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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 5/27/99



Alien 3
The Alien Legacy Collection - 1992 (1999) - 20th Century Fox

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

THX-certifiedEnhanced for 16x9 TVs

Alien 3
The Alien Legacy 20th Anniversary Edition
Film Rating: C+
Director David Fincher makes a valiant attempt to continue the Alien franchise, but ultimately this film suffers from some sub-par creature effects, shallow characters, and an unsatisfying plot.

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B+/C+
The anamorphic widescreen picture quality is near reference quality, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is extremely immersive. A host of trailers and a "making-of" featurette are included as extras.

Overall Rating: B
This disc isn't anywhere near as cool as either Alien or Aliens, but if you're a big fan of the film, you'll drool over the picture and sound quality.

Specs and Features

115 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1?), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 58:28, at the start of chapter 16), Amaray keep case packaging, 5 trailers (1 for each film in the series, and 1 for the forthcoming Alien Resurrection videogame), behind-the-scenes featurette, THX certified, generic menu screens with animation and sound effects, scene access (29 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), English & French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English & Spanish, Close Captioned

Review

"The bitch is back..."

While en-route back to Earth after the events in Aliens, Ripley and her surviving crewmates are the victims of yet another stowaway alien. Apparently, the alien queen managed to lay an egg on board the Sulaco before she was blasted into space. The resulting face-hugger attempts to get at the hibernating survivors, and bleeds acid, which causes enough damage to result in the crew being jettisoned in an Emergency Escape Vehicle (EEV). This crash lands on the wayward planet of Fiorina 161 (aka Fury), where a crew of 25 double-y chromosome criminals is serving a work sentence at an ore processing refinery/prison camp. Ripley is the only survivor of the crash... human that is. Yet another face hugger (or perhaps the same one?) manages to stowaway on the EEV, and soon the monk-like inmates are dropping like flies. You can imagine the mayhem.

I have to say that I had a really hard time evaluating this film - perhaps the hardest time of any film I've yet reviewed. I really wanted to like Alien 3, and there are some portions of it that I do like. I'm a definite fan of director David Fincher, and he gives a great effort to keep this film on track. It is very stylish visually - much more so than either of the first two films in the series, and Fincher successfully creates an air of depression and despair throughout the film, very reminiscent of Seven. Ultimately, however, the film suffers from several things.

First of all, it is difficult to empathize with (or care about) any of the characters in this film. And there is very little in the way of character development, that might help this problem. I've heard that this film was heavily cut before its theatrical release, and that there is a much longer director's cut, which is ultimately more satisfying in this respect. I wish Fox had used it here. Another problem with Alien 3, is its poorly conceived and written script. To start off with, we're asked to accept the idea that the alien queen managed to lay a few eggs unnoticed in the scant minutes she was on board the Sulaco. Then we're asked to believe that a single face hugger could cause enough damage to require evacuating the crew in an EEV, and then we're asked to believe that the EEV just happened to eject near a populated (albeit sparsely) planet. To make matters worse, all of the survivors of the previous film are immediately killed off (problems with budget or contract negotiations perhaps?), including Ripley's surrogate daughter Newt. Which leads to the script's other major problem - it's just a major downer. After the sheer horror of the first film, and particularly coming off of the edge-of-your-seat thrills of Aliens, this film seemed far too subdued and somewhat less than frightening. It just wasn't at all what I was expecting.

Which is not to say that the film doesn't have some merits. I did find the quasi-religious undertones of Fury's inhabitants compelling. And the concept of the alien creature taking on some of the physical characteristics of its host (in this case a dog) was intriguing. But again, the film stumbles over another major shortcoming, which is that the creature effects are just, well... bad. More often than not, the creature effects were accomplished by using a marionette-type puppet that was shot in front of a blue screen, and optically added to each shot with the actors. In other cases, its just a mechanical prop... and it shows. The first time we ever see the creature (in chapter 9), it just looks silly. The best thing about the creatures in the first two films, was that we barely saw them. They were far more frightening. Here we're seeing way too much.

The film's deficiencies aside, this DVD packs some serious quality. The anamorphic widescreen picture is very close to reference quality. Colors are accurate, yet subdued, and contrast is excellent, as is overall detail. The print is in superior condition, and the transfer has been very well done. There is little in the way of apparent grain, and almost no MPEG-2 compression artifacts. All in all a superior picture... with just one minor issue. I'm not an expert on this film, or on judging the finer subtitles of aspect ratio, but the widescreen picture on this disc doesn't quite seem to be fully 2.35:1. Those more familiar with the film may be better equipped to judge this issue, but in chapter 2, when we get the computer images of the Sulaco's crew files (as they're each logged "deceased"), the picture seems too tightly framed. Text on the left and right of my screen was lost, and this effect was noticed on multiple, properly-calibrated displays. These shots are the only place the effect is really noticeable, but if this IS a case of improperly preserved aspect ratio on DVD, it's disappointing, given the quality elsewhere.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio on this DVD is also excellent. The soundtrack is well-mixed, and creates a nicely immersive audio environment to accompany the visuals. There is generous use of the rear channels, and panning effects, without being gimmicky - a very natural and motivated soundfield is the result. Dialogue is clear at all times, and there is good solid bass when necessary and appropriate. All in all, a very good listening experience.

In terms of extras, the disc includes an interesting "making-of" featurette, that runs slightly over 23 minutes in length. It includes interview clips with the cast and crew of both previous films in the series, as well as a look behind-the-scenes on the production of Alien 3 itself. 5 trailers are also included on the disc - one for each of the 4 films in the series, as well as a Fox Interactive trailer for their upcoming Alien Resurrection videogame, for PCs and the Sony Playstation. The disc's menus are rather generic - very atmospheric (and somewhat suggestive of the production design and look of the films), but still not specific to the artwork or design of Alien 3 itself. It's hard to explain - you'll have to see it for yourself. I would rather have had film-grounded visuals, but I suppose that's a minor complaint. You also get a full-color booklet in the packaging, and the Alien Legacy animation, which plays when you first start the disc.

Bottom line

Alien 3 really isn't a bad film by itself, but I found it disappointing in the context of the series. It failed to meet my expectations after the first two films. Still, it does have its own merits - I can understand why many people say this film is underrated. And I would very much love to have seen this DVD include Fincher's input, and perhaps his original director's cut of the film. Still, if you really like Alien 3, you should be fairly happy with this disc, at least in terms of the exceptional picture and sound it offers.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


Alien 3


The Alien Legacy


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