Say Something Nice: ALIEN 3

How David Fincher's twisting of the 20th Century Fox fanfare set the stage for the ballsiest ALIEN movie ever.

Movie fans know all too well that you have to wade through a lot of disappointment to find the good stuff. And it’s not always some binary pile-sorting of "good movies" and "bad movies"; sometimes there’s quality material smack in the middle of the muck. Say Something Nice is dedicated to those gems - memorable, standout, even great moments from movies that...well, aren’t. 

Let's get this out of the way upfront: I love Alien 3. I'm not some mewling apologist. I'm not some misguided Fincher fanboy. I am an honest-to-God Alien 3 fan, and I am sick to death of having to defend this criminally-underrated entry in the Alien saga from you godless savages.

Good news (for both of us) is that this isn't what I've been called here to do today. Instead, I'm here to sell you on a single scene from Alien 3, one which I feel perfectly embodies the take-no-prisoners spirit of the film and the courage with which it was made. I'm talking, of course, about the film's opening fanfare.

Maybe you were expecting the scene just after the fanfare, the part where David Fincher (working from a mishmash of a script ultimately credited to David Giler, Walter Hill and Larry Ferguson) unceremoniously kills off fan-favorite characters Newt and Hicks before the credits have even finished rolling. Well, we've already covered the awesomeness (and necessity) of that scene on this site. Today, I want to focus solely on the clip above.

Things kick off as they normally do. The drums start pounding. The horns burst in, trumpeting the arrival of a brave new piece of 20th Century Fox filmmaking. And then - just when you're expecting that spectacular flourish which has always marked the end of Fox's all-too-familiar fanfare - it stops short. The sound suddenly approximates the feeling of being pushed off a steep ledge. A sinister drone sets in, builds, and then boom: Alien 3 is happening to you.

As far as I know, this is the only film to feature such a warped take on the 20th Century Fox fanfare, and yet I think of it every time I hear the standard version. It's such a little thing, but it says so much. From the moment the film begins, David Fincher (with the invaluable help of composer Elliot Goldenthal) is putting the audience on edge. It's unsettling, a perversion of a sound any filmgoer knows like the back of their hand, and it sticks with you.

It's also something of a mission statement: warping the fanfare is this movie's way of announcing its intention to do things differently, to not play by the rules. Alien 3 arrived in a pre-internet era, a time where plot details weren't freely available months in advance of a movie's release. Some people walked into Alien 3 expecting to see the continued adventures of Ripley's nuclear family (that'd be Mother Ripley, Papa Hicks and their precocious young daughter, Newt), only for most of those characters to be immediately killed off. Such people were outraged by this decision, and - in my humble opinion - it's forever impacted the way they've dealt with the film. 

If only they'd picked up what that alternate fanfare was putting down.

Look, we can argue all day about Alien 3's greatness (or lack thereof). I won't agree with most of the anti-Alien 3 sentiments, but I'm not so stubborn that I can't understand why some people don't dig Fincher's take. But Alien 3 contains a few elements whose greatness I will brook no debate on, and that haunting opening fanfare - all twenty-four, sucker-punch seconds of it - is absolutely one of 'em. It's a brilliant, deceptively simple creative decision, and it works like gangbusters. Every time.

Back me up on this in the space below.