Alien3: David Fincher’s Feature Debut

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 film 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 (l979), directed by Britisher Ridley Scott, conformed to the conventions of a horror movie and is the most terrifying of the three. The utterly unpredictable violence mattered because the characters (played by Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm) were interesting; you cared about them.

Aliens, released 7 years later, was a nonstop slam-bang, super-tech action-adventure, stamped by the auteurist signature of James Cameron (Terminator 2). 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 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 confrontation between Ripley, a woman, and prisoners, is one of the film’s few 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 David 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 context for the violence in the second; it is too random. Fincher fails to realize that the best sci-fi movies (and of course 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 could be read as a metaphor for AIDS. It is impossible to be more explicit without giving away the plot.