Ridley Scott’s Alien II (or ‘What He Wanted to Happen’)


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During Alien’s post-production Ridley Scott had already set an eye on another science fiction movie: an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. But Scott left the project after the death of his older brother, and was only later roped back into filmmaking with Blade Runner. He explained in interviews at the time that he was hoping to work on a fantasy film next -an offshoot from his eternally stalled Tristan and Isolde movie- but in 1984, the year his long gestating “fairly tale”  Legend was being produced, he spoke at length with journalist Danny Peary about Alien – and his ideas about a sequel.

“It certainly should explain what the Alien is and where it comes from,” he told Omni’s Screen Flights/Screen Fantasies in 1984. “That will be tough because it will require dealing with other planets, worlds, civilisations. Because obviously the Alien did come from some sort of civilisation. The Alien was presented, really, as one of the last survivors of Mars – a planet named after the god of war. The Alien may be one of the last descendants of some long-lost self-destructed group of beings.”

Ridley also explained to Cinefantastique that “’in many respects it’ll be more interesting [than the first movie], from a pure science-fiction stand point. We’d get into speculative areas, deal with two civilisations.”

Ridley apparently thought that the first movie had unexplored territory worth looking into. He had been enticed enough by Dan O’Bannon’s ideas regarding the Alien’s civilisation that he demanded that the producers Walter Hill and David Giler rewrite his pyramid -which they deleted in favour of their own device– back into the script. Unfortunately limitations on both time and money saw the pyramid being cut and merged with the derelict spacecraft, and Ridley was certainly affected by its omission: “I would love to have shot [the pyramid],” he said at the time, “but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it would have been wonderful in a three-hour version.” Or perhaps a sequel.

He also seemed to regret not expanding on some issues regarding the Alien in the first movie: “There were no speculative scenes or discussions about what the Alien was and all that sort of thing either. I believe that audiences love those, especially if they’re well done. They give the threat much more weight. If they make Alien II, and if I have anything to do with it, the film will certainly have those elements in it. From a certain point of view, Alien II could be more interesting than Alien I.”

FF: Had you ever debated using actors from other cultures [in Alien]?
Scott: Japan?
FF: Japan or Mars.
Scott: I would have loved it, but that’s not what the story was about. I would have loved to take the opportunity to explore the realms of speculative fiction more, but it would have been a digression from the film we were making.
~ Fantastic Films, 1979.

Of course, Ridley was not asked to return. In 1986 Bobbie Wygant asked Aliens producer Gale Anne Hurd if Scott had turned down the opportunity to direct the sequel. “I’m not really sure,” Hurd answered. “I know that he was in post-production on Legend at the time we were in pre-production [on Aliens], so perhaps it was a result of his availability.”

But it turned out that the producers had never approached Ridley at all. “They didn’t ask me!” he told The Hollywood Interview in 2008. “To this day I have no idea why. It hurt my feelings, really, because I thought we did quite a good job on the first one.”

Despite Ridley’s feelings, there was no jealously or animosity between him and the sequel’s director. The two bumped into one another at Pinewood Studies when the movie was being made and, by Cameron’s account, the meeting was friendly. “I was coming out of dallies and he was going in,” he told Fangoria magazine in ’86, “and we spoke for about 10 minutes. We didn’t really talk about Aliens at all; he didn’t seem particularly curious about it, other than the fact it was being done. We just spoke in general terms about shooting in England – it was very polite, there was no depth to it. Basically, it was like, ‘Hello, pleased to meet you.'”

Scott’s feelings also did not influence his thoughts on the sequel: “It’s always a tough job to follow a successful film with a sequel to it,” he is quoted in Aliens: The Illustrated Screenplay, “so what I think James Cameron did was an excellent action picture. It really was amazing what he accomplished. There’s also no question that Cameron made an excellent film with Aliens. It really is an achievement.” In 2012, he stated: “Jim loved Alien, adored it … I would never, ever critique or criticise [Aliens] because I think it was very successful and what he did was really good.”

Brandywine did turn to Scott to direct the third film, but according to Sigourney “he never seemed to be able to get it together.” The first Alien 3 script was written in 1987 – the film was released in 1992. In that time, Scott had directed and released four other movies.


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20 responses to “Ridley Scott’s Alien II (or ‘What He Wanted to Happen’)

  1. Tim

    I heard at one point that the first movie was considered to be set up to be all about what we would now called the engineers and the xenomorphs and the idea was to have the movie end with the Nostromo folks approaching the derelict. I don’t know if this is true or not but I think it is a sound idea. And no English for the entire movie – remember the first Star Wars where you had to deal with aliens who didn’t speak English and were not subtitled but you still got it? Yeah, audiences are smarter than they give us credit for.

    • It was reported that one idea for an Alien sequel was “A prequel, rather than a sequel, telling the tale of the Space Jockey and ending where Alien begins, with the arrival of the Nostromo crew.”
      More in ‘Writing Aliens‘.

  2. Chris

    As much I adore Aliens as a movie, years afterwards when i grew up, i began to dislike the fact the movie made out this killing machine to be an glorified Ant. They’re was not much mystery left to the creature itself, there is a queen that lays eggs annnnnnnnd thats it. At the time it didn’t bother me, but after watching the bonus features and all the other things i had looked up about it, there was a hint that the original Alien was able to some how reproduce on its own, if it really had to ( that became evident in a deleted scene with Dallas). I’m not going to say Aliens ruined the franchise because that is not true by any stretch of the imagination, but at the end of the day Ridley scott made the 1st, it only seems right that Jim cameron should of spoken to Ridley about it and got his input. For years i wondered what that thing was in the chair in the original, an it always made sense to me that a film could be made about that specific character, an then even further down the timeline they eventually got round to it, an who better to take on the project than Ridley scott himself.

    • Izak

      Well, Ridley Scott was not well respected by the critics and producers in hollywood in 1980’s. Just look at what happened to the rough cut(with no voiceover) of Blade Runner, the movie goers at the premier hated it. Even the first Alien was panned by the critics in 1979. If Alien and Blade Runner got the critical acclaims from the critics, maybe the producers involved in Aliens would have listened to Ridley Scott’s opinion.

  3. Alex K.

    Hi, another great article but I guess I have to ask about what could be the elephant in the room. Will you ever write an article on the train wreck that was Alien Resurrection? I appreciate it being omitted from the blog (if you really think about it nothing in the film is cannon and has any effect on the franchise at all) but it would be interesting to know a little more about Whedon’s original intent and studio fuckery.

    BTW. I LOVE Alien 3 (Assembly Cut) and the other 2 films equally.

    • Howdy.

      I was just asked this yesterday too.

      To be honest there isn’t anything in the fourth movie (or the spin offs) that I find appealing, and so researching and writing an article on them would be a chore, and I do this as a hobby – I put my university books aside, put my daughter to bed, and then, if I can, work or research for the blog. I just can’t foresee myself spending that time looking at a film I don’t like.

      • hypgnostic

        Firstly, thank you for all of these articles! I’ve been devouring them, and are honestly appreciated by my eager brain. As for my quick comment on your reply to Resurrection, I wholeheartedly agree with your opinion. However, I think that movie did do one great thing for Sci-Fi…it brought us Firefly. The smugglers were the beta version of what later became the crew of the Serenity. Whedon originally had them a bit more…well…”Whedon-ish”. Plucky band of space pirates if you will. So, it wasn’t a COMPLETE wash…no pun intended…

  4. It’s really interesting to see how these ideas turned out in Prometheus. In a way, Ridley was trying to make that same movie he talked about. The ideas he had were good, but the execution was awful in Prometheus, so I for one am glad he did not get the chance to direct a sequel, and we got Cameron’s Aliens instead.

    • Gustavo H.R.

      I beg to differ. Though Aliens is a supremely perfect sci-fi actioneer, it doesn’t have one iota of the sci-fi imagination and density Prometheus has. In Cameron’s film, you marvel at it and bite your nails while watching it, whereas in Prometheus the mysteries remain active long after it is finished. A movie with bad execution would never be as enticing.

      • Alien fan

        Aliens is rubbish compared to alien, i wish Ridley Scott had directed alien 2 instead with the space jockey origins etc. It sounded good.

      • Tony

        Scott started out as a painter, with myriad layers of texturing coloring his exploration of the canvas and choosing which details to leave obscured. Cameron was a truck driver and model builder, so he approaches sci-fi from a practical engineering perspective. Their mutual personality roots lead to curious elegance vs. clunky brashness.

  5. BillTed

    After prometheus Its become apparent to me why ridley may have been an auteur as a visualist, but was never a writer-director and has never written his own script. Hearing even these musings from early enough to be close to his greatest achievements all sounds clumsy and simplistic now in retrospect. Let alone the inane jabber then he spews everytime he mentions his own concepts and ideas these days regarding prometheus.

    Ridley didn’t write Alien.
    He didn’t dream up that world except for a large hand in approving and selecting the visuals.
    Hill didn’t even dream that up, he waxed the car.
    Which is why Hills own efforts to the rest of the alien franchise and sequals that he continues to profit from are all just dwindling rehashes.

    It seems to me like people are missing the point when I read articles and comments about what Ridley wants to do with the future of Alien.
    Stemming from a lazy assumption IMO that he had more to do with the invention of it in the first place then he did.

  6. Brett

    As time passes we are more inclined to overlook the flaws in our most beloved films. At the time, ‘Alien’ received somewhat guarded, grudging praise from many quarters.A legitimate criticism that can be levelled at the film is that it is little more than a state of the art Ghost Train ride. I love the film and accept this. It is rather like ‘Suspiria’ in this respect. Any deeper resonances come from incidental factors – the quality of the production design and so on. Ridley Scott’s strengths are as a visualist, and a sublime one at that. He came from a background in Advertising. Making products look good so you’ll part with your money. He didn’t approach projects for their intellectual content. On ‘Alien’, he was fortunate enough to work with collaborators of the highest quality, and wise enough to get most of it on the screen. Any explanation of the Alien’s origin was wisely dropped from the first film – it was unnecessary. None of the proposed ideas sound too thrilling anyway. Instead, it is left to the audiences imagination – one factor in the film’s continuing cult appeal, I would say, along with the aforementioned design, and having a female lead. Then Cameron destroyed much of the all-important mystery with ‘Aliens’, but, really what else could he do? ‘Aliens’ is great in it’s own right, not only as a sequel. I actually saw it before ‘Alien’, and it did not suffer at all from my ignorancve of the first film. They are both quite different beasts from a common parent. ‘Prometheus’… A great film with the sound down, a friend of mine says. I’d love to know what exactly is so intelligent about this incoherent, illogical botch. Everything in ‘Alien’ is pared down and lean. ‘Prometheus’ crams in ideas to it’s detriment, none of which are taken to a logical conclusion. It more closely resembles an ‘Alien’ rip-off like ‘Titan Find’, and is equally dreary. Scott can deliver the goods to the eye, but is sunk without a good script. Humanity seeded from Outer Space was a hoary cliche when Von Danniken peddled his paperback mush in the ’70s.

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  11. Phil

    I know there is a Xenomorph/Deacon shaped mural in Prometheus and there is another appearing to show an Engineer subjugating an individual of another species so there is scope for a story set either during the encounters between the Engineers and other civilisations and show how the black goo recombinant pathogen was used and developed over time.

    Another thing to do would be to explain how the Engineers appear so genetically perfect and statuesque. Are they themselves designed? Also, how is their society structured? I’m guessing theocracy/caste system.

    What happens to those which are not born ‘perfect’? Are they subject to infanticide as was widely practised in the Classical world Alien Covenant references through its architecture (the city is an analogue of Pompeii and/or Atlantis) and its overall aesthetic? Or are they simply exiled?

    If the latter, I would love to see a story based on those that were rejected. Call them the Afflicted. What would be their relationship with the Engineers, the worlds they seeded and the wider galaxy?

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