Third Times a Charm
Alien 3 is one movie that proves the adage which states the third time is the charm. Alien was a risk for the filmmakers and the studio because it was released at a time when audiences' idea of a horror movie was closer to Halloween than it was to anything by H.P. Lovecraft (and the alien design by H.R. Giger is nothing if not Lovecraftian), and their idea of science fiction was defined by Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. When Alien became a success, it had truly won against the odds. Aliens, the sequel, was a risk because so much time had passed, and director James Cameron changed the format from outer-space horror to sci-fi action. The third time had to be the charm.
Alien 3 - The One Most Fans Would Rather Forget
Alien 3 was a success for the studio and the filmmakers. It was a success for the stars (Sigourney Weaver was paid an ungodly amount of money to return as Ellen Ripley) as well. Fans, on the other hand, found little to be excited about.
The story of Alien 3 is a forgettable one. In hyper-sleep (again) after the end of Aliens, Ripley awakes to find that her tiny ship has wound up on a distant prison planet. Little Newt and Corporal Hicks (two of the most beloved characters from Aliens) have perished, and she is alone again. We also find out that, somehow, she has brought along an alien stow away, but Ripley and the unsuspecting residents of the penal colony don't know this...yet.
Of course the Alien manages to get born (from a dog!) and proceeds to munch on a string of people in the colony. While there are some tense sequences which are reminiscent of the first film, it's mostly rehash and not terribly interesting. Charles S. Dutton (Roc, Gothika) turns in a nice performance as a prisoner turned religious zealot, and the aliens still look as menacing as ever, but there's not much to write home about here - until the ending.
The big shocker in this film is, of course, the death of Ellen Ripley. She learns that she's been carrying an alien queen all along (didn't they burst from their hosts' chests in a matter of hours before?) and commits suicide just as the thing is ready to pop out (she does it in a manner that will kill the alien as well). Ripley's death gave a tone of finality to the series, made it a neat trilogy, and everyone assumed that it was over not only for Ripley, but for the Alien series as well. Of course that's not the way it worked out because Alien: Resurrection came along in 1997 to bring back the series and Ripley herself. Alien vs. Predator followed in 2004.
Alien 3's Place In The Legacy
Alien 3 is a competent enough sci-fi/horror movie on its own, but it simply doesn't hold a candle to the other films. As a part of the series it is nothing short of a major disappointment. Alien: Resurrection which is also pretty bad is better than this flick and Alien vs. Predator (which is nothing short of terrible) is actually more entertaining.
A few years back a 4-disc DVD set of the entire Alien series was released. Since it included special cuts of both Alien and Aliens, it is worth checking out if it can be found at a low enough price. It's nice to have the whole series - even if you'll only watch two of the four films. For the others, well there's always eBay.