“We tolerate everybody. Even the intolerable.”
May 22, 1992
Let’s get this out of the way first: many things went wrong with ALIEN 3 (or ALIEN3 if you prefer). After Ridley Scott’s sci-fi-horror masterpiece in ’79 and James Cameron’s ass-kicking miracle sequel in ’86, producer/writers Walter Hill and David Giler struggled to develop a worthy followup. After numerous reworkings with a series of writers and a late-in-the-game switch of directors from New Zealand’s Vincent Ward (THE NAVIGATOR: A MEDIEVAL ODYSSEY) to MTV’s David Fincher (Madonna’s “Vogue” video, the “Would you give a cigarette to an unborn child?” American Cancer Society PSA), they finally got the ball rolling. With an unfinished script. The 27-year-old first time feature director fought for (and lost) creative control, eventually quitting during post-production, at which point the studio recut the movie without his input. Never great when that happens.
Based on what we learned from THE PLAYER, studio interference should mean they gave it an unearned happy ending that changed the whole spirit of the thing. Like when they reshot the ending of FATAL ATTRACTION, or later when they tried to make Fincher get rid of the head in the box in SEVEN. This is a different situation. What came out of that battle was a mean, dark, anti-crowdpleaser that disappointed, outraged or depressed many fans. Artistically I never thought it was the outright disaster it was initially received as – in fact, I always liked it – but I could never pretend it matched its predecessors.
30 years later – after it’s been in my life so long I can’t remember anything else – it requires no effort to drop all the baggage and admire ALIEN 3 as a singular-ish vision or, at the very least, an act of sheer audacity. Another ’92 blockbuster sequel I’ll be reviewing caused a commotion for allegedly being “too dark,” but I think this baby is still the undisputed bleakness champion of big studio sequels to mainstream hits. To illustrate how unusual the approach is, let’s imagine if the summer’s earlier part 3, LETHAL WEAPON 3, had made some of the same decisions. What if rather than bring back the whole gang, including Leo, they only brought back Riggs? Murtaugh and Leo are said to have died in between 2 and 3. We see brief glimpses of Murtaugh’s mutilated corpse. Riggs goes to the morgue to see Leo’s body, then demands to watch the autopsy. He spends the movie working with murderers and rapists, almost all of whom die, and then the triumphant ending is that he commits suicide. How about that? Do you think that would go over well?
But sharp left turns like that were the beauty of the ALIEN series. Each was from a different visionary (or soon to be visionary) director. Each sequel drastically reinvented the world and form and took big swings. I’m sure many would’ve enjoyed an ALIENS rehash with a few new twists, but it was a brief, beautiful time when the producers and even the studio agreed that this series doesn’t do that shit. Doing something very different each time is the priority.
With that mandate, and after the long and indecisive development of the script (more on that later), they settled on a story that only involved Ripley (Sigourney Weaver in her followup to GHOSTBUSTERS II). So in the opening a facehugger of unknown origin is loose on the Sulaco during cryo-sleep, causing a fire, an escape pod ejects, Ripley floats ashore with bugs all over her, but Newt and Hicks are killed and Bishop is “negative capability.” Three of the four characters we watched fight for their lives in ALIENS never made it home after all. Killed offscreen. That’s fuckin harsh. Some people never got over it.
It’s in the past, though. They did it, and you can’t change it, (just ask Neill Blomkamp). So I ask you to step outside of your personal feelings about it for a moment and at least admire the fact that some crazy motherfuckers went ahead and did that in a $60 million sci-fi sequel! How did that happen? It could never happen again. Safeguards have been put into place.
Whether or not ALIEN 3 itself was a catastrophic unexplained accident that crash landed the series, I have no problem enjoying it for what it is. Since 2003 I’ve preferred the “Assembly Cut” special edition, put together by DVD box set producer Charles de Lauzirika, based on an early cut prepared by Fincher and editor Terry Rawlings (THE SENTINEL, ALIEN, WHITE OF THE EYE) before the studio reworked it. For historical purposes I went back to the theatrical cut for this summer of ’92 retrospective, but I still liked it, maybe even more than I ever have. I consider ALIEN and ALIENS to be perfect movies. This is not that, but it’s a movie with many more strengths than weaknesses. And the strengths only grow as the weaknesses become less nagging over the years.
Ripley wakes up on Fiorina 161, which is also called “Fury” as a cool nickname kind of like “Frisco” or “Hotlanta”. The only thing here is a maximum security prison/foundry which has actually been closed, but a group of prisoners who have converted to “some sort of apocalyptic, millennial, Christian fundamentalist” sect were allowed to stay there with three chaperones to keep the machines running. They were all born with a rare double-Y chromosome condition that gives them a pre-disposition to anti-social behavior, but they seem to have figured out a way to live mostly in peace here.
As far as justice goes this is ideal – they don’t live a great life but they’re not being tormented or anything, they’re just on an entirely different planet from anybody they could hurt, or anybody they could push their religion on, for that matter. But for the movie it’s a dramatic situation – Ripley is literally the only woman on the planet, the only one they’ve seen in years, one of only a few not practicing this religion, and without a past as a violent criminal, so they openly resent her as a possible temptation and distraction. There’s something powerful about their instant anger about the presence of a woman they haven’t met, most of them haven’t even seen, but they blame her for the fear they have of what they themselves could do to her. Of course, they’ll turn out to be lucky she survived that crash. At least from the standpoint of redemption. Only one of them will survive. Spoiler.
Warden Andrews (Brian Glover, KAFKA) and the former-inmate doctor who treats Ripley, Clemens (Charles Dance, THE GOLDEN CHILD) insist Ripley needs to stay out of sight, but in a classic Ripley move (and sort of a callback to ALIENS) she defiantly walks right into the mess hall, sits down and eats with them, staring them down like “You got a fuckin problem with me?” It’s a good move because it gets the tension out of the way and I think earns her some respect.
They make her shave her head to avoid lice. It’s funny to remember (and verify in old articles) what a big deal was made about that. Weaver’s hair was already pretty short, and she doesn’t even do it on screen like Demi Moore later did in G.I. JANE. But I tell you, it was mentioned in any review, article or blurb about the movie. And reportedly Fincher suggesting it was what convinced Weaver he’d be good.
Many articles also compared the ALIENS incarnation of Ripley to Rambo. I think that’s part of why the plot ended up being what it was – Weaver did not want to be Rambo blowing swarms of aliens away, and preferred the idea of outsmarting one alien without the luxury of weapons.
Ripley’s first priority is of course to make sure that she hasn’t brought aliens/xenomorphs to another planet. She does insist on checking Newt’s body, watching the autopsy and cremating the remains. Clemens knows something is up but Ripley won’t tell him, pretends she’s worried about an outbreak of cholera. After she’s satisfied that the threat is gone she bluntly recruits Clemens for casual sex. “I’ve been out here a long time,” she explains. It’s a little shocking at first (I forgot it went down like that) but honestly, good for you, Ripley.
By the way, Pete Postlethwaite plays one of the inmates, and I want to mention that since he was also in SPLIT SECOND this summer. To be honest I haven’t really picked up on anything that distinguishes his character from the others other than having the distinct face and presence of Pete Postlethwaite, so I suppose it’s fitting that his character’s name is “David Postlethwaite.”
Obviously this is ALIEN 3 and there’s an alien out there. We saw the facehugger sneaking off the wreckage of the escape pod. So did Spike, a dog belonging to inmate/janitor Thomas Murphy (Christopher Fairbank, who I never recognized as the guy who makes Batman say “I’m Batman” in BATMAN!). Spike barked at the fucking thing, but nobody listened. And later poor Spike is its victim, attacked in a tunnel.
The inmates are kind enough to attend a ceremony for Newt and Hicks, dropping them into the foundry, and their religious leader Dillon (Charles S. Dutton, CROCODILE DUNDEE II) follows up the warden’s sermon with a very good impromptu one of his own. Maybe it’s an obvious choice, but I really like the ironic intercutting between the funeral and the baby alien bursting from Spike. The circle of life and all that.
I don’t usually give that much thought to the design changes in the aliens between sequels – it always seems like they’re just trying to update the FX technology to seem more animal-like and less like a guy in a suit. But of course the intent is that this one runs on all fours because it comes out of a dog. Well, in this cut. In the Assembly Cut it comes out of an ox.
(For a laugh, check out the DVD/blu-ray extra where they test putting a latex suit on a whippet to portray the baby alien. It sounds like such a freaky idea but the dog refuses to wear the head and under the beautifully sculpted bio-mechanical parts his movements are so clearly a dog’s that it’s more cute than scary.)
The alien grows up fast, as they do, and kills Murphy while he’s working in that tunnel. He gets thrown into a giant fan, so it’s at first assumed to be an accident. I like that Fincher, being a pioneering music video director, has a spinning fan blade with a light behind it. Russell Mulcahy must’ve been proud.
Complaints about the movie tend to center on what happens to Newt and Hicks, and not Bishop (Lance Henriksen, also in JENNIFER 8 and DELTA HEAT that year). Maybe because he does get to appear in the movie briefly, and is used in a very cool way. But his fate hurts. He’s equipment now. The prison doesn’t have any computers that could read the ship’s records, so Ripley has to go find Bishop’s head unceremoniously dumped in a giant pile of garbage. When she plugs into him it’s so fuckin sad. It’s Henriksen’s voice coming out of a distorted speaker, and it’s an animatronic head, but it’s so life-like I thought it was makeup at first.
The fact that he can operate makes you hope he could be repaired, but he’s in so much anguish he asks to be put out of his misery. “I’d rather be nothing,” he says. Devastating.
Bishop confirms that a facehugger made it to Fury, and anyway various inmates start to get killed, which is at first blamed on mentally ill Golic (Paul McGann, EMPIRE OF THE SUN) who survives an encounter and rants about seeing a dragon. Ripley tries to convince the warden of what’s going on, but whether or not he believes her is kind of moot – they have no weapons, so he thinks they just have to wait for the Weyland-Yutani ship that has been sent to pick her up. There’s a great moment where Ripley runs into the mess hall to warn everybody the alien is there and as the warden is dismissing her as a “foolish woman” the fuckin thing reaches down and yanks him right up into the ceiling, in plain sight of everybody.
Okay, so I guess we’re all on the same page now. That’s good.
Ripley convinces the inmates to work together, strategically coordinating the burning of toxic chemicals to flush the alien out of the ventilation system and trap it in a nuclear waste storage tank. I like how easily the alien defeats them by just grabbing one guy, causing an explosion to go off early and fucking up the whole plan.
The most memorable image (used in trailers and posters) is when the alien comes right up to a wincing Ripley and opens its drooly mouth next to her face. A simple image that’s an incredible combination of animatronic puppetry and acting, and the first sign of one of the movie’s twists. The alien isn’t killing her because it senses that she (somehow) has what will grow into an alien queen inside her. She can’t let it survive,or especially let the company get ahold of it for their bio-weapons division, so she makes a deal for Dillon to kill her after helping him slay the “dragon.”
The second plan is so cool: luring the thing through the tunnels, shutting a series of doors on it, eventually drowning it in the molten lead of the foundry, and when that doesn’t work the improvised solution of setting the sprinklers off so the cold water on hot skin makes him crack and explode. Beautiful. What always bothered me about this movie, but that I’ve mostly gotten over, is that the way they composited the alien into any scene where he runs simply looks artificial, which was never the case for the suits and puppets in the previous movies. Here the suits and animatronics by Tom Woodruff, Jr. and Alec Gillis look absolutely perfect, but it’s hard to think of them as the same creature we’re seeing run around. I used to think it was early computer animation, but what they actually did is much cooler: it’s an elaborate rod puppet being controlled by multiple puppeteers in front of a blue screen and composited into the footage of the tunnels.
One thing I never thought about enough to give it credit for is introducing a new type of action to the series. Even the action-packed ALIENS is mostly about the things popping up by surprise and getting sprayed or torched at close range. This one uses the scurrying alien puppetry with numerous EVIL DEAD style POV shots – zipping through the tunnels, running up the walls and on the ceilings – to create a high speed chase.
I could be forgetting something but I think this is the only movie I’ve seen where the thrilling climax is a race to commit suicide in time. The chestburst is gonna kill her anyway but she’s gotta jump into that hot lead before the Queen comes out and would potentially hatch more xenomorphs or, worse, be captured by the Weyland-Yutani motherfuckers, who have arrived and offered to surgically remove her. It’s convenient but so fucking cool that Ripley just barely makes it, the baby busting out as she plummets. (That was a studio change, and though the original shot looks more beautiful I think I prefer the scene with that last exclamation point. And I like how it kind of looks like she’s cuddling it but I think she’s choking it so the lead can kill it without the sprinkler trick.)
For most of the movie the criminal past of the Fury inhabitants is more of a thematic element than a narrative one. The exception is when Ripley goes to find the remains of Bishop and gets jumped by a bunch of them, presumably to be gang raped. The rock ’n roll guitars in that scene are my only issue with a strong score by Elliot Goldenthal (DRUGSTORE COWBOY, PET SEMATARY).
Dillon appears out of nowhere and fights them off. Earlier, when Ripley thanked him for the sermon at the funeral, he said, “Yeah, well you don’t want to know me, lady. I’m a murderer and rapist of women.” In movies the latter is harder to forgive than the former, so that cloud remains hanging over a character who otherwise seems like one of the fiercely righteous men Dutton was known for playing on Roc and in MENACE II SOCIETY, GET ON THE BUS, etc. So Dillon is a symbol for the possibility of change, and Dutton is powerful casting for that because he really did time (“three years for killing a black man and eight for punching a white man”) and found a new life while in prison. In his case it wasn’t religion but reading about Black playwrights and radical movements that changed him. Maybe that’s why his sect here ends their prayers by putting a fist in the air.
My point is that this is a movie that has Ellen Ripley and Charles S. Dutton collaborating on a rousing speech to lead the troops into the last act. So it’s a good movie.
There’s one thing I was always wrong about, but I still prefer my interpretation. Just as Ripley and friends are succeeding in their plan, a character played by Henriksen shows up with a crew of Weyland-Yutani employees to try to convince Ripley to let them surgically remove the Queen, claiming they’ll destroy it and save her. Ripley assumes he’s an android from the same line as Bishop, but he says he’s actually the designer of Bishop.
He ends up getting bashed over the head and when he stands back up his left ear is dangling bizarrely from the wrong part of his head. Though he has red and not white blood, I always took this resistance to strange battle damage to be confirmation of my suspicion that he’s lying about being human.
He’s also credited with the robot-like name Bishop II. But over the years I found that many people didn’t take it that way, and according to various references he was human in the script and in some official ALIEN-universe literature.
One reason I wish he was an android is because I’ve always hated the cliche of “the same actor who plays the robot plays the creator of the robot.” What kind of an asshole would do that? Admittedly, in recent years I’ve realized that the first androids like this might be funded by some billionaire and yes, I do believe that Elon Musk would make an android of himself. Still, we don’t have to do that in fiction. We can be better than them.
Whatever Bishop II is (he’s a robot), as a representative of the Company he brings a different type of evil into the movie. Maybe some day he’ll cordon himself off on a barren planet somewhere and try to make amends, but until then he’s more of a danger than the inmates here. Whether or not we in our personal lives can forgive a person with a violent past like that, we can at least believe this in the operatic/poetic terms of sci-fi. Here on a perhaps literally godforsaken planet, the absolute scum of the galaxy – not just fun scoundrels, but actual terrible people – stop a space corporation’s plans to obtain the Queen for military applications, a project that would cause mass death even if everything went as planned. Their actions prevent death and suffering all across the universe. That’s inspiring. It’s never too late to do something good.
Since we have no idea how she got a baby Queen in her, I guess there’s an element of immaculate conception here, but Ripley’s death is obviously in a Christ-like pose. Just Christian stuff flying around willy nilly in this story. I think it’s earned, though, because it really is more of a “dying for our sins” situation than most stories that use that type of imagery.
When blockbuster season came around, Weaver understood what kind of movie they’d made. “People coming from the trailer expecting to see TERMINATOR 2 are going to be very disappointed,” she told Entertainment Weekly for their Summer Movie Preview, because “It’s not ALIENS, it’s not DIE HARD 2. It’s a sort of intellectual, existential action drama.” The write-up mentions that they fight the alien without weapons, but some of the reviews didn’t seem to notice that, describing it as just a rehash.
The Washington Post’s critics Desson Howe and Hal Hinson both wrote snidely dismissive reviews that start with a reference to “In space no one can hear you scream,” give story-provider Ward more credit than director Fincher, and mention Ripley’s quickie with Clemons (Howe calling it “oddly appealing,” Hinson “entirely pointless”). Howe does note the lack of weapons, but Hinson concludes that Ripley has become “just another girl with a gun.” What are you talking about, dude? She hasn’t touched one since LV 426, light years away.
But for a little bit in the middle Howe’s review seems to get it. “Ironically,” he writes, “ALIEN  is not a bad movie. In fact — here’s the rub — it’s too interesting to make an exciting summer flick.”
Brian Lowry in Variety just thought it was too depressing, predicting a future where “word-of-mouth and the dour tone pull ALIEN 3 down to earth” and calling it “a muddled effort that offers little more than visual splendor to recommend it.” Indeed, as is the case with all of Fincher’s films, the look is impeccable. Director of photography Alex Thomson’s credits include such visually-oriented films as THE KEEP, YEAR OF THE DRAGON, LEGEND and LABYRINTH. And also DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN and RAW DEAL. (The credits thank BLADE RUNNER cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth, who shot for two weeks but had to suddenly retire due to Parkinson’s disease.) Fincher was also blessed with Norman Reynolds, the production designer of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, RETURN OF THE JEDI and RETURN TO OZ.
But Lowry seems to argue that even that visual splendor is too dark for normal people:
“…the production design proves so relentlessly bleak that there’s no relief from the film’s oppressiveness, even when there are lapses in the tension. While the look is an accomplishment, this isn’t the sort of environment that tag-along filmgoers–or even those who bring them–will relish visiting.”
As was Fincher’s intention! A Premiere set visit described the director “fighting to keep the film bleak” and quoted him saying, “I’m not making this movie for 50 million people. I’m making it for 8 people, my friends, people who know the cameras and lighting.”
An unusual thing that set people up for disappointment was an early teaser trailer made, one would hope, before the story was finalized, because it promised that the aliens would come to Earth.
In my research I came across something called the “Awful Movie Wiki” (which is indeed an awful movie wiki) and it complains of “false advertising” because of this trailer. I never understood the big deal about the concept. It was 187 years into the future – what difference would it make to say it’s Earth or some colonized planet? But some people were excited by the idea and couldn’t let go of it.
I have a 1997 magazine called Cinescape Presents Movie Aliens which includes a 7-page article by Douglas Perry that goes into detail about the development of ALIEN 3. As the article puts it, they started working on it while ALIENS was still in theaters, planning for an Easter 1990 release, but the production “eventually would consume three directors, eight screenwriters and a phalanx of scripts and studio execs before it finally debuted two years late.” Of the story ideas mentioned, the only one matching the teaser is about “the aliens invading Earth, where they fuse into a giant, multi-talented monster that destroys New York City.”
Hmm. I mean, I’d like to see that, but it sounds much stupider than what they ended up making.
Another took place “in a BLADE RUNNER-esque off-world metropolis.” But the one they spent the most time on was “a Company-run space station/shopping mall” called Anchorpoint. In a plan that seems ahead of its time, Hill and Giler plotted a two-part movie to be filmed concurrently. It was a Cold War allegory with evil Weyland-Yutani battling socialist Earth-expatriates, and both sides seeking to weaponize the xenomorphs. Part 3 would’ve starred Hicks with Ripley in a cameo (Weaver approved) and part 4 would’ve centered on Ripley battling the manufactured xenomorphs.
While struggling to find a director (Ridley Scott was too busy) they hired novelist William Gibson (JOHNNY MNEMONIC) to write part 3. Giler says Gibson’s script (which was written quickly to beat a WGA strike) was better constructed than they expected, but stuck too close to their treatment when they were hoping “he’d open up the story” with “many good ideas we could use.”
ELM STREET 4 hotshot Renny Harlin was hired as director, Gibson left, and on came Eric Red (THE HITCHER). According to the Alien Anthology wiki, Red’s script followed a hero named Sam Smith who in the opening scene finds the Sulaco with Hicks, Newt, Bishop and Ripley already dead. Nobody liked the script, Harlin left to do DIE HARD 2, and Giler and Hill hired David Twohy (years before PITCH BLACK, and even before WARLOCK, when he was the CRITTERS 2 guy) to rewrite Gibson’s part 1 of 2 to stand alone. He removed the Cold War themes (which were becoming dated) and moved it to a penal colony. Only when he was done did they decide he needed to rework it to be about Ripley.
Then Hill saw THE NAVIGATOR and decided to meet with its director Vincent Ward, who came up with a new story during his flight to L.A. He wanted Ripley to “land in a community of monks in outer space and not be accepted by them” and, most interestingly, wanted to set it “on a wooden space station that would look like something Hieronymous Bosch might imagine, complete with glass-blowing furnaces and windmills—and no weapons.”
That might’ve made for an even weirder summer! John Fasano (ANOTHER 48 HRS.) wrote it up as ALIEN 4 but then they ditched Twohy’s ALIEN 3. Hill and Giler rewrote the space monk thing but couldn’t get around “the sheer ludicrousness of the wooden space station,” so they brought in Larry Ferguson (HIGHLANDER, BEVERLY HILLS COP II), who is credited with them on the final movie, though they didn’t use him for long. Then Ward left so they made his wooden space station monks into zealots on Twohy’s prison planet and hired Fincher.
Fincher was a talented visualist with a visual effects background, having worked for ILM at the age of 19 (including on TWICE UPON A TIME, RETURN OF THE JEDI and INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM). Then he co-founded Propaganda Films, and directed many music videos and commercials.
It’s not surprising that critics didn’t take him seriously. Being the director of Paula Abdul videos and Nike commercials was more appealing to studio executives than civilians. A few years ago while promoting MANK, Fincher remembered the ALIEN 3 gig as “a hired gun to make a library title for a multinational, vertically integrated media conglomerate.” I think they were looking for a puppet and accidentally got an auteur who already exhibited the meticulous perfectionism he’s still infamous for, reportedly requiring dozens of takes to get all that lighting so perfect. Premiere quoted Fincher saying, “This movie isn’t made for people who see a movie one time, it’s a movie for people who’re going to see it five times,” to which Fox executive Michael London comments:
“That’s where a lot of the friction comes. David wants it to be perfect every second.” He quickly adds, “Which is what he’s paid to do.” It comes out only a tiny bit grudging.
The rookie director was frustrated that the higher-ups didn’t care about quality as much as he did. He told The Independent at the time that he was told, “Look, you could have somebody piss against the wall for two hours and call it ALIEN 3 and it would still do 30 million dollars.” And yet they wouldn’t let him do everything he wanted, so I guess they considered what he wanted less commercial than the two hours of wall-pissing idea.
A major blow-up happened when Fincher hired writer Rex Pickett (who later wrote the book that SIDEWAYS is based on) to incorporate some new ideas into the script. Hill and Giler were infuriated to see Pickett criticize their draft in a memo, so they threw his out but abandoned the production, leaving Fincher to fight the executives alone. They still called in long-distance to belittle him as a “shoe salesman” and fight for their ideas, such as changing the ending. To the studio’s credit, they felt that both viewpoints made sense but that they should default to the director.
But after Fincher went overschedule, executive Jon Landau (now James Cameron’s producer) showed up like an expedited Weyland-Yutani medivac team and, according to Weaver, “Came over with instructions to cut this, slash that… it was very contemptuous of the effort we were putting in.”
Fincher didn’t buckle, so Landau pulled the plug on the whole shoot, and Fincher and Rawlings had to go back to L.A. and beg the executives to let them shoot just some of the stuff they felt they needed to make sense out of the thing.
But once it came together it sounds like everybody besides Fincher was pretty happy with ALIEN 3. At least until they released it.
Though considered a disappointment in North America, ALIEN 3 was hardly a flop. Here it opened at #2 below LETHAL WEAPON 3, but it hung around for a while, and it did better overseas. In October ’92, Fox claimed in a Variety ad that it had become the biggest of the franchise with $175 million worldwide, seen by something closer to the 50 million people Fincher didn’t make it for than the 8 he did.
It’s still a controversial sequel, but Fincher’s later acclaim seemed to cause some people to reassess it, and its reputation especially improved when the Assembly Cut was plucked out of the garbage and brought back to life like Bishop. In preparing this review I was excited enough after the theatrical cut that I watched the other one again too. Maybe the most noticeable change if you haven’t seen the old version in a while is the alien coming out of the ox – I could go either way on that one (and I’ve read that changing it to the dog was Fincher’s idea, not something forced on him). But I love the longer (and gorier) recovery of the escape pod (towed by a team of oxen), and I think the many little added moments with the inmates (like Dillon chewing them out about “disharmony”) flesh out the characters and the dynamics of Fury. Golic is especially expanded on, seeing the “dragon” as a manifestation of their religious beliefs, calling it “magnificent” when it splatters Clemons in front of him. The biggest change is that the first plan actually succeeds in trapping the alien, but Golic lets it out (resulting in his immediate death). This religious reverence for monsters reminds me a little bit of Clive Barker, but it make so much sense. If you saw a thing that looked like that, you’d have some kind of awe mixed in with your fear, right? Maybe I can relate as someone who sees a summer movie this disinterested in pleasing a crowd and says “Magnificent.”
Which ever version you watch, I really think ALIEN 3 is some kind of Weird Summer miracle, an edition-of-one blockbuster birthed in chaos and imbued with an ability to evolve over time. ALIENS ended in triumph and relief, but ALIEN 3 begins in catastrophe, knocking Ripley to rock bottom, as life can do. She’s lost everything – her new family are all dead, and she plummets to a dangerous Hell where she’s not welcome. She finds temporary comfort in Clemons, but when she realizes she’s terminally infected she almost gives up. She tries to die, and can’t yet, so instead she sets out to do the only thing that’s important to her. In the process she sways the others to her way of thinking and leads them to find their purpose.
That’s the trajectory of Ripley, but it’s also sort of the trajectory of David Fincher as a director, and of ALIEN 3 as a sequel. Something magnificent crawling out of the slime in Vent Shaft 17. “For within each seed, there is a promise of a flower. And within each death, no matter how small, there’s always a new life. A new beginning.”
The novelization was by Alan Dean Foster, who had done the same for ALIEN and ALIENS (not to mention STAR WARS). His is apparently closer to the Assembly Cut, but he was frustrated that they wouldn’t let him make his own changes (he wanted Newt to survive) so he turned down writing one for ALIEN RESURRECTION. (He did return for ALIEN: COVENANT and a prequel called ALIEN: COVENANT – ORIGINS.)
Dark Horse Comics published a three-issue comic book adaptation, which includes the Assembly Cut scenes where they succeed in capturing the xenomorph but Golic lets it out.
Many years later, legends of William Gibson’s script led to three adaptations. His second draft was adapted into a comic book mini-series by Dark Horse Comics in 2018 and an audio drama by Audible in 2019 (with Biehn and Henriksen reprising their roles). In 2021 Gibson’s more action packed first draft became a novel by Pat Cadigan. That’s kind of a cool idea to do novelizations of these legendary unmade movie projects.
When I originally posted this review, I wrote that a cartoon series called Operation: Aliens was intended to follow the release of the movie in the Fall, but was cancelled – which I got from this still interesting but apparently misinformed article. This other one from AVP Galaxy corrects the record saying that Kenner had pitched such a cartoon to Fox Kids, but they were concerned about what broadcast standards would allow and 20th Century Fox themselves were not interested in kiddy-fying the ALIEN series. Of course, Kenner went ahead with the action figures, and the screengrabs that the older article identifies as a promo reel for the show are confirmed to be animation produced but never used for a commercial. (Thanks to my buddy and ALIEN toy expert Frank S. for correcting me on this.)
So I guess the only relation between ALIEN 3 and this merchandise is its lack of relation – they were off making these toys and didn’t attempt to relate them to the current movie in theaters, either through characters, or Ripley being bald, or even the title – the toys were just labelled Aliens and featured a colorfully dressed and more traditionally feminine Ripley joining the Colonial Marines. They did use the idea that different types of xenomorphs could come out of different animals – there was a “Bull Alien,” for example. But Frank sent me a Ridley Scott quote about what would happen if a xenomorph implanted in a dog, and I think they also had xeno-animals in the Alien vs. Predator comic books before ALIEN 3.
The name Operation: Aliens did end up on some random things like a boardgame, t-shirts, posters and the above action figure carrying case I found listed on ebay.
There was an ALIEN 3 video game released on multiple systems, not really based on the movie but just involving ALIENS type action. There was also an arcade game called Alien 3: The Gun which I believe I have played and in my opinion it was not entirely faithful to the spirit of the source material. (Pretty cool though.)
Finally there was a separate ALIEN 3 game for the Nintendo Gameboy. I like researching these because the pixel art is so adorable. The funny thing about the Gameboy game is that it does kind of follow the plot of the movie (except with many aliens to kill) and then it gives it a happy ending! I’m not sure if it’s the one Giler & Hill wanted, but THE PLAYER would be proud.