After the astounding success of Ridley Scott's 1979 original and James Cameron's 1986 sequel, fans had high expectations for David Fincher's 1992 follow-up. Adding to that immense pressure were issues with the production - both an unfinished screenplay and tensions with the studio that resulted in director David Fincher leaving the production in the 11th hour (he's still not involved here, as even the new extended cut of the film that's offered here was apparently put together without his assistance or supervision). The final film was considered by many to be a dark, dreary disappointment.
The film opens with a crash landing on a prison colony that happens under the credits. The only survivor is Ripley (Sigorney Weaver) - or should I say, the only human survivor is Ripley. Of course, it's not long before everyone in the maximum security prison realizes that one of the aliens has tagged along for the ride, and is now wiping out characters left and right.
There's several major problems that sink Fincher's film from the opening onwards. Firstly, it's simply dull; the supporting characters are cardboard cutouts, simply waiting to be picked off by the creature. The film can have a hundred long, dark hallways and tunnels; if the audience isn't invested in the characters, there's nothing more to do than wait for the predictable conclusion to the scene.
The ineffective mood adds to the disinterest; while Fincher clearly has become the master of dark, moody atmosphere in the years since, here it seems oppressive. The plot itself is a cause for little action - Ripley has landed on a prison planet with pretty much nothing in the way of weapons, so the movie turns into a hide-and-seek with one-dimensional characters. Weaver tries as hard as she did in the other films, but she can't help but be stuck with her most underwritten role in the series. Charles Dance and Charles S. Dutton attempt to provide support, but they're not of much assistance.
The DVD contains both the "theatrical cut" and "special edition" versions - the "special edition" having never been seen prior. The new cut of the film restores the 1992 workprint edition, with thirty minutes of additional footage, bringing the running time up to 144 minutes. The new footage has been restored visually, but there are times when production sound elements could not be entirely restored. During these moments, dialogue has been subtitled (optional) to make the scenes easier to understand. I thought the new cut of the film was interesting to view and did add some depth to the characters, but also managed to slow down the film even further. I'd stick with the theatrical cut.
VIDEO: "Alien 3" is presented by Fox in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Alex Thomson's cinematography is done justice by this excellent transfer, which looks noticably better than the prior DVD release. Sharpness and definition are noticably improved, as the picture remains crisp and well-defined, even into the shadowy backgrounds.
Flaws are few-and-far-between, with a couple of traces of minor edge enhancement being the only issue. The smoky, dark backgrounds are smoothly rendered, with no noticable compression artifacts. The print seemed crisp and clean throughout, with no noticable specks, marks, debris, or even grain. The film's limited color palette looked well-rendered here, with the film's dark browns, greys and greens looking clean and without concern.
SOUND: "Alien 3" is presented by Fox in Dolby Digital 5.1. While the film's sound design doesn't reach the heights of the more modern "Alien: Resurrection", it was better than I'd expected. Surrounds are fairly active throughout, providing both enjoyable ambience and more noticable effects. Audio quality is pleasingly dynamic, as the soundtrack offered some fairly impressive low-end punch at times, as well as crisp highs. Elliot Goldenthal's score sounded especially good, with nice reinforcement from the rear speakers and rich, full quality. Dialogue remained natural, too. As noted before, there are scenes in the special edition version that could not be fully restored in terms of audio, but otherwise, the audio sounded perfectly fine.
EXTRAS: (there are "Play All" options included under the "navigation options" menu on disc 2)
Commentary: This is a commentary from cinematographer Alex Thompson, alien effects designers Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff Jr, editor Terry Rawlings, visual effects producer Richard Edlund and actors Lance Henriksen and Paul McGann. The commentary isn't bad, but it does suffer from the absence of director David Fincher who, again, does not participate anywhere on this new DVD (although he is occasionally visible in some behind-the-scenes footage from the shoot). The commentary details some of the events of the production of "Alien 3", with an overview of what the participants thought Fincher was trying to do with the film, as well as some of the troubles that started to pile on pressure. There's some pauses of silence scattered throughout the track, but it's otherwise a decent listen. I especially enjoyed the cinematographer's informative comments.
Development: Concluding the Story: This featurette starts off the second disc and the "pre-production" section. This featurette is full of interesting information, including the fact that the producers tried to bring back Ridley Scott and, at points, brought Renny Harlin ("Cliffhanger") and Vincent Ward ("What Dreams May Come") in to try to helm the project. The documentary also leads us through the varied concepts and screenplay attempts that were worked on by various participants. Interviews include planned director Vincent Ward, producer David Giler, storyboard artist Martin Asbury, planned director Renny Harlin, effects supervisor Joss Williams and others.
Tales of the Wooden Planet: This featurette focuses on the concepts behind Vincent Ward's idea for the story for the third film. In Ward's story, the alien arrives on a planet made largely of wood and inhabited by monks who survived without the aid of technology. Although I suppose I like Harlin's idea that's discussed in the prior featurette better, Ward's interesting idea still sounds as if it would make an involving film.
Pre-Production Part III: This featurette continues the interesting exploration of the film's problems, highlighting the lack of preparation time and the lack of a full script to work with when the shooting started.
Xeno-Erotic: This featurette focuses on the work of creature designer HR Geiger.
Also in Pre-Production: Storyboard archives and conceptual art portfolios.
Production: Part I: This is more of a general overview than the prior featurettes. It delves further into the issues that the production faced - trying to write a new screenplay during the production after the film was greenlit based on an entirely different idea, freezing cold sets, long hours, studio debates and budget issues. We also learn more about how the actors felt about working with Fincher on his debut, safety issues with the fire scenes and sadly, having to replace cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth (whose son, Jeff, was the cinematographer for Fincher's "Fight Club"), who was suffering from Parkinson's disease.
Production: Part II: This documentary continues the in-depth look at the problems with the production. As the piece opens, we learn about how the production was halted during production in England and brought back to Los Angeles to try and re-think the film and fix some of the issues. We learn more about issues with Weaver's hair, editing and discussions of the ending.
Production Part III: This piece focuses more on Fincher's contribution to the film, as well as issues with characters. It's not bad; it's just the least interesting of the three "Production" featurettes. We see some of on-set Fincher, including an irritated Fincher waiting for a crew member to complete work, but don't learn that much more about him than we the other documentaries offer. Again, everything falls back on the fact that Fincher found himself in the enormously difficult position of not only having to follow-up in a series of enormously popular films, but having to start the film without a solid, finalized script and hearing a lot of "too expensive"s from the studio.
Adaptive Organism: This piece looks at the film's creature designs, as well as early concepts for changes and looks at the construction.
Also in "Production": Multi-angle look at the "EEV Bioscan", furnace construction time-lapse featurette, photo gallery and production photo archive.
Optical Fury: This documentary goes into great detail about the film's alien puppet work, matte paintings and other optical illustions, as well as how they were integrated into the film. We hear more from the effects artists involved in the film and the piece is well-edited, showing us not only interviews about the sequences, but behind-the-scenes clips, final film elements and more to give the viewer a full understanding.
Music and Sound: Composer Elliot Goldenthal and the film's sound editors are interviewed in this piece. Goldenthal provides some enjoyable insights about his concepts for the themes used in the film as well as how he became involved with the project. The composer talks about working with Fincher, issues with the project and briefly, how the director essentially was nowhere to be found during the moments when the final decisions on the picture needed to be made. The sound editors provide some fun discussion of their work and how some of their low-frequencys had "unexpected effects" on test audiences.
Post Mortem: This featurette provides a summary of the feelings of many of the participants. The tone of the piece is generally melancholy, as although compliments are offered to towards the film and David Fincher, there are also plenty of concerns about what they feel did not work.
Also in Post-Production: Visual effects gallery.
Final Thoughts: "Alien 3" is my least favorite of the four films, as it presents an uninteresting story and characters, which pretty much makes everything else - including the attempts at tension and atmosphere - suffer. However, the most controversial and troubled production of the four films does make for one of the better DVD editions of the series, as the supplements (the featurettes more than the commentary) clearly discuss the tensions and problems that occured once shooting started. The audio/video quality is quite good, as well. As with the other films in the "Quadrilogy" set, this edition of "Alien 3" will only be available in this set until early 2004.