Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) awakens to discover her escape pod has crashlanded on a desolate, nearly abandoned prison planet. The bad news is that her companions have died; the worst news is that an Alien has survived, is picking off the inhabitants of the colony she finds herself in, and those inhabitants are murderous criminals who haven't seen a woman in years and have no weapons...
Considering the trouble there was to get this third instalment of the Alien franchise to the screen, it's a miracle it was made at all - in fact, director David Fincher disowned the film. From Vincent Ward's original story of a colony of monks being menaced by the creature, Walter Hill, David Giler and Larry Ferguson managed to fashion a script, but it's obvious they were struggling to find a new plot for an old idea, and this is more a return to the claustrophobic first film than an action adventure like the second.
Weaver's Ripley is now world weary, almost resigned to her fate as the bringer of bad tidings and the only hope against the danger. This fits in with the relentlessly grim and gloomy atmosphere, enhanced by the grimy, industrial look of the design. The conversations start out low key and earnest, and by the end of the movie everyone is panicky and argumentative. Humour is largely absent (apart from a good joke about running with scissors).
The colony that Ripley fights to save are an unloveable lot, all killers and rapists. Here the religious angle comes in, because, while they are all converts and resisting temptation, Ripley's introduction sees them reverting to their old, criminal ways. Not worth saving at all, on the face of it, but Ripley is not going to let her reservations get in the way of embracing martyrdom and destroying the Alien once and for all. She's doing this for humanity's sake.
Of those in charge, Brian Glover's supervisor is willfully blind to the threat, and only Charles Dance's doctor is sympathetic. But as the film progresses, Ripley's reasons for living are gradually eroded: the people she cares for are killed, and the motherhood theme of the previous film is turned into a grotesque parody when she discovers what has really happened on the escape pod.
The final chase through the tunnels of the complex is exciting, but it's too difficult to tell what's really going on, and how exactly the remaining prisoners are trying to trap the Alien (now a canine variation on H.R. Giger's design). The presence of faceless Company returns, and they still want their specimen, but it doesn't have the same impact this time around.
Yes, Alien 3 has these problems, but the sheer despondency of the final product and the uncompromising ending makes it one of the most unusual would-be blockbusters of the nineties, with of its message of redemption through suffering. Music by Elliott Goldenthal. Third sequel Alien Resurrection followed five years later, despite the apparently definitive climax of this one.