Think back to 1992 for a moment. It was six years after James Cameron's Aliens turned what was a magnificent stand-alone science fiction horror mash-up into fully viable franchise and created a legion of breathless fanboys quoting Bill Paxton and Michael Biehn.
There was enough energy and excitement surrounding the impending Alien3 to echo, well, exactly what is going on right now with Prometheus. And, it was galling to have all that adrenaline-pumping struggle of the previous film erased before the opening credits were even finished. Not only that, but this new director, some music video guy named David Fincher, rubbed our collective noses in it by lingering on a rather graphic autopsy of poor Newt, the little girl who was triumphantly rescued by Ellen Ripley and Corp. Hicks from the horrors of LV-426.
With clinical, gory precision, that was the end of the surrogate daughter and cosy new family unit existing only briefly in hyper-sleep. Production issues and sloppy re-edits in the middle of Alien3 resulted in muddled pacing and a fair bit of narrative confusion. This was something for which the large cast of grimy bald-headed Englishmen did little to clear up. Finally, dodgy matte-work of the creature itself, the first time the xenomorph was digitally rendered - a less than perfect combination of puppeteering and CGI - seemed to add further insult to injury. In all fairness, however, the 20th Century Fox logo was still quite analog at the time.
The "Assembly Cut" of the film is a re-edited 30-minutes-longer version restored in 2003 and buffed up into full glory in the latest BLU-ray release. This was done by Terry Rawlings, who served as editor on Alien3 as well as Ridley Scott's Alien (also on Blade Runner), working from David Fincher's original work-print. It goes a long way to relieving the pacing and narrative issues of the eventual compromised theatrical release. It gives plenty more characterization to the prisoners and the internal politics of Fiorina "Fury" 161 to make them characters rather than just xenomorph-fodder. This is particularly so with prisoner Golic (played by Paul McGann, the "I" of Withnail & I) whose Judas-like arc was completely excised from the theatrical cut. Golic's worship of 'The Dragon' is one of the myriad religious parables on display in this film. I urge you to give this cut of the film a whirl, it is the version that has been given the nod by Fincher who otherwise has washed his hands of the sordid affair (his own painful birth into the world of studio feature film-making) and moved on to projects where he has retained far more control. The Assembly Cut is the version that I will be talking to, below.
RIPLEY: "It's just down there, in the basement."
85: "The whole place is a basement."
RIPLEY: "It's a metaphor."
CLEMENS: "Given the nature of our indigenous population, I would suggest clothes. None of them have seen a woman in years. Neither have I, for that matter. "
No conversation about Alien3 would be complete without Charles Dance's acute, if maddeningly short-lived, Dr. Clemens. Those who easily dismiss the film would be overlooking his massive contributions as a character to this franchise. A disgraced physician who rescues then befriends Ripley, he is the only character (outside the alien) who achieves any real intimacy with her. Even if it is a broken-adult type of transaction (but not without warmth) that actually acknowledges Ripley as a sexual being.
This was rather ignored in the previous entries, unless you count the mild ninth grade flirting-with-gun-handling from Hicks, or stripping down to her undies in the Nostromo escape pod with her kitty cat. In yet another act of the films sense of irony, Superintendent "rumour control" Andrews, feels that the threat of Ripley's sexuality, even if one eye is blood-shot before her hair has been shorn off, is of significantly greater threat to the sanctity of his institution than a potential unstoppable beastie. In a rare form of agreement between prison leader and cult leader, Dillon agrees.
Clemens, however, is an intelligent, competent, and secular lost soul who made a serious mistake in life which matter-of-factly stated in the film as an icy, but pain-laced, monologue delivered mere moments before his exeunt. Clemens has paid his dues and is resigned to his station.
The first half of Alien3 plays as an unconventional professional courtship of trust between Ripley and Clemens as they investigate the dangers of alien on the prowl. But, in the spirit of this movie, just after we hit the point where things are going good, the film makes the gutsy move of violently removing him from the equation. And his removal gives way to perhaps the most lasting image of this film, and that is the alien brandishing its teeth and dripping saliva mere millimeters from Ripley's shaven head.
COMPUTER RECORDING: "This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off. "
Oft times, a great movie does not actually give its audience what it wants. It takes expectations, particularly considering big franchises, and tries to stretch things into something vastly different. James Cameron certainly accomplished that with Aliens, and I believe, David Fincher, Terry Rawlings and Vincent Ward (the curious story of his original vision of a Wooden Monastary floating in Space being the genesis a quite different final film) accomplished this despite frictions and fallings-out with the Fox executives during production. Alien3 asks that you will swallow its poison and wallow in the last outpost (purgatory if you will) before heaven and hell where even victory results in, as per the final text of the film "things will be closed down and sold off for scrap." It is the only film in the series without a conventional, happy, ending and it is all the better for it.