The Metamorphoses of Alien III By Mike White. No one expected Aliens. Released in 1986, seven years after Ridley Scott’s original Alien, Aliens took audiences by surprise-not just in its timing but, moreover, in its story...
No one expected Aliens. Released in 1986, seven years after Ridley Scott’s original Alien, Aliens took audiences by surprise-not just in its timing but, moreover, in its story. To where could the tense amalgam of horror and sci-fi of Alien go? Would the sequel follow the pattern of earthbound slasher films and simply transplant a new batch of victims to within claw’s reach of the terrifying Alien villain?
No, instead of creeping along dimly lit corridors with a pathetic lack of weaponry, Aliens (1985) raised the stakes. Director James Cameron added generic aspects of the war film to the mix, played things smart by allowing Aliens to simmer for a while before bringing the action to a boil-all the while building tension and character.
The protagonists of Aliens may have been heavily armed but there wasn’t just one creature to deal with; there were hundreds if not thousands of them! In addition, taking a cue from the insectival appearance of the H. R. Giger-designed Alien, Cameron imposed onto the Aliens a social order and breeding pattern based on colonial insects (like bees or ants). A new type of creature entered the fray: the Queen Alien.
It didn’t take long before boffo box office returns made honchos at 20th Century Fox sit up and take notice. One word loomed large in the moneymen’s head: Franchise. Before they could hungrily tally the box office take, an edict came from the top. We need another Alien movie! This demand didn’t fall on deaf ears. Rather, it landed squarely on the shoulders of the fellows who oversaw the first two Alien movies: producers Walter Hill and David Giler.
Hoping to push the creative boundaries of the Alien series even farther, Hill & Giler sought the talent of cyberpunk author William Gibson. Unfortunately, Hill & Giler hampered the quest for Alien III. The two saddled Gibson with a fifteen-page treatment from which the author felt he shouldn’t stray. From there, Hill & Giler turned to the scribe who blessed audiences with scripts for Blue Steel and Bad Moon, Eric Red. The script Red turned in was an abomination and slated director Renny Harlin left the project in disgust. Afterwards, Hill & Giler got lucky with D. T. Twohy. While Twohy’s script fell victim to a change in directors, it paved the way for Alien: Resurrection.
The tale of Alien III grew dark. Instead of a tense psychological thriller or whiz-bang shoot ’em up, Alien III mutated into a muddled medieval mess under the direction of Vincent Ward. Displeased with the path Alien III traveled, producers Hill & Giler banged out a few drafts which borrowed liberally from the earlier scripts. Unfortunately, they didn’t have much with which to work, or know what to do with what they had.
The story of Alien III doesn’t end with Hill & Giler. When the project’s third director, David Fincher, completed shooting, studio brass at Twentieth Century Fox gutted the film, leaving it a pale vision of its former self.
Far from the shadow of Hollywood, Dark Horse Comics produced a long-running series of comic books that continued the story of Aliens, taking the story worlds away from the troubled film project. Yet, in order to maintain consistency these books were subjected to a rewrite after the release of Alien³. The original books along with the available early drafts and workprint of Alien³ provide us with an insight to the darkest spot in the Alien Franchise.
The Last Visage of the Cold War
William Gibson (No Date)
Cold War politics permeate William Gibson’s draft of Alien III. Gibson’s screenplay pits humans against Aliens, and “The Company” against The Union of Progressive Peoples. The members of the UPP that readers encounter sport Russian monikers and/or Asian features. At the heart of the screenplay is political pussyfooting involving an “international incident” in which the Sulaco (the vessel from Aliens) passes through UPP space.
“To put it in diplomatic terms, they’ve got our ass in a sling. If they want to regard the Sulaco incident as a hostile act - and let me assure you that they will, eventuallythey can compromise our position in the current round of arms reduction talks. We’re talking serious ramifications here.”
During this border indiscretion, UPP agents board the Sulaco and abduct the android Bishop. Details and reasons are left sketchy, as if Gibson’s attempting to build suspense but a good deal of the logic behind actions in his screenplay are either left up to the audience to infer or altogether missing. Apparently, the UPP are interested in Bishop due to an Alien egg found in his cryochamber. Why they let the craft and rest of the crew float away into Company space is unknown.
When the Sulaco is intercepted a short time later by Company forces, a pair of Aliens on the ship (who apparently didn’t bother with the UPP folks) take out a few residents of the Anchorpoint space station. During the skirmish, an overzealous marine roasts Ripley’s cryochamber. For the rest of the screenplay, Ripley remains in a coma-evidence of the doubt over Sigourney Weaver’s return to the Alien franchise.
As opposed to the final version of Alien III, Hicks and Newt remain unharmed. By page 17, Newt is off to her Grandparents’ place in Oregon, leaving Hicks to carry the picture. Alas, this would have been a terrific opportunity for actor Michael Beihn to take the reins in an action film that may have really put him on the map.
The UPP and The Company race for mastery of the Alien for bioweaponry, despite possible violations of treaty. The result of extensive DNA tampering results in two separate strains of Alien. Derived from Bishop, the UPP’s Alien is hinted at being more biomechanical. However, the creature never makes an appearance! Meanwhile, The Company’s Alien appears to be fungal, reproducing and infecting via airborne spores. This inexplicable method of inception results in people (and other organisms) suddenly “shedding” their skin and emerging as Aliens.
The reasoning behind the ease of creating these different strains of Alien is apparently inherent to their origins. A Company scientist conjectures that “the readiness with which [Alien DNA] lends itself to genetic manipulation...the speed with which its cells multiply as though the gene-structure has been designed for ease of manipulation. And this apparently universal compatibility with other plasms [is] perhaps the fruit of some ancient experiment...A living artifact, the product of genetic engineering...A weapon. Perhaps we are looking at the end result of yet another arms race...”
Eventually, Bishop (repaired from his Aliens injuries) reunites with Hicks at Anchorpointa “gift” from the UPP and a diplomatic move to ease political tension. The return of Bishop also provides the reader with another familiar characters, which is fortunate as all of the other characters, whether they be members of The Company or the UPP, are utterly interchangeable. Instead of names they should have been simply called what they represent, “Military Personnel 1,” “Sympathetic Scientist 2,” “Expendable Marine 3,” et cetera. This lack of definition extends so far that the reader is often unsure even of characters’ gender, not to mention allegiance!
Another major flaw of Gibson’s screenplay is that the struggle between the ultra-capitalist Company and the socialist UPP tries to be a metaphor for the free-willed humans versus the Alien drones. However, The Company and the UPP are too similar in their impersonal corporate attitudes. They’re interchangeable. If anything, Gibson should have pitched a rewrite of this draft to the producers of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” with the free-willed crew of the Enterprise fighting Borg drones. In fact, Bishop’s role as possible pre-programmed saboteur would have been ideal for Data (one scene with Bishop in Gibson’s screenplay is remarkably similar to Data’s takeover of the Enterprise in the episode “Brothers”).
Once the elements are in place, Gibson’s screenplay runs its course as expected. Members of the Anchorpoint crew transform into Aliens an inopportune moments while survivors fight or run around willy-nilly. Someone gets the bright idea to set the station to self-destruct; the expected “race against time” ensues. The uninspired action doesn’t pause for long. When Gibson isn’t mining Aliens for material, he’s aping other “creatures on the loose” films such as George Romero’s Day of the Dead (a major portions of the screenplay taking place in the Anchorpoint shopping mall).
Feeling like an afterthought, Hicks jettisons Ripley’s comatose body into space. It’s unclear whether this act is an attempt at euthanasia-death in cold space instead of being consumed by the Alien DNA-or if Hicks perhaps hopes she’ll be rescued. Regardless, Gibson keeps the possibility of a sequel more than alive-not only does he end the script with Alien DNA being transported towards the space station just outside of Earth’s orbit but Bishop issues a mandate for a future Alien encounter.
“The source, Hicks. You’ll have to trace them back, find the point of origin. The first source. And destroy it. This goes far beyond mere interspecies competition. These creatures are to biological life what antimatter is to matter. There isn’t room for the both of you, Hicks, not in this universe. You’ve seen the enemy, Hicks. So has [the only surviving UPP commando]. She’s not it. Neither are you. This is a Darwinian universe, Hicks. Will the Alien be the ultimate survivor?” Unfortunately, I would have much rather have read the screenplay where the Alien’s origins are traced and the war for biological superiority is fought.
Gibson’s draft was doomed to failure. Treading little new ground, the only fresh (albeit ridiculous) idea is that the Alien DNA is as much of a threat as the fully-grown creature. Gibson’s contributions to the final version of Alien III are negligible save for the barcode tattooed on a UPP commando’s arm that would find its way onto the prisoners of D. T. Twohy’s Moloch Island and Hill & Giler’s Fury 161.
Sam Smith Returns to Smallsville
Eric Red (2/7/89):
Reading Red’s screenplay, one gets the impression that he wasn’t entirely confident in his abilities. Or, rather, that he had the sneaking suspicion that his work would undergo such serious reworking that he needn’t put his all into his version of Alien III. Red’s script is sloppy, silly, and forgettable.
Our hero, Sam Smith, is a military brat born and raised on North Star-a space station that resembles Midwestern farmland on its surface and the Death Star in its core. Sam is one of the unfortunate members of a rescue party sent to reclaim the survivors of the Sulaco.
When Sam and his crew arrive, they’re met with: “Alien Eggs, three feet high and slimy with muck, resting in the chambers where the bodies of people were. Cocoon substance, like iron cobweb strings from floor to ceiling. Bones and shreds of uniforms are quickly glimpsed on the floor in the flashlight beams. Sam picks up a shorn off nametag with the word ’Ripley’ on it.”
A fully-grown Alien attacks Sam and his compatriots. “Smash cut to:” Sam Smith awakens in his parents’ farmhouse on North Star. But, wait... something’s not right here. Sam has a new bionic arm (which does not come into play at all later in the script) and all of his former crewmates’ families have packed up and moved away.
Sam has no memory of the attack and his parents, John and Mary (very creative names), avoid speaking about his last mission. This version of Alien III might initially appear as a nod to Invasion of the Body Snatchers with a thin façade of normalcy covering the dread within. However, that would be giving Red too much credit. Rather, this is the writer’s foil to lull the audience into a false sense of complacency and then shock them with the page 28 revelation of Sam’s attack caught on holographic video. Red doesn’t appear to realize that this tape isn’t much of a surprise to anyone but Sam as the audience has already been made privy to his attack on page 4. Moreover, the reader still doesn’t knownor will they ever find outhow Sam survived the attack.
The choice of Sam Smith as a protagonist is a faulty one. Sure, he may have access to the underground military base but he still has to sneak around in order to discover the experiments being conducted (yup, the military’s trying to breed and control the Aliens!). And, though Sam’s father is a General, his old man is a tight-lipped bastard. A better choice for a hero would be one of the hapless Terra Farmers of the surface of North Star. This disgruntled group has been kept in the dark as much as Sam. Additionally, the military constantly confiscates their livestock.
The full extent of the military’s experiments become known to Sam as he stows away on a truck full of pigs and finds himself dumped into a “breeding room.” “The air is ripped with the horrifying din of hundreds of shrieking animals. And the sound of ripping flesh. Sam reaches into his pocket and brings out his lighter. He flicks a flame. In the light of the flame, a foot around him, a pig with a Face Hugger on it, its hooves shaking spasmodically on the ground...There are animals in cages everywhere...The floor is covered with straw and guts. Near him, the belly of a pig ruptures and [a] chest burster smashes out in a sickening spray of intestines. The Pig Alien has the wide torso, tiny head, and little legs of a pig...A Pit Bull dog struggling on the ground as its ribs explode out its stomach and a Dog Alien tugs itself out...Within, the Dog Aliens, and Cat Aliens, and Chicken Aliens scramble about, hissing and biting in fury. The pigs move about in a raw panic as Face Huggers leap out of dark corners...” It’s a barnyard from hell.
The ability for Aliens to adapt to these non-human hosts is explained on page 34 by evil scientist lady Dr. (Ayn?) Rand, “This organism, on a cellular, even molecular level, is purely and totally predatory. We have never encountered an organism that had its characteristics...or its potential. To survive, this cell attacks and assimilates the cells of whatever it encounters. In this manner, it takes on the form of what it kills. But this is most interesting...Gentlemen, I put to you that this organism, this cell, can assimilate not only with organic matter but inorganic matter...The DNA structure doesn’t screw around. Gentlemen, do you realize what we have here? Do you realize the potential we can use it for? Imagine a living, organic jet fighter, or an Alien tank.”
The potential is that more than the ever-present spores of Gibson’s Alien III, now even inanimate objects can become Alien. Red crosses the line from the epidemic to the ridiculous.
Red hasn’t the faintest idea about dramatic tension. On page 36 Sam infiltrates a military meeting wherein Dr. Rand demonstrates that she’s tamed the Alien. In a scene reminiscent of the demonstration of ED-209 in Robocop, Red shows absolutely no skill in building suspense within the scene. The reader knows that an Alien can’t be tamed and that Dr. Rand will meet with a gory fate. Yet, before the reader can even intake a breath in anticipation of the carnage to come, Rand has been brained and the Alien has begun its rampage. Talk about anticlimactic!
Other than a nightmare world of Old MacDonald, there’s another strain of Alien present with a markedly different lifecycle. After cocooning its mutilated victims, the Alien passes away. From the cocoons spring new life. “A six foot tall, humanoid Alien is tearing its way out of the cocoons. Its armored, slimy snout snaps at the air as it tries to extricate itself from the thick, tendrily cocoon substance...More cocoons are opening and fully-formed Aliens are struggling their way out.” So much for eggs, face-huggers and chest-bursters-until later in the script where they begin appearing again. Talk about inconsistent!
It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out the rest of the screenplay. Sam, John, and some nameless soldiers run around the military complex fighting the Aliens. The creatures eventually make it to the surface, treading upon the heartland of, as Red frequently writes, “Main Street U.S.A. in space.” Soon Red’s script plays like an irony-impaired version of Gremlins with rednecks versus Aliens.
The screenplay progresses with the action proving more tiresome than exciting. For some sort of attempt at a “statement,” Red seems to riff off Aliens ’ theme of maternity and leans on the distrust of patriarchy. Sam’s father represents the military-the organization that brought the dangerous creature to the quiet corner of space where wheat fields blow in the breeze. The Alien threatens the sanctity of the American family just as John Smith threatens his own family’s safety.
As an attempt at a surprise twist, on page 82 John Smith admits that he’s been injected with Alien DNA. Despite the speedy process with which the Alien DNA works earlier in the script, it’s taken all of screenplay’s second act for anything to happen to him. Suddenly, “blood pours out of John’s eyes. Under his skin, his bones are reshaping, his muscles straining, his skin becoming hard and slimy. John’s head jerks back. His mouth cracks open and the jackhammer fanged jaws punch out of his mouth. Taking his real teeth with them in sprays of bloody gums as the Alien jaws snap an inch from Sam’s fingers.”
It’s on this same page that Sam’s sister, Karen, finds that the family cow, Bessie (even the cow’s name is unoriginal), has been transformed into an Alien Cow (that “emits an Alien, insectile moo”) thanks to a bite from an Alien Mosquito. Within pages the Alien Mosquito has created an Alien Rooster that falls into the North Star reservoir, tainting the water supply. Just when one didn’t think it could get any worse...
Mary, Sam, Karen, and little brother Mark (who frequently has his name changed to “John Junior” just as North Star becomes the “Sulaco Space Station”) escape the Alien John and their Alien Cow and head into town. There they find “Fifty humans...fused together into one...thing. It is a two-story, moving, murderous mass of armor and flesh, eyeballs, and tongues, screaming mouths and jackhammer jaws in a huge anamorphous blob of arms, legs, talons, hooks, snouts, and teeth.” Within two pages this “Alien Thing” begins to assimilate/infect the entire North Star complex. Metal beams and all morph into one gigantic Alien creature, visible from the window of the Smith Family escape ship.
Yadda yadda yadda, missles are fired and the big Alien Thing blows up.
Red’s screenplay is the single worst script I’ve ever read. He’s inept at pacing, plotting, and spelling (all quotes from his screenplay have been corrected for his abhorrent mistakes). He’s unable to describe action concisely or vividly. He immoderately relies on onomatopoetic phrases in an attempt to describe actions: PAPAPAPAKAKAKAKAKAKAKAKAPPPPPPPP-POWWWWW!!!! and RRRRRRRRrrrrriiiiiIIIIIIIiiiiiPPPPpp are two of dozens of examples.
It’s a cinch to see why Red’s script landed on the scrap heap without a second thought. The script sent director Renny Harlen running to the safety and comfort of a good project, The Adventures of Ford Fairlane. Alien III foundering without a director, sadly within eight months a far superior script would come down the pike to a lukewarm reception.
An Adumbration of Resurrection
D. T. Twohy (October 1989)
With the memory of Eric Red’s horrendous draft of Alien III fresh in my mind, D. T. Twohy’s screenplay was a welcomed change. Twohy’s writing is fresh and his script’s pacing is fast. His script avoids the now-typical recovery of the Sulaco and, instead, begins with a mining ship discovering a fossil that brings immediate Company attention; a face-hugger preserved in amber (shades of Jurassic Park). From there Twohy introduces the foundry/prison colony idea that would morph and resurface in the later versions of Alien 3.
Welcome to Moloch Island, orbiting Earth thousands of feet above Earth’s South China Sea. Within a few pages, we meet a half dozen prisoners who serve as the audience’s counterparts while they learn the ropes of their new surroundings.
Twohy does an excellent job balancing the importance and weight of these various criminals-giving the reader insight on their characters before finally settling on one as the main protagonist: Scott Taylor Styles. Ten years for fraud with thirteen more added for his two escapes. “You know, son, I’ve just get the feeling you’re gonna give us snags,” says the Captain of the guards upon Styles’ arrival.
“Oh, no sir. I’ve learned my lesson. Well, ’lessons,’” says Styles with all the cool of Cool Hand Luke.
Twohy’s script is rife with good dialogue. I actually found myself laughing out loud at a few exchanges such as the following when the prisoners are taken to their cellblock:
Grimes: I think there’s been a mistake
Van Brunt: What, you’re not really guilty?
Grimes: Oh, I’m guilty. Just not this guilty.
Apart from the barely visible face-hugger of the opening scene, the hint of any Aliens isn’t given until page 18 with some inexplicable scratching heard under the new prisoners’ cells. It isn’t until page 22 that the first Alien is even introduced. This occurs after a prisoner is “executed” only to awake later and find himself trapped in a room with an Alien. He has unknowingly “volunteered” in a military operation for genetically-engineered Aliens.
If this is beginning to sound somewhat familiar, that’s probably because Twohy’s script was the apparent basis for Joss Whedon’s draft of Alien: Resurrection. The similarities don’t stop at the mere chance of six seedy characters being trapped on an installation where top secret military experiments are taking place. Several action scenes mirror events of Whedon’s script along with the idea of an Alien born out of a womb. There’s even a scene where Packard-the female doctor who forms an alliance with Styles-discovers a room full of failed Alien clones.
“Packard forces calm on herself. Now she heads back for a closer look. The room is a gallery of Aliens. An army of Aliens. All behind glass. Dreading it, Packard activates more case lights. Each Alien is slightly different: One is silvery instead of black, a chameleon that blends with its background...Another is a Siamese fused to a partner...Another is a complete abomination, as if mutated with thalidomide. There are more. But Packard doesn’t have more nerve.” This plays similar to Alien: Resurrection’s Ripley 8 finding her the previous seven aborted incarnations. True, this scene was more powerful in Whedon’s script but he knew he had Sigourney Weaver to work with while Twohy did not.
Twohy’s script was a good compromise between a Ripley-centered script and a Ripley-less one. It would have been easy to place Ripley as one of the prisoners on Moloch Island. She could easily be incarcerated for all the damage she’s done to Company property (destroying the Nostromo and vaporizing the complex on LV426). Twohy sets his Alien III apart from the series, only giving mention of Ripley once on page 74 when Packard sees her picture in a classified bioweapons file.
The script is effective in its handling of the characters. Just about the time that the reader realizes that Styles is the protagonist, he discovers inconsistencies in the story of an inmate’s death. From there, Styles begins planning to lead his five fellow prisoners on a prison break. This keeps the action going as well as providing a shocking end to Style’s compatriots when they discover they’re not alone in the ducts under the cellblock. The rogue Alien that took out their fellow inmates does away with the Style’s partners.
Ironically, a squad of prison guards saves Styles. Knowing too much to return to the general population, Styles is placed in solitary confinement where he meets the man responsible for the Alien experiments, Mr. Lone. He’s described as “an Amerasian” with “bottomless black eyes.” One begins to wonder if the apparent xenophobia of Gibson’s script was the product of a Hill & Giler mandate. This anti-Asian sentiment would rear its ugly head again in the Hill & Giler script.
After Packard and Styles team up and try to escape Lone, guards attack them. During the firefight, an explosion breaches the hull of Moloch Island. Debris from the station strikes an approaching supply ship that careens out of control and crashes against the prison colony. “In a vast cosmic abortion, we see a thousand bodies hurtling past view and into space.” Of course, this becomes the most opportune moment for the Newborn Alien to claw its way out of its womb.
If there is one flaw to Twohy’s screenplay it’s his lack of description for the Newborn Alien. Perhaps he knew that it’d be something designed later (hopefully by the original Alien designer, H. R. Giger). Regardless, that Twohy doesn’t even attempt a description is unsatisfying. Luckily, his screenplay delivers so well in other areas that this complaint is negligible.
The Aliens are unseen for most of Twohy’s screenplay. Instead of being open threats, they’re more effectively used as a looming menace. It isn’t until the breakneck third act of the script that Aliens become a visible presence.
On page 93, Twohy states: “(NOTE: This final act unfolds in real time. Every move, every word, every look is made as if it were someone’s lastwhich it may well be. Emergency lights whirl like capering demons, and wind sings through corridors like a choir of maniacs. Staring now, we push hard and never let up.)” Twohy holds true to this bold statement. Air escapes from the installation. The Newborn Alien stalks the halls. Lone deceives his toady for the original amber-encased face hugger. Styles plays on Lone’s desire for this source of Alien DNA in order to do away with the corporate executive. Meanwhile, Packard and the only remaining guard, Daggs, are left in the lurch, wondering about Styles’ loyalty. Of course, they’re not disappointed. The three have to jettison themselves into space and hope to rendezvous with their escape ship.
The Newborn Alien is hot on their trail in the cold void of space. “Doesn’t it breathe? For Chrissake, doesn’t it need any fuckin’ air?” exclaims Daggs before Styles turns the needle nose of the ship directly at the creature’s heart, impacting, and splitting it into two halves that “tumble for different corners of the universe.” A rescue ship soon intercepts the trio. Styles is identified as a med-tech, his freedom restored.
A minor but consistent theme is obvious becomes obvious when reading these early drafts of Alien III. In Hill & Giler’s original outline for Alien III, there must have been a scene wherein the protagonists have to put on space suits and traverse the outside of whatever station they’re on. This occurs in Gibson, Red and Twohy’s draft. Only Twohy, however, uses this device effectively instead of making it feel like an obligation to the film’s producers.
A Return to Dark Ages
John Fasano (Story and Screenplay) & Vincent Ward (Story) (3/29/90):
In the later part of 1989 and early 1990, director Vincent Ward came aboard the Alien III project. Ward’s previous film The Navigator begins in the plague-infested fourteenth century England before introducing the element of time-travel to beget a convoluted “fish out of water” tale. Ward foisted his odd preclusion towards the medieval onto Twohy’s Alien III prison environment. With its interstellar monastery and bookish protagonist, Ward and Fasano appear to have been inspired more by Walter Miller’s A Canticle For Liebowitz than the previous Alien films. Oddly enough, this draft had the greatest impact on the final version of Alien III ; from Ripley’s introduction, the climax of the film, the colony’s glassworks, and even a character’s myopia.
Though she’s a major character in the film, Ripley is not the true protagonist of this Alien III. Rather, the audience follows Brother John, a diffident medic among a multitude of monks on the orbiter Arceon (as opposed to “Archeron” another name for “Hell” that Cameron used in his script for Aliens). The writers describe the planetoid as “a shell of lightweight foamed steel, five miles in diameter, constructed by The Company on Special Order with habitable levels within finished in whatever material suites its end user. This Orbiter, for reasons to be discovered later, has been sheathed in wood.”
“The reasons to be discovered later” are rather silly, or at least highly contrived. Arceon is home to a cadre of political exiles. “We were sentenced as political dissidents. This orbiter is our gulag...Ten thousand men...When we left planet Earth seventy years ago it was on the brink of a New Dark Age. Technology was on the verge of destroying the planet’s environment...[Now] it gets colder all the time here...[the] wood burning fires throw soot into the atmosphere...The Greenhouse effect...This planet is the supreme triumph of planned obsolescence. A certain amount of primitive materials with an atmosphere processing system as fragile as a real environment but not replenishable...Poetic justice for the anti-technologists.”
“The order was more of a counter culture, a reaction to the Technology that was beginning to take over everyone’s lives. It was a simple enough ideaRead, don’t watch disk. Walk, don’t pump more carbons into the air. The earliest members renounced technology [and] started to collect the remaining books. Nobody would have noticed if it hadn’t been for the Virus...It spread through two countries before it was stopped...After a scare like that, thousands flocked to our retreat.”
“A computer virus was threatening to wipe away all recorded knowledge...Like the Monks who guarded Monastery Libraries on remote islands off England during the First Plague...Some of these books survived the burning of the Libraries of Alexandria. They contain knowledge that exists in no other record. Their value is inestimable.”
Poor Ripley lands smack dab in the middle of all the claptrap.
Streaking from the sky like an unholy omen, Ripley and Newt come in one of the Sulaco’s escape pods. Upon her arrival, the reader learns that “an over-looked Alien egg” killed Hicks and Bishop. How one “kills” an android lacks explanation. Additional Alien life forms were present, evidenced by the breach in Newt’s cryotube (her body never surfaces).
Discovering that Newt hasn’t survived, Ripley tries to warn her companions of the evil they have inadvertently unleashed. “The Abbot looks at her the way you look at that guy on the corner of Santa Monica and 3rd who’s babbling about Judgement Day. The guy with his pants down around his knees.” Of course, Ripley had already had to fight this battle in Aliens when members of The Company refused to believe her “wild tales” of the Alien. To play the part of Cassandra again is tiresome.
Within pages of her recovery by Brother John, one of the scripts many dream/hallucination sequences implies that Ripley is host to an Alien embryo. “Without a mother, one cannot love. Without a mother, one cannot die.” This quote from Hesse opens the Ward/Fasano script and continues the study of maternity in the Alien films-an issue heightened by the monastic setting of the film. Among these men, Ripley is a double threat. She is a female and she is the bearer of “the plague.” She is the heretical, hysterical woman.
However, there is suspiciously no sexual threat to Ripley from the scads of faceless men of Arceon. This makes Ripley’s second Alien dream even more disturbing. “The Alien’s tail is coming up between her legs. She turns. Right into its grasp...The Alien spins herpushes her over the sleep tubelike it’s taking her from behind! The Alien wraps his arms around Ripley. Thin lips pull back for a kiss.” In other words, the Alien has raped Ripley to impregnate her.
Ripley is a woman literally possessed with evil. The Alien bides its time, waiting to burst out of her chest like some terrible phallus. Even the Alien’s methods of attack carry a phallic overtone-spewing acid, impaling with its “stinger,” or thrusting its second set of jaws into its victim. It’s no coincidence that the men of the subsequent drafts of Alien III would bear two Y chromosomes-as if they’re even more masculine.
While Ward/Fasano’s Alien III may be long on explanations of greenhouse gases and technophobia, it’s light on plot. Ripley isn’t believed until monks start buying it courtesy of an Alien that gestated in a local sheep. In the meantime, Ripley’s locked up in the depths of Arceon next to Brother Anthony, an android who appears “more human than human” with his empathy for Ripley and bizarre delusions of bird-headed demons.
Eventually, Brother John realizes that the Abbot may have been wrong to incarcerate Ripley. After freeing Ripley and Brother Anthony, the trio begins the typical “running around” with some vague notion of rescue, defense, and/or escape in mind. It’s only a matter of time before the Abbot joins their little group-following his dynamic character arc. Instead of the Abbot making the typical heroic last act to save his companions, however, he soon falls victim to a new “type” of Alien. In previous films there have been “chest bursters,” in this script there are “head bursters.”
“A horrible Alien head burster...is all that sits atop the blood spurting neck of the Abbot. It keeps its hold on the Abbot’s spinal cord...The Abbot’s body continues to stagger around, arms jerking mechanically as lack of fresh nerve impulses from the brain work their way through the system.” This description quickly brings to mind a scene from Eraserhead wherein the main character’s “baby” springs forth from his shoulders, displacing his head.
How this secondary Alien came to be without a Queen to lay eggs is unknown. But characters, from time to time, have their heads split open like ripe melons in this draft of Alien III. As mentioned earlier, the Alien that terrorizes the group (the head bursters seem inconsequential to the action after they pop) gestated in a sheep. Anthony and Ripley hypothesize about the Alien’s recombinant DNA on page 46. “Maybe they are from some sort of aggressive soldier racewarring parties drop the eggs on opposing planets...And the Alien takes on the form of the creature that finds it, assuming that animal is the dominant life form on the planet. So when it gestates in a man...it’s a biped. In a sheep or cow: a quadruped.” In this manner Ward and Fasano echo Gibson and seem to be providing an explanation for the derelict ship full of Alien eggs in Scott’s Alienthat the derelict ship was on a mission of war. Likewise, they’re giving enough leeway to account for these strange new Alien breeds.
Yet, gestating in a sheep doesn’t necessarily give merit to the Alien’s ability to take on a wooden appearance, or shine golden like the field of wheat in which it hides (a possible nod to Red’s draft). The Alien of Ward/Fasano’s script shares the chameleonic traits of one mentioned briefly in Twohy’s draft.
In Aliens, James Cameron explored the notion that, despite fantastic technology, sheer numbers and instinctive aggressiveness of the Aliens reigned supreme. Taking away the technology and pitting even one Alien against a league of unarmed men is a step or two backward. This mistake is apparent in the third chapter of another popular film seriesReturn of the Jedi and its pre-industrial Ewoks. Yet, logs and rocks are outside the realm of the Arceon monks who ineffectually battle with good intentions. It’s only through dumb luck that the Alien happens to fall into the Arceon glass works, located directly underneath the all-important library (come on, that’s got to be some kind of fire code violation). Ripley then dispatches the foul creature by dousing its febrile exoskeleton with a cooling blast of water.
With its dreary hallways and lone antagonist, the Alien III of Ward and Fasano was closer to a pale imitation of Ridley Scott’s Alien than a rousing sequel to James Cameron’s Aliens. The cues that Ward and Fasano take from Scott’s film are inferences that food helps trigger Alien nascence. In Alien, when Kane (John Hurt) began to eat he fell victim to the chest burster inside him. Meanwhile, in the Ward/Fasano script, Ripley remains famished throughout her stay on Arceon. “It hasn’t come out yet because I haven’t eaten. It’s still dormant. So either I eat and it kills me or I don’t and I starve to death. Either way I die.”
In the final act, she “passes” the gestating creature inside of her after Brother John administers an ipecac. When Ripley begins to choke on the creature, the monk performs CPR and allows the beast to swim down his gullet. This idea of the monk accepting the evil inside Ripley is more than slightly reminiscent of The Exorcist-especially when he sacrifices himself to save her.
Another subtle nod to Scott’s Alien comes at the conclusion of the Ward/Fasano script when the audience realizes that only other living survivor of the Alien attack is Mattias, Brother John’s dog. Like Jones, the cat, Ripley secures her canine companion in a cryotube before laying herself down to rest.
Knowing now that the Alien doesn’t require a human host, the script shows its only moment of humor in an aside after cueing the end credits. “Teenager in the back of the movie theater shouts, ’It’s in the dog!’” Little did the writers know how serendipitous this line would become.
Flight of the Navigator
To say that 20th Century Fox and the other folks involved in the Alien Franchise weren’t pleased with Ward’s Dark Ages vision of Alien III is something of an understatement.
There are conflicting reports about the chronology of the events occurred around the departure of Vincent Ward as director. Fasano jumped ship for a while. During Fasano’s absence Ward worked with screenwriter Greg Pruss. Eventually Ward received his walking papers, flush with a healthy pay-off to fund Map of the Human Heart. Fasano returned to hash out another draft without success.
With the signing of first-time film director David Fincher as director, the writing chores fell on Larry Ferguson. Instead of starting fresh with a new director and writer, the two had to rely on the Ward/Fasano draft. It’s unclear how much impact Ferguson had on the project, suffice to say that his name appeared in the screen credits for the final film.
Trying to Make Due
Walter Hill & David Giler (12/18/90):
It was a recipe for disaster. Keep the religious zealots of the Ward/Fasano script but add in the hardened criminal aspects of Twohy’s draft. Follow the same framework of Ripley’s arrival to this prison colony (now dubbed Fury 161) and the quick dispatch of the remaining Sulaco survivors. Instead of a sheep, an ox falls victim to a stowaway face hugger. Also, Ripley will change tactics once she’s revived; she’ll keep the presence of an Alien secret for as long as it dramatically suits the film. This story shift occurs when Hill & Giler take Alien III from the odd Twohy/Ward/Fasano hybrid into familiar “running around dank hallways” territory.
As illogical as an interstellar monastery might be, Ward and Fasano realized that the audience knew all there is to know about Ellen Ripley. They knew that the Alien franchise needed to shift its attention to a different protagonist. Ripley was present to provide the audience with comfort and stability (though Twohy proved that she needn’t be there) and insure a bigger box office draw. However, Brother John served as the true protagonist of the Ward/Fasano script.
Hill & Giler kept the Brother John character and called him Clemens. With panache, they gave Clemens a background that he reveals slowly through his appearance on screen (albeit only through dialogue). Clemens is really the hero of Alien III. Clemens bucks the system as much as he can, given his status as Chief Medical Officer but he’s not without past events that keep him firmly grounded on Fury 161. He’s an outsider from the pair of bureaucrats that run the prison complex as well as the two dozen religious inmates.
The Hill/Giler draft of Alien III begins in the Sulaco’s cryochamber where Newt is under attack by a face hugger while she sleeps. Cutting between the helpless Newt, the restless Ripley, and the void of Space, the credits roll. By page three, the distressed Emergency Exit Vehicle of the Sulaco is hurtling through space at the planet Fiorina. Upon its crash landing, an “infected” Newt drowns, a support beam Lieutenant Hicks is impales Lieutenant Hicks and the “artificial person,” Bishop (Lance Henrickson) is smashed beyond repair. Remarkably, Ripley survives intact, save some minor scrapes and bruises.
Clemens witnesses the crash and immediately takes Ripley to safety. When she awakens, he serves as Ripley’s protector and guide; dishing out exposition like it was going out of style. “Originally the whole place was a mineral ore refineryFifty years ago it was re-cycled into a toxic dump. The prisoners make lead sheets to seal off any leakage in the shaftswe don’t really get many shipmentsWeyland-Yutani’s got the facility on hold...This used to be a thousand man operation but we’re down to just twenty-fivethe Company just keeps the operation on pilot light...[the prisoners] got religion, so to speak, about five years ago...some sort of millenarian apocalyptic Christian fundamentalist brew...When the Company wanted to close down the place...the zealots stayed as custodians with two minders and a medical officer.”
Concerned over the possibility that Newt might have been carrying an Alien, Ripley convinces Clemens to autopsy the little girl and, later, to cremate the bodies of Newt and Hicks. At service held for Ripley’s fallen companions, prisoner Dillon speaks a few words on their behalf. Dillon is the direct descendant of Brother Kyle in the Ward/Fasano scriptcomplete with eyeglasses. Dillon shares a position similar to Clemens, as he’s the leader of the prisoners’ spiritual movement.
The funeral service is intercut with a scene of the corpse of Babe-an ox used to pull Ripley’s EEV from the water-bursting open. “A chest-burster explodes from the ox’s thorax. Rockets out of the carcass and tumbles to the floor. This thing has four legs. Alien head and drooling mouth. Like a horrifying fawn, it struggles to get legs under it. Wobbles around the room. Struggling upright, the baby creature gurgles...clatters across the floor and disappears into an air duct.”
Yes, it appears that the Alien has taken on some ox characteristics. Something that one doesn’t see oxen doing too often is spitting acid. In fact, the ability to spit acid has been unseen in earlier incarnations of the Alien as well. However, on page 25 (just in time for the second act to begin), that’s precisely what the ox Alien does; “Spits acid in Murphy’s eyes. Clawing at his face, flesh peeling away from his cheeks. Murphy reels backwards. Smoke pours through his fingers. Screaming, he slams into a wall and staggers backwards into the fan which rips him to pieces.”
When Clemens confronts Ripley later regarding a similar “burn” found near Murphy’s remains and on Newt’s cryotube, Ripley stays mum. Perhaps Ripley’s trying to not jump to conclusions. Instead of divulging her past with the Alien, Ripley seeks the help of Bishop’s remains and the EEV’s flight recorder.
Ripley: Is it still on the Sulaco or did it come with us on the EEV?
Bishop: It was with us all the way.
Ripley: Does the company know?
Bishop: The company knows everything that happened on the ship. It all goes back into the computer and gets sent back to the network.
Indeed, Ripley is more afraid of The Company than she is of the Alien, showing that Weyland-Yutani is the true villain of the screenplay. Ripley is prompted more by the knowledge of The Company’s awareness than by the slaughter of two more prisoners to reveal the presence of the Alien to Dillon, Clemens, and the overseer of Fury 161, Andrews.
In the Hill/Giler draft, the twenty-five prisoners are all named but only a handful are fleshed out in any way. One of the other few “important” prisoners is Golic, an oversized lummox with a penchant for gluttony who survives an Alien attack for reasons unknown. Golic suddenly finds himself in touch with his spirituality, having faced and survived a living embodiment of Death. When the Alien attacks again on page 49, Golic survives a second time. He now feels that the Alien needs him. Bound in a straight jacket in the medical center he shouts at it, “Hey you! Get over here. Lemme loose. I can help you. We can kill all these assholes.”
Instead, the Alien kills Clemens-leaving Golic and Ripley alive. This is the major dramatic gaffe of the Hill/Giler draft. The writer/producer duo does not seem to realize that Clemens (like Brother John) was the focus of the script; his death robs the film of its soul. Before and after Clemens dies, Ripley is merely a cipher. Only the audience familiar with Alien and Aliens knows her past and invests anything into her character. It’s no small coincidence that the biggest “shock” of Alien III would be known actress Sigourney Weaver shaving her head for her role. Otherwise, there was little to note about Weaver’s performance in Alien III. That’s not to say that she was being a “lazy” actress, she simply had very little with which to work.
With Clemens gone, more weight is cast upon the shoulders of Dillon (instead of Ripley), especially after the hasty demise of Andrews on page 51 (yes, two pages after Clemens’s deathvery bizarre timing). Ripley stays in the background as the prisoners work up a plan to find and trap the Alien in a toxic waste disposal unit. “You get something in there and close the door, no way it can get out.”
This leads to pages upon pages of cat and mouse games with the Alien. This costs serious time and several lives. Two pages after the Alien is trapped, however, prisoner Morse lets Golic free. “Golic swings his armsgets his circulation back...’I got to see it again. It’s the dragon of God. It’s in the book.’...Smack! Golic hammers down with a fire extinguisher. Morse is down and out.” The book that Golic mentions could be the Bible or it might even be the same book that Brother John carried with him throughout the Ward/Fasano script.
Quickly Golic finds his way to the storage area where the Alien now abides. Feeling he’s a pawn of the creature-like Renfield to Dracula-he slashes the throat of the prisoner guarding the door and releases the Alien back into the general population. Again, the Alien pays no attention to Golic as it slithers back into the shadows.
As time burns on an anticlimactic second act of the screenplay-all that work for nothing!-Ripley finally figures out that her constant nausea might not be from coming out of hypersleep too quickly. Either not realizing (or not caring) about The Company having access to the results, Ripley subjects herself to a full scan of her bio-functions. And, low, Ripley learns that she is carrying a baby Queen Alien. “It has to be a queen, otherwise it would have come out by now. I’ve seen how they work. It’s not pretty. So it’s going to be a queen. An egg layer. Millions of eggs. It’s not like the one that’s out there running around loose. I don’t know how long this thing takes to gestate.”
Ripley relays to Dillion that in hypersleep she had a dream. Immediately Dillon replies, “You got raped.” Perhaps Dillon read the Ward/Fasano draft. Otherwise, the only rape going on in the Hill/Giler script is an attempted attack on Ripley back on page 35-an encounter from which she seems to have little or no “hard feelings.” It’s true that Ripley’s been through some trauma in her life but the writers give this horrifying scene trivial consideration.
After an exchange in which Ripley begs Dillon to kill her (he refuses, saying he’s a changed man), there are several inconsequential scenes. Golic hunts his fellow prisoners. Dillon finds a cocoon in the Assembly Hall, sets it ablaze and pays for his action in blood as the Alien tears him apart on page 84. Meanwhile, Ripley realizes that the Alien won’t attack her as long as the Queen resides in her body. It isn’t until page 86 that the story begins to gain momentum again.
Nauseatingly similar to the earlier “burn and bag” mission that took up so many pages of act two, the screenplay’s third act has the prisoners running around in an attempt to lure the Alien into the lead works. They succeed (at the cost of nearly everyone’s lives) and dispatch the creature in a climax nearly verbatim to the Ward/Fasano script.
This dénouement of the Hill/Giler Alien III introduces the audience to Bishop II-the human prototype for the Bishop android. Golic greets Bishop II and his Weyland-Yutani compatriots, leading them to the lead works in time to witness the Alien’s demise. As Bishop II attempts to persuade Ripley to join him-subjecting herself to surgery to remove the Alien inside her-Golic mutters about his dislike for droids. Without warning or reason, Golic grabs a handy axe and uses the working end on Bishop II’s head.
The “Company Men” shoot Golic and continue to plead with Ripley to “be reasonable.” Within seconds, “the Baby Queen bursts out...[Ripley] catches it...Ripley holds it, the tiny beast kicking in her hands...[she] extends is above her head....Choking itfighting itkilling it....Still shaking the Baby Queen...she steps backwards off the platform and disappears into the raging inferno...Down into the pure white flame...A moment of ecstasy...A moment of triumph.”
The lone prisoner, Morse, suddenly waxes poetic over the molten pool of lead before he’s escorted away by the company men. A hollow victory for mankind.
Stoking the Animosity
Between completion of the Hill & Giler “final” draft of 12/18/90 and the shooting of Alien III, the script went through almost a dozen rewrites. Upon completion of the 12/18/90 script, Rex Pickett quickly turned in a revised version dated 1/5/91. The Pickett draft appears to sport updated dialogue that comes off as pithy rather than “hip”the tone for which he was probably going.
Perhaps Pickett’s greatest contribution to the Alien saga was throwing gasoline on the smoldering feud between writer/producer team Hill & Giler and director David Fincher. In the preface to his draft of the script, Pickett mocks the “broken paragraph prose style of Hill/Giler” and admits that “this was a ’crunch time’ rewrite” and “not a true reflection of my own prose style.”
Pickett changes few major issues but his draft expounds upon items such as why the prisoners frequent the dark corridors of their prison (they’re salvaging equipment and goods from the former miner occupants). These items would appear in Alan Dean Foster’s novelization of the Alien III script.
You Can’t Polish a Turd
Walter Hill & David Giler (4/10/91):
Nine drafts and four months later, Hill & Giler had left the major hindrances to Alien III intact. The changes included paring down of dialogue, the elimination of Golic’s apparent immunity to the Alien (he’s killed when releasing the creature from the disposal unit), additional playing down of prisoner Junior, and the elimination of the aforementioned “inconsequential scenes” that pad out the second half of the script’s second act.
Additions to the 4/10/91 draft included Ripley directly confronting the Alien in a quasi-suicide attempt on page 74. When she later speaks to Dillon about the creature’s unwillingness to kill her, it’s Ripley that says, “I was raped.” Also included are several specified instances of shots from the Alien’s point of view. Apparently, Hill & Giler forgot their Film Theory 101. Otherwise, they desire the audience to sympathize with the Alien as it runs through the dark halls of the prison complex. More likely, they knew that the audience would be tired of a second, similar sequence so they interjected POV shots in an attempt to spice up the action-relying more on style over substance. In this way, Hill & Giler appear to be striving for an Alien III that would share the vacuous traits of Ridley Scott’s work.
The April draft gave more weight to Dillon and to the prison colony’s second in command, Aaron-keeping both alive much longer. Aaron is given a bit more character as a well-meaning lackey who’s constantly ribbed by the prisoners for his 85 I.Q. (those in glass houses... there is a high predisposition to mental retardation among XYY males). Meanwhile, there is no discovery of any Alien cocoons on Fury 161 and, thus, Dillon is given longer to live. Hill & Giler cut several of Dillon’s prayers and allows him to be more heroic-sacrificing himself to allow Ripley to leave the lead works before molten metal covers the Alien.
The only difference of note in the end of the 4/10/91 draft is Morse’s increased role, aiding Ripley in her suicide. Additionally, Hill & Giler attempt to wrap up the franchise by including a voice-over of Ripley’s last transmission from the Nostromo during the final shots of the third film. A haunting message from beyond the grave as the last survivor of the Nostromo signs off.
David Fincher’s Alien³
“What are you listening to him for, he’s a shoe salesman!” said co-writer/producer David Giler of director David Fincher. The set of Alien³ wasn’t a happy place between firings of writers, re-writers, line producers, et cetera; arguments over script content, budget, and time management, peppered with barbs were tossed freely by all the disgruntled parties.
I had long been under the impression that first-time director David Fincher shouldered all the blame for my dissatisfaction with Alien³. However, I can say with certainty that my negative reaction to the film falls squarely on the writer/producer team of David Giler & Walter Hill and the honchos at Twentieth Century Fox who ordered extensive re-cutting of Alien³ before its release.
Fincher was caught between a rock and two hard heads. With Hill & Giler acting as both writers and producers, Fincher had nowhere to turn when he found himself frustrated with the script. Saddled with the draft given to him, Fincher did a remarkable job of breathing life into the staid Hill & Giler script.
The duo of Hill & Giler were a perfect marriage with Ridley Scott - if not in personality at least in emotional investment. Ridley Scott’s best work to date remains Blade Runner. Dealing with a cast of “androids” with empathy-impairment, Scott could devote himself solely to creating atmosphere and damning characterization. “Turn on the neon, blow in some smoke and the actors will take care of themselves,” might just as well be Scott’s credo. The same holds true for Hill who could be considered the “poor man’s” director. Spending his early years as the “poor man’s Peckinpah,” he’s since moved on to being the “poor man’s Oliver Stone.” Hill is much more involved with his “look” than his characters, making good films by accident (The Warriors, The Driver, Trespass). Note that both Peckinpah and Stone are severely estrogen-impaired. The two (along with Hill) share a lack of well-written female characters. It was only James Cameron with his track record of strong female leads who managed to flesh out Ripley.
While Ridley Scott did a wonderful job of creating an “atmospheric” film, at no time does the viewer have reason to care for anyone in Alien. Even when the character of Ellen Ripley “takes charge” of the film’s one-note situation, the audience knows nothing more about her than at any point earlier or later in the film. More than providing an audience with thrills and a few hundred Aliens, writer/director James Cameron gave Ripley a personality and the Alien franchise a soul.
Armed with a cast of capable actors and a strong visual style, Fincher tried his best to keep the soul of the Alien films alive. Even when Fincher followed the inherently flawed Hill & Giler script, he still found himself thwarted by the powers that be.
Twentieth Century Fox’s Alien³
David Fincher’s Alien³ was no masterpiece. As mentioned above, it had a good look, fine acting, and nice pace, yet Hill & Giler’s ludicrous plot held it captive. Adding untold insult to injury, the cut Fincher presented to Twentieth Century Fox was marred beyond recognition and comprehension before release to a studio audience high on hype and expecting another action-fest like Aliens.
Admittedly, David Fincher’s Alien³ would have received an overabundant amount of negative response from audiences and critics alike but it would have made cohesive narrative sense. For as bad as Hill & Giler’s script may be, it does manage to find its way from Point A to Point B and, subsequently, even bumps into Point C along the way. What audiences witnessed instead was a jumbled mess that went directly from A to C and had some sort of schwa in the middle.
A comparison between an extremely rough work print and the final cut that Twentieth Century Fox firmly stands behind-evidenced by its recent re-release on DVD-reveals well over two dozen changes from trimming lines to hacking out corpulent sections of narrative. A chunk approximately ten solid minutes long is nowhere to be found in the Fox cut. That’s like a projectionist loosing an entire reel of the film! To make matters worse, this massive edit occurs during the initial “running around chasing the Alien scene,” robbing it of it’s payoff. Instead of capturing the Alien, the action simply peters out and is without resolution. In between these cuts were no less than seven separate scenes. During the “burn and bag” sequence there’s a moment wherein of Junior (Holt McCallany) makes amends with Ripley for his earlier attempt to rape her by sacrificing himself to capture the Alien; leading the beast into the storage tank. Afterwards while Dillon (Charles Dutton) bemoans the loss of his comrades, Aaron/85 (Ralph Brown) reveals that he’s received a message from Weyland-Yutani denoting Ripley as “top priority.” Here Ripley realizes that The Company doesn’t give a damn about her. Instead, they want the Alien gestating inside her.
As noted above, the Alien is subsequently released by Golic (Paul McGann) who knocks Morse (Daniel Webb) cold and slits the throat of Arthur (Dhobi Oparei) the prisoner guarding the Alien’s cell. Here, though, the Alien kills Golic-as if having no further use for him. Meanwhile, Ripley and Aaron/85 send a message to The Company asking permission to terminate the Alien. “Permission to terminate Xenormorph denied,” is the response. There’s additional dialogue after this scene between Dillon, Aaron/85, Ripley and Morse in which they discuss Golic’s unleashing of the Alien. Once the topic of their conversation turns to their new options, the Fox cut returns to the motion picture.
The removal of the Alien’s capture prevents some redundancy between this and the later scene but it makes Ripley and her cohorts appear completely ineffectual. There’s no explanation given for why they couldn’t succeed in their attempts. Rather, the action merely stalls, leaving little time before the subsequent endeavor to capture the elusive beast. Fox continued to ruin the pacing of the film by dropping shots willy-nilly in the second chase scene. Fox’s sacrifice of suspense and clarity lacks clear motivation.
In addition to the changes noted above, there are scenes not present in either the Fox or Fincher cut that exist. These include Clemens (Charles Dance) witnessing the crash of the EEV and finding Ripley washed up on shore. They are evidenced by the Alien³ trading cards as well as the full-length trailer released by Fox before the film’s release.
Additionally, a scene that was not included until the later Hill & Giler drafts of Alien³ showed the Baby Queen actually changing hostsescaping from the drowning Newt and entering Ripley’s mouth. It’s not known if this scene was shot but the event found its way into the Dark Horse Comics adaptation of the film.
The only piece of footage noticeably absent from the workprint of Alien³ comes during Ripley’s demise. In the workprint, Ripley simply propels herself from the scaffolding on which she stands, falling into the leadworks below. In the Fox cut, Ripley attains martyrdom. She’s shown in close-up as she plummets, arms outstretched in a Christ-like repose. Suddenly the Alien that’s been growing inside her expels itself. Shrieking with new life, the Alien writhes from Ripley’s chest. She catches the beast and pulls it to her breast, keeping it with her as she is incinerated.
A Hero’s Death
Ripley dies a hero, sacrificing herself to prevent The Company from obtaining the Alien and saving countless lives. At least that’s what audiences may have thought before Alien: Resurrection. The fourth Alien film made Ripley’s death in vain. At least Alien: Resurrection kept the Ripley character alive with some corporeality.
But, what of Hicks and Newt? Their deaths were ignominious, making the struggles of Aliens for naught. There is no reason why Hicks and Newt had to die, other than that the Alien III writers couldn’t handle one significant characterRipleymuch less three.
The excuse most often given regarding Newt’s untimely demise is that the actress who played her, Carrie Henn, had grown noticeably since her performance in Aliens. Skilled writers can concede to “problems” such as this and write around them. Killing Hicks and Newt lacked finesse, if not intelligence. Was there any reason why Alien³ had to continue on the heels of Aliens? Even if this was mandatory to the story, couldn’t there be an error in the cryotubes that didn’t keep Newt young? Hadn’t any of these writers watched Planet of the Apes and saw Dr. Stewart (Dianne Stanley) dead in her tube from old age? Taken to a less significant extreme this could have explained away Newt’s age difference.
More than the redundant plot and reliance on atmosphere over action, the killing of Hicks and Newt stood as the insurmountable blunder of Alien³.
Alien Baby on Board
“One of them managed to board the Sulaco, Hicks. Ripley killed it. She called it ‘the queen.’ It was larger than the others. Very large. Somehow it deposited some genetic material on the ship.” Bishop to Hicks in Gibson’s Alien III
Apart from Twohy’s draft of Alien III, every writer who hacked away at the script relied on the remaining crew of the Sulaco being incredibly stupid. After surviving the terror of Aliens, the notion that they would have left the orbit of LV426 with any Alien material onboard is fatuous. Sure, the Aliens don’t show up on infrared but there must be a way to detect and destroy any Alien eggs lying about.
The Company Gains a Name
In Aliens, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) rallied against hard-headed bureaucrats who appeared more concerned about the price her former craft, the Nostromo, than her deceased colleagues. In the proceedings of Alien, audiences were introduced a nemesis more sinister than the Alien itself, The Company. The bureaucracy proves far more insidious than the cold logic of the Aliens. As Ripley would say, “You don’t see [the Aliens] fucking each other for a god damn percentage.”
Other than Burke (Paul Reiser) in Aliens and, somewhat through Ash (Ian Holm) in Alien, The Company remained faceless. It was a looming presence with a reach far beyond its earthly origins. As corporate conglomerates became more commonplace in the late 1980s, the insidious idea of an omnipotent-and omniscient-Company encroached the economic territory of the United States where multiple mergers and acquisitions were everyday occurrences.
It is only in an expurgated scene from Aliens that “The Company” has its name revealed. During a brief exchange between workers on LV426, the name, logo, and slogan of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation appear. In the next scene (which appeared theatrically), Burke makes an offhanded reference to the Weyland-Yutani motto, “Building Better Worlds.” Otherwise, it isn’t until Alien III that The Company establishes its brand.
All Creatures Great and Small
Anthony: I’m confused. Before you said it came out of the torso, not the head
Ripley: I don’t feel like a discussion of Alien biology.
Dog Aliens, Cat Aliens, Cow Aliens, Chicken Aliens... Where did this idea of the Alien possessing the ability to take on host characteristics or, moreover, the incredible malleability of their DNA to make their lifecycle and means of breeding so open to interpretation?
The introduction of a Queen Alien beset the Aliens with a definite insectile lifecycle, meaning that without an egg, there can be no Alien. Meanwhile, a few drafts of the Alien III script have Aliens breeding seemingly at will, asexually.
Does this go back to the Jurassic Park idea of Nature finding “a way?” Certainly, this line from Twohy’s Alien III script smacks of Michael Crichton’s work; “All monoclones are short-lived to make sure they’re sterile. Suicide gene kicks in after 30 days, roughly.” This recalls the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park all being female to prevent conception of a second generation.
There are no hard and fast rules in science fiction but it helps to lay some groundwork in a story architecture and then either follow them, play with them, or against them. It helps, however, to have some kind of jackass explanation for the fantastic.
The idea that gestation in another life form leads to an Alien that shares its host’s physical characteristics is “neat.” However, from a practical standpoint a species could breed themselves out of existence if their new DNA was flawed or if the host was inferior. Alien Hampster? Alien Rhino? It would make more sense for the Alien DNA to be rock solid so that the fearsome “soldier Aliens” seen in Alien and Aliens (though they did look slightly differentespecially their hands) could use “inferior” beasts to produce their sturdy stock. We already know from Alien that their eggs have a tremendously viable shelf life, showing the importance of continuing their “ideal” strain.
If an Alien ever encountered a superior life form only then, perhaps, their DNA might changethose strong enough to survive this superior force would breed and continue. This is all basic Darwinism, of course, and perhaps it’s not hip to apply science to science fiction. However, keep in mind that the best sci-fi, while appearing to fly in the face of “logic” begs either acceptance on its own terms (Star Wars) or shakily stands on its pseudoscience (“Star Trek”).
It’s poor science fiction that contradicts itself or portrays itself as “logical” while being too fantastic to be acceptable. I know there are coffee klatches of nerds who could explain the finer working of a warp core or Alien DNA but there should not be a need to do so. A warp core is a warp core and may it ever run on its dilithium crystals. I accept “warp technology” in “Star Trek” as I accepted light sabers and The Force in Star Wars. It’s when the obscene notion of midi-chlorians in one’s blood stream entered the picture in The Phantom Menace that the fantastic tried to mask itself in science and fell flat on its face.
Overall, I suppose it all goes back to the notion of simplicity. Keep the Aliens as killing machines and scrap the notion/fascination with them as gene recycling machines.
The Scariest Place of All
After Twentieth Century Fox released Aliens, upstart comic book company, Dark Horse Comics, secured the rights to print a comic adaptation of Cameron’s film as well as begin a series of comic books based on the films. Without special effects budgetary constraints, contractual obligations from actors, or overbearing producers and with a rabid audience of loyal fans, Dark Horse proceeded to produce one of the finest comic tales based on a film series.
Following the Aliens adaptation, Dark Horse produced dozens of “Aliens” titles, placing the beasts in a wide variety of settings and introducing possibilities far more fantastic than anything created by the writers mentioned in this piece. Moreover, Dark Horse continued the storyline of Aliens, essentially creating a comic sequel to the film. In early drafts of Dark Horse’s “Aliens” stories-written by Mark Verheiden-the main characters were named Newt and Hicks. After a request from Twentieth Century Fox, their names were changed to Billie and Wilks in an attempt to restore a sense of consistency between the comics and Alien³. What a laugh! The “Aliens” comic book series charted lands undreamed of by pointy-headed writer/producers. Verheiden’s comic explored the Alien homeworld and even had the guts to send the Aliens to Earth.
My first exposure to Alien³ was the teaser trailer shown long before filming wrapped. Returning to the egg motif of the Alien preview, the narrator states, “In 1979 we discovered [that] in space no one can hear you scream. In 1992 we will discover [that] on Earth, everyone can hear you scream.” Here the egg breaks above the atmosphere of Earth! This misconception that the Aliens would make an appearance on Terra Firma was increased with the film’s early tagline, “This time it’s hiding in the scariest place of all.”
Pardon me, but I don’t find Ellen Ripley’s belly scary. In fact, I find it rather attractive. Aliens hiding on Earth, on the other hand... Now that’s a wild idea and a natural continuance of the Alien series. Astronomical casualties and amazing action sequences would surely follow. However, that idea was too much for the limited scope of David Giler and Walter Hill. “Drop the Alien in Death Valley and you drop a nuke on him. End of story,” claimed writer/producer David Giler. How unimaginative!
Dark Horse collected Verheiden’s tales into three books; Aliens: Book One, Aliens: Book Two,and Aliens: Earth War. (Upon changing the names of Hicks and Newt they were re-released as Aliens: Outbreak, Aliens: Nightmare Asylum and Aliens: Female War). Reminiscent of the beginning of Aliens, the first book starts with Newt socked away in an asylum and on the outs with his military brethren.
Hicks volunteers to visit the Alien homeworld, stowing Newt aboard his ship and saving her from a lobotomy. The two seek retribution while Hick’s commanders want specimens.
Along with Hicks, a crack commando squadron mans the mission. Newt falls in love with one of the commandos, Private Butler, only to discover in the heat of battle that Butler and the rest of the crew are androids. They had been “living” under the delusion that they were human. Back on Earth things aren’t going so well either between a new religious cult that worships the Alien and the poor schlubs the military has incubating newborn Aliens.
After near decimation, the crew on the Alien homeworld discover an unlikely savior-a comrade of the captain of the derelict ship that crashed into Archeron (LV426); the same ship where a face-hugger attacked Kane and Newt’s father. The creature, which they dub “The Other,” helps them to escape back to Earth where they find the military packing its backs and getting ready to leave. Will the last humans please turn the light out?
The military’s ascertains that the Alien plague merely exacerbated an already bleak worldview. “The Alien attack isn’t evil. It’s opportunity. It’s a chance to clean the slate-a chance to start again. After a few years, when it’s over, the survivors can return and terraform earth into something beautiful. The Aliens have given us a chance to rediscover ourselves.” And with this, the Aliens swarm the base, forcing Newt and Hicks (with a functioning upper-torso of Private Butler) to hijack a ship and get the fuck out of Dodge.
Aliens: Book One is riveting. While it functions as a fully-formed three act narrative, complete with suspenseful subplots, it leaves the Aliens in charge of Earth. Aliens: Book Two does little to change this fact. Instead, this book plays like a diversionary subplot to a larger story-one that gives the reader pleasure seeing but does little to advance the narrative.
The story here centers on a mad general who believes he can train “his” Aliens to fight their brethren. While he spouts off about “Alien perfection,” it’s only a matter of time before he’s slaughtered by his own “super soldiers.” This takes far too long. Aliens: Book Two only succeeds in providing for the next chapter of the story are the introduction of a refugee family trapped on Earth and the re-introduction of Ripley!
Aliens: Earth War explains that Ripley had been shanghaied into active duty when a military ship intercepted the Sulaco. Complete with a “crack squad” of her own, Ripley descends back to the surface of LV-426 to visit the derelict ship. Here she makes contact with the apparent “Mother of all Aliens.” She realizes, “We assumed the Alien infestations were sporadic-arbitrary-that they bred wherever convenient, like some horrible cancers. We were wrong. They move with purpose. The pilot of the derelict ship had discovered the Aliens’ genesis-the source of their power. She’s calling her children back to her.”
Returning to the “Alien as insect” idea, Aliens: Earth War focuses on the pheremonal link between a Queen Alien and her brood. Is it merely a glandular response or do the Aliens communicate on a more telepathic level? As Ripley and her new crew blast off on some damn fool idealistic crusade she says, “The drones are only vassals, guided by a superior external intelligence. Many of us have felt this Alien presence-the tortured empathetic bond it shares with its children-the hunger to be whole again.”
Ripley plans to use this desire to be “whole again” to destroy the Mother Alien. The crew travels yet again to the Alien homeworld, finds this elusive Alien, and seals her up in a gift box for Earth. Meanwhile, Newt begins to get antsy about the little Earth girl whose transmissions she still watches. Ripley and Newt head to Earth’s surface where Newt saves the girl and Ripley lures all of the Aliens to their Mother before blowing them all to kingdom come. Then, in an attempt to wrap up the story with a reference to Aliens: Book One, we learn that “The Other” has been acting as puppet master in this whole ordeal. Apparently, “The Other” telepathically led Ripley back to Earth so that it could terraform Earth for itself. D’oh!
Essentially, this three-book tale is far better in its dullest spots than the any of the aforementioned scripts for Alien III. Yet, when it’s all said and done, it may have been better to stop after Alien: Book One as the follow-ups to this book-like Alien³ compared to Aliensdidn’t deliver the excitement of the previous installment.
The Alien Home
The multiple trips to the Alien homeworld in the Dark Horse books bring to fruition an idea that, according to Renny Harlin, had been contemplated for Alien III. After jumping ship on the project, Harlin complained, “I specifically worked with two writers who sold me on their very ambitious plans to develop a story about the future of mankind and what kind of intelligence was really behind the Aliens’ evolution. But what they turned in was nothing more than a rehash of the two previous movies.”
It’s obvious that the forces behind Alien³ not only failed Harlin but they failed themselves and audiences as well. More than involving three directors and over a half dozen writers, Twentieth Century Fox appeared determined to subvert the project, second-guessing audiences and shooting themselves in the foot. Rather than a blockbuster, Alien³ is the definition of a lackluster sequel.
The shortcomings of Alien³ make the success of Alien: Resurrection even more remarkable. With any luck, Alien³ might be considered the darkness before the dawn as Alien: Resurrection may not be the final chapter of the Alien saga. Rumors of a fifth Alien installment abound. Returning to the original intentions of Alien³, the bulk of the rumors concern Ripley 8 visiting the Alien homeworld to discover the mechanisms of their origin.
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