Revisiting Alien 3 - The Controversial 1992 Sci-Fi Sequel That Divides Fans

Revisiting Alien 3 - The Controversial 1992 Sci-Fi Sequel That Divides Fans
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Revisiting the Cult Sci-Fi Film Alien 3 That Debuted in 1992

The year 1992 saw the release of an infamous and controversial science fiction horror film - the third installment in the popular Alien franchise, titled Alien 3. Set after the events of the 1986 film Aliens, Alien 3 continues the story of Lt. Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver. While the previous films focused on Ripley battling the deadly xenomorph creatures alongside colonial marines, this film took a different approach by isolating Ripley and featuring her as the sole human protagonist fighting to survive against the aliens.

Alien 3 had huge shoes to fill, coming after the widespread success of 1979's Alien and 1986's Aliens. However, it ran into several production issues that resulted in a convoluted storyline, characterization problems, and a drastically different tone from its predecessor films. The change in crew and production team, including new director David Fincher in his feature directorial debut, led to a final product that seemed disjointed.

The film was ultimately met with mixed critical reviews and underwhelmed at the box office. However, it later gained a cult following among fans, especially Fincher fans who enjoyed his trademark visual aesthetic. Over the years, Alien 3 has sparked debate among sci-fi and horror fans, some who view it as an underrated entry in the legendary franchise and others who see it as a disappointing sequel failing to live up to the first two films.

Examining the Troubled Production of Alien 3

So how did a film with so much potential go astray? The production of Alien 3 was troubled from the very beginning. It started development in 1987, a year after Aliens premiered. Several writers worked on the screenplay, which went through multiple drafts and revisions. There were disputes over whether to continue Ripley's story or focus on a new set of characters. Eventually Fox wanted to pursue Ripley's storyline set on a prison planet.

Several directors were attached over the years like Renny Harlin and Vincent Ward. But creative differences led to them departing the project. David Fincher, known primarily for music videos at the time, was eventually hired as director. However, the script was unfinished when filming began. As a result, the film was essentially made up as they went along, with rewrites happening constantly.

The filming process was equally complicated. Fincher did not get along with the crew and producers. The filming schedule was rushed and actors received pages of script just before shooting scenes. Cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth suffered health issues that required Fincher to film many scenes himself. Several scenes were cut, resulting in narrative gaps and unanswered questions. After filming concluded, the studio took over editing, not allowing Fincher his desired control.

How the Story and Characters Changed from the Previous Films

Besides production issues, the story and characters of Alien 3 deviated greatly from the previous films in ways that were controversial and unsatisfying for many fans.

One infamous change was killing off the surviving characters from Aliens - Hicks, Newt, and Bishop - off-screen early in the film. This was seen as disrespectful to the beloved characters and a lazy way to isolate Ripley. It also undid Ripley's emotional arc in the previous film of finding a new adopted family.

The setting on an all-male penal colony planet Fury 161 was also a major departure, making for a dark, somber tone compared to the military and space station settings of the first two films. Ripley being the only woman stranded among convicted murderers and rapists set a bleak, oppressive mood.

Ripley's character was also handled differently, with the film putting her in a more vulnerable state. She had nightmares about her dead daughter and learned she had an alien queen embryo inside her. Ripley ultimately sacrifices herself to stop the aliens, whereas the previous films emphasized her resilience and survival instincts.

Even the alien itself behaved differently. The alien took on canine-like qualities, a byproduct of being birthed from a dog. It would sometimes walk on all fours, something not seen in the previous films. Also, for the first time, the alien had a specific goal of capturing, not killing, Ripley to birth the queen inside her.

How the Film Was Received by Critics and Fans

When Alien 3 premiered in May 1992, critics gave the film a mixed reception. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes calculated a 55% approval rating from 72 reviews. The consensus stated the film had "a talented cast and director but lacked the tense, riveting entertainment of its predecessors."

Many reviews criticized the dark, depressing tone and called the film nihilistic. Critics believed the characters lacked development compared to previous films. Complaints included the alien appearing too dog-like, Ripley's climactic sacrifice feeling predictable, and the script containing holes without proper explanations.

At the box office, Alien 3 grossed $159.8 million worldwide. While a decent haul, it was significantly less than Aliens' $180 million. The film also won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects but lost money overall due to its large production budget.

Fan reception tended to align with critic reviews. Many felt disappointed and betrayed that the story essentially undid Aliens' happy ending. Fans missed the colonial marine characters and Ripley's relationship with Newt. Overall, they found the film joyless, nihilistic, and lacking the thrills of the previous two entries.

However, over time, appreciation for Alien 3 grew among fans, especially Fincher fans. They praised the director's stylistic approach to the visuals, sets, and creature effects. The film gained cult status for those who enjoyed its darker, more somber tone and themes of sacrifice and nihilism. While not universally beloved, Alien 3 developed an admiring fanbase who found merits in its unique approach.

How Alien 3 Influenced the Franchise Going Forward

Despite its reception, Alien 3 clearly impacted the franchise going forward. One obvious influence was the film series continuing Ripley's storyline. Sigourney Weaver returned for the fourth Alien film, Alien Resurrection, in 1997. Though also met with a mixed reception, Resurrection built upon the cloning storyline introduced in the third film.

Additionally, the sacrificial ending of Ripley's character in Alien 3 was significant for the series. Her emotional decision to die to destroy the alien queen showed her heroism and how she had come full circle since discovering the creatures in the original 1979 film.

Beyond the main film series, Alien 3 elements appeared in the expanded universe. For example, the popular Alien vs. Predator comics and games introduced the creatures wreaking havoc in remote penal colonies akin to Fury 161. A penal colony also factors into the 2012 prequel film Prometheus.

While not as acclaimed as the first two films, Alien 3 marked an important, if underrated, turning point for the iconic sci-fi/horror franchise. It took risks in deviating from fan expectations. The darker, moodier approach was an ambitious artistic change of pace. Alien 3 showcased David Fincher's emerging visual talents and further cemented Sigourney Weaver's Ripley as one of cinema's greatest heroines.

In retrospect, the third Alien film paved the way for the future of the beloved, influential series - even if fans remain divided on whether that was for better or for worse. No matter one's opinion, Alien 3 was a crucial sci-fi entry from 1992 and made an impact still felt in the franchise 30+ years later.


Why was Alien 3 so controversial among fans?

Alien 3 was controversial because it killed off the surviving characters from Aliens like Newt and Hicks, undid the happy ending of the previous film, and had a much darker, more somber tone. Fans missed the action and relationships of the first two films.

How did the production issues affect the final film?

The constant screenplay rewrites, director changes, rushed filming schedule, and editing disputes resulted in a disjointed, unfinished storyline with plot holes. The production issues clearly compromised David Fincher's original vision.

What was David Fincher's role in Alien 3?

Alien 3 marked David Fincher's feature directorial debut. Though it had production issues, Fincher's visual style was evident and the film later gained appreciation from his fans. It showed his talent despite the difficulties.

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