Bringing the Horror Back: Does Alien 3 Deserve More Love Than it Gets?

Alien 3 Prison

Alien 3 is a divisive movie, I’ve witnessed some seriously heated online debates over the years about certain Horror and Sci-Fi films but nothing comes close to the perfect storm of emotions that Alien 3 discussions tend to unleash.

The first time I watched it was mid 1993 on a fuzzy, low quality VHS tape that someone had let my Dad borrow. He brought it home, threw it in my direction and I pushed it into the VCR and awaited the further adventures of Ripley, Newt and Hicks with great excitement. By the end I was confused, miserable and overwhelmingly disappointed. This disappointment lasted and I vividly remember talking with my brother five years later about the imminent release of Alien: Resurrection and announcing “I’m so happy they are making this, Alien 3 CANNOT be the last Alien/Ripley movie” …

Resurrection ultimately turned out to be a diluted, choppy and strangely comedic mess, but its own failure combined with the arrival of DVD technology made me revisit and re-evaluate Alien 3 all over again. I was older, calmer and no longer just expecting ‘Aliens 2 : The Revenge’.

Alien 3 - Alien

Alien 3 is a depressing movie, let’s get that out of the way from the start. It very much exists in the same universe as the original Alien where every character feels doomed, isolated and alone. It makes deep space and deep space living seem a horrible life to be a part of and doesn’t glamorise a thing. Aliens rewarded fans of Ridley Scotts original masterpiece by taking Ripley on an action packed, crowd pleasing revenge mission. Yes some characters die and bad things do happen but Ripley fights, wins and gets her happy ending and even the possibility of a new family in Newt and Hicks.

Alien 3 takes this cosy possible future and rips it apart within the first 10 minutes, actually that’s an understatement, it rips it apart then jumps up and down on it laughing and spitting. Hicks gets impaled by some kind of massive beam which leaves him an unrecognisable lump of twisted blood and bone – and Newt, well she “drowns” in her cryotube and then gets autopsied just to make sure viewers are properly traumatised. Bishop doesn’t escape the carnage either, as his smashed and gooey remains are unceremoniously dumped with the trash and left to rot in the rain.

I’m in two minds about the deaths. Carrie Henn was too old to return by this point and just having Ripley spend another movie protecting Newt over and over wouldn’t have worked so I can just about live with her loss. The gruesome fate of Hicks I’m not so keen on. I think with some script adjustments they could have easily involved him and it would have given Alien 3 the tiny boost of positivity that it got slated for lacking in the early days. I once read a suggestion that Hicks could have survived the crash but remained comatose for a large portion of the film awakening toward the end to help Ripley defeat the creature and even assist her in making her final sacrifice. I’m not sure if I totally agree with that idea but part of me still thinks he could have been successfully worked in somehow.

Then there are the prisoners … Fincher hired just about every British TV character actor he could find, shaved their heads and told them to act angry for a few weeks. On my original terrible VHS copy it was near IMPOSSIBLE at times to tell them apart, but the arrival and clarity of DVD technology mostly solved that, plus I grew up watching many of them in everything from sitcoms to police dramas so confusing Danny Webb with Christopher Fairbank and so on became less of a problem over time.

Charles Dance is excellent as Clemens, the prison doctor Ripley gets close to and Charles S. Dutton gives power and presence to Dillon, the spiritual and moral leader of the inmates.

Alien 3 - Full size Alien

Finally the Alien itself … Switching from swarms of the fuckers being shot to pieces by Marines to just one lone creature (like the original) was a BRAVE choice and one that I am personally happy with.

Ash once told Ripley : “You still don’t understand what you are dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility”

It’s one of my favourite movie lines of all time, one sentence that tells you all you need to know about how unstoppable an Alien is. This sense of indestructible terror was pushed to one side in Aliens and replaced with ass kicking action. Alien 3 makes the Xenomorph terrifying again by reintroducing the kill then vanish behavioural pattern and the basic intelligence the creatures seem to have. The CGI shots of it look very weak now but the up close practical effects work was fantastic and still looks good today.

Alien 3 - Ripley & Alien

Whichever version of Alien 3 you watch/prefer one thing is clear, this is a movie that TRIED to unsettle you and tried to scare you. It brought Horror back to the Alien franchise and didn’t pander to expectations. I can’t say if it deserves more credit than it gets because even now, all these years later, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it myself.

Do I like it more now simply because every movie that has featured the Aliens since has been even worse?

Is Alien 3 a misunderstood masterpiece that simply couldn’t live up to its perfect predecessors?

Is it actually the terrible, missed opportunity many said it was when it was first released?

I have a feeling people will be arguing about the answers to those questions for a long, long time to come. It might be hard to ‘love’ Alien 3 but I believe it’s very easy to respect it and I do now, I really do.

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