Okay, so yes, this is everybody's least favorite film in the Alien franchise, but just hear me out for a bit. I'll be the first to admit that overall, this feels like anything "but" an Alien film. Honestly, even after watching all the documentaries associated with this particular film, I still don't know what the writers and producers were thinking when they decided to go this route. What's even more shocking is that this is the film that came after the previous Alien film, James Cameron's Aliens; a huge financial and critical success. Sure, Sigourney Weaver and many a fan have publicly stated that there were just too many aliens in the last film for their taste, but man it was one helluva ride. So I can understand there desire to scale back and get down to the bare bones of the whole Alien mystique, where you have 1 single alien picking off characters one at a time, much like in the first Alien film. And you know, that concept would have worked absolutely fine, had it been done correctly, because unfortunately, it wasn't in this case. But that's not to say this is a total loss, because far from it. By choosing to hire video and commercial director David Fincher (Seven, Fight Club), Alien 3 becomes it's own individual beast. How so? For starters, nobody working today, or in the last 25 years, directs a film the way David Fincher directs a film; nobody. He's one of the few filmmakers left in the world with their own distinct style, a style he never once deviates from in all his filmography. You can look at any one of his films and say "That's a David Fincher film". How many times can you say that about a director these days? Not many.
Let's just get this out in the open, Alien 3 is a bad film.
Why is it a bad film? Because the script is just awful.
When Alien 3 was greenlit, it was under a different director, storyline and a vastly different approach to the material under Vincent Ward. Creative differences soon followed and Ward bowed out, leaving the producers and screenwriters to scramble for a replacement before deciding on David Fincher. I can only imagine the thinking was that maybe they could strike gold twice since they hired another unknown commercial director for the first film, a man by the name of Ridley Scott, and look how amazing Alien turned out. Literally, a game changer. But with Alien 3, changes needed to be made with this new vision and there was no actual finished script once filming went underway with Fincher. Literally he'd be fed pages as production went along and nobody knew how the film would even end. Frustrating as you can imagine for a first time director. And as obsessive as Fincher is over the smallest detail, tensions rose between Fincher and Fox studios, making it an utterly miserable experience.
So Alien 3 is deeply flawed, there is no doubt about that. And you can tell that Fincher was obviously limited in scope and budget, made all the more worse by not having a finished script to work with. I mean, how can you make a decent film, when you don't even know how it's going to play out? But you know what? Despite it's huge flaws, despite it's miserably slow pace and the fact that there's no real action, tension or scares, Alien 3 is a beautiful film to look at. I know, I know, we could spend hours ripping this thing apart. But you know, sometimes I just want to watch a film that looks good. And sometimes I want to watch a science fiction film that looks good, and more often than not, I pop in Alien 3.
Once you get past the awful script, the subpar effects, and the fact that it's hard to tell who the hell is who since everyone is British and bald and running around covered in muck, you start to see some of the things that make it a unique sci-fi film. Not only that, but a sci-fi film that's directed by David Fincher. And take a moment to process that little bit of info. David Fincher directed a science fiction film once. Sure, he's practically disowned this thing, not willing to participate in any sort of documentary or commentary regarding Alien 3, but his stamp is all over this thing. For starters, the visuals are classic Fincher, and stunning, made all the more impressive with Norman Reynolds gothic/industrial production design. Think Tim Burton's first Batman film and you'll know what to expect. Yes, it's that badass. The set design is just enormous. And Fincher decided to take an interesting approach to how he shot this, choosing to shoot a good 95% of the film from low angles looking up. I remember that was one of the things I noticed immediately when I saw this in the theater and it was an issue for me. I just didn't like it then. Yet I watch it now and I love it. I think it's a bold and ingenious move, one that works effectively well. So even with all of it's problems behind the scenes, Fincher produces a stunning work of visual art with Alien 3.
So you've finally decided to give Alien 3 a shot again, but which version do you choose? The 1992 Theatrical Cut or the 2003 "Workprint Version"? While neither comes close to Fincher's original vision, a cut that runs somewhere along the lines of 3 hours or so, the Workprint Version is as close as you're gonna get and for me personally, makes the film so much better overall. It's significantly longer than the theatrical Theatrical Cut, after the credits roll, we begin with Ripley being brought into the prison station apparently after being found in a crashed pod (which we don't see). So we're told after that she was in a ship that dispatched an emergency escape pod that crash lands on a prison planet. Fun right? Well in the Workprint Version we actually see the pod crash land, followed by the character of Clemens (Charles Dance) finding it as he's roaming the baron and desolate landscape. He recruits some help from the prisoners to help free her and they bring her in. Now this whole sequence plays out so much better than the original and even with some unfinished effects work, you see how awesome this looks and "could" have looked had it been completed. And that's just the tip of the iceberg folks, as Alien 3: The Workprint Version is just saturated with extra footage that further expands and fleshes out the storyline, as mediocre as it may be. So the answer is pretty simple, if you're gonna take the time to actually sit down and watch this, it needs to be the Workprint Version cut, and you see so much more of Fincher's grande scope of things.
While no masterpiece of science fiction filmmaking, and arguably the worst of the Alien franchise, it's able to hold it's head above water just enough for you to admire it's visual brilliance. Seriously, that's all you're going to take away from this, so don't try to analyze the thing to death, because it'll drive you nuts. Instead, take the time to appreciate the visual beauty of it, and ignore the shoddy effects work and lazy as hell script. And whatever you do, try not to laugh at that scene of Ripley throwing herself into the fire at the end, undoubtedly the worst effects shot in the entire film. A scene that's so crucial to the entire film, a scene meant to invoke emotion and at long last, a final resolution, only comes off as somewhat comical with a truly disastrous effects shot. I mean, it's pretty fucking terrible. So bad that you wonder if it was meant as a joke. Of course it wasn't, but how could anyone look at that shot and take it seriously?
So it's time to wrap this up. If you're going to check this thing out, make that little bit of extra effort and look for the 2003 Special Edition of this film, which includes the Theatrical Cut as well as the Workprint Version, both of which can be found in the Alien Quadrilogy DVD set as well as the Alien Anthology Blu-ray set. Not a great film, but not a terrible one either, as we're all led to believe. For a brief moment, just forget the fact that you are watching an Alien film, and try to imagine it as just another B Movie about an alien killing off prisoners on a desolate planet one by one and you'll enjoy it a whole lot more.