A real horror show: The filming of Alien 3 was a nightmare for its director David Fincher.
'As I always say, things don't get clearer when you take the camera out of the box, they just get more confused.' The confusion, in this case, carries a hefty price tag and a lot of pain for first-time director David Fincher. Alien 3 is a monster movie in more ways than one. It has devoured an entire phalanx of scriptwriters, two previous directors, one sacked cinematographer and a lot of 20th Century Fox's money, some dollars 50m in all. More importantly, it failed to take the US box office by storm.
Downbeat and downright weird, this tale of sacrifice and redemption fails to provide the sort of crowd-pleasing action that made the last sequel such a hit. And while Sigourney Weaver gets to plunge into the cleansing flames for her finale, all David Fincher gets is a loud raspberry from Tinseltown's assembled multitude of told you so's.
So negative has been the response in America that Fincher has, until now, refused to speak on the subject. What was to be a short phone conversation about the more esoteric aspects of the alien turns into a long confessional, full of irony and punctuated with sad laughter. When I said I liked the film the response was a long sigh.
'Well I'm glad somebody likes it, it's good to hear. The idea was not to make a whizz-bang, shoot 'em up, but to deal with this character. Let's put a 40-year-old woman in outer space, not an underwear-clad victim like in the first Alien. In a way, we had to rationalise it. Here is this woman waking up again and facing the same damn monster. Please] We decided the reason it keeps happening is because that's what she is cursed to do. She is cursed to fight this thing until it's over.'
Sigourney Weaver has called this the most existential of the three films, which is probably not the best way to sell the film to an audience of 16-year-olds. The two previous films catapulted their respective directors, Ridley Scott and James Cameron, into the blockbuster league. Not so David Fincher. The story of his involvement with Alien 3 is a fairy tale without a fairy tale ending. Ridley Scott's 1979 Alien was the first film to rattle 17-year-old Fincher's brains and send him hurtling towards Hollywood. 'It just seemed so real to me. I was aware of being told things about people and story through the art direction rather than exposition. I always thought Ridley was brilliant and I never appreciated how brilliant he was until I tried to make this movie. Actually, he came down to the set once when we were setting fire to something. In he walked with his silk suit and one of his big Cuban cigars, looking fabulous.
'Ridley asked how it was going and I said, 'Really bad.' And he said 'It never goes well . . . this is not the way to make movies, make sure you make a little film where you have some control whilst they're beating you up.'
'The son of a Life magazine reporter Fincher was already producing a local television news show while in high school. By 19 he was working in the dream factory of George Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic, creating special effects for Return of the Jedi. Two years later he was directing his first video and eventually went on to become a founding member of a successful promo company.
And that's where Hollywood found him, shooting videos for the likes of Madonna and Paula Abdul. It was, as they say, an offer he couldn't refuse. A chance to play with the train set he had always dreamed of, his very own Alien film. There were strings attached, of course. Fox wanted their movie and they wanted it now. That, combined with a legacy of some dollars 15m already spent in abortive pre-production, made the experience an unenviable one.
'Oh, it was just hellish. This is the worst thing that ever happened to me. It would be stupid for me to say that I didn't know what I was getting into. It has taken me five years to decide on a first film and I always held out for something like this.
'The lesson to be learned is that you can't take on an enterprise of this size and scope if you don't have a movie like The Terminator or Jaws behind you. Because when everybody's wringing their handkerchiefs and sweating and puking blood over the money, it's very nice to be able to say, 'This is the guy who directed the biggest grossing movie of all time, sit down, shut up and feel lucky that you've got him.' It's another thing when you are there and you're going 'Trust me, this is really what I believe in,' and they turn round and say 'Well, who the hell is this guy?'
'There are people, who shall remain nameless, that I was bumping into as I was trying to put this thing together who put the whole experience into a really interesting perspective. They would say 'Look, you could have somebody piss against the wall for two hours and call it Alien 3 and it would still do dollars 30m-worth of business.' That's the impetus to make these movies, you can't keep the people away.'
Fincher and his screenwriter Larry Ferguson set their ambitions slightly higher. 'I want people to realise that I'm not embarrassed by the film, there are certain things in it I really like. At least we were taking some chances.' The Modern Review called Alien 3 the 'first dollars 50m dollar art movie', Sight & Sound have labelled it avant-garde and the American public have continued to stay away in droves. Which is not to say Alien 3 is a bad film merely a bleak one.
'If we failed to do one thing in this film, and we failed to do many things, it was to take people out of their everyday lives. It's not a scary scare movie but a queasy scare movie and I think people resent that. Actually, my dentist, as he was drilling my teeth, was giving me his thesis on the things wrong with this film and he said, 'When you go out of this movie you haven't gotten away from Aids, you haven't gotten away from race riots, you haven't gotten away from fear of other cultures.' We tried to make a movie about now and I just think in terms of the world box office we may have chosen wrong.'
David Fincher sighs again. Struggling with the alien has been a bloody and expensive learning experience. A dollars 50m learning experience to be precise. 'You know,' he concludes, 'if I make 10 shitty movies, I'll deserve the flak and if I go on to make 10 great ones, this'll probably be looked upon as my first bungled masterpiece.'