The Good: Excellent character development, Good acting, Impressive sets, Good pacing, Decent plot.
The Bad: A bit violent, I suppose. . .
The Basics: The perfect finale to the perfect science fiction trilogy. Far more is packed into Alien 3 thematically than many realize!
It's easy to pick on Alien 3 on an emotive level. The Alien Trilogy, however, is one of the few sets of films that is a perfect arc. All three films, Alien, Aliens, and Alien 3 are near perfect, but they bind together perfectly. Alien 3 takes a lot of heat, especially by fans of the first two films. It does that because in the first minutes of the film, two people are killed and, by this point in the series, we care about them. People who make that complaint are wusses. They're being ridiculous; none of them panned Alien for leaving only Ripley standing. Honestly, Alien 3 projects a dismissive air about the freakishly capricious nature of the universe and it works to create a film that is terribly depressing, but quite effective.
Alien 3 follows Ripley what must be assumed to be a relatively short period after Aliens (given that the life expectancy of the face hugging embryo layers is fairly short) when the Sulaco ejects Ripley, causing her to crash land on a penal colony planet. Ignoring the implausible events that start this installment (1. That an egg case was left aboard, and 2. Ripley manages to crash in the sole inhabited area of the planet), the plot is pretty solid from there out; the alien facehugger attaches to a dog and a new alien is created. Ripley awakens in an all male prison colony and soon after, the alien makes itself known.
So, Ripley does what she does. Why doesn't anyone like this film? It's not terribly repetitive. In fact, there's a greater difference between Alien 3 and its two predecessors than Alien was from Aliens. Does the film go too far? I think not. First, Alien 3 was created after a series of films that seriously upped the public's tolerance for action-adventure and gore. As a result, the dog-alien is in some ways much more destructive than prior aliens when it comes to eviscerating its prey. But this works well on the level of the alien creatures as well; less sophisticated than a man, a dog would conceivably breed a more instinctual and fierce alien.
Alien 3 ought to be looked at in the context of the series. It continues the arc of Ripley's character in its natural progression. If Alien is truly a film about society, Aliens is a film about family, and Alien 3 naturally strips it down to being a film about the individual. There's a natural progression thematically.
Moreover, Ripley has never been included - in Alien she was a middle working class stiff, a liaison between the command crew and the workers, in Aliens she was isolated from the Marines and officers, and in Alien 3, despite being the only female there, she finally becomes included and, indeed, a leader. The character arc of Ripley is only truly realized by her realizing the potential smothered in the first film and built in the second one.
Sigourney Weaver gives a great performance as Ripley in Alien 3, easily continuing the character despite years of separation from her prior outing as Ripley. Weaver is able to portray strong, but vulnerable in a way that she was not able to do in Alien, where she more frequently played a weird strong/weak combination. Weaver makes the film work perfectly and she plays off the new cast quite well.
Those who watch Alien 3 tend to be sore because it's a very dark film, it's an end. However, this film caps the trilogy and makes it a whole superb experience. Take a night and after dark sit down and watch all three films in a row; you'll see. The Alien trilogy has a higher consistent quality than any other Trilogy, even the original Star Wars Trilogy. The difference, this trilogy is an adult trilogy and it's dark. It also explores all of the aspects of life; Alien takes Ripley from her virginal childhood, Aliens sees her through her metaphorical troubled teens, and Alien 3 catches her in her adulthood.
Alien 3 is a surprisingly competent conclusion to every major theme in the Alien Trilogy and it does it with no small amount of panache. Ripley is tougher, Weaver's acting more honed, Charles S. Dutton is wonderful as the preaching leader of the convicts. Lance Henriksen returns to give two very different performances and he makes it work, despite some pretty heavy prosthetics for one!
A strong recommendation to see only in the widescreen form. The pan-and-scan version butchers certain essential scenes. On DVD, the film branches to present the original film and the 2003 recut. The significant difference between the two is the source of the alien. The second disc is loaded with information, much of which deals with the troubled production and problematic concept of the film. There is a decent commentary on the disc, though none of the actors (nor the director!) participate and that is disappointing.
And if you're not already a fan of the Alien trilogy? Don't start with Alien 3 - it's gory, the language in scenes is atrocious and it's dark. But more than that, this film contains surprises that hinge on the earlier two films. See Alien and Aliens first! And if you're looking to buy, why not just go for the whole Alien Quadrilogy (reviewed here!)?
For other films featuring Pete Postlethwaite, please check out:
Clash Of The Titans
Alien 3 (on its own) - 9/10
When viewed with Alien and Aliens as a supermovie - 10/10
For other movies, please check out my index page!
© 2010, 2007, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.