Last In Space

This is a movie that began shooting (at Pinewood Studios, in London, for both economic and artistic reasons) without a finished script and wasn't completely cut until a few weeks before its release. A project that has gone through three directors, eight screenwriters, innumerable script drafts telling several dissimilar stories, both with and without Ripley.

Also a Writers Guild strike, the gulf war, mammoth cost overruns, a change in studio leadership. Tantrums. A serious special-effects accident. Producers who lost their power as soon as they became the writers of the final draft. Reshoots that cost millions to produce moments of film. Everything, it would seem, but a plague of locusts and boils.

Still, Sigourney Weaver had fun.

''There was a great deal of worry from the studio,'' she says. ''Fox had just finished Die Hard 2, which cost an incredible amount of money. And they were sort of afraid this would happen to this one. Because when we started — when (director David) Fincher came on the picture — they were like $7 million in the red (on the project).''

But her initial skepticism about Fincher, then a 27-year-old novice whose previous experience was limited to music videos (including Madonna's "Express Yourself" and "Vogue"), quickly turned into admiration when she saw that his technical mastery was matched by a precocious sensitivity to his actors. ''He is so cool, this guy,'' Weaver says. ''I just can't believe what he's endured.''

She is talking about Fox's ''attempt to micromanage every financial detail,'' as David Giler puts it. Via transatlantic telephone, the studio kept the young director on the tightest possible tether, reportedly even dictating when the lights should go out on the set each night.

Despite the pressure, Fincher seemed unfazed. ''We just cracked jokes through the whole shoot,'' Weaver says. ''A lot of it was at the expense of Fox. It was the only way to survive. Our producers had abandoned us, and because of the gulf war, Fox people weren't coming over. We were like kids putting on a show in the barn.''

And Weaver herself had changed, from the serious young thespian uncertain about the honor of doing movies at all, let alone big commercial movies (Bill Murray used to tickle her before takes on Ghostbusters to get her to loosen up), to a grown-up taking the longer view. ''I had my daughter with me, so my life was very civilized, very balanced,'' she says. ''Every day I got to leave this terrible lice-ridden planet to have lunch with Charlotte. I had trouble sometimes bringing myself down again. I was having such a good time.

''A lot of actors work from agony and insecurity,'' she says. ''But the longer you work, the more you realize that's just taking you away. I've learned from certain magical people I've worked with — Michael Caine, Gérard Depardieu — to love being there.''

But will the Alien3 audience feel the same way? Fox may have trouble squeezing blockbuster performance out of this poundingly grim, low-tech movie about the creature's predations on what one character calls ''a bunch of lifers who find God at the ass end of space'' — a movie that is black-humored at best and whose ending can only be described as downbeat.

David Fincher, who gave one stressed-out interview after the completion of principal photography, isn't talking. Fox's Roger Birnbaum sounds a bit nervous. ''I think the picture will find an audience,'' he says gingerly. ''The core of Alien fans will go back. I think this movie holds up the integrity of the franchise."