['Alien 3' Revisited] Why It’s Not So Bad And Why Killing Newt And Hicks Is A Good Thing

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With the June 8th release of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus fast approaching, we thought we’d take a look back at the original Alien franchise with which it “shares strands of DNA.” Whether or not there are xenomorphs as we know them in Prometheus, it’s abundantly clear that it takes place in the same universe.

In the weeks leading up to the release of that film I’m going to revisit the four films in the Alien franchise (sorry, not going to subject myself to AVP) in order to gather my thoughts in anticipation of the new outing. First up is Alien 3. Considered a disappointment upon its release in 1992, the film underperformed at the box office and left many fans with a bad taste in their mouth. Stories about its troubled production have become the stuff of legend and many people fail to even regard it as part of the filmography of director David Fincher (Zodiac, The Social Network, Se7en, Fight Club). Even I hated the movie, and I was pretty easy to please back then.

I recently took another look at the theatrical cut of the film and discovered, to my great surprise, that it’s not that bad after all. For a film without a finalized script, it gets more right than it does wrong – which is pretty surprising. Head inside for more.

It goes without saying that the great divide in quality in the Alien universe occurs between Aliens and Alien 3. This sentiment is about as close as a subjective opinion can get to being a fact. When I first saw the film in the summer of 1992 I was so disappointed I couldn’t even admit to myself how much I disliked it. It was too painful a letdown. I went into denial mode and told myself how great it was for weeks. At some point – probably months later – I just accepted the notion that I thought it was pretty bad and moved on. And, while I can’t be completely sure, I don’t think I watched it again in its entirety for almost two decades.

So I was surprised when a recent revisit revealed that Alien 3 isn’t all that bad. There are some great moments and the tone is actually astoundingly consistent. That’s fairly surprising considering that the “final” script was pretty much written on the fly during the historically rocky shoot using elements from god-knows-how-many screenplays from god-knows-how-many writers (the script is credited to David Giler, Walter Hill and Larry Ferguson but also contains elements from drafts by David Twohy, Eric Red and Vincent Ward). Is it as good as Alien or Aliens? No. But it is a decent movie in the unfortunate shadow of those two titans.

In fact, it’s almost something of a triumph when you consider how troubled the production was. David Fincher, hamstrung by an incomplete script, reportedly clashed almost nonstop with Fox brass. Coming from the world of commercials and music videos he was generally used to getting his way and he wasn’t getting it here, primarily due to budget issues. Still, bits of the genius we’ve now come to know him as shine through. Aside from a few rough shots (the chest burster coming out of the dog is sloppy and the CG throughout is mostly horrible), the film is consistently gorgeous (another miracle considering they had to switch DP’s a week or two in). Fincher’s attention to detail may have tacked days upon days to the shooting schedule, but it provides the film with its strongest and most consistent attributes – its look and its tone.

Alien 3 is a film about loss, hopelessness, exhaustion, sacrifice and coming to grips with death. Those concepts may be muddied by the barely functional script, and they certainly dart in and out of the picture depending on which set of pages Fincher was working with on any given day. But they’re present. When you watch the movie you feel them. Fincher’s not a writer, but he can sustain a mood like a motherf*cker Those themes hit way harder than you’d expect from a film that was basically taken away from its director.

Many fans, along with James Cameron himself, were taken aback by the decision to kill off Michael Biehn’s Hicks and Carrie Henn’s Newt at the beginning of the film. But I think it’s one of Alien 3‘s smartest decisions. I can’t imagine what a mess this movie would have been if Ripley had entered it with a thriving support system. Aliens remains a superior film but its also concerned with something completely different – motherhood. The loss of Ripley’s daughter (in the director’s cut), the Alien Queen’s anguish over the loss of her eggs and the inclusion of Newt into the budding makeshift family portrayed at the end of the film all tie into that. But that’s not at all what Alien 3 is about. It has to negate those positive developments in Ripley’s life because it’s about dropping her (and the audience) back in the fray.

And the fray in this film is desolate and hopeless. One of the themes I talked about earlier is exhaustion and you can feel that in every frame of Alien 3 (perhaps helped along by the real-world exhaustion on set). Ripley is tired. She’s been f*cked with by the Alien and f*cked over by humanity one too many times. You get the feeling that she never expects her dalliance with Charles Dance’s Clemens to end in anything but tears, and the universe proves her exactly right. Even if Hicks and Newt had survived beyond the film’s opening moments, they surely would have had to go at some point. Can you imagine an entire film set on that prison planet with that family unit? I can, and it doesn’t work. And I can’t really see it working in any other context either. Many people (myself included) long to see early director Vincent Ward’s “wooden planet” take on the script, which was also smart enough to omit them.

Also, the death of Newt provides the film with one of its most powerful moments – the autopsy scene. Reports have it that the scene is vastly truncated in regard to the specificity of the procedure (and the resulting gore) – but that doesn’t matter. What matters is Ripley’s reaction. It’s one of Sigourney Weaver’s most powerful moments in these films and it’s a compelling series of shots that earns the catharsis of the film’s controversial ending.

One of the more distinct memories from my first viewing of the film was my dislike for the prison planet setting. But upon revisiting I felt it more or less worked. Surrounding Ripley with rapists and murderers not only ups the sense of isolation and danger, but it enables the film to carve out a redemptive arc for its supporting cast. Even though the proselytizing of Charles S. Dutton’s Dillon grows tiresome and heavy handed, you really feel some of these guys struggling to make make the most out of their final moments.

Sigourney Weaver’s performance is another element that helps carry the film past the shortcomings of its script. I’m not sure what the communication was like on set, but she seems perfectly in sync with Fincher’s ambition to convey the exhaustion and hopelessness of her journey. You feel the miles on her, you feel her loss and grief and you feel how much the character has changed since the events of the first film. Ripley’s been through the wringer, something a film with lesser ambition would have shaken off in favor of dropping her into kick-ass warrior mode once again. Not only has she lost everything she had before she got on the Nostromo, she’s also lost everything she earned back in those final moments on the Sulaco. She doesn’t have it in her to even try for a normal life anymore. While Alien 3 is far from the best film in series, her performance here is at least on par with her work in Aliens (if not surpassing it outright).

Also, the ending of the film is actually pretty effective. Ripley’s demise (aided by Elliot Goldenthal’s powerful final cue) along with the reprise of her Nostromo sign-off from the first film give the conclusion of Alien 3 a sense of finality. It acknowledges the journey of the first two films and attempts to compliment and comment on it (which is more than I can say for the awful Alien: Resurrection). When the credits roll, it’s hard not to feel like this is the end of something. It almost feels like the end of a trilogy.

Alien 3 is still a significant step down from the first two films, but time has been kind to it. During my revisit I considered the possibility that, as a Fincher fan, I may be biased. Perhaps I’m looking at it through the lens of someone who loves the majority of his subsequent work? It’s possible. But still, I can feel this film trying to be something different while also trying to be a worthy entry of the story it’s continuing. The ambition is commendable even if its reach often exceeds its grasp. Alien 3 is a muddled, sloppy story that somehow manages to hit most of its emotional and thematic notes with a fair amount of strength. If you haven’t seen it in a while, give it another go. You might be surprised.

Source: Bloody Disgusting
  • Nothing333

    Nice revisit. I think coming after one of the best sequels of all time(possibly the best movie of the eighties) is tough on a film. I remember not hating 3, but finding it really bland. You have inspired me to take another look.

    • EvanDickson

      Yeah it’s not perfect but it’s better than you might remember.

  • Sicko-Warden

    Hey Evan. Alien 3 is one of favorite films, for all the aforementioned reasons in your article. It stands in the shadow of Aliens, but people forget that James Cameron trivialized the unkillable superbeing that the Alien was feared to be in the first film, and turned it into exactly what the colonial marines describe them as: a bug. I love Aliens, but while that film depicted them as a menace in numbers, Alien 3 was a reminder of how dangerous just one of them actually was.

  • Jhanse3 (Jhanse29)

    I plan on revisiting these four flicks prior to Promethius as well. Been a long time since viewing them. I remember liking Reserection way more then part 3. I will have to see what i think now that I’m older.

  • Evil_Flip

    I prefer Alien 3 (dir. cut) above Aliens. Aliens was more of an action movie, especially the cinema version. It’s actually kinda hilarious that people judge AvP for being not bloody enough, while there isn’t any blood in Aliens either (only some milk). Alien 3 on the other hand is actually even kinda nasty at times (I love Charles Dance’s death scene). And I don’t mind seeing Newt die since, due to her age, she would’ve been recast anyway. And one maybe better than the other, but I think 1-4 still have a very high quality compared to other scifi/horror movies and it’s great to see that they all have their own style (which is rare in a franchise).

    • Kaname-Tousen

      People were pissed over AVP because how gorey Predator as a series is and how Gorey Alien a series became, so to have almost bloodless deaths at times is kinda weird especially with predator involved. Newt’s actress could have returned,she wanted to and they could have put in some BS excuse, I wouldn’t have minded her death either way(if she was revived out the tube and then killed due to chest bruster or full grown xeno or if she died the way she does in Alien 3).

  • MrDisgusting

    This is great, Alien 3 has aged incredibly well sans the SFX. The documentary made me love it even more… It’s insane to think this movie was even released considering the hell it went through.

  • secretsquirrely

    Excellent article Evan. It’s articles like this that make me inspired to write and make me proud to be a fan of the horror genre. I agree with your entire sentiment. I have quite a fondness for this film because of the emotional cues that hit home so well. Sure it was sloppy, but the direction it was intended to take was clear all the way through.

    • EvanDickson

      Thanks!

  • kevnk

    i would agree, i def like it better now then i did when it first came out. i think alot of the hate it got was from the fact that it really was a big departure from the last movie and people weren’t expecting that. i did hate hicks and newt being dead myself for a long time, i think it just felt like it negated everything that they all went through in the 2nd movie, but since then i do feel like it really worked for the type of movie they were making. all in all, i would say it was a decent ending to the “trilogy”, each flick had its own tone and voice, and at least they wernt all carbon copies of one another.

  • Kaname-Tousen

    I’m not a fan of Alien as a series but I’m willing to say I’m okay with Newt and Hicks dying narrative wise, just wish it had more emotional impact as they’re characters who deserve an onscreen death at least.

    • EvanDickson

      I kind of feel that the impact is at its best here because it’s through Ripley’s POV. She goes to sleep – everything’s fine. She wakes up – everything’s gone. I feel like the autopsy has more impact than an onscreen death would have.

  • wpj2012

    I really enjoyed this article, Evan, and I’m glad someone finally wrote it. I agree with you – Alien 3 is not a bad film, and it really moved me, causing me to feel the doom and seeming finality of the series with Ripley’s plunge into the fire. That ending has always been very emotional for me because I’m such a fan of the Alien movies. And who cares if the effects were shitty – the movie is 20 years old. I think Fincher should be proud of this, regardless of the awful production issues he experienced. Peace-

  • djblack1313

    Evan, i’m glad you liked A3 on your revist. i just last month watched the Assembly Cut (that’s the version that pretty much everyone says is the best and superior cut, adding something like 20 minutes(?) back into the film) and i hated the movie just as much as i did when i saw the theatrical cut in theaters. i DO agree that Sigourney was amazing in this and Fincher nailed the atmosphere perfectly. i’m all for a downer, heartwrenching movie but i didn’t like it in this. also the setting sucked ass. i couldn’t tell one prisoner from the next (the amazing Charles Dance and Charles Dutton not included). i WANTED to like this movie but upon revisting it i disliked it more than i did the first time. i used to think ALIENS was the best (followed by ALIEN) but i now think ALIEN is the best. i think that’s part of why i’m so excited for PROMETHEUS. from the looks of the trailers/etc it’s got ALIEN’s tone and atmosphere, etc.

  • http://www.facebook.com/justin.mcgill.16 Justin McGill

    Guess i am odd. I liked Alien 3 day one. It felt like an end. More alike the first. Stripped down. Granted you can’t top Aliens. Always admired that they went another way with it. Ripley stripped of her weapons, of technology. And like the above poster said, it made the alien scary and a real threat again. Also made me a Fincher fan for life. Wasn’t his greatest movie but am thankful that it did introduce me to him.

  • CountOrlok

    I honestly never gave a shit about “Hicks and Newt”. :p

  • Evan3

    I saw this for the first time in my early twenties and was thoroughly unimpressed – but maybe I have to give it another go here. I am really interested in what you think of Alien 4. While also not on the level of the first two – and the director’s cut having a horrible gag beginning – I actualyl think it is very underrated. There are some great haunting scenes (the taunting of the aliens through the window, the cloning room,the shooting of Wynona Ryder) and I thought did a much better job of AvP in resurrecting the series. As a fellow Evan, I hope you agree with me.

    • EvanDickson

      Well I just watched the theatrical cut and… you’ll have to wait until next week ;P

      I plan on watching Director’s cut as well though.

  • Evan3

    Also @EvanDickson, I am curious what you make of the complaint that Alien 3 was too much of a retread of the first with slightly different alien design.

    • EvanDickson

      I don’t really agree. Thematically it’s way different and the character is in a much different place in her life. Plus the first film was about a group of peers (more or less).

      I mean, there’s one Alien in this film just as there’s only one Alien in the first. And ALL of these movies have a bunch of people running around corridors.

      Aside from that I think it’s its own thing – but similar enough to be in the same vein, if that makes sense.

      • Evan3

        I got you Evan. Terminator and Terminator 2 clearly are similar visually and even with character beats (an overwhelmed and outgunned hero takes on a far superior and emotionless killer, but the two are incredibly different in their presentations and themes). I always thought that it was a bit of a lazy criticism to state that Alien3 was a simple retread (especially thematically), but since you watched 3 much more recently than I, you are certainly in a better position than I to disenchant the naysayers.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1577010849 AmericanGods

    I’ve always loved Alien3. It was a film I was fortunate enough to not see until I was old enough to appreciate it. I saw Aliens before any of the other films and enjoyed it as a child, but when I grew up realized it didn’t film in the canon tone-wise as the rest of the films and in a lot of ways is simply lacking the depth that makes 1 and 3 stand up so well to repeat viewings. The third film captures well the desolate tone Ridley Scott was trying for with the first film (especially with his alternate ending in mind) but the second film sadly kicked to the curb in favor of action, comedy and an almost fairy tale ending. To me, the one thing Ripley, as a character never needed was a family (which was the point of Newt and Hicks, her surrogate husband and child as far as Cameron saw it). Eliminating them and carrying on the story as Ripley as a sort of loner character works better, especially in setting her up as a sort of Christ figure who sacrifices herself to save the others.

  • SwampThing13

    I’ve always liked this movie. Glad others do too

  • Mako

    I remember sitting opening night in a theater in SoCal with a sold out audience. We were so excited about Alien3 after loving both Alien and Aliens. Then after the first 5 min of the movie – I never heard so many “booos” and hate for a movie. And I was one of them. As much as I agree about the narrative of Alien3 and taking out Hicks and Newt… it felt like a slap in the face for all of us Aliens Fans. I much preferred the Alien3 script with Hicks as the main character and Ripley in a coma. Alien3 was Alien all over again. A rehash of the haunted house movie in space. I love Fincher. Weaver. Dance. And Dutton. But the movie is still a sore spot for many of my friends and I. The reason it seems better today than it did back in 1992 is all due to the AlienR and the proceeding AVP films. I’m very much looking forward to Prometheus.

  • ABSINTHEKITTY

    i for one always thought it was underrated bc it was such a new approach to the series which was completely detached from advanced technology and weapons…. so they had to face this alien head on yusing what they had…. in a very ” realistic survival” manner…. of course it sucked that hicks and newt didnt make it but it was a bold move and made the third one even more its very own film…the first three will always be my favorite….the one with winona rider in it as absolutely terrible…. i only enjoyed ripleys transformation and when shewas in the nest and none f the aliens did a damn thing to her ….

  • Rusted

    Great article. I’ve always been a fan of this movie, both versions. I love the bleak and hopeless tone, and the colour schemes throughout are great. Such a massively underrated film.

  • Darkness69

    Amazing article – as always, Evan! I wonder what you’re gonna write about the top 2!

  • BELFAST-HOOD

    Great stuff i always thought it was an underrated movie its got a dark depressing feeling about it which is how you would feel on a fucking prison planet wit a alien after you. My favourite scene is charles dutton’s dillon character going ape-shit with a pipe ”I gotta re-educate sum of tha brotha’s” haha classic

  • Ultrazilla

    It’s actually a widespread misconception that bad CGI is rampant in Alien 3. The CGI used was only for small (yet important) effects, like wind debris, shadows on the alien, and the cracking of the alien exoskeleton. The funky looking alien running scenes were actually made using a rod puppet (marionette) and then sped up and inserted into the action via blue screen. The hours of bonus features on the Alien Anthology show all of this in detail. Full CGI characters/creatures did not really appear until the following year with Jurassic Park.

  • Deathcry

    I was not a big Fan of this flic. till i saw the Directors Cut, i thought that 1 was much better then what was put out into theaters.

    • saft-und-kraft

      I know what you mean by directors cut but it was never touched by fincher. he swore he would never go back to the film after what Fox did to him. but after all these years he did give his blessing to the producers and i believe the editor. someone he was close to to make that cut possible. even out of all the features on the bluray and dvd he is not on there except in archive footage from 91.

  • saft-und-kraft

    well I just typed a whole bunch of stuff about Alien 3 here and why I love it so much then it all dissapeared. wtf. the new ebsite is frustrating at times. well, next time you watch this watch the new cut on blu ray. it was treated the best outa the first 3 movies. the 4th looks and sounds the worst. I would say outa the 4 movies ob bluray Alien has the most care put into it from its original transfer to dvd, meaning i compared the two dvd and blu ray and it almost looked the same. the Aliens blu ray looks alot better than the aliens dvd but the sound is really lacking. Alien 3 was, well, it was beautifull on bluray. the most effort was put into it. the new cut on blu ray stands out in the audio and visuals because it is a newer film. the music is amazing in DTS HD master audio. something they just didn’t do well on the other two movies. rerecorded audio and dialogue by the original actors. all the behind the scenes stuff is like watching the full cycle of life. the pain of birth to make it. the post partem depression of it’s poor theatrical run. childhood of being hated until the younger brother came along, alien ressurection. then once dvd was here it started to get the attention it deserved. but he blu ray fixes almost everything. out of all 4 films on the format, it by far sticks out as the best.

  • viking1983

    the alien 3 ending is still one of the best endings I have seen (theatrical cut not the directors cut)

  • bambi_lives8980

    Alien 3 Assembly Cut was even better than theatrical. I have no clue why people think Alien 3 suck, other than maybe they we’re expecting James Cameron to smash them in the face with a bucket of popcorn again. Alien 3 was perfect, and the mention of the DP getting switched a few weeks in – the DP you speak of was no other than Jordan Fucking Cronenweth of biblical Blade Runner fame, so no shit the movie looked amazing in parts. In fact the whole movie, cinematography wise, was incredible. Either way, I’ll always continue to hail Alien 3 as not almost, but fucking BETTER than Aliens, just because of the sheer atmosphere, and foreboding doom and dread the film exudes. Not to mention it also shares with Blade Runner the ilk of very few films which endured a very long and arduous production, and still turned out damned genius. Alien 3, cubed, whatever, is the shit- hands down. By the way, the oxen chestburster scene was so much cooler than the fucking rotweiler, and fit much better in the film.

  • UndeadZamiel

    This was my favorite when I first watched the series four or five years ago. The desolation, despair, the setting/atmoshphere, I loved it. Think I’ll go rewatch the series again.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=808053997 Francisco Franco

    Thank you, Evan. Been waiting for someone to say this for a long time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gabbi.cordero Gabbi Cordero

    Whenever i read the titles for articles like this, despite my better judgement i try to read through it with an open mind. I hope that the writer will give a compelling argument and bring up convincing points. But there in lie the problem, my mindset or at least my mind being changed on how i feel is predicated on the person making the argument persuasive reasoning that will allow me to understand their point of view or see a perspective I didn’t before. This article does none of that… let’s take it point by point

    Paragraph 5, “There are some great moments”, in an entire article you named exactly one scene that could possibly be labelled memorable and that’s the autopsy

    Paragraph 6, “Still, bits of the genius we’ve now come to know him [David Fincher] as shine through.” I make the conscious effort not to be snarky or disrespectful on these forums, but to assume that anyone watches a movie and maps out a director’s career based on their first film is pretty absurd. Talking about how what we see in Alien 3 is a taste of what we had in store in future Fincher films ain’t gonna make Alien 3 any better. Moving on

    Paragraph 6, “Almost a triumph when you consider how troubled the production was”, none of us were there on the set to breathe a sigh of relief when the film was actually completed. Yes it is great that when a film has troubles being made that it finally does get to the finish line. But let’s get something straight, we don’t grade movies on a curve. Just because there were problems in production doesn’t mean fans are going to add points to a films release. Not how it works. Regardless of problems getting out of the gate, the story is based off its merits, which leads me to my next point…

    Paragraph 5, “a decent movie in the unfortunate shadow of those two titans.”
    Paragraph 6, “The film is consistently gorgeous”, It’s ironic that the article begins saying “the great divide in quality in the Alien universe occurs between Aliens and Alien 3″. Prometheus fits right in w/ the latter half of that quality. There are notable flimsy arguments that people make in defense of both of these movies. “Don’t directly compare this film to Alien and Aliens” and “The movie looks pretty”. Similar to asking how many times can you call a Friday the 13th film “The Final Friday”, how many times do you expect to get away with saying “don’t compare this to the others” within the same damn franchise? If Alien 3 and Prometheus can’t live up to or surpass the greatness of the first two films, too damn bad, then maybe they’re not good or should be given any credit. If a story is great than it should be able to stand up to comparison to other greats, NOT run away from them or crumble under such a comparison.

    Finally, your defense of killing Newt and Hicks is that it fits into the context of isolation for Ripley. But you forget something, it’s a context that no one wanted. It fits for Alien 3, but fans weren’t clamoring for the Alien 3 that we got. Yeah as you say a “prison planet with that family unit” wouldn’t have worked, but you’re presuming that a prison planet in a film is what we wanted in the first place.

    I will respect your opinions, though this article did nothing for my opinion on this lackluster entry. No credit, no praise, I’ll keep my great divide.

  • Jimbo913

    Nope, still not a good thing.