen, this time in two roles. He has one scene voicing the android Bishop (the damaged body is an animatronic puppet), then shows up at the end as the human designer of the Bishop model. Not back, however, are the other survivors from Aliens. Hicks and Newt are killed off in the opening credit sequence, leaving Ripley alone and isolated. (During research I discovered that some literal-minded prat has edited Alien³’s Wikipedia page to specify that it’s not Hicks’s body in the escape pod. It seems that in Aliens: Colonial Marines – a 2013 videogame that takes place between the two movies – he was replaced by a guy called Turk. Give me strength.) Charles Dance is quiet, melancholic and likeable as prison doctor Jonathan Clemens. Brian Glover is good fun as warden Harold Andrews. Ralph Brown plays Andrews’s assistant, Aaron, who’s been nicknamed ‘85’ because of his low IQ. Paul McGann is billed fourth in the opening credits, even though mentally unstable prisoner Golic is quite a minor role. (Brown and McGann had both been in 1986’s Withnail & I, of course, and their Withnail co-star Richard E Grant was actually offered the role of Clemens.) Various other inmates are played by a panoply of British character actors: Danny Webb, Pete Postlethwaite, Peter Guinness, Phil Davis, Clive Mantle… As with Ripley, they all have buzz-cut heads. One of the few non-Brits in the film is Charles S Dutton, who’s very good as Dillon, the prison’s top dog who’s found Jesus.
The best bit: There are some great shots used for the alien’s point of view, which are filmed with a steadicam using a wide-angle lens. The cameraman twists and turns as he moves forward, making it seem like the creature is running along the walls and ceilings. Incidentally, the cinematographer was originally Jordan Cronenweth, who’d shot Blade Runner. But he dropped out after two weeks because of Parkinson’s disease, so these POVs were the work of Alex Thomson.
Alternative version: Director David Fincher more or less disowned this film after its release because he’d been so upset by interference from studio executives. Huge portions of the script were rewritten during the shoot, so many scenes had to be dropped and entire subplots were changed. In 2003, without Fincher’s involvement, an ‘Assembly Cut’ was compiled for a DVD release – this version went back to the original script and used a lot of footage that had been dropped in 1992. The changes in the 37 minutes of new stuff include:
* Ripley’s escape pod now crashes near a coastline. Clemens finds her and carries her into the prison.
* There are a few extra moments that beef up the inmates’ religious zeal.
* The alien now impregnates an ox rather than a dog. After the ox dies there’s a scene of two prisoners taking it to an abattoir. One of the guys then finds a dead facehugger but doesn’t know what it is.
* Golic’s role is more substantial. He’s disliked by other inmates because he’s so crazy. The prisoners’ attempt to capture the alien is successful – but then Golic, who’s fascinated by the creature, lets it go.
* When Ripley throws herself off the gantry into the furnace, the alien inside her no longer bursts free.
Review: We’re back to the horror vibe of film one. In the first few minutes of this remorselessly dark film, there’s a very creepy shot of a facehugger lurking in the escape pod – and there always seems to be something scary hiding in every corner of the frame. Also, the society in this left-to-its-own-devices prison is an interesting world for an action-horror story. There’s an unsettling feeling of decay to everything – both physically and psychologically. At one point Aaron tells Ripley they have torches but no batteries. It’s a metaphor for the men: they have the equipment but no energy. However, there are big problems… The story’s pace is monotonous and there are few surprises. The whole film’s all on one level, basically: it’s a song with no choruses. It’s also *unremittingly* grim. The other Alien films mixed in flashes of humour or moments of humanity, whereas this gives us dour characters, a post-mortem on a child, an attempted gang rape and a sickly brown colour palette. The film has nowhere to go tonally. And the camerawork is often quite irritating. There are lots of low angles for not very clear reasons, and it often looks like a macabre music video. Watching this movie is a real jolt after the tight, experience-based direction of the first two films. Ridley Scott and James Cameron dropped the viewer into their stories; Alien³ watches events from afar.
Five double-Y chromosomes out of 10