Finding Fincher

After the disastrous production of Alien 3, director David Fincher distanced himself from the film before outright condemning it and removing it from his official filmography. He then went on to build his reputation on films such as Seven and Fight Club, and the subject of Alien 3 has been nigh-on taboo ever since. For the Alien Quadrilogy boxset, DVD producer Charles de Lauzirika (who would later craft the Alien Anthology and Prometheus releases) tried to convince Fincher to participate in a new cut of Alien 3. Fincher seemed to consider the idea, before refusing. Charles was left to piece together an assembly cut of Alien 3 using Fincher’s old notes and memos from the shoot. Here, originally from The Digital Bits’ coverage of the Quadrilogy, are de Lauzirika’s attempts to contact Fincher and assemble the new cut.

“Obviously, the big person who’s MIA [from the Quadrilogy] is David Fincher. That pains me, because the whole reason I took on this project was to put his work in its best light, and to try to salvage as much as I could from the wreckage that the film ended up being. That said, I don’t feel like it’s for me to single-handedly rescue this film – not that I could, even though I wanted to. That’s not what I’m going to do. But as a fan of Fincher and his work, I felt like I wanted to really try to show what his original vision was for this film – to show people what he wanted to do, and to preserve that for all time. But, without Fincher involved, that’s not necessarily going to happen. We’re going to show you what he was working on, and show you some of the alternate ideas he was working on. We’re going to show you the footage he shot and later abandoned – you’re gonna see all that stuff. But it’s not going to have that extra level of authorship that it would’ve had, if Fincher been a part of this project. There are very few directors out there who do commentary better than David Fincher. As a fan, I would just love to have him do a commentary for this, as much as I know he would’ve hated to do it. This, of all of his films, is the one that most needs his voice in terms of what went wrong… and what went right, perhaps. I know the overwhelming majority of his thoughts will be negative, but that’s interesting. It’s a cautionary tale for young filmmakers out there. People, who want to follow in Fincher’s footsteps, want to know why his first feature film went wrong. It would be fantastic to see what he had to say about that.

We’ve gotten people to talk about it [Alien 3] in the new interviews we’ve done, but I’m not sure we’ve gotten one hundred percent honesty from everyone. Again, it was an incredibly difficult project. Most people either don’t want to talk about it, or they want to forget about it, or they have forgotten about it, or they want to whitewash the whole thing. We’ve only had a couple of interviews that I would really consider brutally honest. But my final cut of the documentary, which did go into some interesting detail and was initially approved by Fox, eventually scared the hell out of some Fox executives and lawyers. So they went and made several cuts without my participation, most of which made absolutely no sense to anyone working on the disc. I’ve actually taken my name off of the documentary because of it. I’ve disowned it and it’s truly a shame because the primary reason I signed on for this project was to create an in-depth documentary on Alien 3. So for those people who are expecting this DVD to really be the tell-all – all the dirt you’ve always wanted to hear about Alien 3, it’s not going to be that. It’s not going to be Hearts of Darkness for Alien 3. But it was that … before, much like the film itself, studio politics ruined it. I wrote a very long letter to Fincher, explaining exactly what I wanted to do and why I wanted to do it. I was very passionate about it. I basically said, ‘I’ll do anything, just please be a part of this.’ I’ve never actually spoken with him directly, but I was told by his people that my letter at least got him to consider it, and they said they’d entertain the idea. So that’s when we really dug in and started looking for material. Eventually, we found this long lost, one hundred and fifty minute cut of the film. So we sent it over to his office.

The thing you have to understand is, Fincher was circling around three different projects for his next film at the time. Of the four directors, he’s probably the closest to actually going into production on something, so his schedule is tight. Plus, it was a very negative experience for him. This film was hell for him. So to come back and talk about it must be painful. If you look at his filmography on the Panic Room DVD, Alien 3 isn’t even on there, so he’s obviously disowned the project. All these things kind of combined into a very polite reply from his office: ‘No, he won’t participate, but good luck. You’re free to do whatever you want, you just can’t call it a director’s cut.’

I’d like to think my letter had some effect, but frankly, it may just be that he didn’t care. But I wanted him to know that even if he didn’t care, I would care. I would try to do the best I could – to put his work in the best light I could. Now, I don’t know that we’ve done that. I think that what we have done is to capture a snapshot of the film in the state it was in before it really got interfered with in post production – before it got taken out of Fincher’s hands. I don’t know if it’s an actual quote, but I seem to remember at one point hearing Fincher say something to the effect that, ‘The only way to do a director’s cut of Alien 3 is to burn the negative and start over.’ I know he mentioned once that, during the L.A. riots in ’92, when some of the fires and vandalism was getting pretty close to one of the labs where the negative for Alien 3 was stored, he kept hoping that it would get burned to the ground. What you’re seeing [in the assembly cut] is a reconstruction of the direction the film was going. After this point, it started getting cut down and cut down, and then there were re-shoots. So this is the first cut of the film after development hell and after production hell, but before post production hell. As such, it’s a very unusual piece of work. When you see this cut, you’ll really understand how Alien 3 ended up the way it did, because the film was literally being rewritten as they were shooting. And it shows. The film really feels cobbled together. It doesn’t make for a very entertaining experience, but it’s fascinating, if you’re a fan of the film, to be able to see how it got so badly screwed up.

Among the things we dug up early on were various drafts of the script, the shooting script and what’s called the lined script, which what the script supervisor actually had on set and was using to make notes about which takes were going to be used. We also found some alternate cuts of certain sequences that were in these boxes, to use as reference to see how things had evolved and where they had come from. We went through all the storyboards, all the call sheets we could find. Basically, we took advantage of anything we could use to get a sense of how things were coming together and what the plan was for the way things would be put together.

That said, we really had to be careful, because we’re not the filmmakers. The one thing I was always adamant about was that we’re not in the business of revisionism. We’re not going to make a cut that we think is a better cut. We’re not going to tinker and play and have fun with someone else’s movie. All we’re going to do is to take it as close as we can to what we’ve ascertained, via all the documents we have and the research we’ve done, is the original vision of Alien 3 before all the interference occurred in post. I don’t know if we’re a hundred percent in line with that, but it’s not because we didn’t try. It’s because we didn’t have Fincher’s guidance, or we don’t have the materials to do it more accurately. That’s been particularly an issue with the effects shots that were abandoned back in the day before they could be finished.

The first big sequence involves Ripley crashing on Fiorina in the EEV. Clemens finds the EEV floating off-shore, and Ripley’s washed up on the beach. That’s a sequence that was alluded to in the early trailers for the film, which show Clemens walking around on the surface. You get to see him carrying Ripley into the facility. All that is the first big chunk. Then there are a couple of subplots that were pretty much gutted from the theatrical version, the biggest one involving the prisoner Golic. He basically ends up worshiping the Alien, calling it ‘The Dragon.’ He’s a very simple-minded person, who starts killing his fellow prisoners so he can get closer to the Alien.

I get the sense that this is the stuff Fincher was really interested in, because there’s a difference in the direction and the direction of the performance. It’s much different than just seeing a guy in a monster suit chasing a bunch of bald guys around in the dark, you know? It’s not typical of what you’d normally expect to see in a film like this. It would be the equivalent of watching Alien, and following Brett around for a day – it’s an interesting little off-shoot, but the rest of the story doesn’t rely on its inclusion.

There are also some more moments of Clemens and his relationship with Ripley. Then there’s an extended action sequence that was heavily abridged in the theatrical version, in which Ripley comes up with a plan to scare the Alien into a toxic waste dump. In the final version of the film, they try to do this, but they fail and the place blows up. Several of the prisoners end up getting killed, and the Alien gets away. In this version, they actually capture the Alien. For all intents and purposes, the Alien is defeated and the prisoners go on about their business waiting for the transport to arrive and take Ripley away. Then, re-entering the story is Golic, who escapes and frees the Alien, which leads to a whole set of other problems. It’s mostly Golic’s story that’s being restored. The character was played by Paul McGann. He must have been crushed when he saw the final version of the film. He had such an interesting role. He was still in the final cut, but like ninety percent of his work was cut.

The ox caravan that carries the EEV off the beach and into the facility – originally, one of the oxen was impregnated by a ‘super facehugger’, which is also a creature you don’t see in the theatrical cut. A super facehugger is basically a normal face hugger, but with extra armor, because it’s carrying the seed for a queen Alien. It’s only been seen in a few photos. I think Cinefex magazine had some shots of it. You only see it in a long shot in the new cut, but it’s there. That leads to the funeral scene for Hicks and Newt. In the final cut, it’s basically a montage between the funeral and the dog giving birth to a ‘dog burster’. In this cut, we cut to this dead ox instead of the dog, and what Fincher nicknamed a ‘Bambi burster’ emerges. It’s basically the same idea, just with a different animal. And it really doesn’t make much sense when you think about it, because the ox is dead, so how is the alien gestating in the body of a dead animal? That’s probably one of the reasons why it was cut. Also, there are more dog lovers out there than ox lovers, so seeing the dog go  through this pain instead is more emotionally powerful.

My editor, David Crowther, had just finished his rough cut restoration of the special edition version of Alien 3, and we were planning to have a private screening of the cut that evening – myself, David and a few other people from the office. Given that it’s a two and a half hour cut, we figured we should get dinner. Most of the guys wanted pizza, but I wanted a burrito, so I drove over to this Mexican place near our office called Poquito Mas.

So I’m standing there in line, ordering my ahi burrito, when out of the corner of my eye, I see something that sets off alarms in the back of my head. I look over, and there’s David Fincher, sitting there with someone else eating his dinner. Immediately, I seized up like I’d just seen Jesus. And I’m thinking, what do I do? Do I interrupt him? Do I introduce myself? Do I invite him to check out the screening of the film with us?

I immediately call back to the office on my cell phone, and I’m telling the guys, ‘Fincher’s here at Poquito Mas! What do I do?’ In those moments, for some reason, I totally geek out. Do I dare talk to him about this film he obviously hates so much? Of course, the guys all said, ‘You’ve got to get him. You’ve got to go talk with him.’ Naturally, as I get off the phone and I’m about to do just that… Fincher gets in his car drives off.

I didn’t really feel bad about missing the opportunity, because he seemed to be having a pretty intense discussion. It didn’t seem like he was in a very approachable mood. And I figured, what could be worse than going up to him when he’s in a bad mood and saying, ‘Hey, do you want to come and see the long cut of Alien 3?’

Then, about a week later, Fincher actually called my office. Mark Romanek [who directed One Hour Photo – another DVD Lauzirika produced] had talked to him about me, and put in the good word… which, coming from Romanek, is a major deal to me. I mean, I worship both of these guys. Mark gave Fincher my number, which was incredibly nice of Mark to do. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in the office when Fincher called. But he left this really cryptic voicemail: ‘Yeah, Mark Romanek told me to call you about Alien 3…’ and about halfway through the message, he just kind of drifted off. It was almost like he lost the heart to even talk about Alien 3 right then in the middle of this message he was leaving me. We played phone tag for a while and never actually spoke directly. So I’ve saved this voicemail. For a while, I was toying with the idea of putting it on the DVD as an Easter egg until my better judgment kicked in. I doubt Fox’s lawyers would have cleared it anyway.

So those are my two brief non-encounters with Fincher on this project.”

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8 Comments

Filed under Alien 3

8 responses to “Finding Fincher

  1. Richard Schroeder

    Hopefully some day David Fincher revisits this film and is allowed by Fox to produce the movie he intended. I love the Assembly cut but it would be great to have Fincher’s seal of approval as well. It’s a shame that to this day audience’s have never seen his true vision, whatever that may have been.

  2. Dustie

    Too bad they didn’t restore the opening sequence – it was a bit different in the original workprint version of the film, I’m sure they had more footage from the shoot and could have made a clearer portrayal of the events on Sulaco which led to the disaster… instead they simply used the exact same sequence, I think it is a shame.

  3. Scott Rogers

    I saw a test screening of Alien 3 in mid 1991 in Long Beach before all of the effects were completed. It included the pre-chest bursting ending and the dragon subplot which was the best part of the film. It was great to see the humans actually win out against the xenomorph and (temporarily) trap it. It makes it that much more crushing when Golic releases the alien back into the prison. I always liked that cut and with a few tweaks it could have made for a much better release. The cut on the Alien Quardrilogy set matched what I remembered from that screening. Kudos to de Laurizikas for restoring this superior version of the film.

  4. Man I just love Alien 3. And this website and David Fincher’s story just reiterate how unfair it is that even Ridley Scott and James Cameron put this movie side-by-side with the horrendous Alien Resurrection. For me, although Alien 3 suffers from pacing issues, it’s a perfect ending to the trilogy and consistent with the main themes handled previously. Maybe someday Fincher can regret his decision of disowning this movie and steps back, giving the fans the true vision that this filme deserves. True Alien fans know that Alien 3, although far from perfect, always was the real and fitting ending for the franchise.

    Congratulations for the website, I follow your articles religiously! 🙂

  5. That was super interesting to read! I hope someday when Fincher gets too old he will go back and record an audio commentary for the movie he partially directed.

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