Sigourney Weaver as Ripley with a Xenomorph in 'Alien 3'

Anyone who knows me can tell you that I’m an unapologetic fan of Alien 3. Almost to an annoying extent. Don’t get me wrong, I love Alien and Aliens, but I have a certain strange appreciation of Alien 3.

Especially the “assembly cut” version of the film (which I’ll get into). I watch it almost every year, usually around Halloween. It’s such a dark, brutal, and punishing film. If you’re an Alien franchise fan like myself, then you probably already know about the two versions of the film that exist. There’s the original 1992 version that came out in theaters, and then there’s the “assembly cut” version that came out in the Alien Quadrilogy box set in 2003. We’ll get into the differences in a bit. For now, though, let’s first examine why people adamantly hate this movie.

Behind the Scenes of ‘Alien 3’:

David Fincher and a Xenomorph on the set of 'Alien 3'

David Fincher directed Alien 3. It was his first film before going on to make amazing films like The Game, Fight Club, Se7en, and The Social Network. He is infamously known for not wanting to talk about his experience working on Alien 3, and I don’t blame him. He had to go through a lot of studio meddling and re-working the script. 20th Century Fox spent millions of dollars and many years hiring writers and directors for the third film in the franchise. After reading up on all the other ideas they had for Alien 3, we all should actually be thankful for what we got. The studio blew through ideas of alien hybrids, a Hicks-centric film without Ripley, and the infamous “wooden planet” film. The wooden planet idea is pretty similar to the prison planet that we were given with Alien 3. The ideas in the script were even weirder though.

After everything was said and done, over 20-30 people had given their story ideas for Alien 3. The script became an amalgamated mixture of many stories and ideas. Fincher came on to direct with a script that was constantly being re-written. Even on the set. He had to film in England and send back footage to the States to be edited before he even knew what he had. He had to go back and forth many times between the U.S. and the U.K. Reshoots were happening often as well, and all on a very tight time schedule.

The studio wanted it finished for a summer release. After everything was done, Fincher was sitting on an almost 3-hour movie. He, unfortunately, had to cut out a lot, including subplots for many of the prisoner characters, as well as many practical effect shots of gore. I truly believe he did his best with the script that he was given. There are many good performances in Alien 3, and it’s my personal favorite performance of Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley.

The Expectations:

Behind the scenes of 'Alien 3'

When the film came out in 1992, fans were hugely disappointed. The marketing campaign and trailer for Alien 3 made a bold statement that “on Earth, everyone will hear you scream.” This caused audiences to think that this movie would be set on Earth. Now, there was a later trailer that released that probably swayed viewers expectations of having the film set on Earth, but the damage was already done. I was only 6 years old at the time. I had no idea of the Alien franchise whatsoever. So when I saw Alien 3 for the first time as a teenager in the late 90’s, I had no expectations at all. Ok, that may not be exactly true. I hoped that Ripley, Hicks, and Newt would all have another film together. That’s what I initially wanted. I think most of us did.

What audiences got though, is entirely different. It’s a rare case study of a sequel completely abandoning expectations to create something weird and different. Oh boy, is it weird and different. Killing off Newt and Hicks rightfully pissed off a lot of people. It’s hard to think of another sequel that begins this way and succeeds. Right out of the gate, the film jarringly sets out to be as bleak as possible. It’s not what people wanted. Especially after the action spectacle of Aliens. After the initial shock of killing off Hicks and Newt, the story starts to focus on the characters in the prison. In the original 1992 cut, we find out little information about some of the prisoners of Fiorina 161. It’s unfortunately not enough to make viewers care about them.

The smaller scope of Alien 3 also seems to throw people off. It scales back the action. A lot. It’s more of a Ripley character study, with bits and pieces of xenomorph action-violence. Some people didn’t like where the film took Ripley’s character. Especially by dealing another blow to the audience by killing Ripley off. It’s a hard film to sit through, and it doesn’t end on even remotely on a happy note, besides the xenomorph finally being destroyed. Given all the gloom and doom this film offers, there are tons of bright spots in Alien 3.

What Works (For Me):

The dog xenomorph in 'Alien 3'

It’s safe to say that the overall tone in Alien 3 is extremely bleak. It stays consistent throughout the film, and I actually admire David Fincher for pulling this off. There are moments of humor here and there, but the overall mood of the film is “well, literally everyone is totally screwed.” I can’t think of another trilogy that ends on such a dark and depressing note (maybe The Godfather). Its total brutality in nature is something that actually resonates with me every time I watch it. I enjoy the moments of total darkness.

Newt and Hicks being thrown into the incinerators is heartbreaking. Finding out that Ripley is finally impregnated by her worst fear is a bold choice. I love the utter hopelessness that surrounds the movie. Right up until the very end when Ripley sacrifices herself. She goes out on her own terms, and makes the sacrifice she’s been able to avoid until now.

The practical xenomorph in 'Alien 3'

The Alien effects in the beginning of the film are excellent. The practical ones anyway. The reveal of the alien after it kills one of the prisoners is one of the best moments in the entire franchise, and also maybe the goriest. I love it. In the assembly cut, the characters like Golic, Clemens, and Dillon get a lot more characterization. You know more about the religion that exists in this prison, and why Golic reacts the way he does. There’s also an entirely new subplot involving Golic worshiping the alien and setting it free after the prisoners capture it. It makes the film stronger, overall.

Alien 3 also changed the mythology of the xenomorph by having it burst from an animal. In the theatrical cut, it’s a dog. In the assembly cut, it comes out of an ox. It made the creature even scarier. The strange relationship between Ripley and the xenomorph is front and center in this movie. The fact that Ripley is pregnant with an alien queen also expands on the Alien mythos. The hive knows when its numbers are low. I also really enjoy how they trap the alien. Sigourney Weaver was adamant about not having guns in the movie, and I actually think that was a really cool idea. How do you kill it without any traditional weapons?

The cinematography in this film is beautiful, even when it’s filming the more disgusting aspects of the prison. The soundtrack is also my personal favorite of the Alien films. It perfectly captures the depressing and dark energy that surrounds this movie. I love the ending of Alien 3. The real Bishop (or is it?) comes to the planet and tries to get Ripley to come with him. He wants the xenomorph, and Ripley decides to end her life in order to kill the final alien living inside her. It’s a great moment, where even though she’s losing her life, she still wins.

What Doesn’t Work So Well:

The growing xenomorph and Ripley in 'Alien 3'

First and foremost, the special effects, especially towards the end of Alien 3 are terrible. Like, “God, how did this happen?” bad. It’s really unfortunate because the effects crew for this movie used a lot of models and puppets with a blue screen. I admire their use of practical effects, but they just didn’t know how to make it look good. This was made right before Jurassic Park and around the same time as Terminator 2. If it was made a year or two later, I think the alien effects would have been much stronger.

The script also has its issues. Some of the characters blend together and are just fodder for the xenomorph to run through. There is also just a ton of unnecessary profanity and odd statements in this movie. I think at one point it held the record for the most uses of “fuck” in a movie. It’s excessive and feels more like it belongs in a Quentin Tarantino movie.

The plan to trap the alien at the end of the movie can get confusing. It’s not very easy to follow. There are certain jumps in time and certain character motivations that go back and forth. Some of it just doesn’t make a lot of sense. Then there is the continued confusion of how exactly the alien egg got onto Ripley’s ship. That is something that just can’t be answered. It just needed to happen in order for this movie to exist.

You may hate it, but it’s at least bold.

I understand a lot of the hate. I really do. It defied most modern storytelling structure, especially for what was supposed to be the last film in a trilogy. It directly ruins the characters that survived Aliens. It literally butchers them. For me personally, it doesn’t ruin Aliens whenever I re-watch it. It doesn’t make Hicks and Newt irrelevant, at least to me. There’s just something about Alien 3 that makes me want to defend it. I know I’m not alone (although certainly in the minority). It’s just a rare film where I can clearly see all of its flaws, and appreciate it for what it is. A damaged, messy, and super depressing “ending” of a trilogy. Alien Resurrectionis a totally different story. That one is just bad all around.