Cold Wars: William Gibson’s Alien III

Alien III was inevitable.

After the commercial and critical smash that was Aliens, Twentieth Century Fox turned to Brandywine Productions for more bottled lightning. Though Alien had briefly inspired a toy line, the sequel spawned a small merchandise empire which included action figures, modelling kits, board games, a comic book series, and even a proposed cartoon spin-off. Another sequel seemed natural.

“Well, everyone wanted to make the sequel to Aliens,” David Giler said in 2003, “kinda except us, we weren’t so… we were happy to do it, but… we weren’t all that enthused.” Co-producer Walter Hill was more incisive. “The studio wanted to crank out another one,” he said in 2004. “David and I were a bit sick of it, and wanted to end the whole thing.” Though unexcited by the prospect of a third film, the duo resolved to give the series a fitting send-off. “We wanted to do it with some class and thematic cohesion,” said Hill.

But where should they take the series now? Alien was a claustrophobic horror film with a singular monster; it was the classic haunted house trope with a twist – it was set in space. Aliens was claustrophobic but hi-octane, and it enlarged the universe by introducing the Colonial Marines and off-world colonies. The basic trappings were the same (monsters in corridors) but Cameron had managed to widen the series’ scope, switch the genre, and successfully expand upon the Alien’s life-cycle. “What do you do to make it different?” Giler mused. “You can’t do something that’s a reheat of 1 or 2.”

According to a 1997 Cinescape article, initial ideas for the film’s scenario involved the Aliens invading Earth, “where they fuse into a giant, multi-talented monster that destroys New York City”. A version of this idea made it into Eric Red’s Alien III, but was thankfully dropped in subsequent scripts. Another idea for the premise included “Ripley and Newt hunting an especially mobile creature in a Blade Runner-esque off-world metropolis.”

Whilst brainstorming, Giler and Hill also met with science-fiction author William Gibson, whose 1984 novel The Neuromancer helped usher in cyberpunk. Gibson accepted Brandywine’s offer: they would come up with a story, and he would write the script.

William Gibson's aesthetic philosophy aligned itself with the grimy universe of Alien. "I also wanted science fiction to be more naturalistic," he has said, "I wanted to see dirt in the corners."

William Gibson’s aesthetic philosophy aligned itself with the grimy universe of Alien. “I also wanted science fiction to be more naturalistic,” he has said, “I wanted to see dirt in the corners.”

But Gibson was swayed by more than the promise of a paycheque. “I found a lot of things that were interesting in the original [Alien] even when it first came out,” he explained. “I thought there were germs of stories implicit in the art direction. I always wanted to know more about these guys. Like why they were wearing dirty sneakers in this funked-up spaceship. I think it influenced my prose science-fiction writing because it was the first funked-up, dirty kitchen-sink spaceship, and it made a big impression on me.”

The Blade Runner-esque idea interested Gibson, but he was quickly set right by the producers. “The impression I had,” Gibson said, “was that budget parameters argued against introducing the Aliens into something that was the equivalent of the Blade Runner set, which I admit would have been my natural impulse.”

Instead, he worked from a series of notes supplied to him by Giler and Hill. “Writing for film is a commercial art,” Gibson acquiesced. “The writer is a hired hand.”

“[Brandywine] suggested the Marxist space empire, and I happily elaborated on that. In spite of its almost instant archaism, I found it fun. I couldn’t recall a single piece of Cold War space opera in which the other guys were commies … [The script] was sort of like a Cold War in space, with genetic manipulation of the Alien replacing nuclear war.”
~ William Gibson, williamgibsonblog.blogspot.co.uk, 2003 & Cinescape, 1997.

Brandywine and Fox agreed to make Alien III the last in the series, and decided to celebrate the end with a two-part movie. Meanwhile, with story parameters provided by Brandywine in mind, Gibson sat to write the first half of the two-part film. The first half would feature the Sulaco being intercepted by a socialist space bloc on its return to Earth. Corporal Hicks would lead the cast, with Newt being sent back to Earth and Ripley comatose. Gibson explained that “At the time, Ms. Weaver seemed doggedly unwilling to participate, so I was instructed to keep Ripley in stasis throughout.” There were no firm plans for the second part, which ostensibly would have been Alien 4.

Gibson was also rushed due to the threat of an impending writer’s strike (“I wrote in a backroom of Shepperton Studios,” he joked) which eventually erupted in March 1988 – he certainly worked fast, since the strike hit long after his story had been submitted.

What follows is a detailed summary of his first, widely-available script, which was handed in to Brandywine in December 1987. A second draft was handed in during January of 1988, and a bullet-pointed synopsis covers the differences between the two drafts.

ALIEN III, BY WILLIAM GIBSON. FIRST DRAFT.

2

Cast of characters

Returning
Cpl. Dwayne Hicks – Colonial Marine, survivor from Aliens.
Bishop – android survivor from Aliens.
Newt – colonist. Also survived Aliens (character is sent to Earth early on).
Ellen Ripley – survivor of Alien and Aliens (character is comatose throughout).

New
Colonial Administration/Anchorpoint Station
Tully, Charles A. (M) – a BioLab Technician.
Spence (F) - another BioLab Technician. Tully’s lover.
Jackson (F) – Operations Officer.
Colonel Rosetti (M) – Head of Military Operations.
Kevin Fox (M) & Susan Welles (F) – Weyland-Yutani Military-Sciences, Weapons Division.
Trent (M) & Shuman (M) – Members of Anchorpoint’s ‘Directorate’.
Walker (M) – Machine Shop.
Halliday (F) – survivor introduced after the outbreak.
Tatsumi (M) – survivor introduced after the outbreak.
Lab Tech (M) – (^ you get the jist).

Rodina/Union of Progressive Peoples
Vietnamese Commando (F) – Boards the Sulaco at the beginning, obtains Bishop’s body, and features throughout.
Suslov (M) – Colonel-Doctor
Braun (M) – Chief of R&D

The story begins with a navigational error sending the Sulaco astray into ‘airspace’ claimed by the Union of Progressive Peoples, a Soviet-styled faction who are political opponents of the Colonial Administration and industrial-imperialist corporations that we’ve met in the series so far.

An interceptor ship catches up with the errant Sulaco and settles on it “like a wasp”. Three U.P.P. commandos exit the interceptor and enter the Sulaco through a deck hatch. They fan through the dark interior of the hanger, inspect the damaged dropship (apparently seared from the nuclear explosion at Hadley’s Hope) and they also find something else:

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Bishop’s legs, broken, grotesquely twisted, still in fatigues, the white android blood clotted into powder. First and Second Commandos exchange looks through their faceplates.

Perturbed but alert, they explore the ship further. Inside the cryochamber they find the sleeping survivors from Aliens. Bishop’s pod has misted over, and inside it they find an Alien egg nestled among the android’s entrails. A facehugger emerges and attacks the inspecting commando (designated by the script as the ‘Leader’), who stumbles near an airlock with the ‘hugger forcing itself through his faceplate. A second commando shoots the creature, which erupts in a gout of acid. This second commando dumps the Leader’s body through the airlock to save the Sulaco from further damage.

The opening sequence ends with a vision of a black, multi-limbed creature approaching the second commando – it is the third commando, carrying Bishop’s trunk.

We are then introduced to Anchorpoint Station, firmly in Colonial Administration space. It is described as being “the size of a small moon, and growing; unfinished sections of hull are open to vacuum.” There are shades of Vincent Ward’s wooden orbiter here and, of course, the second Death Star. The station includes an area named, in a self-explanatory manner, “the Mall”, which is “a cross between a Hyatt atrium and an airport shopping concourse: shops, vegetation, fast food outlets, a bar.”

We meet one of the station’s inhabitants, a BioLab technician named Tully.

“The cubicle, terminally sloppy, resembles the nest of a high-tech hamster, not much larger than a berth of a train. The walls are plastered with a wistful collage of posters, ads, photos torn from magazines: beaches, deserts, the Grand Canyon, redwoods, blue sky – a hedge against claustrophobia and the emptiness of space.”

Tully is awoken by Jackson, the station’s operations manager. She calls with news that the Sulaco has docked at Anchorpoint. Another ship from Gateway has also arrived and demands that the Sulaco is searched by Anchorpoint’s BioLab team. Tully grumbles, but acquiesces. Before we cut to the dry dock, we see that Tully is in fact sharing his bed with a co-worker, Spence.

The BioLab team enter the Sulaco with a Marine escort and approach the cryochamber.

Adobe Photoshop PDFOnce inside they are inexplicably attacked by two Aliens. One of the Marines “unleashes his flamethrower”. The damage is devastating: “the first Alien and Ripley’s capsule vanish in a napalm fireball … liquid fire hoses the second Alien … The vault is an inferno, Ripley’s capsule is sagging, melting.”

We cut to an awakened Hicks. He is seen to by Spence. “I’m not a medic,” she tells him, “I’m from the tissue culture lab. I have to get a sample.” She proceeds to test him for infection. Hicks asks her about the other survivors. Spence says they are fine. He asks about Bishop, but Spence is confused: “There were three of you. Three that I know of, anyway…” Newt bursts into the room, having bitten and escaped from an orderly. The situation becomes oddly hostile as Hicks stands to threaten the orderly. “You looking to get yourself sedated, Corporal?” asks the latter. “Now I’m asking you the question,” retorts Hicks. Spence diffuses the situation by allowing Hicks and Newt to visit Ripley, who lies in a coma.

We cut to ‘Rodina’, the U.P.P. base, where Bishop is undergoing examination. It turns out that the U.P.P. stole Bishop’s upper body and sent the Sulaco on its way. “Information is being reamed out of the android at high speed,” the script reads, “printouts of measurements, graphs, formulas. Colonel-Doctor Suslov sits beside a female “Vietnamese Commando” (the second commando from the script’s opening, apparently) who wears “a sleeveless fatigue-blouse revealing regimental tattoos:  a yin-yang, hashmarks, an ID marker like a supermarket bar-code.  They watch as a graphics program generates a detailed anatomical drawing of a facehugger on a large monitor”.

Back at Anchorpoint, two techies are inspecting Bishop’s legs (left behind by the U.P.P.) which are inflected with “dark globules.” “Since when do androids get diseases?” one of the techs asks the other.

The political situation between the U.P.P. and Colonial Administration is laid bare to Hicks in a meeting with Anchorpoint’s Head of Military Operations and Directorate (Rosetti, Trent & Shuman) and the two Weyland-Yutani representatives from Gateway (Fox and Welles):

Shuman: “To put it in diplomatic terms, Hicks, 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, eventually – they can compromise our position in the current round of arms reduction talks. We’re talking serious ramifications here. Then we have the communications lag to and from Earth. A week either way. So we’re looking at a fourteen day wait for policy clarification. We may have a major crisis on our hands.”

Hicks allows Newt to leave Ripley the address of her grandparents on Earth before she is shuttled off. She is taken aboard the Sulaco as it is returned to Gateway Station. From there she is apparently returned to Earth.

We cut to a conference room at Rodina, where an assembly of “Technocrats” are discussing their find. They conclude that the Alien could be made into a viable weapon if its genetic material can be controlled. Braun, the head of Rodina’s R&D, tells Suslov that “The adult form, Colonel-Doctor, is evidently a killing-machine of great strength, extraordinary sophistication. No evidence of intelligence. Purely instinctual”. The U.P.P. are aware that Weyland-Yutani are attempting to obtain an Alien themselves. They decide to repair Bishop and send him to Anchorpoint; a feigned display of acquiescence that will buy them more time with their own experiments: “Our technicians will repair [Bishop],” declares Suslov. “Return it to them… And we will proceed. We will clone the Alien…”

Back at Anchorpoint’s Tissue Culture Lab. Fox and Rosetti sit with Trent and analyse human and Alien DNA. They watch as:

The Alien form makes contact with the human DNA. The transformation is shockingly swift, but its stages can still be followed: the thing seems to pull itself into and through the coils, and for an instant the two are meshed, locked, and then the final stage. A new shape glows, a hybrid.

Meanwhile, Hicks has been temporarily assigned to the station’s machine shop. “The place is an oily forest of steel; machines of various kinds await repair.” He approaches Walker, “a big man in a grease-stained vest”.

He offers Hicks a cigarette, lights it for him with a micro-torch from the bench.

Walker: You off the mystery ship, Hicks?
Hicks: Sulaco? What’s the mystery?
Walker: (lighting his own cigarette) Popular question. Whole thing’s triple-classified now and word’s getting around that two of the deck party never came back.
Hicks: (shrugs) I was iced.
Walker: Sure…

As the U.P.P. decided earlier, Bishop is returned to the Colonial Administration, and docks at Anchorpoint. He is accosted by Marines and taken into quarantine to be examined.

Hicks bumps into Tully at a bar in the mall, and Tully drunkenly reveals that he knows about the Sulaco’s infestation. Before he says too much, he promises to reveal more to Hicks the next day after their shifts.

Colonel Rosetti, Trent, Fox, and Welles anaylse Bishop and conclude that he has not been tampered with by the U.P.P., but they choose to assume that his memories concerning the Alien have been accessed. They discuss the applicability of the Alien DNA to bioweapons research. Welles and Fox decide to cultivate the Alien DNA under the pretense of studying it for medical applications. Rosetti is threatened into complying:

Fox: Has anyone mentioned military applications, Colonel? Trent?
Trent: (smiles) No. I think a very nice case can be made for applied exobiology. We do have a standing order to study alien life-forms when we encounter them. Preliminary analysis of the material from Sulaco reveals a remarkable adaptive capacity. The potential for cancer research alone…
Welles: Imagine, Colonel: if it can be programmed to only kill cancer cells…
Rosetti: And what exactly is it you propose to do, Trent?
Fox: (before Trent can answer) We’ll nourish the cells is stasis tubes, under constant observation. We’ll terminate them before they become embryos…
Rosetti: I see. Cancer research. And our motives are exclusively humanitarian. Is that it?
Welles: Colonel, when Shuman gets his reply from Earth, priority will go to military development of the Alien. We know that because we know where our orders came from. The decision has already been made.
Fox: And potential U.P.P. research in the same direction only adds to the urgency, Colonel.
Rosetti: The decision rests with me.
Welles: Perhaps you misunderstood, Rosetti. The decision has been made.
Fox: They won’t just break you, Colonel, they’ll see to it that it’s as though your career never happened. They’re top people. That can do that. And you know it.

Rosetti, with a long, cold look for both of them; he got the message:

Rosetti: Shuman, of course, will have to be informed.
Fox: Of course. “Cancer research”…

A quick scene informs us that the U.P.P. have already began to grow an Alien embryo. In another small scene they discuss the nature of the Alien (a common thread in all of the Alien III scripts, which usually reach the same conclusions): “Perhaps it is the fruit of some ancient experiment,” poses Suslov. “A living artifact, the product of genetic engineering… A weapon. Perhaps we are looking at the end result of yet another arms race…”

We jump back to Hicks, who is jogging through a construction area within Anchorpoint, ostensibly on his way to meet Tully. He “comes out of the lit mouth of a tunnel. The space he enters is the size of a football stadium, but dark and industrially Gothic. Stacks of hull-plate and geodesic struts. A shower of sparks as he passes a robot welder (a la the machine in the opening sequence of Aliens). Down the aisle of material and heavy machinery. Spence is waiting.”

She tells him that Tully could not risk divulging sensitive information, so she opted to do so instead.

Spence: [Tully] He told me what was on that ship, Hicks. What he saw. You know what is was.
Hicks: I don’t think anybody knows what it is…
Spence: They’ve got us growing the stuff. We’ve been running recombinant DNA routines on it, using human genetic material…
Hicks: You’ve been what?
Spence: (stubbing out her cigarette) Cancer research. Tully says that’s just a cover. Says it’s like trying to cure cancer with a shotgun. Anyway, everybody know those two spooks from Gateway are MiliSci [Military Science]…
Hicks: Fox and Welles?
Spence: Weapons Division. Not even supposed to exist, these days. Not officially, anyway.
Hicks: (lights a cigarette of his own) I still don’t see why you’re telling me this.
Spence: Maybe I don’t either. It’s just… we’ve got to tell somebody… Now there’s a rumor somebody came in on a U.P.P. ship today, somebody off Sulaco…
Hicks: Bishop…
Spence: I don’t know.
Hicks: Maybe Progressive Peoples’ll get their own Alien too. Maybe they’ll grow some…

Hicks is later reunited with Bishop, who visits him as he works in the machine shop. Bishop tells Hicks about the Alien Queen that stowed aboard the Sulaco, and he theorises that it somehow deposited genetic material aboard the ship before it was expelled by Ripley. They discuss the Company’s plans to reproduce an Alien, and they decide to foil these plans.

It is quickly revealed that Alien eggs are also being cultivated at Anchorpoint. The eggs are stunted, but apparently growing. Welles visits Tully in the lab to observe their progress, but her visit coincides with an inexplicable accident:

Two of the tubes BLOW OUT. Nutrient fluid and plastic shards everywhere. Welles and Tully go down. A louder ALARM cuts in; red lights strobe. Locks in the doors THUNK shut, an automatic containment measure, as Spence, outside, throws down her coffee and begins to struggle with the door-controls, trying to reach Tully. Tully, face down in a pool of the fluid, see that he’s nine inches away from the gray pigeon’s-egg of alien tissue. His eyes widen. Gets to his knees as carefully as he can.

A small gas leaks from the lips of the egg, and no more. Tully and Welles are washed down by techs in biohazard gear. No one raises the possibility of infection.

Back to Bishop and Hicks, who are sneaking into the Tissue Culture Lab. They destroy the Alien samples and are arrested by security. The higher-ups call a meeting to discuss the loss of the samples:

Welles: The Anchorpoint phase of the project is terminated, Rosetti. You’ll keep Hicks and the android in solitary until they can return with us to Gateway to stand trial for treason.
Trent: The Anchorpoint phase? What do you mean? We have no more material to work with…
Fox: You have no more material to work with, Trent. In any case, it’s become obvious that you aren’t quite the man for the job. We took the precaution of obtaining our own samples. They’re on their way to Gateway.

But Welles, who is present at the meeting, begins to double over in pain.

As the chittering tooth-burr becomes a shrill SHRIEK of inhuman rage, the transformation takes place. Segmented biomechanoid tendons squirm beneath the skin of her arms. Her hands claw at one another, tearing redundant flesh from Alien talons. Then the shriek dies. She straightens up – and rips her face apart in a single movement, the glistening claws coming away with skin, eyes, muscle, teeth, and splinters of bone… SOUND of ripping cloth. The New Beast sheds its human skin in a single sinuous, bloody ripple, molting on fast forward.

Trent vomits explosively. The Marine guard snatches his pistol from its holster and FIRES wildly across the table. Blind screaming chaos.

The Welles-Alien kills Fox outright. Colonel Rosetti escapes and frees Bishop and Hicks from solitary. The brass deduce that Welles was infected after the lab accident, and they decide to hunt down Tully, who has gone on the run within the complex. Tully, having become an Alien, attacks Hicks and co in the construction area. They escape, but it is unknown if they kill the Tully-Alien (nevertheless, he never appears again). Bishop suggests destroying the entire station to stymie the spread of infection.

Hicks: I thought you were programmed to protect human life?
Bishop: (with android blandness) I’m taking the long view.

The brass receive a message from the U.P.P., who urge them to quit their experiments with the Alien -  their own genetically-altered Alien (“Bigger, meaner, faster”) has infected their entire station already.

Hicks decides to pull Ripley from the MedLab and places her unconscious body into a cryotube aboard a lifeboat. He ejects her into space, safely away from the infected space station (and to set up Alien 4).

He then takes charge of a young squad of Marines. The script makes sure to tell us that they are not the cocky vets from the previous movie. They are young, green, and not yet battle-tested. Hicks warns them that the Aliens don’t take prisoners – if a friend is taken, do him a favour and kill him. They head into an infected area and swamp it with floodlight, which reveals:

“an enormous mutant queen. The thing is splayed on its back, mortared into the mass of resin, its vestigial head toward Hicks and the Marines. Its abdomen is arched like an inverted scorpion-tail, tipped with a swollen, semi-translucent sac that ripples and pulses in the glare of Hick’s lamp. A biomechanical birth-factory.”

Aliens begin twisting out of the grotto walls and attack:

The Aliens tear into the Marines like living chainsaws. Wallace and Costello go down immediately; the Aliens begin to drag them away. Hicks has gotten hold of the light, struggles to keep it on the queen as he props the tube against his thigh. SCREAMS. Blue stutter of pulse-rifles. A tongue of fire from Greenfield’s flamethrower, but an Alien jumps him; the napalm-stream arcs wildly, splashing the resin structure — and the Queen wakes.

The Queen emits a cloud of smoke, like the egg in the lab which infected Tully and Welles. Bishop, observing from a control room, activates the vents in the area, which suck up and disperse the gas. Hicks manages to load a mortar shell and blows the Queen’s head off. But despite Bishop’s maneuver, one of the Marines is already in the throes of transformation, and Hicks euthanises him.

Back at the U.P.P., and the Vietnamese Commando makes her way through the station, finding “a bas-relief of human bodies and glittering resin” along the way. The station is clearly doomed. She continues to make for her escape, and boards an interceptor. She sees another U.P.P. ship, the ‘Nikolai Stoiko’, looming ahead, ready to nuke the station. She escapes just as it is destroyed.

Back in Anchorpoint’s mall, where we catch up with machine shop boss Walker. The mall is abandoned, but not uninhabited:

Behind him, a mug topples, CLATTERS on the floor. He slowly lowers the liquor to the counter; just as slowly, he turns. A beast is there, waiting, beyond the glimmer of the holo-games.

Walker and the beast move simultaneously. But he doesn’t go for his gun — he grabs the control unit hanging on his chest.

An unmanned power-loader walks straight through the glass facade, plowing tables and chairs out of its way, big vice-grip claws extended. The Alien SCREAMS, leaps for it, but the steel claws close and grip.

Walker twiddles the controls; the power-loader responds, pinning the Alien against the wall. The Alien writhes and HISSES, striking furiously at the hydraulic arm. Walker tightens the grip, locks the loader in place. Picks up the jug of liquor and has another swallow.

Walker: Fuck you.

The powerloader’s cameo is completely unnecessary (why is it in the mall?) and it deflates the tension and horror of the scene. It’s clearly meant to be a badass moment for the Walker, but he begins to transform into an Alien and does not enjoy his victory.

In the station’s Eco-Module Spence seeks out the colony’s animals -monkeys, lemurs- and attempts to feed them. Unfortunately the animals have also transformed into different forms of Alien, and she flees. Hicks later finds and escorts her to safety in the Operations Room.

Hicks urges Rosetti to sabotage the Anchorpoint’s “fusion package”, which will destroy the station. Rosetti states it can only be done manually due to damage in the area. Bishop volunteers for the task. Suddenly, a Marine in the room drops to his knees in pain, and a swarm of chestbursters erupt from his body. Everyone, Hicks, Spence, Rosetti, Jackson and Bishop, flee. Hicks tells Bishop that destroying the station, even if they do not escape, is paramount. Bishops leaves and Hicks and the rest round up a group of survivors:

INT. LIFEBOAT ASSEMBLY POINT

Another intersection of corridors. A pathetic remnant of Anchorpoint’s crew cluster beneath a flashing blue light. A dozen people, including HALLIDAY, a woman Spence’s age; TATSUMI (male Japanese); a LAB TECH (male).

We then join Bishop passing through the mall on his way to the fusion package:

INT. THE MALL

Dense haze of smoke from burning insulation; half the lights are out. A body floats face down in the pool at the foot of the waterfall; the pool is overflowing, splashing on polished concrete. Bishop emerges from a doorway and hurries along toward the freight elevator. He freezes. Hears something else. Moves quietly in the direction of the SOUND. The bar. He peers into the wreckage. Four Aliens are at work, cocooning their prey. Cocooned bodies -CLOSE on the face of Shuman- have been glued to the big screen, where silent images of the soccer game repeat endlessly. Bishop stares, then turns – looks up.

A Queen. The thing towers above him in the Mall, utterly still.

Bishop makes for a freight elevator, and the Queen chases him like “a famished mantis”. He makes it, but the Queen stabs at the elevator interior with her tail.

INT. FREIGHT ELEVATOR

Bishop on his knees, running his hands delicately over the ribbed plastic flooring. The Queen HISSES, BASHES the door. He finds a seam, levers up with his nails, gets a grip. Pulls. Sense of his android strength as the flooring comes up on pale streamers of super-glue. The elevator shakes with the Queen’s fury. He finds a section of the floor that can be removed. Forces the glue-caked caches. Slams down with the heel of his hand — the panel falls away, tumbling through smoke toward a point of fire-glow at the shaft’s distant foot.

INT. SHAFT

Bishop lowers himself through the opening, dangles. An emergency service- ladder is recessed in one wall. He tries to reach one of the rungs with his foot, but the toe of his boot slips. Too far. He begins to swing back and forth like a gymnast, building momentum — and lets go. Falls six feet before he manages to get a grip.

He begins to descend the ladder. It’s a long way down.

Hicks and the others make their way through the colony, cutting though an “Aquaculture farm” and an “Aeroponics farm” (fish cultivated in the former, vegetation in the latter). Halliday is killed by an Alien, which Spence kills with a flare-gun. Tatsumi is also injured by another Alien. Meanwhile Bishop successfully sabotages the fusion package, initiating an imminent explosion.

Hicks and co near the lifeboats, and Rosetti runs ahead, opening the portal door to the bay. Inside he finds “an indeterminate number of Aliens, their appendages tangled black and shiny as a fresh catch of eels.” They escape into an office, where they find the corpse of one of Anchorpoint’s directorate, Trent, who has evidently shot himself after shredding documents pertaining to the Alien experiments. They find an airlock in the office, and elect to don spacesuits and cross the hull. Another swarm of chestbursters erupt from Tatsumi, and the remaining five survivors escape into the airlock. They don spacesuits, but Rosetti begins to change into an Alien and hurls the unnamed Lab Tech into space. Hicks shoots the Rosetti-Alien, killing him. Now only Hicks, Spence, and Jackson are left.

They make for the lifeboat bay, hoping to gain entry from the exterior.

004

The scene is silent, except for their ragged breaths. They lift their legs like weights, they progress step-by-step and risk clumsy zero-g leaps. They reach a shuttle and pry at its plates. Aliens attack, and Hicks holds them off with the limited ammunition he has left. He rescues Bishop from an airlock in the meantime, whilst Jackson and Spence pry open the ship. Jackson is successful, and leans in:

Jackson ducks, wedges helmet and shoulder through the opening – and a queen-sized stinger erupts through the back of her neck, slicing the suit’s alloy collar ring like butter. Brief but horrible SOUND on radio.

… [The] Queen, her crest rising against the stars, leads the swarm against them in a solid wave…

Hicks almost loses consciousness in the battle after an explosion, and Bishop stands alone to gun down the advancing Aliens, which he does with “no anger, no fear — just total absorption in the task at hand.” He blows the Queen’s head off with a grenade, and Gibson controversially notes that “with the loss of the Queen’s unifying intelligence, the Aliens are reduced to their usual level of instinctual action.”

The three survivors make for a radio mast jutting from the station’s surface, with several Aliens in pursuit.

Suddenly – “The U.P.P. interceptor, pitted and scorched by the nuking of Rodina, settles toward Anchorpoint on steering jets.” The Vietnamese Commando appears at a gunport, settled behind the “vicious-looking snout of a Gatling-style pulse-cannon.” She chops up the Aliens in a barrage of gunfire and Hicks, Bishop and Spence manage to board the ship and make their escape. Anchorpoint Station explodes behind them.

Bishop informs Hicks that he and Spence are not infected, but that the Vietnamese Commando is dying from radiation poisoning. Bishop rouses Hicks to join forces with the Colonail Administration and the U.P.P. to combat their joint enemy on their home turf in a united front – otherwise, the Alien will wipe out humanity.

The script ends with the vessel ‘Kansas City’ picking up the interceptor and taking our protagonists once again into the murk of space.

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EXT SPACE.

Kansas City.

Receding.

Gone.

The stars.

ALIEN III, BY WILLIAM GIBSON. SECOND DRAFT.

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Presented here is a comprehensive look at the revisions made by Gibson in the second draft. Some changes are large, others small, the rest maybe trivial. The script is altogether far more intricate than the first draft, as should be expected.

Note that some of the new scenes, like Bishop being toured around the Alien tissue lab, may not be entirely new. According to Gibson, the first draft that is available online is missing pages. The second draft presumably retains these.

A few very simple differences between the first and second drafts before we begin the list? The first is awash with Marines and Queens, the second features none. The first draft is clearly an action-spectacle, the second focuses mainly on three Alien creatures: one U.P.P. Alien that is destroyed when Rodina is nuked halfway through the screenplay, and one transformed human (‘the Hybrid’) at Anchorpoint. Another Alien bursts from the body of U.P.P. commando, Kurtz, and is the classic Giger type. It is known as ‘the Beast’.

As a result of the reduction in Aliens, there is less chaos at Anchorpoint. The station seems almost abandoned save for the few main and secondary characters. This makes sense, as it is explained that the station was under construction and apparently abandoned. It maintains a skeleton crew who await further funding for the station’s completion.

Now, a comprehensive look at the differences, which include:

  • The script opens as before, but this time the interior of the U.P.P. interceptor is described (“cramped like a WWII bomber”) and the commandos are given names and nationalities: “Kurtz (E. German), DeSolis (C. American) and Chang (Pacific Rim, female)”. Chang is the ‘Vietnamese Commando’ from the first draft.
  • In the first draft, the interceptor lands on the Sulaco “like a wasp”. The landing is rougher in the second draft: “The interceptor clangs against Sulaco, shudders, lights flicker, steam hisses from a vent.”
  • The commandos are given dialogue in the second draft.
  • In the first draft the commandos enter the dropship hanger via ladder. In the second they use “hair-thin cables”, and their battle armour and equipment is more sophisticated: “We see the lock interior as they do, infrared images generated inside their faceplates, miniature data-readouts flickering in the margins.” (their armour will crop up later…)
  • When the Leader (‘Kurtz’ here) is attacked by the facehugger he reflexively pulls the trigger on his pulse rifle, causing damage to the cryotubes. In the original he stumbles into them and out of the chamber with minimal damage.
  • Kurtz is not ejected into space after the attack. His corpse is left aboard the Sulaco. The chestburster emerges offscreen and nests in the bowels of the ship.
  • In the first draft Tully is awoken by Jackson via a vid-call. At the end of the scene it is revealed that he is sharing his bed with Spence. In the second draft Jackson comes to his cubicle in person, and catches him “tangled in a sleeping bag with Spence, obviously in the act.”
  • After the introduction to Tully, Jackson and Spence, the first draft cuts to Tully prepping to enter the Sulaco. In the second draft we cut to another scene, which introduces Rosetti, who is in dialogue with Fox and Welles. They discuss the Sulaco and the U.P.P.
    “Sulaco was returning to Gateway with specimens of weapons-related material,” explains Fox. “The Company’s quantum detectors were monitoring data from the ship’s hypersleep vault. It became evident that the material in question had… become active.”
    Fox and Welles state they will board the Sulaco with the BioLab team.
  • There is dialogue between Tully and Fox in the dry dock (summary: Fox is an authoritarian asshole).
    We then cut to Ops, where Jackson is overseeing the mission into the Sulaco. She watches the team enter the ship via an umbilicus which “clamps on with electromagnets, like a giant robot lamprey.” The investigatory team are indeed led by Fox and Welles. In the original these characters are not present.
  • The Marines accompanying the BioLab team are replaced with new characters, techies ‘Sterling’ and ‘Tatsumi’.
    Sterling is “a big NASA-style shitkicker techie”.
    Tatsumi, who featured in the first draft but was introduced near the end, “ties a Rising Sun headband across his forehead prior to putting on his helmet.”
  • The team find and comment on Bishop’s legs: “Bag it for micro-analysis,” orders Welles, and “Spence and Tatsumi squat over Bishop’s legs, working carefully with tongs and plastic; looks like a scene from an anthropological dig.”
  • The team are inexplicably attacked by two Aliens in the first draft; no Aliens appear to attack in the second draft.
  • Saying that, Jackson thinks she spies movement as the BioLab team inspect the ship. We can assume that this is a chestburster, born from Kurtz.
  • In the first draft Ripley’s cryotube is damaged during the Marine/Alien battle. In the second draft events occur differently, as there are no Aliens to fight with. The team enter the chamber and find Ripley’s tube emitting a red warning light – possibly registering damage from Kurtz’s gunfire in the opening. Suddenly: “Ripley slams up against the lid of her capsule, screaming, face contorted, clawing furiously at the plastic, mad with fear … the lid of her capsule pops up and she’s out, still screaming, all over Tully–”
    She is given an injection and passes out.
  • A new scene is inserted after this, which follows Welles as she looks through the Sulaco crew’s possessions: “Welles is coldly flipping through private possessions in a dark sleeping cubicle, using her light. This one belonged to Gorman (Aliens). In the locker she finds his military ID and a framed hologram of his wife or girlfriend.”
    She also inspects Bishop’s cubicle, where she finds: “neatly folded clothes, hi-tech android personal maintenance gear in transparent plastic bags, and a thick, ring-bound book with a plastic cover: ‘Documentation: Hyperdyne Model A/5′ … This is the ‘instruction book’ Bishop was issued with at ‘birth’.”
  • In Ripley’s cubicle Welles finds the body of Kurtz. “He’s U.P.P.” says Spence upon inspecting the body, “Sometimes they boobytrap ‘em. I saw that on Titan in the Three Day War…” Sterling notices that the corpse has a hole in the chest…
  • Scene of an awakened Hicks and Newt moved. New scenes added, showing the team taking the unconscious Newt, Hicks and Ripley to the station’s MedLab. Meanwhile, in the morgue, Fox and Welles inspect Kurtz’s chestbursted corpse.
  • After this new scene we cut to the introduction of the U.P.P. base, where we meet Colonel-Doctor Suslov. The “Vietnamese” soldier in this scene is replaced by Chang, the “second commando” from the script’s opening. As before, Chang and Suslov have downloaded information regarding the Alien from Bishop’s brain.
  • The scene of the awakened Hicks and Newt is placed here. Instead of biting an anonymous orderly, Newt bites Sterling. The scene plays out like the first draft, and ends with Hicks and Newt visiting the comatose Ripley.
  • Two nameless techies inspect Bishop’s legs in the Lab in the first draft. It is Tully and Tatsumi in the second.
  • There is a new scene of Colonel Rosetti conferencing via vid-call with a Company man called Stoddart, who reminds Rosetti to follow the lead of Fox and Welles. He reminds Rosetti that funding for Anchorpoint is under review; he’d best comply with the Company if he wants it passed. Anchorpoint, as described in the script, is only half-built. Rosetti wants the station finished and functional. He grudgingly agrees with Stoddart.
    Jackson, who is present, tries to massage Rosetti’s ire: “You’ve been out here, what, five years? You were on the original design team, weren’t you? It’s your baby. It’s not happening. You’d like to see it happen…”
    Rosetti asks if Jackson would do the same. “Not if it means letting them turn it into a germ warfare lab,” she answers.
  • Spence meets Tully in the Tissue Culture Lab. They have a short conversation in the first draft. In the second Spence elaborates on Ripley’s condition (“catatonic shock), Newt’s apparent mental trauma (“this look she gets”), and her dislike of Hicks (“wonder how many planetary species he’s helped exterminate?”)
  • In the first draft is a scene with Newt and Hicks in the Eco-Module. In the second draft Welles takes Hicks’ place. She implores Newt to divulge the events of Aliens to her, which Newt doesn’t do. Spence arrives, and dicusses Newt’s psychological treatment and return to Earth.
  • In the first script Suslov, Braun and an unnamed Diplomatic Officer inspect the readouts from Bishop’s brain. In the second Braun and the Officer are replaced by U.P.P. “scientific elites”, Nevsky, Rivera, and Kassel. They deduce that the Colonial Administration have Kurtz’s body, and may glean genetic material from it. They decide that producing their own Alien would not be unethical if the Company plan to do the same.
  • In the first draft Hicks is temporarily assigned to Walker’s Machine Shop. In the second it is Sterling. Walker showcases his mechanical repair drone, ‘Floyd’. Sterling tells Walker about Kurtz’s chestbusted body – the Sulaco needs maintenance before it can be returned to Gateway but Sterling is too spooked to enter. They decide to send Floyd inside instead. They don spacesuits and board a vehicle reminiscent of Alien’s excised ‘flying bedstead’ and follow Floyd to the Sulaco’s exterior.
    They use the ‘bedstead’ to remove a panel of the ship’s hull. Floyd spies something “rounded, indistinct’ inside the section’s cooling-grid.
    Sterling floats over to inspect it. We are given a subliminal flash of the ‘Beast’ Alien (from Kurtz) inside the piping, but Sterling doesn’t see it.
  • Rosetti is informed by a U.P.P. representative named Rivera that Bishop will be returned to Anchorpoint. He is informed of this in the first draft by the Diplomatic Officer. An addition here is that Rivera states Bishop’s return is to secure the handover of Kurtz.
  • In the first draft Rosetti, Fox and Trent observe the Alien DNA transfiguring human DNA. In the second it is Fox, Tully, and Spence – the latter is angered that biological weapons are being cultivated in the station.
  • We meet Halliday (first name: Susan) at this point; she was originally introduced near the first script’s end. She occupies Newt in the Eco-Module, and they feed the birds. Halliday explains that Anchorpoint was intended to have its own sustainable eco-sphere: “This is the cleanest air you’ll ever breathe,” she says, “we got that far, anyway.” Newt asks about Earth. Halliday insinuates that Earth’s eco-system is destroyed, as kindly as she can.
  • When Bishop is returned to Anchorpoint, he is greeted by Tatsumi in full biohazard gear. Chang delivers him personally. They isolate Bishop as per the first draft.
  • Newt leaves her grandparents’ address for Ripley in both drafts. Here is the address from the first: “Mr. & Mrs. Richard Jorden, 34877 Greenleaf Ave. #582, New Portland, Oregon AB994J2.”
    In the second draft it is: “Mr. & Mrs. Harold Jorden, Apt. 6783, 987435 Greenlea Place, Level 3, Subsegment 7, New Portland, Or., 7898765435.”
  • Bishop is grilled by Fox on the Alien and any possible reprogramming by the U.P.P. Bishop cannot (or slyly refuses) to give anything up.
  • New scene of Walker and the Sulaco’s damaged cooler-unit in Anchorpoint’s dock. He signs it off for repairs. It is hinted that the Beast is still inside the unit, but he does not notice.
  • New scene where Spence is informed by Welles that she and Tully are off the Tissue Culture program. She is compelled to sign confidentiality papers. Spence storms out in anger.
  • Bishop is shown the Alien samples by Welles. She wants Bishop to run the lab, the accident where she and Tully were exposed to possible contamination has diminished her trust in Anchorpoint’s specialists.
  • Newt is sent off at this point on the repaired Sulaco. Halliday sees her off with Hicks. We get a new scene with Halliday escorting Newt into the cryochamber.
  • We have a scene of Sterling showering where he is apparently killed by the Beast that was within the Sulaco’s cooling-unit.
  • There is no scene between Hicks and a drunk Tully in the bar. Instead, Tatsumi takes Hicks to Spence and Halliday in the half-constructed building zone. They inform him of the experiments going on, and they resolve to do something about the situation.
  • New scene with Fox and Walker. They discuss the Sulaco’s repair. Walker tells him that the old cooling-unit was not repaired, but replaced – the old one is still in the dock. Fox seems alarmed and runs off. He is somehow aware of the Beast’s presence in the cooling-unit, and perhaps planned for it to be delivered to the Company at Gateway Station by leaving it hidden inside the ship – the script is unclear on these details, but they can be assumed.
  • Bishop does not approach Hicks in the Machine Shop, since he does not work there in this version. Instead, Hicks seeks him out in the Tissue Culture Lab. Spence and Halliday accompany him. They tell Bishop they are here to destroy the Alien specimens. Bishop informs them that he was about to do it himself. “The responsibility would have been mines alone…”
  • In the first draft Bishop hesitates before destroying the Alien samples, and it isn’t explained why. The second draft notes that he feels a moment of conflict because it is against his nature to destroy anything living. Lance Henriksen made the same observance in interviews following Aliens’ release. It’s nice to see the notion followed up on. Bishop is the ultimate pacifist who is paradoxically employed in military operations and violent life-or-death situations.
  • It turns out Fox was running for his corporate ship, where he arms himself with a pistol.
  • Bishop and co are not arrested by Marines as in the original. Rosetti and Welles turns up instead and, in a rage, Welles tries to assault Spence, who punches her in the gut instead.
  • Welles’ transformation into an Alien takes place here, rather than in a board meeting. Her Alien form is called the “Hybrid”. She kills Rosetti (who survives until the third act in draft one) and flees with his corpse. Spence deduces that Tully must also be infected, and she races ahead to find him.
  • Fox, who has observed Welles’ transformation on a monitor, proceeds to destroy Anchorpoint’s mainframe. Jackson tries to stop him, but is shot at. Fox misses and runs.
  • Spence runs to Tully’s cubicle. He isn’t there, but he left a recorded message for her, detailing his exposure and unwillingness to infect the rest of the station.
  • After Hicks sends Ripley off in a lifeboat, Fox emerges and sabotages the others.
  • In the first script Tully transforms into an Alien and attacks Hicks and co. In the second draft he locks himself in a freezer to commit suicide. Spence finds his frozen half-transformed body.
  • Small scene of Chang and DeSolis (the third commando from the opening). DeSolis is dead, and Chang cradles his body and sings a Chinese lullaby. All other U.P.P. characters are either dead or cocooned.
  • Fox makes for his corporate shuttle, but the Beast Alien is waiting for him…
  • Hicks, Tatsumi, Bishop and Jackson discuss Fox’s sabotage. They cannot escape nor call for help. The ‘Kansas City’ ship will arrive at Anchorpoint, but days from now.
  • Spence is led back to Operations by Hicks in the first draft, Halliday in the second.
  • Hicks asks for the armoury, and is told there isn’t one. “This is a nonmilitary project,” Halliday explains. Tatsumi thinks he may have something of use – he takes Hicks to the morgue and gives him Kurtz’s commando outfit, which is equipped with a ‘suitgun’ on the arm. He has five rounds and several grenades to use against the Alien Hybrid, but he will find himself hindered by the combat suit and the suitgun. It is almost too heavy for him to drag around. The suit doesn’t figure into the original screenplay and adds an element of suspense to Hicks’ condition and battle prowess. It is powerful but hefty. Gibson clearly decided that the action should not be so all-out as the first draft’s.
  • Spence runs off to the Eco-Module in the first draft to feed the primates there. In the second this is Halliday, who enters with a box not unlike Jones’ in Alien, She intends to save an animal if she can, but is attacked by the Hybrid-Alien. It chases her through the Eco-Module in a Predator-esque sequence. Hicks and Spence arrive, and Hicks seems to kill it with a shot from the suitgun.
  • When Bishop passes through the Mall to head for the fusion package, there is no Queen waiting for him. There are no Queens at all in the second draft.
  • In draft one Halliday is implied to have flung herself over a catwalk after an Alien attacks and almost kills her. In the second she dies offscreen, but the Hybrid Alien has survived and apparently does the deed itself.
  • Spence sheds some light on what a ‘bug hunt’ constitutes: the Colonial Marines eradicate ‘redundant species’ on colony planets to make the area safe and habitable. No competing ecosystem for the colonists. Despite disliking Hicks’ profession, she trusts and likes him. They resume their journey towards the shuttle-bay to find a means of escape.
  • There are no other Aliens inside the shuttle bay in this draft, and the survivors do not hole up in Trent’s office (the character does not exist here).
  • Hicks inspects Fox and Welles’ corporate shuttle. Inside is Gibson’s tribute to Giger: “The interior of the shuttle has become a miniature version of the grotto (unused) that HRG designed for Alien. An obscene temple with Fox (still, horribly, alive) its centerpiece. Ideally, this should be the film’s most memorable set, simultaneously suggesting biological function, religion, and some utterly inhuman artform.”
    Hicks destroys the shuttle and the Beast Alien’s nest with a grenade.
  • Tatsumi, who was wounded earlier by the Hybrid, begins to violently transform, and Hicks blows him away.
  • The Hybrid Alien appears and kills Jackson “with a twisting thrust of its razored tail.”
  • The Beast Alien also appears, and the two Aliens quarrel – the Beast kills the Hybrid by tearing it in two.
  • The Beast then decapitates Walker with a swish of its tail, sending “his head, still in its helmet, bouncing off the wall of the lock.”
  • Bishop manages to open the airlock. Hicks and Spence get caught in a girder.
  • Something approaches Anchorpoint – the U.P.P. interceptor that Chang used to escape Rodina before it was nuked. A gunport reveals Chang commanding a “Gatling-style pulse cannon”, pointed to the interior of the airlock.
  • The Beast lunges for Hicks and Spence despite the vacuum, but Chang opens fire. The Beast is “torn to shreds by a withering fusillade of pulse-shells, pouring down from Chang’s interceptor like God’s own rain.”
  • The ending from this point follows the first draft:
    Hicks, Spence and Bishop board the interceptor and race to escape Anchorpoint, which explodes behind them.
    Bishop confirms that no one aboard the interceptor is infected, but Chang is dying from radiation poisoning.
    The script closes with Bishop telling Hicks that humanity needs to unite in order to survive the Alien threat. We get a shot of the sleeping Spence, and Chang’s dying face.
    The spaceship ‘Kansas City’ intercepts the U.P.P. ship, and the script ends.

CONCLUSION

For anyone who feared a ‘Space Family Robinson’ scenario, where the Alien series devolved into the happy adventures of Ripley and her adopted family, then this has to be made clear: such a scenario never existed. Gibson’s vision of the future of these characters isn’t as grim as Dark Horse’s Aliens continuation (Ripley and Bishop AWOL, Hicks a disgraced alcoholic, Newt committed to an asylum) but it does refuse to brighten their lives. Newt is packed off to Earth to live with her grandparents (okay – perhaps the only happy ending here), Ripley is rendered comatose, and the film essentially revolves around Hicks and Bishop, along with a wealth of new characters.

It’s difficult to critique the characters for an unmade movie, because performance is always in my mind, and scripts utterly lack those. This makes me give scripts that are generally good the benefit of a doubt. It would have been interesting to see Gibson’s roles cast, and to see how each actor embodied their parts. Alien’s script was notoriously light on character description, but each actor brought their respective parts to life. It might have been the same here, but we’ll never know.

Saying that, some of the characterisations here are not entirely satisfying. Fox and Welles are typical corporate shtick (was naming a devious character ‘Fox’ a joke on Gibson’s part?) though Fox has more to do in the second draft (even if it still relies on his being a devious S.O.B.) As for the Vietnamese Commando/Chang, I get that she’s meant to be an important character, but she’s a device instead. There isn’t a character there.

I didn’t feel that Hicks was necessarily transformed by his experiences in Aliens: he is quite gung-ho in the first draft, quite confident and assured and even insubordinate – but I suppose that is a change; he always seemed to tow the line in Cameron’s film. His insubordinate attitude could be analogous to Ripley’s change of attitude towards authority between Alien and Aliens. It would have depended on Michael Biehn’s acting choices. But there’s nothing drastic like Mark Verheiden’s portrayal in the Dark Horse series (I would urge you to find original copies – it’s an excellent continuation of the Aliens plot). The second draft tones him down somewhat, to my relief.

Anchorpoint isn’t an exciting and fresh environment like Earth, but it does bring the Alien close to a civilian population – at least in the first draft, where it is heavily populated. This was an element of Aliens, but the siege of Hadley’s Hope happened off-screen; its occurrence was a springboard for the rest of the plot, and the action was isolated to LV-426. There’s a feeling of outbreak here, a risk of mass infection and apocalypse. Saying that, I much prefer the second draft’s representation of Anchorpoint as a near-abandoned derelict, and its focus on two Aliens.

The political to’ing and fro’ing is new to the series, and I enjoyed it despite its outdated Cold War rhetoric and allusions – saying that, political maneuvering and backbiting is not the monopoly of any one era in time. With another draft the anachronisms could have been excised (along with the “commie bastards” dialogue that crops up here and there).

The idea that the Alien’s genetic material can transfigure and transform other beings into Alien creatures figured prominently in several Alien III scripts (from Gibson’s, to Red’s, to Twohy’s) and it seemed that Giler and Hill may have been pushing the idea of the Alien as a bio-weapon; this was an extrapolation of their original idea for Alien, which saw the creature as a man-made creature being housed in an off-world government facility. With the Alien spore spreading like a plague, you’d hope for some Thing-like paranoia in the first draft, but it’s quite absent. But again, I did prefer the non-chaotic representation of the takeover from the second draft.

The many varied transformations in the first draft verge on Kenner levels of silliness. A major problem with the Alien III scripts is that they played very loosely with the Alien’s reproductive capabilities. A very firm, simple, and horrifyingly true-to-life system was set up in Aliens; it’s frustrating to see writers turn to anything goes as a way to explain the spread of Alien spore. There are many Alien variants in the first draft, from genetically-modified types and even lemur Aliens. There is a scene with monkeys being cocooned in the Eco-Module, and the sequence reminds me of the deleted scenes featuring another primate from Cronenberg’s The Fly - disturbing, but probably on the wrong side of distressing and maybe even silly if filmed incorrectly.

The bio-weapon idea was later explored in Prometheus, as was the idea that their genetic material (or an off-shoot of it) could reconstitute the bodies of humans into strange alien beings. It is a good idea, but was probably done better in Prometheus than it was here – full-fledged Aliens erupting from beneath the skin of a person seems very B-movie. I much preferred the stage-by-stage transformation that we saw, or at least was hinted at, with Fifield’s transformation in Scott’s movie. All in all, I’d have preferred it if the struggle over the Alien saw both the U.P.P. and the Company fighting over ground at the derelict on LV-426, rather than the notion that its genetic material was a weapon in itself. Saying this, many of my problems here were rectified in the second draft.

The two Aliens fighting in the hanger would have been great to see, but the first draft’s zero-g battle would have been an effective set-piece, given the silence of space, the quiet light show of the gunfire and explosions, the slow clumsy movements of the human characters and the balletic grace of the Aliens, the only sound being crackled radio dialogue and the grinding of their teeth. It was probably cut at the insistence of Brandywine. The cost would have been astronomical (no pun…)

Conclusion? The first draft was serviceable, but hokey. The second draft was far superior, with less OTT action and more focus on dwindling resources and time. Had it been made then there may have been less complaints about the third movie. I would have liked to see Giler and Hill’s version of Gibson’s script: they have a knack for giving characters good, natural sounding speech. One of Alien 3′ greatest strengths, I thought, was the dialogue.

"My script for Alien 3 was kind of Tarkovskian," Gibson said in 1994.

“My script for Alien 3 was kind of Tarkovskian,” Gibson said in 1994.

“We got the opposite of what we expected,” Giler remarked on the subject of Gibson’s screenplay. “We figured we’d get a script that was all over the place, but which would have many good ideas we could use. It turned out to be a competently written screenplay, but not as inventive as we wanted it to be. That was probably our fault, though, because it was our story. We had hoped he’d open up the story, but it didn’t happen.”

The producers didn’t speak to Gibson for the entirety of the Writers Strike (March – August 1988) until a director was attached – Renny Harlin. Giler and Hill suggested that Gibson work with Harlin to improve the script, but Gibson ended his tenure on the film at that point, blaming the two producers for wasting time, in addition to other engagements.

Alien 3 generated a stack of scripts a foot high, before there could be a movie,” Gibson said through his Twitter feed in March 2013. “That Alien 3 script was my first screenplay. Worked w/ scripts of first two as my sole model of the form.”

“Only one detail survived [from my script],” said Gibson. “In my draft, this woman has a bar code on the back of her hand. In the shooting script [and final movie], one of the guys has a shaved head and a bar code on the back of his head. I’ll always privately think that was my piece of Alien 3.”

But that wasn’t the only detail that made it from his script to the film. Hicks asking for the armoury and being told that there isn’t one recalls the scene between Ripely and Superintendent Andrews in the final film. Also, in the first draft a specialist crew known as the “Deck Squad” are described as thus: “Their spacesuits are white, clinical; over these they wear disposable Biohazard Envelopes of filmy translucent plastic. Some are Colonial Marines, armed with pulse-rifles or flame-throwers. Others are scientists and technicians, carrying recording and sampling gear.” These, of course, match the appearance of the “Dog-Catcher Unit” from Alien 3′s finale.

Gibson later remarked on the successors to his role: “Vincent Ward came late to the project, but I think he got the true meaning of my story. It would have been fun if he stayed on.”

Special thank you to Ben Turner for trading rare Alien scripts!

And another special thanks to artist Jake Wyatt, who drew the Gibson-Alien storyboards in his spare time and allowed me to use his images. Visit his Tumblr and check out more of his fantastic art! The Jake Wyatt Riot.

15 Comments

Filed under Alien 3

15 responses to “Cold Wars: William Gibson’s Alien III

  1. Gaius

    No offense to William Gibson, but I far prefer the Dark Horse take on a sequel. Ripley missing, Newt in an asylum, Hicks as a washed-up drunk, and the alien life cycle remains as established in prior films.

    There are, of course, elements of the Gibson scripts that I like, namely a depiction of aliens unleashed on a populated area and a thinly veiled Cold War analog in which neither power is ultimately righteous and the true threat is human destruction (which works well in a sequel to Aliens, owing to the Vietnam allegory present in the film: high-tech overconfident grunts versus determined but low-tech antagonist).

    That said: though I think Gibson did an excellent job anticipating the Engineers’ experiments as depicted in Prometheus, I see the xenomorphs as a fixed branch of a very large tree within the context established by Prometheus. Given the kind of metagenetic manipulation displayed by the Engineers (which makes me wonder why they bothered with humanity at all — their skill at metagenetic manipulation could potentially make them a solid Type III on the Kardashev Scale — but I digress), it’s easy to imagine the Engineers creating and tailoring a staggering array of races for a variety of purposes, of which the xenomorphs are only one type made for who knows what purpose — when you’re dealing with beings as eldritch as the Engineers were originally conceived, it could be that the xenomorphs were originally designed for something as obscure as gambling or some other form of entertainment. Imagine a betting match spanning hundreds of years in which Engineers bet on the precise fate of lesser races at the hands of xenomorphs.

    So, yeah, I don’t see the aliens as being viral or genetically unstable the way they were depicted in the Gibson script; I see them as being exactly was they were depicted in the first two films, for reasons we may never know.

    • BillTed

      “No offense to William Gibson,…”

      Gibson was done by Count Zero.
      Similarly to Ridley or Jimi Hendix and a lot of artists who had a small window of all time greatness, he wrote some of the best most inventive stories during a short period when he was young.
      A small body of work, but completely streamlined uncut creativity and invention from the aether.
      He was one of those people that it just seems to happen to sometimes.

      But by 1986 the magic was gone.
      It seems to me thats the way it usually works.

      Geniuses who stay geniuses for very long are the exception IMO. It reminds me of something someone said about lights that burn twice as bright. After that it often becomes idol worship for an image from memory thats no longer the reality.

      Hill and Giler not being sci-fi guys (ironic that it has become their career bread and butter), showed up to the William Gibson party long after the music died.
      I can imagine that it took a while for his name to finally reach their ears.

  2. Leigh Burne

    Really fascinating. While I dislike the airborne virus angle Gibson uses, otherwise I really like his script. The revised second version was very interesting to read about.

    • BillTed

      What I think is interesting is that it seems similar in concept to lindelofs goo.
      (Ya think lindelof ransacked a few easily available unused franchise scripts during that weekend he spent on wikipedia writing prometheus?)
      But I like Gibsons version better,
      at least it seems consistent.

      • There are so many unused ideas from these Alien III scripts that later cropped up in Alien Resurrection and Prometheus that either they were pilfered wholesale or it’s all an extraordinary coincidence. Regarding the bioweapon ideas between Alien III and Prometheus… it’s been a long-time unused/unexplored staple in the series. I see more of a correlation between the X-Files movie and Prometheus, actually. The black oil and black goo are almost the same thing, with the same effect on its hosts.

      • BillTed

        “The black oil and black goo are almost the same thing, with the same effect on its hosts.”

        Is it really.
        I’ve tried to watch that movie a few times but I always get utterly turned around and confused before its over.
        (X-files definitely beget LOST.)
        I do seem to recall something about the X-files black goo and cavemen (and bee’s?).

      • The best that I can explain it (it’s been a while) is that in the movie aliens use the black oil to infect humans with alien embryos; these aliens erupt from the bodies of their hosts and go on a rampage (the bees I think are used to spread the infection; some cavemen were killed by the oil thousands of years ago when aliens visited in prehistory – when the corpses are excavated it releases the mutagen again). The black goo, in the TV series. seems to mutate or turn their hosts insane.

        Pretty much, it’s Prometheus before Prometheus. Except the X-Files had better lead characters (of course!)

  3. This is, unabashedly, my favorite incarnation of Alien 3. While I do like the Alien 3 we received, quite a bit in certain areas, this one is oddly close to my heart, as it feels like the most natural progression for the series to follow… and it doesn’t have the mark of a studio that couldn’t make up their damned minds. Ah, but I am a bit of a Gibson fanboy, so these biases toward his material may be built in.

  4. Antarctica Traffic Control

    Thanks again for a great article. I haven’t seen the Gibson contributions dissected quite so well, anywhere else.

    I’m just not sure about these drafts. They seem to take away from Alien and Aliens the sense of intimacy, blowing it all apart too freely, bringing in new universe elements too thick and fast for it to really work. With Alien and Aliens, we’re teased with little extended universe details, and that’s one reason they’re so interesting. We’re still talking about them now! We wonder what goes on behind the curtain – what levers are the corporate wizards of Oz pulling, ignorant of the horror that will befall them. This removes that veil and splats it with gore.

    The wrong biological elements feed into the narrative – the whole gas / spore / infection thing. It’s just *not* Alien, but more the stuff of the VHS boom copycat shlockers that followed it. It would have rendered less valid everything we, the audience, knew about the creatures, actually making them less of a threat with a more ‘Oh, they can do anything’ sensibility which, in turn, does not make them anything in particular but generic threats. No, we’re led to know they have come from a specific culture, with a design and purpose we don’t understand – but that purpose gets thrown out with the bathwater if we just apply inconsistent elements for the sake of it.

    I’m not quite as hung up as others on the whole ‘where did the egg come from’ problem (in the finished Alien 3), however to have it randomly in Bishop’s tube doesn’t satisfy me as much as how they eventually presented it, as a bit of a mystery.

    This said, writers are often under business pressure to include story elements (as Gibson was) and he might have gone a totally different direction otherwise. However, the craziness of the lifecycle tinkering possibly reveals too free an inclination to chop and change the themes that made the originals what they are.

    • Great comment, ATC.

      The wrong biological elements feed into the narrative – the whole gas / spore / infection thing. It’s just *not* Alien, but more the stuff of the VHS boom copycat shlockers that followed it.

      Yes, absolutely. If I’m grateful for anything regarding Alien 3, it’s that the new ideas concerning infection were thrown out. Of course, the film broke many rules, but it at least did so by playing a game we were all familiar with. The ideas in the earlier scripts were far too nebulous to make any complete sense and far too removed from what had already been firmly established.

  5. BillTed

    Great article as usual Val.

    I’ve had the Gibson script file in my possession for years but never got around to finishing it.
    I appreciate that you’ve made that whole job easier. :)
    (I find your writing much easier to digest that later Gibson’s.)

    I actually dont mind the spore idea that much.
    It almost seems like something that a relation to a creature who would evolve acid for blood might evolve.
    Plus it could also seem to relate to the original ability of egg-morphing/genetic manipulation.

  6. Steve

    I generally like the Gibson scripts, especially the second draft.I’d gotten a copy of the first draft way back in ’89 or ’90 (don’t ask). Strangely enough, I met William Gibson at a signing in London a few years later and asked him if the female UPP commando had a name, and he said no. He added that what I had read in the script was all that there was. Years.later, the second draft pops up and it transpires she does have a name (i.e. Chang). Strange.

    • I considered that maybe the second draft had been done by David Twohy, who was allegedly hired to rewrite Gibson’s script before he wrote his own, but the dates don’t match up at all and the second draft is credited to Gibson.
      Perhaps, since his first draft has had infinitely more exposure, he simply forgot about the details of the second draft. After he handed it in there was a communications blackout, almost, between him and Brandywine, and then they went their separate ways.

  7. Ross

    Does anyone know where I can download the 2nd draft ? Thx

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