Thursday, January 4

Alien 3 The Unproduced First-Draft Screenplay

Written by William Gibson (Screenplay), Pat Cadigan (Novelisation)
Published by Titan Books, London (2021)
ISBN: 9781803361130

After Alien and its sequel Aliens were massive hits with audiences and critics alike there was little doubt to anyone that the duo would soon become a trilogy. Despite this massive success, the third film, spent years in preproduction hell. It was written, then rewritten, over and over again. The finished project that we got in 1992 was far from what it had started as in the early days. Alien 3 The Unproduced Screenplay is a rare look at what this film could have been. This means that it’s a fascinating read despite not being considered canon anymore. This is obvious in the fact that Corporal Hicks, Ripley, Newt, and Bishop share very different outcomes in this story than in the final Alien 3 film.

Interestingly there was a comic book that acted as a continuation of the Aliens story called Aliens Outbreak released before Alien 3. This comic told the story of Hicks and Newt trying to survive an Alien outbreak. There are a few similarities between the novelisation of this comic, called Aliens Earth Hive, and this version of Alien 3. Namely both push Ripley to the side in order to focus on Hicks, Bishop, and Newt. They also both feature Hicks trapped in the middle of a Xenomorph outbreak while trying to make it to the last ship to safety. It’s not enough that the two start to feel repetitive but it is enough for me to wonder how much the original comic book took from this 1987 screenplay.

"Attention: this is a ship-wide notification. Due to a failure in the navigational system, the Sulaco has entered a sector claimed by the Union of Progressive Peoples."

The story begins with the USS Sulaco drifting through space and into the territory of the United Progressive People (UPP). The UPP are one of the three major governments in the wider Alien universe. Most of the stories we’ve seen in the films have taken place within the United Americas (UA) territories. Then you have the Three World Empire that doesn’t come up in the story but stands as the third major government in the universe. After the Sulaco drifts into their space the UPP dispatch a squad of commandos in order to recover any useful data possible on the UA. They find the aftermath of Ripley’s final battle with the Queen along with the four survivors in cryosleep. Not all is as it should be as Bishop has an alien egg growing out of his torso. After dispatching the facehugger they take Bishop back to their space station. They recover all of his memories where they learn of the events on LV-426 during the previous film. On Anchorpoint station within UA space the Sulaco is recovered after its auto pilot flies it to the nearest UA outpost. After a detachment of marines recover Hicks, Newt, and Ripley they discover the lower half of Bishop. They find that an alien substance is bonded with his android blood. Something that should be impossible. Of course, they decide the best thing to do is to clone whatever this substance came from. The UPP are doing the same back on their own space station. Before long both are overrun with a new type of Xenomorph able to gestate either via the traditional facehugger method or an airborne pathogen.

This new means of reproduction shares a lot of similarities with both Alien Prototype, a 2019 novel, and of course the Alien Covenant film from 2017. Covenant saw the Neomorphs born from a pod that released microscopic parasites that infected the hosts. Prototype saw the Xenomorph born from a host with a disease known as Cellular Necrosis. Because of this, the Xeno bonds with the disease on a genetic level. It’s covered in black pustules that burst when attacked, covering the attacker in acid pus that melts and infects them. Similar to Zula Hendricks during the Prototype story, Hicks has to fight both the Xenomorph and the deadly disease in the air. The victims in Covenant had the Neomorph literally rip its way out from inside its host. The victims of the Necromorph in Prototype simply died from the mutated disease, not birthing any monster. In this version of Alien 3 the infected host will continue as normal until they simply begin to cough up blood before literally ripping off their skin revealing a Xenomorph. I don’t like this. It feels a little strange that their entire internal biology could mutate into a Xeno while the host continues to go about their everyday life. It made sense with the chest burster as the alien was small enough to hide between the hosts lungs causing only mild discomfort. It makes no sense that an entire Xenomorph would be able to grow just under the hosts skeleton without them dying or noticing in anyway. What happens to their organs including their brain? Either it’s inside the Xeno, in which case, the human should still be in there somewhere, or the organs are squished to the side while somehow not being damaged or destroyed. At what point does the Xenomorph’s acid blood replace the human blood? How does it not melt the victim from the inside? Questions like this and more feel far too distracting to me for this to be anywhere near a good idea.

"Her hands clawed at each other, tearing off skin and muscle tissue, blood vessels and finally, the finger bones themselves, leaving long, black talons shiny with blood. The woman stared at them in amazement, then let out an inhuman scream. ~ Then she raised those shiny wet talons and tore her own face off. Now the air was heavy with the copper smell of blood as the claws ripped away the rest of Welles’s flesh and, when only grinning skull remained, the talons took hold of it and squeezed until it broke into pieces. ~ The alien’s misshapen head turned in their direction. No eyes. Apparently it didn’t need any.”

The writing in this novel is really engaging most of the time. Strangely I found that it had a section that just felt dull. It’s mostly about a group of survivors attempting to escape the overrun space station. The aliens are an ever-present danger but not one that is literally chasing them. This means that the group keeps stopping to rest which gives it a really annoying stop-start pace. This would have worked better in a film as you could have shown a lot of the important points easier than it is to explain them in words. Because of this I figure that this is a natural by-product of the fact that this story was originally supposed to be a film. I will say that this tedium only lasts for around a hundred pages and then things do start to pick up again.

I’m not sure if this was added in by Cadigan or if it was in the original screenplay by Gibson but there was a lot of references to Prometheus and Alien Covenant. These are two films that were written much later than the screenplay this novel is based on. We get mentions to how the Xenomorphs were most likely engineered as weapons by another intelligent species. This was obviously the Engineers that we first learned of in any real detail during 2012’s Prometheus. We then have the aliens spreading via microscopic pathogens like we see with the Neomorphs during Alien Covenant. I’m not going to list everything but there are lots of small little moments that made me think of those films and the surrounding novels and games. While this is certainly a non-canon, what-if, story within the wider universe it really did feel like it belonged in a way I wasn’t expecting for a screenplay written in 1987.

“There was an ugly wet ripping noise. Too late, the voice added as the fat tip of the queen’s tail popped like a bubble, releasing an enormous black cloud.”

I really enjoyed this novel. It’s 428 pages and I finished it in 2 days which for me is really rather fast. This is a testament to both the high quality of Gibson’s original screenplay and Cadigan’s novelisation. That being said, I think I’m happy we ended up getting the Alien 3 that we got rather than this version. I have no doubt that it would have been an amazing film. One that would have felt like a true sequel to Aliens in terms of energy, tone, and characters. But I can’t get over how much I hate the idea of the Xenomorphs able to grow to full maturity under a person’s skeleton. It makes no sense how they would not notice this and as such feels more silly than scary. This plot point is like one bad egg in an otherwise perfect cake. Sure, it’s just one ingredient but it’s ruined the whole cake. If this was the film that we got, then this would now be a canon part of the Xenomorphs reproduction. I’m glad this isn’t the case. As it is, this is a fascinating part of Alien history and one I’m glad to have experienced. Not the best novel I’ve read but far from the worst.


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