Alien 3 Assembly Cut

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Note: Part of the 'Alien Anthology' Blu-Ray box set.Before he became the critically acclaimedfilmmaker that we know today, David Fincher was a music video director but allthat changed when he was brought onboard to helm his first big budget feature,the highly anticipated “Alien 3,” released in 1992, six years after James Cameron’sfollow-up masterpiece. Unfortunately, many fans view this as the dark horse ofthe franchise and it received mixed reviews from critics, who called the storydisjointed and an incoherent mess but few knew of the troubled production thatplagued the film. To be honest, I always found “Alien 3” to be highlyunderrated and it was the film that introduced me to the franchise. I’ll admitthe theatrical version had major flaws as it suffered from poor editing and amisleading marketing campaign but there was a good film buried in there andwith the extended ‘Assembly Cut,’ this is as close to Fincher’s vision as we’regoing to get. “Alien 3” jettisons the action style of the previous film andreturns to the more slow-paced horror of the original.

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The dark, gothic styleis unique and Sigourney Weaver is as excellent as ever but it can’t quite getthe pacing right and the supporting characters aren’t very memorable. This is agood film but not a good sequel. After escaping the infested colony ofLV-426, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and the remaining survivors return toEarth on the Sulaco while inhyper-sleep. Unfortunately, a fire breaks out which causes the ship’s computerto automatically jettison an escape pod containing the survivors.

Unbeknownstto them, a facehugger has also stowed onboard and attaches itself to one of thesurvivors. The escape pod crash-lands on Fiorina 'Fury' 161, a foundry andpenal colony whose prisoners consist of all males with double-Y chromosomes andcommitted heinous crimes which include rape and child molestation. Ripley isbrought to the infirmary by the facility’s doctor, Jonathan Clemens (CharlesDance) and upon awakening, learns that both Newt and Corporal Hicks has died inthe crash. They are both cremated while the de facto religious leader of theprisoners, Leonard Dillon (Charles S. Dutton) gives an impassioned sermon.Meanwhile, another facehugger has seemingly attached itself to an ox and itschest bursts open to reveal an Alien. While Ripley waits to be rescued by Weyland-Yutani,Superintendent Harold Andrews (Brian Glover) orders that she is to be escortedat all times and kept out of sight so as to not agitate the prisoners, many ofwhom have not had any female contact for a long time. When a few prisonersbegin to turn up dead, Ripley discovers that another Alien is now running amokand makes the most shocking discovery—she is carrying the embryo of an AlienQueen.

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You can’t review “Alien 3” without takinga look at its troubled production and it’s a classic example of how studiointerference ruins a potentially good film. The original intent was to createtwo more sequels and series producers David Giler and Walter Hill settled onthe idea of making a two-part film with Ripley having a cameo in the first andreturning for the second. The early scripts by William Gibson and Eric Redfocused on this idea but 20th Century Fox president Joe Roth disliked it,remarking that Ripley was the centerpiece of the franchise and offered Weaver a$5 million salary to return plus a share of the box office receipts. DavidTwothy and Vincent Ward also contributed scripts and eventually, Giler and Hillwere forced to meld certain aspects of both treatments for the final film asthey were short on time. At this point Fincher was hired and forced to shootwithout an actual finished script. He had an agonizing experience as the studioconstantly interfered and issued changes. Fox basically screwed him into makinga less-than stellar film.

When it was actually finished, Fincher quit and disowned“Alien 3” before editing began and Fox pretty much mucked it up and released amess of a film. There were glimmers of brilliance but it wasn’t until the 2003DVD box-set that we viewed a close approximation of Fincher’s original visionwith the Assembly Cut, which differed in several areas and was thirty minuteslonger. He declined to record his audio commentary and revealed that the onlyway to show HIS vision was to basically remake the film. As it stands, the Assembly Cut issurprisingly coherent and featured many stylistic choices that would become atrademark for Fincher’s future films, particularly “Se7en” and “Fight Club.”Many decried its ‘depressing’ tone but I find it hauntingly beautiful as theprison facility is often shot with a lurid color palette that creates a senseof unease in the viewer. There’s a strong religious subtext to the film. Dillonand the other prisoners have committed terrible crimes and have embraced anapocalyptic, millenarian version of Christianity.

They hope to be forgiven fortheir sins and ascend into Heaven upon death. Virtually abandoned by thecompany, faith of a better afterlife is all they can hope for. Ripley herselfalso becomes a sort of Christ-like figure, facing one more trial against theAlien and finally sacrificing herself by falling into the furnace, armsstretched in the shape of a cross. I wished they kept the theatrical ending,which I feel was stronger.

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However, the extended cut still suffers from someproblems, namely that it’s pacing can feel lethargic at times and this can beattributed to its weak characters, with the exception of Dillon. None of themcome off as either memorable or likable and I agree—they all look the same withtheir shaved heads. There are also some lapses in logic, chief among them beinghow an Alien egg managed to make it onboard the Sulaco and the fact that a penal colony lacks any kind ofconventional weapons. Why the prisoners don’t overrun the meager custodialstaff is beyond me. “Alien 3” is a flawed gem but I feel it’s still a worthyconclusion to Ripley’ journey. The acting is a bit of a mixed bag butSigourney Weaver is as flawless as ever, her character weary after all that shehas gone through and there’s a sense of relief, peace even, during the ending.At one point she thinks aloud about her relationship to the Aliens: ‘You'vebeen in my life so long, I can't remember anything else.’ Most of the prisoncharacters are paper-thin but Charles S.

Dutton impressed me as Dillon andthere’s a harsh yet sincere conviction whenever he speaks. Clemens, played byCharles Dance, is the prison’s medical officer and develops a romance with her,though beyond a one-night stand, not much is done with it story-wise andeventually it’s dropped half-way. The other characters don’t make much of animpression and while I recognize Pete Postlethwaite among them, it’s hard todifferentiate everyone with their shaved heads. Lance Henriksen also shows upfor an extended cameo. “Alien 3” was released over MemorialWeekend on May 22, 1992 and reception is mixed, with 40% on Rotten Tomatoes.Critics weren’t enamored with its grim tone and found the story a total mess,and those who gave it a positive review also found it inferior to what camebefore. The Assembly Cut alleviates many of the plot issues but it’s notperfect and will never be given the trouble Fincher had to deal with. Theproduction budget was high with $50 million, much of it wasted on unused setsand it barely covered at the domestic box office with $55 million, though itmade up for it overseas for a total of $160 million.

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For his directorial debut,Fincher did the best he could with what he was given and “Alien 3” is not asbad as most people say it is. An underrated film and a fitting conclusion forEllen Ripley, but Fox couldn’t leave well enough alone and made “AlienResurrection,” though that’s a story for another day.

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