In the last few posts, I’ve made a couple of references to sequels, and how sometimes they are disappointments (which is a very mild and expletive-free way of putting it). Most (all?) sci-fi fans in my circle agree that the Alien franchise lost its way with Alien 3 and that other terrible one that came after, and the one after that. You know, the one with Winona Ryder as an android. And the other one, with Michael Fassbender. As an android.
We argue the relative problems and merits with different degrees of ferocity, but there’s a lingering disappointment of where the story went. Neatly writing off Corporal Hicks and Newt at the start of Alien 3 is the kind of narrative cop-out that fans notice. We know it’s because those actors weren’t on board, or were fired. Or something like that.
But with Alien, the fans have always known that it wasn’t meant to be this way. There was another script. Actually, there were a whole host of other scripts, a revolving door of screenwriters and script doctors, variously fired or quit along the way, such that Alien 3‘s status as a true camel (in the horse-built-by-committee sense) is hardly a surprise. The first of those scripts, the original one, it was written by William Gibson, legendary cyberpunk author and still a writer who I can remember thinking of as ‘king of cadence’. But I digress.
This, being the 40th anniversary year of Alien saw the release of an Audible original audiobook recording of Gibson’s Alien III script. This was originally meant to be the first of two movies, the first where Hicks becomes the protagonist and Ripley takes a bit-part only role, before returning for a more central role in the fourth installment.
And that’s exactly what the script audiodrama feels like. It feels like Alien 2.5, a set of events that take place after the Sulaco violates the space territory of a break-away, communist-style people. It holds a palpable sense that the xenomorph as an organism now released from its Pandora’s box, a status that might be impossible to reverse.
Even though this is a short script (only about 2 hours listening time – and the first 10 mins a recap of Aliens), there are also clear signals as to other forms of spread (other than the egg-embryo seen in the first two films), the xenomorph’s adaptable DNA, its possible history as the end product of someone else’s arms race, and where the fourth movie was supposed to go. There is mention of black goo and various other states of the alien, which I found really surprising … I mean, that’s the confusing-as-batshit stuff in Prometheus, right? The stuff that seemed to come out of nowhere??
I actually wondered then if someone consulted Gibson’s script when they were writing Prometheus. Hell, the unholy mess of that movie would have made a hell of a lot more sense if they’d made Gibson’s script instead of the junk in Alien 3. Gibson’s Alien III manages to dance that line between not having all the answers (it is a new lifeform being researched after all …), but still remaining clear about the possibilities. In other words, not confusing the crap out of the audience.
Overall, reaching the end of it, I’m a bit sad that this isn’t the script that led to the film. It has such nice continuity with Aliens, honouring the characters that came before while expanding the storyworld. It doesn’t willy-nilly kill children, which I never used to think was an important barometer in film, but I do now. It provided such a nice lead to another outing. And yet, it didn’t get made.
In reading about the tortured path of the script development for Alien 3, there’s a palpable sense that the producers were trying to avoid a re-hash of the first two films. The disappointing thing is that those originality elements are there in Gibson’s script (the expanding of the storyverse’s depth, the hints to the alien’s origins, the set-up for a wholly different fourth film) while preserving the stuff that, let’s be honest, has to goddamn happen in an alien film: the alien gets out and runs amok. So it feels like one of those cases where everyone just fell over themselves. The movie equivalent of second-novel syndrome, perhaps. Who knows.
The plus side is, though, that now we at least have this audio performance of the script, and Michael Biehn is Hicks (as he goddamn should be … and he’s Kyle Reese too, let’s not forget) and Lance Henriksen is Bishop. Those facts alone were enough for me to sweep the TBR pile aside and do this first. If you’re a fan of Alien/Aliens, I recommend doing the same. And dear lords, let them reboot it all with Alien 5, and make the concept art into a living breathing film.
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