Format: IFC on rockin’ flatscreen.
The common wisdom when it comes to trilogies is that the third movie in the trilogy shits the bed. That’s not always true, of course, but it’s certainly true often enough that we come to expect that a third movie in a given series is going to be a letdown. With the possible exception of The Godfather Trilogy, there may not be a bigger drop off in quality than Alien3. I’m sure there are a lot of other possibilities. You can fight it out in the comments below; that’s what a comments section is for, after all.
It’s actually not too surprising in this case, though. Alien is one of the best science fiction action movies of the last 40 years and Aliens is one of the best science fiction movies ever made. Alien3 would have to be nearly perfect to even play in the same ballpark. Sadly, it’s filled with a number of problems. Also, just to save myself the pain in the backside of having to type the superscript for this movie, I’m going to stop doing it until the end of this. Finally, you can assume that the rest of this review is going to be filled with spoilers. I’m not putting it under a spoiler tag because I don’t really care that much about spoiling this movie.
The single biggest problem with Alien3 happens in the first few scenes. If you haven’t seen the two previous films, shame on you, but you won’t understand why this is a problem. At the end of Aliens, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), Hicks (Michael Biehn), Newt (Danielle Edmond and not Carrie Henn, who was too old when this was made), and Bishop (Lance Henrikson) have escaped, but there is a problem with their ship and the cryopods are ejected. Because of budget reasons, people aging in the real world, and the fact that a new sequel was needed to continue the franchise, Hicks and Newt are killed.
The problem with this is that it ruins the entire point of Aliens. The entire plot of Aliens is rooted around the idea of Ripley coming into her own both as a badass and as a surrogate mother. Killing off Newt destroys the whole point of it and puts this movie in a huge hole from anyone who liked the first two films. Pissing off your core audience in the film’s opening is pretty much the opposite of fan service, and it’s the kind of thing that isn’t going to make people ready to see the rest of the film.
And that’s really a shame. The truth is that I think Alien3 isn’t as bad as everyone remembers. Oh, it’s certainly not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination, but aside from the terrible opening and the almost-as-terrible CGI at the end of the film, its biggest problem is that it’s following two of the greatest movies of its generation and it just can’t live up to the hype or even the hype of the hype. Were it a stand-alone movie, it wouldn’t have the baggage of the first two films, the opening wouldn’t piss off everyone in the audience, and it would be a lot more likely to be remembered as a decent B-movie with a cool monster.
Anyway, the big plot twist here is that Ripley, who is again the only survivor of the latest clash with aliens, has crash landed on a prison planet where the men haven’t seen a woman in years. Yes, this is going to cause problems. In fact, the only two people that really seem interested in keeping her safe are former convict and now facility doctor Clemens (Charles Dance) and convict Dillon (Charles S. Dutton), who keeps the rest of the men in line with his own cobbled version of religion. Facility warden Andrews (Brian Glover) hates the fact that Ripley is there and wants her just to stay in the infirmary to keep her away from the men.
Of course, there wouldn’t be a movie if it was just Ripley running away from crazed prisoners, so of course there is an alien present as well. This time, it infects a dog rather than a person, so the alien that results is considerably more canine in appearance and the way it moves. This is a cool addition to the alien idea—the creatures take on some of the physical characteristics of the host. That, incidentally, represents the only really good idea in Alien3.
It also represents one of the bigger problems of the movie. In the first film in the franchise, there was one creature, and that was enough. In the sequel, there were tons of them. They were literally coming out of the walls and the ceilings. It upped the ante from the original film by giving our humans some weaponry and giving the aliens sheer numbers. And now Alien3 goes back to the original formula. One alien, no real weapons against it, and not a lot more potential victims. It feels like a skirmish after we’ve watched a war, and that’s a letdown, too.
Sadly, Alien3 wanted to be part of a great franchise. It is a part of that franchise, but it’s a sad, depressing part. This could have been so much better. Instead, this is what we’re stuck with.
Why to watch Alien3: It’s not as bad as you remember
Why not to watch: It’s not as good as it should be.