Any filmmaker will tell you that making a movie is creatively and emotionally exhausting. Frustration is a recurring feeling. Trains and unfinished tracks are normally invoked as metaphor. These feelings ripple through every strata of the production -from the model shop to the cutting room- because there are so many departments to juggle and satisfy and each has a creative instinct of its own. But but no one seems to cut a lonelier picture than the beleaguered screenwriter.
Dan O’Bannon’s struggle with writing, selling, and preserving his screenplay have already been documented here at Strange Shapes, in Writing Alien. After snapping up his screenplay, Brandywine producers Walter Hill and David Giler rewrote it several times, altering the story significantly. For example, there were no actual alien elements in their preferred version of the story. The Space Jockey was a human space-pilot, and the egg silo was a government installation. Eventually, Ridley Scott put his foot down and resolved to film somewhere between O’Bannon’s original story and Giler and Hill’s rewrite.
However, according to wmmvrrvrrmm’s research at Alien Explorations, some unseen versions of the script were far, far wackier than anything heard of so far. “Regarding Giler and Hill, they did eight various drafts,” explained Ron Shusett, “And they went off in many different directions … They were trying, roping, you always have to see how far you can push the envelope. It got ridiculous when you got Genghis Khan to fight the Alien … Their idea was somehow every past villain in history they would have to fight, somehow, Attila the Hun, ah, you know … famous historical villains … Hitler-type people, people that were mass murderers, or in some cases maybe a creature … Jack the Ripper, well that was one of them.”
Read his post to learn more: The Realism of Giler and Hill’s earlier drafts.
If historical figures aboard spaceships sounds too outlandish for the pair, consider this story from James Cameron: in 1983 the budding writer/director had a meeting with Brandywine, who were impressed by The Terminator script. The trio talked possible projects, and Giler suggested a Spartacus remake – set in space. “It quickly became clear that David Giler wanted a swords and sandals type film set in outer space,” Cameron said, “with literal swords and sandals.” He was straightforward with his opinion on the idea: “That was a concept that I found pretty idiotic.”
The meeting started to flounder, and on his way out the door the producers raised the possibility of an Alien II. Cameron added guns and boots to this new film, and swords, sandals, and historical heroes and maniacs were not mentioned around him or any other Alien director again.