There were three directors attached to this film. The first was Reny Harlin who signed on with the hope of putting a new spin on the franchise. His idea was to go back to the alien home world, see where they originated, and perhaps discover they aren't quite the menace they appear to be. That idea was jettisoned in favor of bringing the aliens to earth - an idea Reny saw himslef still being able to work with. It's when the studio wanted to go with (yet again) battling the alien on some sort of spacecraft is when he quit the project.
His replacement became Vincent Ward whose imagination seems to have exceeded what realistically could have been done - at least in 1991. His concept was, essentially, monks in space. Yes, really. It sounded like a very intriguing notion. These men, fed up with society and it's reliance on technology abandon earth to live on a planetoid constructed of wood.
Why wood you ask? Well, a lot of people asked that. Sure, from the production art I saw the sets would have been spectacular (though, this planet bared more than a passing resemblence to the Death Star in my opinion), but it didn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense. David Giler - who would go on to do a rewrite of Ward's script - states as much. I have to agree with him, there is a certain suspension of disbelief with these type of films, but you still need some sort of basic logic to hold it all together.
Tthe structure of Ward's premise is still present in the film. Ripley's ship crash lands onto the planet with her being the sole survivor. One of the monk's befriends her and assists her when she's accused of bringing a 'demonic' presence into their society. She's still impregnated by the alien and, in one of two versions of the final shot, walks into a fire to kill herself and the alien within her.
How far did this premise go? Pretty damn far. Sets were being built in England. Yet, Vincent Ward, preparing to start the shoot was suddenly being asked to do rewrites. It was determined that the wood planet was not doable and that the monks should become prisoners. Ward complied, at first, with the alterations, but eventually put his foot down. He left the production/was fired - it's never made clear from interviews.
With trailers already in theatres touting a 1992 release, sets being built, and cast and crew growing impatient, David Fincher agreed to take over as director and walked into one of the worst scenerios one could imagine. The film never had a script. The movie was written as it was being filmed. And the studio never finished production, essentially, as one of the producers put it, they just stopped shooting one day.
FOX determined (as the film was hemoraging money and going over schedule) to stop filming, edit a cut of the film, and then determine what additional shots they needed. No one seemed to disagree with this idea. So, three months after principle photography wrapped, it was back to England. Of course, Sigourney had grown her hair out by then and didn't want to shave her head again. Apparently, it was in her contract that if she had to do so she got paid another $40,000. FOX spent $16,000 on a latex head piece instead. :p
Before I get to the differences between the version of the film Fincher wanted (which runs about thirty minutes longer) and the theatrical release, there's a very interesting interview with Michael Biehn in the supplemental materials. I have to admit, the brutal death of Hicks and Newt at the beginning of Alien3 largely tainted my initial viewing of the film. Most of Aliens fans had grown to love those characters as much as Ripley. Newt was what saved Ripley - in more ways than one. To add insult to injury, Michael was told by James Cameron during filming of Aliens that he (assuming Cameron had opted to do another) would have Ripley, Hicks, and Newt as a "famly unit" back on earth. Cameron even went so far to make sure he set up shots of just the three of them together to establish this scenerio. :(
As I mentioned before, Michael still seems extremely bitter over Hicks being killed off. He never hid his anger, caused a lot of problems for FOX and the producers of the film and, I think, shot himself in the foot in the long run. His outrage began when he found out from the producer of a film he was shooting at the time, who had been walking through the effects shops in England, that a replica of him had been constructed with a huge hole in his chest - apparently from where an alien had burst out. He contacted his agent, his agent contacted FOX, and, in fairness, they offered him a lot of money to use his likeness. He said no and hence we have the alien eminating from a dog instead of Hicksy. Funny thing is, when FOX came back to him later to get permission to use a still photo of him in the film, he agreed - for more money than he made on Aliens.
After nustering the courage to finally watch the flim again after all these years, I chose the 'extended version' - not a 'director's cut' since Fincher refused to participate in any of this. Then I scanned through the theatrical version to better see the differences.
There is no question that the extended cut is a better version. It still has it's fair share of flaws - some of which are just inherent in the concept. How can anyone possibly care that a group of rapists, murderers, and child molestors are being killed? Plus, shaving their heads and putting them in similar clothing makes it exceedingly difficult to differentiate them. And, some may disagree, but I still can't fathom Ripley having sex with the doctor, Clemens. She's been out in space a long time? I don't buy that. She's also just lost the two people closest to her.
As for the unkind cuts that made a perhaps tolerable film a mess:
There was a stunning extended opening sequence where we get to see outside of the prison, the doctor discovering Ripley's body which has washed ashore, and a group of prisoners sent to look for any more survivors. The one blessing to this cut - a much more graphic depistion of what happened to Hicks. Trust me, you don't want to know.
It seems a bit silly to me that they reshot this, but in the original cut, the alien burst out of a dead ox (oxes were used as beasts of burden) rather than the pet dog . There was also a discovery of the remnants of a facehugger. According to the supplemental materials, this was the one that had impregnated Ripley with a queen. BTW, in neither version is it clear how Ripley knows it's a queen in her and not your run of the mill alien. Personally, I have to believe it's a queen in order to rationalize it's extended gestation that allowed Ripley to be up and about so long after being impregnated.
In the theatrical version, the prisoners seem to die in fairly quick succession. You don't get to know them or understand what they are doing while the alien is on it's rampage. The film was so badly edited that Golic, played by Paul McGann, simply disappears during the film and you never know what became of him. Plus, he seems to have been driven insane by witnessing the slaughter of two of his fellow inmates. That's not the case. Turns out the character is just plain nuts. So much so that after he convinces another prisoner to free him from his restraints, he escapes to help the alien who he envisions as some sort of kindred sprirt. Yes, he frees the alien. There was an entire subplot in which they managed to capture and contain the alien until Golic unleashes it again.
Ripley's death differs slightly in the two versions. Originally, she just falls back, alone, into the molten metal. In the version you've all seen, she falls back and, as she is doing so, the alien bursts forth from her chest. She must struggle then to take it with her and ensure it's destroyed. I prefer the simplicity of original version. Not only do I think the latter is unrealistic (even within the confines of a sci-fi/horror film) and melodramatic, it seemed more fitting that Ripley die alone.
So, anyone still awake? Sorry, I know I have trouble editing myself. I hope some of you found all that interesting. I'm still not crazy about the film. I'll always have issues with some of the choices that were made. Not to mention, I just can't find it scary or suspensful as I do the first two and even number four to a certain extent. I will admit it's the most visually stunning with some jaw dropping shots that ended up on the cutting room floor. I've always had a lot of respect for David Fincher and he did the best he could under impossible circumstances (and it was his first film!), but, like other FOX properties, I'll always be left to wonder, what if?