Alien 3 may as well have been dead on arrival. Despite encouraging box office results outside of the US, the film received a lashing not only from professional critics but from fans as well, precipitating a particularly nasty brand of bad feeling that continues to this day. The subsequent articles and documentaries covering its troubled production often feel like an autopsy, as the film’s crew and cast try to deduce which of the film’s various wounds finally killed it.
Starlog issues #182-184 were deluged with letters from fans who felt let down and outright insulted by the film. The magazine had maintained secrecy over the film’s plot and many readers went into the theater not knowing what they were in for.
Passionate letters ensued, pretty much all of which appeared under the telling header: ‘Alienated’.
Issue 182 (September 1992)
There was only one letter of complaint in this issue, though the fanpage comic strips were already beginning to mock the decision-making processes of Fox executives.
…Watching sequels is an experience that constantly changes – there are sequels that work (Aliens), the sequels that don’t (Robocop 2), and the ones that fall somewhere in the middle, ambitious attempts at improving on the concepts of their predecessors but lacking a certain something that makes them ultimately unsatisfying. Such is the case with Alien 3, a misconceived and often choppy third installment. Director David Fincher starts off the movie well, using unusual camera angles and stunning production design to establish the set-up of the picture, with Ripley crashlanding on a prison planet filled with rapists, murderers and other assorted stock characters who have become involved in their own religious cult. This leads to numerous undeveloped subplots (one needless scene of ‘sexual tension’, ties with religion never fully established) most likely attributed to the film’s well-reported script rewrites.
After 30 minutes of sequences that both provide plot for this film and a funeral for the dead characters left over from Aliens, Alien 3 goes very wrong very quickly. Fincher goes from a lengthy introduction to the prison and one particular character (Charles Dance) to Dance’s demise to lots of running around in the dark with flashlights attempting to destroy the Alien in the prison’s furnace. In the middle of all of this is a laughable subplot with Ripley becoming ‘pregnant’ with the next Queen Alien, leading to one unforgettable, unintentionally funny sequence with Sigourney Weaver going down into the prison’s basement to get killed by the Alien, spouting out lines like ‘Come on!!… after all, I’m one of the family.’ This brings up numerous logistical problems inconsistent with the other Alien films. How can Ripley get infected by the Alien and still be able to live for such a long period of time, especially when the dog in the movie gets infected and dies from its Alien in a matter of hours?
There’s no need to go on, for the movie has other problems that have nothing to do with the previous picture. Fincher seems to have gone from point A to point B to point D — there’s no pacing in this picture at all, and no character development of any of the prisoners, which is a big problem in that the final chase scene depends on the audience’s knowledge of who all these convicts are. The audience that I saw the movie with thought the final climatic scene, with the prisoners running from the Alien trying to cut it off, was much more enjoyable for unintended laughs rather than suspense. And those well-reported six seconds of added FX at the end really improved the picture overall — couldn’t the producers have used that money for the script, which is a muddled mess of a hundred ideas from countless writers who worked on this picture?
One interesting problem is the editing — an early NY Times piece running time for the movie was 135 minutes, yet the final cut was under two hours. There was scenes talked about (Weaver’s sex scene, the bugs running through her hair) and scenes from the trailer (a prisoner walking outside the colony during daylight) that weren’t in the movie — all of which adds up to pre-release cutting. But whatever material was cut couldn’t save one factor in Alien 3, which is suspense, or in this case, lack of it. Fincher’s music-video style (complete with occasionally rock-synthesised music by Elliot Goldenthal) sure is flashy, but it doesn’t deliver the scares. The whole project seems to have been misguided and tired, for the Alien in this picture seems to have been inspired by the rip-offs of the Alien movies and not by its actual predecessors. And that’s the bottom line of Alien 3. Another sequel that not only doesn’t measure up to its predecessors, but fails in its own right to deliver the kind of surprise that a film like this so desperately needs.
Issue 183 (October 1992)
The next issue saw a deluge of reader mail, with Alien 3 occupying the entirety of the letters pages – all four of them.
Common complaints included the swift killing of Aliens’ surviving characters, the bleak tone, the splatterhouse approach to gore, plot holes and retcons -some perceived, some legitimate-, the underdeveloped characters, and even David Fincher’s direction.
…I just saw Alien 3, and I would like to say that I was deeply saddened and very disappointed. I love SF because it is an escape from everyday troubles. There is enough pain and misery in this world. Why put it on film? Movies should be entertaining and at least leave you with the hope that the characters you have grown to love through the years don’t end up dead in a horrible fashion.
The scenes that troubled me the most in the film were Newt’s autopsy, Hicks’ death and Bishop’s sad remains joking with Ripley and then begging her to unplug him. And finally, Ripley’s death. I wish I could say that it didn’t bother me, but it did, and I think it will affect many people. As a true SF fan, I was saddened by such a hard and sobering view of life in the last of the Alien trilogy.
Mark A. Kaufman,
…I could not believe my eyes! After watching the first two minutes, I was so mad I almost stood up and walked out of the theater. How could they take the amazing story of Aliens and destroy it? Right now, I’m just pretending I never saw the movie, and Ripley, Hicks, Newt and Bishop are still in hypersleep on their way to Earth, instead of all dead!!!
It is so infuriating that the surviving cast from Aliens, who fought against unstoppable creatures and won, who escaped death in their darkest hour, who, by the exceptional direction of James Cameron, were living, breathing characters, are just plain dead! What a useless excuse for a plotline! Kill off Newt, Hicks and Bishop, just like that. And impregnate Ripley with a Queen Alien. Perfect. How much worse could the movie’s plot be? Not much. I’m sure James Cameron is laughing right now, laughing at the fact his movie is a thousand times better than Alien 3. The only thing I kind of liked about Alien 3 was the Alien P.O.V. shots. But even that has a plot hole right through it, as Aliens don’t have eyes! They use a type of radar sense!
And what a horrible way for Ripley to die. An Alien Queen bursts from her chest before she hits molten steel; hey, do I hear T2 bells chiming? What a complete rip-off of Terminator 2′s end sequence: Main character dies in orange-glowing molten steel. Give me a break!
Godfrey C. Pflugbeil
…Alien 3 was a good movie, but at the same time, disappointing. It just didn’t measure up to the lofty standards set by its predecessors. In Alien and Aliens, the Aliens attacked and killed their victims (when not using them as hosts) with lethal speed, inner jaw parts swiftly ending the doomed humans’ suffering. In Alien 3 however, the Alien often ‘chews’ on its prey while they’re still alive and screaming, rather than striking and ending their lives quickly. This is not because it is not strong enough to do so, because it kills Clemens and a few of the prisoners quickly, as in the previous films. But overall, most of Alien 3′s characters die kicking and hollering as the Alien eats them alive. Dillon was killed near the movie’s end, yelling at the creature to fight harder and asking it if that was ‘as hard as you can bite’. I suspect this was a cheap ploy thrown in by the filmmakers to add to the film’s horror. Actually, it detracts from the slick, deadly charisma surrounding the Alien.
Finally, the idea of the prisoners outrunning the Alien (when they use themselves as bait to lure the creature into the piston tunnel near the movie’s end) is ridiculous. As fast as that Alien moved, the convicts wouldn’t have a chance.
There were other minor problems, such as the Alien surviving the barrage of molten lead, and the evident fakery of the Alien Queen bursting from Ripley’s chest, but overall I enjoyed the movie the second time I watched it, my initial disappointment out of the way. There were some fantastic scenes as well, most notably the Alien chestburster’s birth from the dog, the prisoner falling into the gigantic fan and Clemens’ death. I also found Dillon, Charles S. Dutton’s character, to be intriguing and extremely well done. Sigourney Weaver, as usual, turns in a formidable performance as Ripley and first-time director David Fincher does a good job, creating a very dark and at times, genuinely scary feature debut.
Unfortunately, these good points do not prevent Alien 3 from joining the likes of Predator 2 and Robocop 2 as sequels unworthy of following their predecessors.
Myrtle Point, OR.
Never have I seen a more thoroughly offensive motion picture than Alien 3. Not only is it fraught with glaring inconsistencies with the first two films, but we are deluged with endless scenes of screamed profanity and relentless gore that completely redefine ‘gratuitous’. While its predecessors left its audience with a creepy fascination that stayed with you long after leaving the theater, Alien 3 merely lingers like a bad virus.
Utterly missing is any of Ridley Scott’s meticulous craftmanship. Nor are we treated to anything resembling James Cameron’s carefully orchestrated rollercoaster rides. What is dumped on us though are annoying confusing intercuts with inaudibly soft dialogue juxtaposed against a cacophony of yelling prisoners, thundering sound effects and loud music. We are carelessly thrown around this sludge-infested planet by David Fincher’s dizzying, awkward camera work, and splattered with bottomless buckets of blood. The close-ups of hypodermic needles puncturing skin, the ridiculously drawn-out autopsy scene, the sickening throes of an inmate’s beloved dog and the relentless series of gruesome murders overwhelmed even the teenage gore freaks which populated our audience.
Bad direction, however, might have been overlooked, since Fincher is completely inexperienced in filmmaking; but what is utterly inexcusable is the script! Character development was so badly lacking that only a pitiful few of the 20-odd people were given any individual personalities of their own (the rest were just a crowd of bald Brits); but just when a bit of insight was revealed about someone, he would be ripped to shreds and lose his meager importance anyway. Clever dialogue was jettisoned in favor of shouted vulgarities (and these guys were supposed to comprise a fundamental Christian cult?) And lest we forget Ripley herself…
She knew (or strongly suspected) her old nemesis was roaming about the prison, but how did she react? By simply parking her bottom in the doctor’s office, afraid to tell him for fear of being labelled crazy? Come on, now! Is this the gal who ran through the Nostromo’s corridors and blew the monster out of an airlock? The same feisty lady who charged an armoured personel carrier through walls of metal to rescue Marines from an onslaught of creatures? The same beloved heroine who became a walking armoury to save one little girl from the clutches of a beast? No. This ‘new’ Ripley is a stranger.
No new insights on teh Aliens themselves were revealed to us, either. Instead, our scriptwriters convieneintly ignored what had been established in the earlier stories and went their own way. Since when did facehuggers leave marks on their victims? And while there was seemingly one aboard the Sulaco, two impregnations resulted: Ripley’s and the dog’s; yet it had been concluded before that there could only be one per creature.
Also, Ripley apparently hosted an Alien for days on end while in other victims, this incubation period was considerably shorter. Perhaps this was attributed to her infestation’s being a larval queen, but once more, no explanation was offered.
And how dare they kill off the gutsiest heroine in film history! They’ve earned the wrath of legions of loyal fans everywhere,. Ripley deserved much beter than to die an agonising death, and we don’t want to have to remember her this way. She is a survivor.
I have yet to meet anyone who liked this film, and I’ve already spoken with dozens of people. We are all thoroughly disgusted with it. Since the 20th Century Fox executives had a guranteed hit with another Alien movie, it seems they just didn’t bother with a good script or a capable director.
But the news is quickly getting around. Word of mouth is one of the most effective means of advertising a good film: conversely, it can send the box-office receipts plummeting on a bad flick such as this one. I nly hope word gets out fast enough.
B. F. Simon,
Issue 184 (November 1992)
People were still not ready to move on: this issue’s front page header read ‘Why Readers Despised Alien 3’, which was, again, the main focus of the letters pages, and the letters themselves appeared under the rather exhausted tag ‘Still Alienated, Alas’.
…I have been a fan of Starlog since issue #1. Since Starlog covers my type of movie, I thought that this would be a good place to express an opinion. Since Alien, Ripley has been a survivor and a heroine. In Alien 3, they at least let her keep her heroine part of her persona. This is not true of Newt.
In Aliens, Newt is definitely a survivor, since she was able to stay alive for weeks against the bad guys. To just kill her off in the new movie makes it B quality. It reminded me of Friday the 13th movies where the heroine would survive the whole movie just to be killed off in the first few minutes of the next. I realise that the actress who played Newt, Carrie Henn, has probably grown up quite a bit, but this could have been dealt with by just placing the timeline up a few years. If Alien 3 had followed Alien, I could have accepted it as a fair sequel. Newt, in my opinion, made Aliens what it was – a fantastic movie with a great story.
Alien 3 is just one of those bad dreams Ripley had in hypersleep. Newt and Hicks are still alive and having a wonderful life. I think we all could have lived just fine without Alien 3.
… Alien 3 is one of the worst pieces of trash I have ever seen. As a fan of the previous two Alien outings, I was downright offended by this insult to Ridley Scott and James Cameron’s visions and the blatant attempt on behalf of the film’s producers to capitalise on the success of the Alien series without any decent attempt to make a decent third chapter. There are so many things wrong with Alien 3 (what’s the deal with the raised 3 anyway? Is it supposed to be Alien Three or Alien Cubed?) that it could be shown in filmmaking 101 classes across the world as an example of how not to make a movie.
The screenplay is a garbled mess. However, this is no surprise, considering it went through 27 writers. I also didn’t like how Hicks and Newt were cheaply killed off at the film’s beginning. In Aliens, people grew to care about these two characters, and Ripley’s reaction to their deaths was dramatically unsatisfying. The rest of the movie’s plot is simply a weak repeat of the first movie. One by one, the characters are systematically stalked with surprisingly little suspense and only one extended action sequence.
Regarding music video director David Fincher, I have to question the intelligence in the decision to hire an unknown, first-time director to helm a $50 million-plus motion picture that is a sequel to two of the most popular films ever made. Fincher doesn’t seem to have a clue as to how to direct a feature film. His use of low-angle shots, extreme close-ups, and cross-cutting may work fine in music videos, but these techniques lost their impact very fast on screen. In addition Fincher doesn’t seem to support the theory of starting scenes off with an establishing shot. I was very confused as to what was happening and where things were taking place. Fincher is also ignorant of another basic filmmaking technique: how to build suspense. I knew exactly when the Alien would strike and was never scared or surprised.
The music by Elliot Goldenthal is also no improvement over the scores by Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner. It is not only dull, but at times completely innapropriate — namely in the scene where an attempted rape is made on Ripley and rock music is played in the background. Making a third sequel would be a mistake if it opted instead to repeat the formula of of the first two movies without adding anything new, as this one did.
… Now let’s talk about Alien 3. I liked the story and the FX. The majority of the acting was solid especially Charles Dutton, who stole every scene he was in, including those with the mutant alien. I think that Charles Dance as the doc was killed off way too early. I mean, come on — we just find out about his character’s history, and one half-second later, the Alien breaks his arm, then yanks and rips the man’s head off his shoulders. Ripley discovered the Alien wouldn’t kill her because of her being impregnated, but why doesn’t the Alien kill the guy screaming his head off on the bed? And why didn’t Ripley figure out that the Alien was trying to protect the Queen inside her by offing the good doctor? Count the seconds from when the doctor injects Ripley with that ‘solution’ and how fast the Alien jumps down to the floor. Yes, no, maybe so?
While I liked the FX, I didn’t care for the endless P.O.V. shots. The old sneak-up gag has been a cliche, and as for the running Alien P.O.V. shots, I almost half-expected Bruce Campbell to come running out with a chainsaw for a hand from Evil Dead II.
Darren J. Seeley,
I’m a SF fan and I don’t mind a little dab of horror, but I’ve think I’ve ever seen so much unnecessary gore in one film. And what the other Alien films left to the imagination, this one didn’t. The audience was even subjected to seeing the gory death of a dog! Was the autopsy scene with Newt really necessary? In a way, this movie is an imitation of the first one: one Alien against a bunch of people in a dark, desolate place. Of course, the prison was much bigger than the Nostromo, but it didn’t seem like it. The ending expressed the futility of the whole series. Everything Ripley tried to avoid happened anyway. She was impregnated thus signalling inevitable death and everybody died. This movie is a virtual opposite of Aliens. Where Aliens was hopeful, Alien 3 is just downright depressing.
I was very excited and open-minded about the film, thinking it would be a true sequel to Aliens, thanks to the false advertising (‘the bitch is back’). They should have had the courage to advertise the movie more for what it really was. The previews made it look a lot like Aliens. They even used the music from Aliens in the trailer. Michael Biehn, who played Hicks, was right when he said that they would never be able to top Aliens.
I would like to direct my comments towards the rotten Alien 3 story. From what I understand, there was a lot of money spent on this flop. My question is, where did it go?
Where James Cameron was meticulous in his sequel, matching every little detail, David Fincher’s effort doesn’t even bother. Anyone notice how different the hypersleep chambers were? They looked more like the original ones on the Nostromo. So, I guess we’re to believe that they just magically changed from Sulaco-type chambers to the Nostromo-type. Also, in Aliens, the lettering of Sulaco was in black. It was white in Alien 3. Who’s going to tell us that the Aliens Queen pulled out her magic paintbrush and repainted it? Fincher must think we’re stupid.
And what about the Alien 3 xenomorph? How did it get so stupid? These are very intelligent creatures. So intelligent that this one knew Ripley had a Queen inside her. But it wasn’t smart enough to trap the prisoners for hosts. Nor did it have sense enough to cocoon Ripley and wait for the queen to emerge. If it was one of Cameron’s Aliens, it would have waited and then attacked. Anyone remember that Ripley said, ‘They don’t kill you’?
They were worried that Alien 3 would be a tired rehash of the previous films, yet they didn’t mind copying dozens of other horror movies. If I wanted to see Jason or Freddy, then I’ll go see their movies. But when I go to an Alien movie, I expect to see something more creative than a monster running around killing anything that moves. I would have preferred a rehash to Aliens than to sit through that ‘slasher in space’ garbage.
To Sigourney Weaver: Your acting was terrific, but why did you accept this role? You had this ‘creative input’, but what did you do with it? Looks like you did (as Private Hudson would say) ‘zippo’. You could have at least relented to get a decent story that would have done justice to Ripley. I guess if you give a person $5.5 million, she’ll do anything, right?
Babson Park, FL.