The mountainous question facing the vast revolving door of script writers, producers, directors and crew of the beleaguered third instalment of the Alien franchise was this: How on earth do you follow up two of the greatest, most influential sci-fi movies of all time?
Answer: You fucking don’t.
After the events of Aliens, a suspicious on board fire causes Ripley & co’s ship to crash land on a bleak, near abandoned prison planet with tragic consequences. To make things far worse (because that what you need when you’re marooned on a planet full of space rapists), a face hugger has stowed away and births a dog-alien hybrid which is strikingly nimble, lethally viscous and immediately starts reducing the population of the criminals in the most messiest ways possible. Can Ripley rely on a population of born again ex-murderers, addicts and rapists to aid her in her quest to stamp out the xenomorph once and for all or is the real threat a little closer to home…
A sizeable book could, and hopefully one day will, be written about what a behind the scenes clusterfuck Alien³ really was (to this day director David Fincher refuses to talk about it) and it’s certainly evident from the unevenness of the finished product that problems where obviously occurring, but as an exercise of blatant risk taking, “Alien cubed” might just possibly be one if the bravest blockbusters ever made.
Fans of James Cameron’s sequel were horrified to find out that this would be no bullet spraying bughunt and with only a single xenomorph prowling the dank, almost medieval corridors of penal colony Fury 161, they were disgruntled that the tone had gear-shifted from a desperate, sweat-soaked action/thriller to a down-beat, nihilistic, industrial tone with only rapists and murderers to route for. And of course they choked when the two beloved survivors of the previous film, Hicks and Newt are rudely pronounced dead on arrival after their life raft crash lands on this God forsaken planet.
However, those willing to embrace such a downer of a concept are repaid with quite possibly Sigourney Weaver’s most determined and gritty performance of her career as her character Ripley has all and sundry stripped from her at the arse end of space. All she has left is the alien and extremely limited resources to bring it down with. “You’ve been in my life so long, I can’t remember anything else.” she whispers to it at one point, solidifying the pinhole her life has shrunk down to and admitting that the only relationship of worth she has left is one with a species of acid-dripping, face-splitters.
As depressing as Alien³ is, it’s also surprisingly uplifting at times, the relationships she builds with Charles Dance’s fragile doctor or Charles S. Dutton’s criminal zealot. Sigourney is resplendent in industrial boots and a skin head hair cut, unrepentant and unafraid despite being in such company, and why should she be? She’s seen far worse.
However, all the good intentions of having such a fiercely original tone simply don’t work if your film is flawed and this, unfortunately, is where Alien³ keeps tripping over itself. With everyone sporting bald heads, barcodes and faeces coloured clothes, when the shit frequently hits the fan and everyone is running around like maniacs, you have next to no idea who the hell anyone is. A set piece involving the hapless prisoners using themselves as bait to lure the alien towards a trap is exciting but almost impossible to follow and leaves you uninterested in anyone’s fate except the 3 or four leads.
Eventually the film reaches it’s beautifully bleak finale and turns out an audience into the street unsure of what or how to feel (sounds like textbook David Fincher to me…) and while most audiences don’t like having to justify the endings to movies they’ve just seen, if you are open to Alien³’s not entirely successful outlook on life, it’s a brave and interesting attempt.
An ugly triumph and a beautiful failure. Cubed.