For years I've heard about the so-called Assembly Cut of Alien 3, but didn't expect much from it. I wouldn't say I hated Alien 3 (although I would certainly say that of Alien Resurrection), I just think Aliens' version of Ripley is probably my favorite movie character in history. I don't know why I find her so endearing, I just do. But in Alien 3 she just seems... off.
Those who claim Alien 3 was only disappointing because its critics were expecting more Aliens are missing the point. A lot of us loved the first sequel because it was so different from the original. Right out of the gate Alien 3 makes the mistake of treading the same water. It's also important to remember Alien clones were a dime a dozen those days—something younger fans (or anyone who didn't have 90s-era Cinemax) might not know. The whole "we're trapped in a spaceship/military complex/prison with an alien" thing was played to death by '92. I just think it was perfectly understandable for audiences to expect something a little fresher from a series which had yet to repeat itself at that point.
So even though the extended cut of Aliens is the definitive edition as far as I'm concerned, I never checked out The Assembly Cut. I just assumed Alien 3's problems ran much deeper than its editing. Now that the entire Alien Anthology Blu-ray set is $25 for Amazon Prime members it's time to check it out. (I think I paid at least that much just to get the extended cut of Aliens on plain ol' DVD several years ago... I guess the streaming age is driving down the cost of Blu-rays and I couldn't be happier.)
My most recent viewing of Alien 3's theatrical cut was around twenty years ago, but I remember it well enough. The first forty minutes of The Assembly Cut feel like a completely different animal. For one, Ripley washes up on a beach after her escape pod crash lands on the penal colony known as Fury 161, although in the original she was pulled out of the wreckage itself. (The alien gestated in a dog if I recall correctly.)
Charles Dance's character, whose best scenes were apparently cut from the previous version, is out for a stroll on the beach when he discovers Ripley's unconscious body. I might have been opposed to the idea that Ripley hops in bed with this guy so early on, but I'll be damned if it isn't completely believable. It's less about "We want you to believe these characters are suddenly in love," and more like, "Sometimes, adults fuck." It's not nearly as clunky as I expected a "Ripley gets laid" scene to be. The chemistry these two characters share reminds me of Ripley's interactions with Corporal Hicks in Aliens. That so much of it was cut from the theatrical version betrays just how bad the studio heads were gunning to show the alien as soon as possible.
There are various other improvements I don't want to spoil. I'll just point out the alien's entrance is much spookier than the one we got before.
Although there were so many lame alien clones at the time, The Assembly Cut makes it clear Fincher could have made the first truly skilled knock-off. Unfortunately, the special effects suck as bad as they did in '92 and Ripley's reaction to learning of Newt's death still underwhelms. I was hoping the silly crucifixion imagery at the end of the movie was gone, and although that shot is improved in a way, it's still stupid and pretentious. Other than that, The Assembly Cut is a decent end to the trilogy.
(Which reminds me: anyone want my Alien Resurrection disc? No? Okay, I'll just use it as a coaster.)