Watching this third Alien film after a re-watch of Alien Resurrection certainly offered a contrast. Where one was somewhat reminiscent of Ridley Scott's original vision, the other felt more like a fun, if stupid, cartoon. It is quite a big leap between Alien 3 and Resurrection so lets see how the Alien Trilogy ended before it... began again.
From the offset, Alien 3 stylistically pays homage to the first Alien with it's white/greenish tones and clinical feel rather than the bluey, sweaty look of Aliens. We are led to believe that this will be a back-to-basics outing with a focus more on atmosphere and subtle horror with less action but more impact. To a certain extent, this proves to be an accurate assessment: Alien 3 most definitely approaches the horror aspect of the franchise the way Scott went about it. You get several scenes where something thoroughly unpleasant is going on, whether it's gory surgery or an autopsy, and we mostly see the event through the characters' reactions and short flashes of movement. This works beautifully and director David Fincher (Fight Club, Zodiac) reminds us what it was that made the original film truly special in its depiction of violence or body horror.
Then Sigourney Weaver's Ripley get dumped onto some prison planet and Alien 3 becomes a very different movie from then on. Not a worse movie, mind you, just different.
The rest plays out pretty much like a prison drama (with the occasional alien attack, of course) and becomes more about Ripley earning respect from the dodgy bunch she's been left with, leading the fight against the gooey ones and her dealing with her eventual, inevitable downfall. This is one gloomy movie with very little in the way of hope for any sort of happy conclusion. Ripley bonds with born-again convicts who are now living sort-of like monks isolated from the rest of the world, we are told they have horrible pasts and Ripley even gets attacked by some of them but they're all she's got so she rises above whatever issues she might have with them and works on getting everyone to stick together against those pesky alien folk. Hell, she even shaves her head to blend in (surprisingly not such a bad look btw).
It's a good plot and Alien 3, in many ways, is the most human of all the alien films. This gives the movie an interesting dualism and instead of having the human/alien mash-up hybridization of Resurrection, what we have is a clear division between the convicts and the aliens with Ripley being the link between both worlds.
Unfortunately, the film is let down by its dark setting and a lot of time is spent walking down badly-lit corridors and speaking in hospital-style rooms. It's a gritty movie, a good thing, but on the whole I suppose one would have expected more of a grand adventure, a huge challenge for Ripley's final stand instead of this quiet descent into hell which comes off as more subtle but less satisfying. I should mention also that the bit at the end where that alien bursts out of Ripley's chest as she's falling always makes me lol, which kinda breaks the dramatic oomph the film was going for with that last shot I think. I don't know why, it's just a silly image.
Alien 3 may very well be the least entertaining and gloomiest of the Alien films, even Resurrection managing to remain constantly fun throughout. But Weaver gives an underrated, powerful performance, the story is peppered with really interesting ideas and Fincher does a great job on the whole.
Do check it out, just don't expect an Aliens-style balls-to-the-wall spectacle.