The visual imagery and gloomy tone of Alien3, which announces the debut of gifted director David Fincher, are the two chief reasons to see the movie in the theater–unless you happen to be a fan of the series that began 13 years ago.
As the tough machisma Ripley, mega-star Sigourney Weaver provides the only continuity among the three films. The “Alien” trilogy is unique. Each film has its own distinctive style, owing perhaps to three very different directors.
The first film, “Alien” (1979), directed by Britisher Ridley Scott (“Thelma and Louise”), conformed to the conventions of a horror movie, and it is still the most terrifying of the three.
Among other reasons, the abrupt, utterly unpredictable violence mattered because the characters (played by Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm) were interesting and you cared about them.
“Aliens,” released seven years later, was a nonstop slam-bang, super-tech action-adventure, stamped by the auteurist signature of James Cameron (“Terminator”). It also featured one of the longest climaxes (the whole movie was practically a climax) and Oscar-winning special effects.
In the new movie, Ripley crash-lands on Fiorina 161, a barren, cold and hostile prison colony, populated by vicious murderers and rapists who now subscribe to a mysterious religion under the leadership of Dillon (Charles Dutton). The unwelcomed visitor can only rely on her wits to battle a terrifying new breed of alien.
The sole survivor of her crashed escape pod, Ripley is rescued from the craft by the remaining inhabitants of Fiorina 161, a group of criminals who chose to repent for their sins after the colony was officially decommissioned.
When the remaining warden Andrews (Brian Glover) announces her presence to the inmates, their spiritual leader Dillon fears that her presence will stir up trouble. As a result, Ripley is placed in the care of the prison doctor Clemens (Charles Dance), and restricted to the infirmary until a rescue ship arrives.
But, as you might have guessed, Ripley isn’t the only new visitor on Fiorina 161–an alien stowaway survived the crash as well, and it has planted its seed in a feral dog.
Soon, a new breed of alien bursts from the dog’s chest, a four-legged creature that can navigate the darkened prison corridors virtually undetected. When the inmates start to disappear, the remaining survivors must fight for their lives. The only person who knows the alien well enough is Ripley, but a horrifying discovery makes her successful fight iffy.
The confrontation between Ripley, a woman, and prisoners, provides one of the film’s highlights. All alone, with no survivors from the previous movies and no weapons, Ripley is once again pitted against the ugly, salivating monster that attacks the men in the compound.
“Alien3” is mostly noteworthy for its visual conception (the cinematography is by Alex Thomson) and art direction. The dominant images of long, dark tunnels and burning furnaces are truly ominous and in line with the film’s subtext.
Director Fincher, who makes his feature debut, comes from music videos (he did some of Madonna’s best videos), which explains, at least in part, the lack of narrative pull, storytelling know-how, character development, and pacing.
Indeed, there is too much exposition in the film’s first part and not enough contexts for the abrupt violence in the second; the bloodbath becomes random and arbitrary.
Fincher strikes me as too smart a director not to realize that the best sci-fi movies (and books) are based on ideas–good existential nightmares. “Alien3” simply lacks a good powerful story.
A grim tale with religious overtones about people at the end of their rope, “Alien3,” like other Hollywood pictures of that health-crisis era, could be read as a metaphor for AIDS (but you have to see the film for that, and I don’t want to spoil the fun).
Oscar Nominations: 1
Visual Effects: Richard Edlund, Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr., George Gibbs.
Running time: 114 Minutes.
Directed by David Fincher
Screenplay: David Glier, Walter Hill, Larry Ferguson
Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley
Charles S. Dutton as Dillon
Charles Dance Clemens
Paul McGann as Golic
Brian Glover as Andrews
Ralph Brown as Aaron