Alien 3: Curious similarities to Apocalypse Now and Blade Runner via Element of Crime

Leading from

Still Collating

a) Odd Similarities with Element of Crime
a i.) My first revelations
 When I first saw Alien 3, I was slightly disappointed by its unfinished and fragmented nature,  I thought that I saw a review towards the end of its run that compared it to one of "Tarkovsky's opium fueled hallucinations" and suddenly thinking about the work of Tarkovsky put me in a better view about the movie in that it was more or less an abstract hallucination, but looking back through old Starburst magazines I saw a review by Kim Newman for the movie that suggested that the movie was like Tarkovsky on valium and it may well have been that which I read.

However around the turn of the millenium, I was informed about the movie "Element of Crime" by Lars Von Trier and how there were some things in it similar to Alien 3. Element of Crime was released in 1984. And then I later discovered that this movie had been partially inspired by the works of Andrei Tarkovsky, before I suddenly began to make further links with Alien 3.
The story is generally as goes: A detective named Fisher, who has become an expatriate living in Cairo, undergoes hypnosis in order to recall his last case. The Europe of his dreamlike recollection is a dystopia, dark and decaying. Fisher remembers pursuing an elusive killer called the "Lotto Murderer", who was strangling and then mutilating young girls who were selling lottery tickets. He attempts to track down the killer using the controversial methods outlined in a book entitled The Element of Crime, written by his disgraced mentor, Osborne. He is joined in his search by a prostitute named Kim, who, it turns out, has had a child by his target. Fisher's search is based on a tailing report written by Osborne when trying to track down a murderer who had been killing in the same way as the "Lotto Murderer", but who, supposedly, has since died in a crash. The Osborne method requires the detective to try to identify with the mind of the killer. This he does, but, in so doing, begins to behave more and more like a serial killer himself.   (The story of the film as described in Wikipedia)
a.ii) Other connections.
Another thing to note it that it's been said that William Gibson compared his own slightly early Alien 3 script to Tarkovsky's work, so it might seem as if that Russian director's influence was going to be felt one way or another.
A thing to stress is that Element of Crime film payed homage to Andrzej Tarkovsky movies and it seemed certain that Ridley Scott's Blade Runner perhaps in terms of cinematography and the presence of an investigator but it has been said that Von Trier had even confessed his debt to the film along with others Also it was noted by fans that there was a Francis Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now" connection. Martin Scorsese is mentioned enthusiastically in the commentary as something someone whose work inspired various scenes. 
In the commentary track for the DVD of the Element of Crime, Peter Shepelern who wrote a book about Von Trier's film and knew him mentioned that his ideas also were inspired by writers such as Kafka and Borges and discussed with Stig Bjorkman how Element of Crime would have been very much inspired b the filmsy "Confidential Report" and "Touch of Evil" by Orson Welles. But here is appears to be more important to point out the comparisons to Blade Runner are negligible. 

b) Apocalypse Now to Element of Crime
b.i) Apocalpyse now to Alien 3
David Fincher wanted to make Alien 3 his "Apocalypse Now" when he pitched it to the studios, he did not expand on what this was all about to the magazine interviewers, and
b.ii)  Coonel Kirtz transforms into Kramer the chief of police
However it was as if Kramer is supposed to remind people of the Brando character Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now and indeed we know that Fincher wanted to make Alien 3 as a sort of Apocalypse Now.  A given reason for the people in Alien 3 being bald is because they need to shave their heads because of the lice around the prison complex.
  1. The references to Apocalypse Now are a tougher fit, since that film dealt with such a uniquely American catastrophe. They're there, though: Jerold Wells in the still above is meant to remind you of Brando, and there's a great helicopter shot later in the film that's should have "Ride of the Valkyries" playing over it (
  2.  What is it? A third film in the Alien franchise, written by legendary "cyberpunk" science fiction author William Gibson (Neuromancer), which featured the characters of Hicks and Bishop instead of Ripley and included the added dimension of a contagion that turns humans into aliens. The script was reportedly action-heavy, with plenty of hot alien-on-Marine action, although Gibson himself compared it to introspective Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky (Solaris).  ( (further source required)

Marlon Brando as Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now
Kramer the Chief of Police  yelling through his megaphone in Element of Crime

Kramer the Chief of Police  talking to Fisher in Element of Crime

    Kramer the Chief of Police in Element of Crime

    b.ii) Like a bad acid trip
    Another Element of Crime/Apocalypse now connection, perhaps as Jan Simon (writer of Playing the waves: Lars Von Trier's Game Cinema) could perceive,  the hypnotic trip through Europe that Fisher takes in The Element of Crime had echoes of Apocalypse Now which could be taken as a long, bad, acid trip into the mind of Captain Willard (played by Martin Sheen) whose drugged features are seen in close-up at the beginning of the film, but it would be hard to see a counterpart in Alien 3 for him, 
    The Alien 3 film itself runs with a series of events that happen to set the film in motion near enough without explanation such as the appearance of an egg aboard the Sulaco and the audience have been left in a state of confusion about these things.
    1. The hypnotic trip through Europe that Fisher takes in The Element of Crime has echoes of Apocalypse Now, which can also be interpreted as a long, bad, acid trip into the mind of Captain Willard (played by Martin Sheen) whose drugged features are seen in close-up at the beginning of the film. To sum up, practically every shot in the Europa trilogy recalls the films, the filmmakers and the film styles of (European) history.  (Playing the waves: Lars Von Trier's Game Cinema, Jan Simons, 2003)
    Scene from Apocalypse now with the strange purple smoke

    c.) Blade Runner to Element of Crime

    c.i) Origami Unicorn to small glass horse's head
    In Blade Runner, a character named Gaff creates origami that appear to reflect Deckard's state of mind
    There's a detective named Fisher who is after the child murderer,  instead of picking up a a piece of origami unicorn that was intended to make Deckard to realise that he's a replicant in Blade Runner, he picks up a glass like horse head that he picked up earlier in the movie
    1. The Element of Crime has even been called an art house Blade Runner (USA 1982), not just because the detective in Ridley Scotts classic science-fiction film also turns out to be the kind of replicant he is supposed to hunt down, but because of the corresponding setting a dilapidated city shrouded in twilight, artificial lighting and rain.(Playing the waves: Lars Von Trier's Game Cinema, Jan Simons, 2003) 
    2.  Von Trier has described his "Europa" or "Zentropa" as a thriller, even citing Hitchcock in an interview with a Polish journalist. But while Hitchcock was precise, even at his most playfully evasive, Von Trier is vague, portentous. He also confesses his debt to Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" and to Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner," but both of these futuristic visions are more firmly grounded than "Zentropa," with its semi-coherent stream of nightmare images, its blend of Brechtian satire and sexual-political phobias.  (
    3. Tomas Gislasen: Most computer games and thrillers look just like
      Tom Elling: It's really kickstarted different things
      Tomas Gislasen: But then again, it's inspired by "Blade Runner" and Tarkovsky.
      Lars Von Trier: Now, now,...
      Tom Elling: No, you're absolutely right...
      Lars Von Trier:  But it's still quite different from "Blade Runner"

      (Element of Crime: commentry with
      Lars Von Trier, Tomas Gislasen and Tom Elling: 59 minutes in Subtitles)


    Small transparent horse head that Fisher picks up in the earth

    c.iii) Fisher becomes the murderer
    Later when he is in a small room a little girl using her as bait for the killer,  the glass horse head suddenly falls out of his pocket. The girl thinks that he must be the child killer and so indeed he ends up for no known reason suddenly killing the girl sufforcating her perhaps to keep her silent so as not to scare the murderer off or whatever reason, but in the end he has become the murderer that he's been chasing.  The villain Harry Grey might be real or just a phantom like invention.
    1. Interviewer:Why does Fisher kill little girl if he's a humanist?
      Lars Von Trier: That's a good question that not even Osborne cant answer. From a dramaturgical point of you it's interesting to let a person arrive in Europe with the best intentions and to end up having him commit the worst imaginable crime and killing little girls, that is the worst imaginable crime (Lars von Trier: Interviews, p39)


    d) Element of Crime to Alien 3 
    d.i) Abundance of bald men
    Alien 3 had an abundance of bald people as did Element of Crime including its director Lars Von Trier who appeared in a scene bald as a hotelier, and a main vicious character is a bald man, in Element of Crime it is a brutal police chief Kramer, and in Alien 3, it is the prison warden Andrews.  
    Kramer talking to Fisher in Element of Crime
    Andrews the prison warden in Alien 3
    d.ii) Child Killers
    The lead character Fisher is hunting a child murderer named Grey, and in Alien 3, a percentage of the prisoners in the film are child killers

    The bald cultists in Element of Crime

    bald prison inmates in Alien 3

    The bald cultists in Element of Crime
    d.iii) Autopsy of a young girl
    An autopsy is performed on a young girl who died sufforcation at the hands of the killer Harry Grey in Element of Crime. 
    The autopsy surgeon's assistant soon falls asleep on a surface covered in surgical tools
    In Alien 3, an autopsy is conducted on the body of the character Newt who is revealed to have drowned in her cryotube. Meanwhile Ripley dares not try to say what she's afraid of that might have killed the girl, claiming that her concerns were about cholera infection. 
    Meanwhile Clemens' assistant who is sitting on the staircase starts to yawn perhaps on the verge of falling asleep

    autopsy scene in Element of Crime

    autopsy scene in Element of Crime

    The sleeping assistant in Element of Crime
    Clemens as he performs the autopsy on Newt in Alien 3
    Clemens and Ripley after the autopsy with Newt's corpse on the bed

    The assistant who's yawning and perhaps on the verge of falling asleep in Alien 3

    d.iv ) Loris in a hole to juvenile alien in a hole
    At the end of Element of Crime, Fisher's way out of the world is through finding a lid with a hole in the ground, perhaps a sewer line, where he finds a loris, and asks to be woken up from the hypnotic state. While it would be hard to connect the two completely, they both appear to be holes in the ground that  and both contain a surrealistic creature that brings an end to the role of the character looking inside the hole.

    In Alien 3, a prison inmate Murphy shines his light on the young alien hiding in a hole in the floor of an airshaft, he looks in and the young alien spits acid in his face sending the Murphy to his doom torn to pieces by a fan blade.
    In Element of Crime, Fisher looks into the hole, finding a Loris,
    he wants to get out of this dreamlike world. The film ends

    In Alien 3, Murphy discovers the small alien
    curled up in the hole in Alien 3, and his life ends

 Bishop 2's intentions falling apart like Fisher of "Element of Crime"   
    The lead character of Element of Crime, the character Fisher is there to hunt a child killer, but by the end of he has found himself turning into a child killer despite his best intentions.  
    Perhaps that was slightly like the way that in Blade Runner, Deckard intends to hunt Replicants down and then in the story, whether he was supposed to be a replicant or not, now he has become one or he has always been one all the time

    Bishop 2 from Alien comes to Ripley seeming to have the best intentions, he intends to have the alien queen removed from her to be killed and then allow her to start a new life. 
    He claims that he himself is not an android, but the progenitor of Bishop the android. 
    In denying that he is an android he has perhaps become the strangest android of them all
    However he wanted the alien queen specimen to learn from and surely he would have only wanted to create more aliens from it
    Perhaps whoever or whatever he was, with the side of his head opened up, the big question still arises about whether he is a human or an android even if some demand that there is no question about whether he was a human or not because in the script he appears to simply be a human being mistaken for one of his androids
    (See also: Haven't a clue about Bishop 2
    Michael Elphick as Fisher in Element of Crime

    Bishop 2 with the side of his head hanging open
    d.vii) Lars von Trier sees the Alien 3 similarities
    d.vii.a) Years later Lars Von Trier himself was able to see the similarities between his Element of Crime and Alien 3, one thing to take notice of was its cinema photography and indeed this film was made near enough in his style. 
    Bald apocalyptic cultist about to near enough bunjee jump off a crane in a diving ritual

    The beach and the cranes in Alien 3

    d.vii.a) But a beach with an abundance of lamps that might have reminded some viewers of the lamp bulbs in the beach scenes and also there were cranes.

    Lit light bulbs on the ground of the beach

    Lit light bulbs along the ground of the beach


    1. Lars Von Trier: Of course it would be nice if somebody would use some of these little things that I've been experimenting with. But I'm sure film changes rather quickly. You know I saw Alien 3 recently and it looked exactly like "The Element of Crime" - the locations whatever exactly the same. And I don't know how much ten years or so between. So you know everything changes all the time. And yeah, it would be fine if they used it in changing things.(Lars Von Trier interviewed by Linda Badley soon before September 2006 (Contemporary Film Directors), p162, 2011) 

    d.v) Alien Resurrection references Von Trier's work 
    However, when it came to making the following film in the Alien series, being Alien Resurrection (released 1997), Jean-Pierre Jeunet would openly cite Lars Von Trier as one of his influences for the movie although Jeunet's movie here would not be the movie that Lars would be comparing to his own



    e) Blade Runner to Alien 3

    Blade Runner's cinematographer Jordan Cronenweth was initially involved in Alien 3 and the cinematographer who replaced him continued with the ideas that Jordan Cronenweth started for the film.

    Jordan Cronenweth and Ridley Scott on the set of Blade Runner


    1. "Alien 3: Curious Similarities between Element of Crime and Alien 3" was originally posted 23rd May 2015

    2. Title changed to "Alien 3: Curious similarities to Apocalypse Now and Blade Runner via Element of Crime" and the article was expanded and edited on 27th September 2020