"Alien 3"

David Fincher can't decide if his movie is about survival or death and ends up with a schizophrenic mess. Sigourney Weaver just wanted more money.

Published March 28, 2001 8:00PM (EST)

"Alien 3"
Directed by David Fincher
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Charles Dutton, Charles Dance, Paul McGann
20th Century Fox; anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1 aspect ratio)
Extras: Behind-the-scenes featurette, trailers from all four "Alien" movies

Every movie in the "Alien" series is about survival. The first was a thriller, the second an action movie. But part way through "Alien 3" it's clear that everyone, even the series' hero, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), is going to die. Where do you go from that point? It'd be a near miracle to rebuild the suspense, or else you could try to make her impending death a meditation on mortality or some other theme. "Alien 3" doesn't make a choice, and in wanting to be both it becomes a schizophrenic mess.

The first half of the movie is all doom and gloom. Ripley is the sole survivor of a crash landing on a prison planet occupied by a skeletal crew of 25. Unbeknownst to everyone, including Ripley, she's also brought a pair of aliens along with her, one inside her chest and another larva that quickly finds its way into a Rottweiler. The barren gray background of an abandoned factory dominates the mood. All the inmates are completely shaven because of the planet's intensive lice infestation. When Weaver joins them, she looks alternately menacing and like she's just walked out of a famine.

The atmospherics are haunting and the movie feels like it's moving in a thoughtful direction. Ripley establishes a romantic relationship with the prison's doctor, Clemens (Charles Dance), on the basis of their two very screwed-up lives. She appears at peace for the first time in three movies. But just as the relationship gets going, just as you think the movie is taking you somewhere, it delivers an object lesson in death. The canine alien pops up, kills Clemens and sets off the movie's bipolar disorder. From then on it's all one big chase that has to occupy 30 or 40 minutes of screen time before Ripley's death.

It's an insult to the audience's intelligence, and no matter how many pyrotechnics it offers or convoluted special effects scenes, there's nothing to keep the tension going. The film lards on the action until one blissful moment at the end.

Once you get over the disappointment of the movie, you can move onto the nearly nonexistent DVD extras. There's a featurette billed as the Making Of but it's really just a 20-some-minute advertisement for the film, with Sigourney Weaver telling her interviewer about her reaction when she found out she had to be bald in the movie: "I looked at the studio heads and said, 'Of course if I'm bald I have to get more money.'"

By Max Garrone

Max Garrone is Salon's Vice President for Operations.

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