Exhumed & Exonerated: 'Alien 3' (1992) - Bloody Disgusting!

Exhumed & Exonerated: ‘Alien 3’ (1992)

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Every decade has its ups and downs when it comes to cinema, no matter the genre.  Horror fans love to loft on high the output of the ‘30s & ‘40s, the ‘70s & ‘80s, and the more recent decades.  More often than not, however, the 1990s are labeled as the worst decade for the genre.  Not only that, but ‘90s horror tends to be written off as a whole, beyond a handful of undisputed classics.  The purpose of Exhumed & Exonerated: The ‘90s Horror Project, is to refute those accusations by highlighting numerous gems from the decade.  Stone cold classics will be tackled in this column from time to time, but its main purpose will be to seek out lesser-known and/or less-loved titles that I think deserve more attention and respect from fans.  Let the mayhem begin!

Alien 3

Directed by David Fincher
Screenplay by Vincent Ward, David Giler, Walter Hill, and Larry Ferguson
Produced by Gordon Carroll, David Giler, and Walter Hill
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Charles S. Dutton, Ralph Brown, Charles Dance, Brian Glover, Danny Webb, Paul McGann, Pete Postlethwaite, Holt McCallany, and Lance Henriksen
Released on May 22, 1992

I was originally going to tackle something a bit more offbeat for this entry, but upon being reminded of “Alien Day”, I switched gears. Last week (4/26…LV-426…hooray for joke holidays) saw many around the nation (world?) celebrating Fox’s Alien franchise, particularly the first two films. What better way to follow things up the next day by taking a look at the dark horse third entry in the sci-fi/horror saga? David Fincher’s Alien 3 has its fans (spoilers: I’m one of them) but to this day it remains a wildly divisive installment in the series.

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Why is it so divisive? Because the previous films, Aliens, saw Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) come out of her second traumatic encounter with the alien species not only triumphant, but with a new surrogate family. With Ripley as the mother, we were also given Rebecca “Newt” Jorden (Carrie Henn) as an adopted daughter, Corporal Dwayne Hicks (Michael Biehn) as the would-be father, and the android Bishop (Lance Henriksen) as the weird uncle, something ever family seems to have. In short, director/writer James Cameron had given the franchise’s lead a fairytale ending. Unfortunately, not all fairytales remain happy.

The opening sequence of Alien 3 sees these characters in hypersleep aboard the Sulaco, where we last saw them. So what goes wrong? You guessed it, there’s an alien on board! A fire breaks out, forcing the escape ship to be launched, but not before the little face-hugging fiend possibly manages to impregnate one of the three humans with an alien embryo. Life is a cruel bastard at times.

Making matters worse, the escape ship crash lands into the waters on a sparsely populated backwater planet. A planet whose inhabitants are all ex-convicts tasked with keeping a metalworks factory maintained. In the crash, one of the ship’s support beams impales Hicks in his sleep, killing him instantly. Bishop’s already-trashed android body is also further damages, with “pieces of him all over the place”. The malicious cherry atop this tragedy is that Newt is also dead; having drowned in her sleep after her cryo-tube became cracked.

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Ripley is left alone; her new surrogate family ripped away from her even quicker than her co-workers were in the original film. Whereas the original film was about survival and the sequel about conquering your fear, the third becomes about a loss of faith and hope. It’s no coincidence that the writers chose to make the former prisoners into people who had found religion during their incarceration. Ripley is the faithless tossed among the faithful, attempting to find some meaning and purpose in the wake of another traumatic event.

What good is film dealing with faith that doesn’t have a demon running about? In addition to the mystery of whether or not one of the original trio has been impregnated by an alien, a second facehugger is revealed to have made it onto the escape pod. Upon landing, it “mates” with an animal. What kind of animal it latches onto depends on which cut of the film you are watching, of course. In the theatrical version, it attaches itself to a dog. In the extended producers cut, which hews closer to Fincher’s original vision of the film, it is an ox.

Regardless of the cut, we have a far faster and animalistic alien to deal with this time out. Complicating matters further is the fact that the facilities administration doesn’t believe a word of Ripley’s tale, at least not until the beast slaughters a handful of people. Worse yet, there are no weapons at this facility. After all, it wouldn’t be smart to have a bunch of guns or flamethrowers lying around where convicted murderers and rapists can access them, even if they are all supposedly “reformed” and have “found God at the ass end of space”. All of this contributes to the film’s mounting sense of hopelessness and dread.

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All the franchise’s hallmarks are on full display here. We have Ripley at the center of it all as the voice of reason, just like she has been since the opening moments of Ridley Scott’s original. We have a colorful cast of characters, mostly of the blue collar variety, running about a dirty and rundown space facility. We have a few characters with their own agenda that does not gel with the rest of the group, especially in the extended cut.  And, of course, we have the company, Weyland-Yutani, still trying to get their hands on the titular fiend…no matter the cost.

We could argue all day about whether or not it was right for Hicks, Newt, and (effectively) Bishop to be torn away from Ripley right out of the gate. Regardless of whether or not you personally agree with this decision, one made by Weaver herself, it’s simply the way the dice rolled. Whether or not that sits well with you, it’s impossible to deny the craftsmanship here. The theatrical cut of the film is compromised, but still a worthwhile sequel. The extended cut is even better, further exploring the new characters and the film’s themes.

Would it have been nice to see at least one more adventure with the three fallen survivors of Aliens? Of course! I love those characters as much as anyone. For a time, it was actually going to happen that way. Before Vincent Ward was brought in to craft a faith-oriented tale involving Ripley, there were three other completely different scripts written for a potential Alien 3. The first one, penned by Neuromancer author William Gibson, saw Ripley in a coma, with Hicks, Newt, and Bishop as the leads. There were also two further, wildly different scripts after that which contained no returning characters at all. One was penned by Eric Red (Near Dark) and the other by David Twohy (Pitch Black). All three can be easily found online, if you are curious, along with Ward’s own (quite different) script.

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Alien 3 is an ugly, nihilistic sequel slathered in grease and grime and filled with a wide assortment of troubled characters. In addition to its unceremonious dispatching of the other survivors of Aliens, this also seems to be a sore point with those who do not care for the film.  Alien 3 is almost the complete opposite of Aliens, even of Alien, and that’s exactly what I love about it. For most of the films in this franchise, the filmmakers behind them have been allowed to craft their own completely different take on this universe. Ridley Scott’s Alien is the ultimate monster movie. James Cameron’s Aliens is one of the best action films ever made. Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien: Resurrection is more of a dark comedy. Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is a weird Planet of the Vampires-esque space exploration flick. Only the Alien vs. Predator films really sidestep a signature style, instead opting for a more comic book-like approach.

Alien 3 might not be the sequel you wanted when you first saw it after watching the first two. I completely get that, but I believe that it is a great fill in its own right. The story and themes are compelling, the cast is great, and the visuals are striking. It’s an ugly sequel in every sense of the word, practically oozing with a feeling of hopelessness that is understandably off-putting to some viewers, but a unique and unforgettable one. It may not have impacted genre-filmmaking as much as its gargantuan predecessors, but it absolutely deserves its place as one of the best genre sequels we have received.

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Up Next: Cast A Deadly Spell (1991)

Previously On…
Species | Mute Witness | Popcorn | Wishmaster | Alien 3 | Cast A Deadly Spell
Disturbing Behavior | The Sect | The Addams Family

  • I’ll admit I haven’t seen the movie is years, but I still firmly disagree. Nowhere near close to the two films that precede it which you can’t help but make comparisons since it’s within the same series. But I will say it’s the 3rd best Alien movie….

  • Alex

    I have no problem with someone liking Alien 3, but this article is so unaware of the criticisms against it as to make its defense pointless. Let’s start here:

    “Why is it so divisive? […] In short, director/writer James Cameron had given the franchise’s lead a fairytale ending. Unfortunately, not all fairytales remain happy.”

    You then spend most of the article summing up those who dislike the film as people who just wanted more Newt, Bishop, and Hicks. This is so reductive and even condescending. Want to know why I hate ‘Alien 3’? The frame is used horrendously, the characters are weakly constructed and poorly explored almost uniformly, the cinematography is dull and ineffective, the attempt to utilize the gender dynamics is terribly done, the pacing is all over the place, there’s little narrative cohesion, Ripley’s growth as a character is simply aping the work done in previous movies, and…well, I could go on and on.

    But instead of addressing any of these, you sum it up as, “People were all pissy because these characters died.” Honestly, I don’t care about Newt, Bishop, or Hicks beyond the point that Cameron did a decent enough job fleshing them out and using them to enhance the narrative of his film. If the writers/director of ‘Alien 3’ had decided to eliminate them, and either more or less ignore the change like ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ with the Joker (admittedly much harder to do here but something feasible, and I’d accept it if it were in service of an interesting film), that’d be fine. If they’d decided to address the deaths in a way that wasn’t lazily playing on your emotions toward them via ‘Aliens’ (with no real exploration or added depth to Ripley as a character), then I’d be fine with it. But they didn’t. And that’s just ONE of the numerous problems I and many people have with this film.

    Again, defend the movie all you like. Argue for it and against the criticisms made against it. But don’t insult us by explaining the divisiveness of the film being due to it not being a happy fairytale, rather than a result of NUMEROUS legitimate complaints.

    Two other points:
    1) This could use another proofing pass for readability. Sentences like this are a bit jarring: “Yesterday (4/16…LV-426…hooray for joke holidays) saw many around the national (world?) celebrating Fox’s Alien franchise, particularly the first two films.” The date is incorrect, and I think you’re looking for “nation” there. However, do not take this as me dismissing your article. Typos happen. However, I do think it is emblematic of what I perceive as the laziness of this piece.
    2) Do you have a citation for this claim? “Regardless of whether or not you personally agree with this decision, one made by Weaver herself, it’s simply the way the dice rolled.” I have never heard or seen anything indicating this, although I do not doubt the possibility if a citation can be provided.

    Thank you for your time. I appreciate attempting to add to the conversation around a largely dismissed film, but this is a far cry from doing so in any valuable way because it does not actually address the issues with the film, or at least the issues most people who dislike it have.

    • Daniel Baldwin

      Apologies on the typos. For better or worse, they slip through sometimes. As for the date issue, this piece was originally meant to run last week and ended up not being altered before being pushed back to today, so apologies for that as well.

      The uncut documentaries (as well as the commentaries) for Alien 3 in the Blu-ray set make it clear that once Weaver finally decided she wanted to be involved with Alien 3 (after multiple scripts where Ripley was barely in it or completely absent), she wanted for her character to be alone again. Vincent Ward complied right out of the gate with his initial drafts and the decision stuck from there on out. Weaver had script approval on the film and was fine with all of it every step of the way. She wielded a large amount of control over Alien 3 and especially Alien: Resurrection (which itself was also initially a Ripley-less tale) and pretty much got her way on both.

      As for the rest, the chief complaint against the film from most who dislike it usually stems from the quick and unceremonious dispatching of Newt, Hicks, and (to a lesser degree) Bishop. Not everyone who dislikes the film is upset with it for those reasons (or at least only those reasons), as you have illustrated, but that’s the primary complaint from most fans (as well as Cameron himself). I addressed this (from my own point of view) and then moved on, choosing instead to highlight what I love about the film.

      I actually have no problems with the cinematography or the characters as presented in the film (particularly the producers’ cut), which is why I didn’t address those elements in a negative light. If you do, that’s completely understandable, but the point of this column is for me to highlight genre films from this particular decade that I think are worthwhile…not to tear films to shreds. If I wanted to do that to a film, I’d write an entirely different piece outside of the column.

    • alwayswipetwice

      All Baldwin did was address the main controversy that gets brought up every time without fail – which is the Newt/Hicks/Bishop thing. He didn’t generalize all critics into that camp. That’s just how you interpreted it (and for some reason are insulted by it?). This piece wasn’t directed at you, or anyone, specifically. He’s just addressing a legitimate issue. And there’s nothing snarky or insulting about the way he wrote it. That’s just how you read it.

  • KSE1977

    While not as good as the 2 before it, I just enjoyed Alien 3 for what it was, a flawed sequel to two better entries. Still, the points you make about why you liked it, I found interesting. I found your characterization of why others disliked the movie, too general and not really helpful.

  • James

    While not as good a the first two I always loved this movie for being unique and trying to get back to the vibe of the original. Always felt like this movie was unjustly slammed by so many.

  • Darren Rouse

    Alien 3 is terribly underrated. I’ll be honest, I’ve never actually seen the theatrical cut but if it’s the sh*t-show everyone says, it doesn’t deserve to be watched. The Assembly Cut on the other hand is top-notch. And I will never stop trumpeting its merits.

    • Daniel Baldwin

      The theatrical cut isn’t a “shitshow” but it is definitely an inferior version of the film lacking in a lot of character scenes when you move beyond the primary roles (Ripley, Dillon, Clemens). It’s also very disjointed due to some of the changes and, of course, whole subplots being excised, particularly Golic’s obsession with the alien. After Clemens death in the infirmary, you never see Golic again in the theatrical cut, as the whole bit with the alien being captured and Golic letting it loose is absent in that cut.

    • Vader the White

      The theatrical cut does have some merits…okay, mostly the fact that a dog makes more sense with the general physique and speed of the resulting Alien than an ox, but it isn’t bad.
      I do agree with that it is so weird that Golic just disappears in the theatrical version. I mean, people in 1992 missed out on seeing the future Eighth Doctor getting killed by an Alien, unlike the people in 1979 who got to see a Chestburster pop out of the future War Doctor.

  • Riiiiiiiiiight

    The main problem with ALIEN 3 was that it didn’t deliver on the promise that the trailers made… “In space, no one can hear you scream… but on earth…” Can you imagine these things getting to earth and having to fend them off? THAT was what we were promised. Instead, we got this dismal mess.

    • Daniel Baldwin

      This is why no studio should ever issue a teaser for a film that they haven’t even shot yet. As cool as that teaser is by itself, not only does it have nothing to do with the finished film, but as far as I know, there was never any draft of Alien 3 that involved aliens infesting Earth. It was an odd thing for the studio to promise, given that it was never part of the actual plan.

    • dave o

      We did get Xenos on earth…They called in Alien vs Predator: Requiem and it was messier

      • Riiiiiiiiiight

        Not the same thing.

        • dave o

          Alien 3 wasn’t a cash grab?

          • Riiiiiiiiiight

            Oh, geez… Studios want every movie to make a profit, yes. ALIEN 3 was the 3rd movie in hugely successful franchise.

            A “cash grab” movie is some cheaply made garbage, like a $10 million horror movie, the studios hope will make $25 – 40 million over the next month and make a decent profit.

            Or we can just let the dialogue devolve into me calling your mom a “cash grab” and go from there? :0)

          • dave o

            Calm down lad.

        • MarsupialRebellion

          AvP:R was not direct to video. Saw it in theaters myself

  • PsychoMantis18

    Nice for it to get some attention.

    It is after-all a way better sequel than that Aliens snore-fest.

  • SHANA MARIA VERGHIS

    The Alien sequels are like floating debris in mind, i tend to mix them up. So I’m not sure which one this is. Hence I shalt reserve my comments for Judgment Day…. and probably a rerun.

  • alwayswipetwice

    Great write up! Nice to finally see Alien 3 get some much deserved love – and what better platform than E&E! I never minded Newt and Hicks being killed because it just added so much dramatic heft to the story. You really never see heavy stuff like that in movies, so it’s welcome, imo. I also like the concept of Ripley being the only one to survive to the next chapter. Allows a certain level of continuity while still staying fresh. Like an anthology of sorts.

    Fincher is a brilliant fucking master (on the level of Scott, imo), and he knew exactly how to make the franchise scary again. I think he’s truly a horror filmmaker at heart. Still can’t understand the love for Blomkamp – especially because none of us have even read his script! I’d rather have someone like Ti West.

    • Jimmy Cthulhuhan

      I was right there with ya… until that last line. >_< Don't joke about such awful things.

  • Hamsterballs

    Alien 3 grew on me with age. I was about 7 when I first saw it, and thought it was boring, especially compared to Aliens. But then I also thought that Independence Day was the best movie ever made when I saw it at around that same age in the theater. Now I absolutely adore Alien 3. The first film (Alien) is my favorite horror movie of all time, and 3, while nowhere near the originality of the first, is a much more worthy successor than Aliens. Aliens is The Force Awakens of the Alien franchise. Super successful, sells lots of toys, a good action film in its own right, but a film that ultimately completely abandons the core of what made the original special.

  • DrewHamster

    I defend this film all the time so I absolutely love this article!

  • Vader the White

    I actually really like Alien 3. I always have.

    • Kori Batchelor

      Agree 100%. I remember seeing this in theatres and just loving it, although no one else seemed to. Bummed me out a little. When I got the BluRay box set a couple years ago I was soooo very excited to see the directors/producers/assembly cut (whatever the hell you want to call it) and fell in love all over again.
      Is it a masterpiece? Nope. But it’s still a damn good movie in my ever so humble opinion.

  • jackstark211

    One of my favorite.

  • El_Fez

    Watched Alien 3 again when I got the blu ray set a couple months ago, and I watched with a critical eye and not with a Fan of the franchise.

    Nope, it’s still pretty fucking awful. At least it’s better than Alien IV

  • LOX TO THE DEATH

    Very under-rated what do you expect when its getting compared to 2 of the greatest movies ever made. Alien 3 assembly cut is best to watch its got some great characters especially Charles S Dutton as Dillon I cant think of the name of anyone from Alien Resurrection or both AvP movies. Could of been better overall and killing off newt n Hicks wasn’t the best idea but we will get to see how that works out when they get around to releasing Alien 5

    • PsychoMantis18

      It’s common sense to find it shocking that it’s underrated as it was a great film that followed the steaming-piece-of-moronic-shit-entry in the franchise.

      Killing off Newt and Hicks was a great idea as they embody much of what made AlienS such a shit sequel: shallow sentimentality and macho-action.

      Not to mention it is boooooooring.

    • Evan3

      What do I expect? A good movie. A competent movie. Not an overwrought (and frankly boring) mess of a movie. This remains my least favorite of the quadrilogy. At least the fourth has some memorable visuals and a cool concept with the alien child (that fits far better thematically with the rest of the series) than anything in 3.

      So does it have to be an all-time classic like the first ones? No. But should it have still been a solid and worthy sequel? Yes. And it failed miserably.

  • Phendranah

    Fuck yeah! Give Alien 3 some love 🙂 Underrated as hell. Nice article man!

  • James Allard

    I have always had a lot of love for this film. I thought it was a very interesting entry, and still find it interesting that Fincher would not participate in the Quadrology release as it is his most unpleasant memory in his career.

    Scott, Cameron, Fincher and Jeunet all put out four separate takes on a concept. Maybe we don’t like them as much as others do and we all have our opinions as to where the high and low points are (Cameron makes big, dump movies that are impossible for me to avoid) but I loves ’em all.

    The notion that two females land on this prison world and turn it upside down was an obvious turn on some of the underlying gender politics from the first two films so I thought it was fascinating that Ripley started off as a stranger in a strange land and ended up as a Joan of Arc kind of martyr.

  • James Vincent

    It was mediocre at best. Alien was great. It had mystery and mood. It let your mind imagine terrible things and you never got a real good look at the Alien. Aliens was Terminator in Alien Drag. Alien 3 was a bland cash in.

  • Golic

    I get the feeling that Batman V Superman will get the same treatment years down the road.

  • George Pattison

    As a film on its own, it is OK. David Fincher got a bad rap for a situation largely out of his control. Some of scenes are downright beautiful and are worthy of comparison to Ridley Scott’s Alien, but some of the alien effects are downright sloppy. However, it feels more like a re-imagining of Beowulf rather than an Alien movie.

    As part of the franchise, it is the first failure largely stemming from misinterpretations and misunderstandings about certain aspects of the previous films. As a result, it fails to advance the alien life cycle in a credibly interesting manner and has serious continuity problems at the beginning of the film.

    To put it bluntly, the alien life cycle that they depict by their too literal interpretation of the hive model suggested by Cameron would not have been able to overrun LV-426 with mathematical certainty. Humans are just too lethal for a purely caste based organism to establish itself given the population size and density of LV-426 based on the life cycle metrics established in Alien.

    While that is probably not apparent to the average film goer, it just adds to the feeling that they just weren’t paying that much attention to the previous films when you couple it with other things like “Lieutenant” Ripley or the egg that’s in the Sulaco is in a place that the Alien Queen never went or could get too(i.e. the Crew’s Mess). That’s just sloppy storytelling.