2. A short detour.
If you take more than an superficial glance at the movie, you will see that Alien³ is not only an original story, but a logical continuation of the first two movie. Alien was all about suspense. Aliens was all about action. Alien³ has both. It has the scares’n’shocks (The birth of the Alien, Clement’s death, Ripley’s attack on the fake Alien) and great action set pieces (do I really need to name them? The bait and chase finale, the attempt at capturing the Alien). I am not a huge Aliens fan (although it has an awesome finale). Suffice to say, Aliens removed the threat even a single Xenomorph can pose and turned them into hordes of bugs, although, admittedly, it was the logical step for the franchise to take at the time. But why expect Alien³ to up the body count even more? Granted, a full-out Alien war is a fan’s (and, therefore, my) wet dream, but why blaming Alien³ for not taking that direction? Okay, granted, that was partly because of the movie’s crappy marketing, which showed a teaser that strongly implicated an Alien outbreak on Earth. Alien³ brought back the almost, for the lack of a better word, god-like quality of the Alien, which could show up at any time to kill you and you could do almost nothing about it. This is what makes the Alien creature so cool, isn’t it? For me, it’s definitely not an onslaught of mindless drones which can be easily killed and only win by numbers.
3. Not Alien. Not at all.
But I digress. You say that Alien³ is more or less a rehash of the first movie. Isn’t that a bit overgeneralizing? It’s like saying „Hey, there are starfighters blowing each other to dust and lightsaber duels. Therefore, Empire Strikes Back is a rehash of A New Hope.“ There are only so much variations you can go with the bare-bones plot of an Alien movie. People without weapons fighting a single Alien (Alien and Alien³, granted). People with weapons fighting a single Alien (would be a very short film). People without weapons fighting many Aliens (Interesting, but probably of TV-commercial length) People with weapons fighting many Aliens (Yeah, well, Aliens). That’s it. And come to think of it: It’s also a case of double standards. Say you one day you will get your „Earth war“ Alien flick. I severely doubt you would say: „Meh, it’s like Aliens, only bigger.“ My point is: Just because Alien³ shares the most basic (I can’t stress this word enough in this respect) plot structure with Alien, it doesn’t make it a rehash of it.
So, after making a fuss about that Alien³ is NOT the same as Alien, it’s just fair to ask: What makes it different? What makes it unique? First, the most obvious thing that needs the least reasoning: Alien³ is the last part of the trilogy, and Ripley dies. In this, it’s actually the exact opposite of Alien. Alien starts the story, Alien³ ends it. In Alien, we get to know Ripley and the Xenomorph, whereas in Alien³, we watch both of them dying. I could expand this list, but I think I’ve made my point. Just by virtue of being the finale, Alien³ is both different and unique.
Now, you say: „Hey, what about Return of the Jedi and The Last Crusade? C’mon, those are third parts of a trilogy and mostly rehashes of the first movie.“ I tend to agree although, one day, I may make my case about each of them having enough unique and new elements to set them apart. I end this part by suggesting a sidestep: Isn’t it a vital part of trilogy enders that they live on reversed symmetry to the first movie? As I said: The first one starts the story, the third one ends it.
Let’s come to the second aspect: The character ensemble. You thought that the crew of the Nostromo was not exactly your brand of heroes? Well, the prisoners of Fury 16 is a whole facility full of potentially very dangerous psychopaths and criminals. How’s that for a group of heroes! Alien and Aliens suggested that humans may be as dangerous as any alien parasite, but mostly in their subtext. Alien³, for the first time drives the point home and then some. And there’s also the gender thing: Ripley is a woman alone in a world full of men. No Lambert and also no token females like Ferro. I like horror movies which break up the usual gender relationship archetypes. Think The Descent. And playing to this by presenting the only sexual relationship in the trilogy just to cut it short shows that the story lives up to its premise. I certainly prefer it to the Ripley-Hicks thing that, in my opinion, would have certainly developed had he survived.
The third and last aspect I want to point out is the bleakness of this story, embodied in so many things – first and foremost in Ripley’s impregnation. It’s the logical conclusion and inevitable to bring Ripley’s arc to an end. Alien never would be so dark again, save for the Labyrinth comic and parts of Alien Resurrection. Here, no one gets out alive, save for one minor character. Your beloved Aliens had a rather generous survivor count with three (and a half) people (pun intended). I agree that this is perhaps the least enjoyable movie of the series because of its hopeless atmosphere. But that doesn’t make it a bad movie, and don’t blame the sun if you can’t take the heat. One other intriguing plot element is the religious subtext of Alien³, even moreso in the Assembly Cut. That’s perhaps the only thing I would have liked to have been taken even further, although there’s a bunch of comics which tackle the Alien-religion connection. Instead the movie stays subtle, but rich nonetheless. Ripley’s sacrifice, the tell-tale implications of a bunch of violent loonies practicing religion and Golic’s relationship to the Alien as featured in the Assembly Cut. I don’t want to be an apologetic (although that’s kind of my business) saying: „Hey, no wonder you didn’t like the theatrical version, the Assembly cut is soooo much better!“ But concerning the religion subplot, it is indeed an enhancment. However, it’s also there in the theatrical version, just not served on a silver tablet.
So, there you go. The setting is different. The character dynamics are different. The film goes beyond the threat of a Xenomorph to tackle religion and gender dynamics. The main character experiences the worst horror of the Alien first-hand and pays the ultimate price. Where were your intolerable and annoying rehashs again?