I was 12 years old when my father took me to see David Fincher’s Alien 3 on opening night, totally unaware of the behind the scenes fiasco that had occurred during production, and that’s probably why I’ve always enjoyed it more than most. I still think that, for all the documented issues that befell this film during the creative, shooting, and post stages, it’s pretty damn good. And really grim and bleak, which of course would become Fincher’s cinematic stock in trade – delivering subversive and sinister thrills (the corridor chases are fantastic), upending expectations (a bald Ripley!), and delivering a climactic deathblow (with chest-burster!) that should have ended the series. Sure, thanks to the amazing Alien Quadrilogy Blu/DVD set you’re now able to see various cuts of the film, including the much-loved but not Fincher-sanctioned “assembly edit” that everyone seems to point to as the best possible version. But I’ve always found the theatrical release cut to be a very effective piece of cinema, and after multiple viewings, I still sort of scratch my head as to what the big fuss was about with the final product. Sure, it’s not a masterpiece like Ridley Scott’s original and it’s not the full-on rousing action-adventure like the James Cameron sequel. But rather, this is a ruminative, somber, and cerebral entry in the franchise, which has employed new directors throughout the lifespan of the series, continuing with Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s derided-by-many-but-loved-by-me Alien: Resurrection (swimming Xenomorphs!) before Scott returned for his rather striking 2012 prequel Prometheus; the less said about this summer’s waste-of-time Alien: Covenant the better.
But Alien 3 has a distinct personality and tone all to itself, and I’ve always loved this rather poetic bit of dialogue that Ripley so thoughtfully states during a key moment in regards to her relationship to the Xenomorph: “You’ve been in my life so long, I can’t remember anything else.” There’s a severity to Alien 3; it’s not anything like the previous two pictures that had come before it, and I’m glad no attempt was ever made to replicate any of the beats from Alien or Aliens. Even after replacing director Vincent Ward and scrapping much of what was to be used from a narrative and visual standpoint, the idea that a FIRST TIME director was put in this PARTICULAR hot-seat and STILL delivered something of merit says a lot, and speaks to the start of Fincher’s quest through Hollywood. I know he doesn’t like the film; he doesn’t have to, and if I were him, I might feel the same way. But it’s good stuff. And those shocking final moments with Ripley taking her furnace bath are poignant and oh-so-Fincher-esque. I always loved that after all the violent insanity that went down during the story, that it was good old-fashioned WATER that serves as the ultimate defense. Alex Thomson’s gritty cinematography perfectly matched the dank, decrepit production design by Norman Reynolds and his team. Much maligned and certainly not perfect, Alien 3 is still better than its reputation, and will always carry a certain level of notoriety given that it’s Fincher’s directorial debut.