• You can practically see the board of whomsoever meeting around a table, their faces contorted as they strain to come up with an idea on why a second "Alien" sequel would happen at all; what it's premise might be; how it might be the case that one of these monsters might have found its way into proceedings given the first sequel, 1986's "Aliens", concluded as it did. In the end, the best they can settle for is a brief rewriting of history: something, inexplicably, manages to crawl its way into the escape vessel, and here we all go again.

    I was always aware there were issues over the production of "Alien3", the classic case of the studio facing off against the director in a fashion more akin to the medium of television; that immortal battle, not of aliens versus predator, but of business versus art; of a studio not having any interest in auteuristic integrity but delivering bang-for-buck. I have never quite found the motivation to look up as to the precise details of the rift with which "Alien3" was fraught, but I suppose there are bits and pieces of its evidence in the film when you watch it now: its early eagerness to go down the route of a mood piece, the way it eventually bottles that for second unit material, the finale itself, which must have induced a battle of words off-camera not dissimilar to how someone representative of a large organisation tries to talk somebody out of what they're contemplating...

    But all that comes later. We pick up where the last film left off: Ripley (Weaver), firmly established as the franchise's lead, drifts aimlessly through space with a young girl; an android and a hardened solider, the only four survivors of an expedition which saw a crew of marines frequent an alien infested space community years prior. She crash lands on a planet which basks in a violent storm, where greys and cold blues dominate the colour palette and ugliness the skyline. It is home to that of a prison, which seems as if it is supposed to sport the worst kind of inmates imaginably, but are here in an odd transitional phase; they have found God, rapists are undergoing vows of celibacy; serial killers are more interested in delivering sermons than blunt objects into people.

    When Ripley awakes, the wardens who run the facility can only take her story with a pinch of salt, but why else would a soldier; an infant; a droid and a technician be banded together in an escape pod? She has, in fact, lost the three survivors from the last film, who did not survive the crash-landing, which is a shame, because the film had two or three fairly interesting characters with whom we had spent enough time to get to know. Not to use them here was a pity, although did demonstrate a gutsy decision on the director's behalf to want to create his own idea, his own universe.

    We sample what this might have been like via Lance Henriksen's Bishop character, who is briefly brought back via the miracle of technology. She can only find solace thus in the character of Clemens, a medical officer played by Charles Dance with some conviction; someone with an unfortunate past and who walks around with a lot of weight on his shoulders - suddenly, we don't mind at all if the entire piece revolves around the two of them.

    The film does well with its gamesmanship once the alien does show up and people are found a little worse for wear; we are, after all, on a planet populated by psychopathic criminals and there is a good deal of worth in the exchanges as per who is telling the truth and what exactly is going on. It is only a shame these exchanges do not go on for a little longer. Eventually, the film will switch to its horror setting, and things bed down into a more familiarised groove.

    The dynamic here as per "Aliens" is that, while these criminals are about as tough as the marines, they are the inverse in that they have previously used their violent energy for amoral purposes. It felt as if there might have been some interesting ground to cover as per exploring morality and redemption, forcing the audience into getting behind an unpleasant character-or-two, but it just isn't present. Those the film considers suitable to propel it into its final act are reforming themselves anyway, so why bother?

    The inmates are, additionally, not armed with the latest in military hardware, but they feel suspiciously less vulnerable than the armed marines. This is because, firstly, the film isn't made as competently and secondly because we don't really know any of them in the first place. The film is therefore not as tense as it should have been. What is also markedly different here is that there is no insider or traitor to the cause like in "Alien" and "Aliens", so there is no dramatic revelation as the film reaches its crescendo as before. Said crescendo is a messy finale, more synthetic than the previous two and down in a maze of corridors whose geography I lost track of.

    Standing back and taking stock of "Alien3", you can see the skeletons of two or so different films - it is almost as if it didn't even need an alien in order to work, and that the presence of such a thing bogs it down. Reimagine it as a film merely relaying a chapter in Ripley's life, with or without Dance's character; stuck on a prison planet where all of the inmates are unpleasant; where Hicks and Newt are alive and walking around and where the 'Organisation' still wants witness to its prize. What we get instead is an experience that is probably despised more than it deserves to be, but still falls well short of its bigger sisters.