The greatest criticisms facing the third film in the Alien Quadrilogy inevitably stem from comparisons, as ultimately David Fincher’s addition to the franchise must stand alongside Alien and its sequel Aliens: two very different films that are nevertheless broadly recognised as seminal and high quality works in the cinematic genre. Already under pressure to perform, Alien 3 was the result of an over-complicated creative process that involved six screenwriters and numerous revisions. Such trials and tribulations gave rise to the film’s initial reputation as a confused and regrettable footnote to its masterly precursors.
The plot has Ripley crash-land on the barren prison planet of Fury 141, where an all-male enclave of murderers and rapists is forced to accept her unwelcome presence when the eponymous alien begins to stalk the prisoners through the confines of the facility. It’s pretty basic and rather slow to start, and the often flimsy dialogue doesn’t sound any better in crude British accents. But look closer, however, and there is much to acclaim.
Thematically, Alien 3 is surer of itself than its predecessors; ideas of redemption, of sacrifice and duty, all well-suited to the penal setting, are intertwined with a millenarian Christian element that invites interpretation without taking itself too seriously. Charles S. Dutton, playing the charismatic leader of the prison’s religious sect, is more than able to carry off a role prone to disastrous bathos. And while the prison doctor, Clemens, is underused despite the character development he is afforded, the inmates’ varying responses to their grisly predicament belie claims that they are simply fodder for the murderous beast.
The talented Fincher, who went on to direct Seven and Fight Club, deserves praise for a number of memorable sequences, including a funeral scene intercut with the alien’s gory birth and the final frenetic show-down in the prison’s lead works. Sigourney Weaver, in an inversion of the maternal action-hero role that contributed so much to Aliens’ success, remains fresh and convincing. Ultimately, Alien 3 was always going to be easily criticised, yet learn to look past initial disappointment and we find a film quite worthy of its parentage.