Tom Woodruff Jnr. is a former member of Stan Winston Studios who collaborated in the making of Aliens and The Terminator. In 1989 he co-founded his own special effects company with Alec Gillis – Amalgamated Dynamics. His special effects work includes Tremors, Starship Troopers, Evolution, as well as Alien 3, Alien: Resurrection, and the two Alien vs. Predator films.
Tom has also portrayed a multitude of movie monsters, most famously the Alien creatures from the third, fourth and AvP movies.
Tom kindly agreed to an e-mail interview, and my friend Omega of Monster Legacy and I put our heads together to come up with some career-spanning questions for him.
Q: There’s a great photograph of you wearing the Alien suit from the second movie. Could you talk about how that came about and how (or if) your time in that suit factored into later decision making processes with Alien 3?
A: That was an after-hours thing that happened when the warrior suits were completed before filming started. Things get chaotic on set and long before digital cameras and cell phones, there wasn’t always a set photographer on hand to get beauty shots of the creatures before they get trashed during shooting. I suited up one night and we fired off a bunch of shots, without even the benefit of covering the suit in slime as intended for the film.
I was more interested in seeing how different body posing could disguise the shape of a man inside the suit than the intended on-screen finished look. But I wanted to be the man in the monster suit ever since I could remember watching monster movies on TV and after seeing some of the performances and physiques of some of the guys who ended up wearing the alien suits in Aliens, it motivated me to have a talk with Stan Winston that led to playing the Gill Man in Monster Squad in our very next film.
Q: The Alien in the third movie traded in many biomechanical details for a different aesthetic; you once said that you aimed for “an organic, sculptural feel.” Can you talk about what you tried to do to make this Alien look different from those that came before? (I believe you mentioned looking at Giger’s original paintings and drawings?)
A: I think people throw around the term “biomechanical” without really understanding what it means. It was a term manufactured to describe Giger’s amazing and fresh style of art. It was his theme in a lot of his work. What changed was the method in which it was achieved. During the build on Aliens, Fox provided us with many pieces of the original Alien creature suit and head. Within those pieces, you could actually see castings of mechanical bits; valves and plumbing pieces, some with catalogue numbers visible that had been etched into the pieces that were molded.
On Aliens, those pieces of the new suits evolved to be more organic and not just castings of off-the-shelf hardware. But the suits were still very broad in that they were sections glued to a spandex leotard with nothing more than slime-covered spandex to span the space between built-up sections.
On Alien 3, we took that to the next step and sculpted an entire body suit –not in an effort to make it look different– but to make it look more complete since the shooting style was going to be completely different and lighting would be revealing more of our single Alien than the hordes of the Cameron film. We relied heavily on images of Giger’s work from his own Necronomicon as the guide, seeking to replicate the organic life of that creature in more specific “Giger” detail than what was represented in the work of both Alien and Aliens.
Detail of the Alien’s feet being painted by Yuri Everson.
Q: Michael Biehn relayed the story that during Alien 3’s production someone had spotted a bust of Hicks with the chest burst open. Was this ever planned to happen? (I assume the character’s head was pulverised due to Biehn’s objections to the scene.)
A: There was never a Hicks body with a chest burst open and it was never a story point in any of the material distributed to our crew. In the opening of Alien 3, we see the remains of Hicks with his head destroyed in the crash of the escape vehicle. That was done because we weren’t able to use Hicks’ likeness in the film.
Q: The corpses of Newt and Hicks were harrowingly realistic. Did pieces like these ever cause any sort of discomfort, or were you able to disassociate them from the actors and characters and see them purely as props?
A: Work like that becomes very clinical – artistic but clinical. It’s all about duplicating and creating recognizable features that sell the likeness. There is an element however in researching forensic photos in order to create a realism that was shocking although, over time, even that reaction becomes tempered.
Q: Everyone from Ridley Scott to Dan O’Bannon and James Cameron have said they were inspired by insects to create the life-cycles of their Aliens. In Alien Resurrection the ridged head of the Alien even resembles a cockroach shell – was this intentional? What did you look at when devising the Alien’s shape in the fourth movie?
A: It was never a pointed intention to duplicate a cockroach, but yes, the design element of the insect world is always prevalent in each design iteration. Changes brought about to the Alien from one film to the next have been at the design of the director, wanting to bring some new visual aspect to the creature. Part of our task had been to maintain what we could and make work for each new audience rather than reinvent the wheel.
Q: There was a rumour that ADI had pitched their own Alien 5 to Fox. If true, can you elaborate on your ideas?
A: If true, I would not elaborate.
Tom putting some touches on an Alien from James Cameron’s sequel.
Q: ADI has made an enormous array of creatures, from Graboids, to Aliens, to man-eating plants in Jumanji. Is there a kind of creature you always wanted to bring to the screen, but never had the chance to?
A: Every 6-8 months there is a new rumour that a remake of The Creature From the Black Lagoon is starting up. That’s what my radar is tracking although I think today it would be a huge battle to get anyone to consider a practical animatronic and costume approach, which is ironic because that’s exactly what made the originals so satisfying. The problem is that movies like that succeeded because they were “B Movies” and not meant to change your emotional center but just be a great way to spend two hours in a theatre. Today the choice would be made to turn it into a $140 million epic that relied on showing too much of the creature who would be a CGI element.
Q: Could you talk about the design of the Shriekers from Tremors 2: Aftershocks? What were they inspired by?
A: Very much inspired by the Graboid itself. The idea was to reverse-engineer the original creatures to establish the Shriekers as an earlier developmental stage, hence the translucent beak for example, as if it was still cartilage in development like a baby’s skull. The growth pattern would eventually have them begin to pack on pounds and become so huge and lethargic that their legs (which were only intended to carry them to a new location where food and protection would be more plentiful) would atrophy and fall off. They would then create a growth of spines that would propel them underground.
Q: What were the design inputs when conceiving the alien mutations in The Thing, especially in relation to Rob Bottin’s original work? (Was there a ‘Bottin style’ you adhered to?)
A: We designed the Thing creatures and effects, working with the director and producers. We had a lot of latitude in envisioning the look of the new creatures with variations as directed from above during the design and build. The goal was never to try to copy any particular Bottin creature but definitely to speak “in the same language”. That might be a pretty narrow line to imagine but a lot of that language was created in how the creatures were performed – live on set with the actors and sharing that environment. When you read about the creative freedom that Bottin held the biggest obstruction was not “what” the creatures were but “how” they would be articulated. Luckily, no one else knew how to do it and there wasn’t a big digital paintbrush waiting in post to taint his vision.
Q: The Pilot creature deleted from The Thing was undoubtedly a very unique monster. Could you talk about the design itself? What inspired it?
A: No one thing inspired the Pilot Creature, only that we wanted to be sure it looked like its own, stand-alone lifeform and not something that was already infected by The Thing – that was a crucial story point. So to that end, [it was] designed with a very biological symmetry, very specific eyes, and hands and feet that looked like they were nimble and with enough dexterity to pilot the ship.
Q: In 2014, ADI celebrates 25 years of effects making. What are your fondest memories from your experiences?
A: Looking back at the early years from this point in time is very nostalgic. For the most part, the artists and techs we’ve worked with from the very beginning are still around. But it’s harder and harder to find the work and the budgets that support the art so those early days were filled with more achievements. Even though we’re technically more savvy and have a lot better materials to work with, there is more work in convincing someone it can be done practically and not just as a digital post effect. And it’s been great to be able to meet the masters whose work inspired me to do what I do; John Chambers, Ray Harryhausen, Stan Winston, Rick Baker – It’s been a great 25 years.
Suited up for Alien 3.
Many thanks to Mr. Woodruff and the kind staff at Amalgamated Dynamics Inc.
Additional thanks to the salubrious Space Sweeper and a tip of the hat to Omega.
Sigourney Weaver, James Cameron, and Gale Anne Hurd at the Aliens premiere, 1986.
“I’m wondering if Alien 3 is in the typewriter?” Bobby Wygant asked James Cameron upon the release of Aliens in 1986. “Not for me it’s not,” he answered.
“I think Fox will want to see how this film does,” Cameron continued, “and if they’re still enthusiastic about, or if they become enthusiastic about a continuation beyond the film that Gale and I made then they’ll have to pursue that in their way. I mean find a writer, find a director, because we’ll be on to something else, I think. Some new territory.”
“But if the money were right?” Wygan teased. “No, I don’t think so,” he answered. “At this point, y’know, the way I work on films and the way my wife -who produced this film- works, is we throw ourselves into the picture right from pre-production through the end of post-production. It takes us a year or two, year and a half to do a film, and that means maybe my career will only be ten or twelve films – you can’t stay doing the same things over and over again.”
“[Another sequel is] entirely in the hands of people other than myself. The only thing I can say definitively right now is: from my involvement as a writer, the story was not constructed with an eye toward another sequel. But then, the first one wasn’t either.”
~ James Cameron, Starlog magazine, September 1986.
Wygan also asked Sigourney Weaver about Alien 3. “It took someone as talented -and crazy- as Jim Cameron to come up with a story that was as good as the first one,” Weaver said, “and I would be surprised if it could happen again. And I have a feeling, if it happened again, that Newt would have grown up and that she would be the one to go on and carry the guns, so to speak.”
In 1995 Carrie Henn briefly mentioned James’ ideas, or framework, for an Aliens sequel: “I know that James Cameron had planned to have Hicks, Ripley and me in Alien 3, to have a family-type thing.” Her feelings about that not happening? “Still, life goes on.”
Lance Henriksen also revealed that Cameron had discussed some character beats for Bishop in a potential third movie: “I also remember Jim saying to me [that] if we ever did another one that what he would have done is probably had that character realize that somebody had fooled around with his brain and make him constantly worried that he was going to do something dangerous. And so I thought, ‘Well, what a nice piece of conflict that is.'” Earlier in 2004 he had said: “Jim Cameron […] was talking about doing another Alien movie. He often pondered about what he might do with Bishop, saying that somehow they messed with his brain to make him dangerous.”
Starlog #170, September 1991
As for James’ opinion on David Fincher’s Alien 3? The swift and off-screen deaths of Newt and Hicks, and the pulverisation (and subsequent euthanisation) of Bishop were two points of contention. But Cameron wasn’t completely condemnatory towards the film. “I actually think that Alien 3 is a pretty good piece of work, in terms of film-making,” he said. “Fincher early on showed what he had as a film-maker, and I think the film has some great stuff in it, some beautiful photography.”
“But,” he added, “it’s hard for me to watch, because it feels like such a slap in the face to the people who have invested in the story through the first two films. I understand his reasons for doing it, but I think the best way to do a sequel is to honour the original and be original and creative in your own way. He was original and creative in his own way, but at the expense of the previous film and what a lot of people might have invested in that story up at that time. It makes it difficult for me to watch the film.”
“The [Alien 3] script that unfortunately circulated, I don’t even look at it as my script. The piece of junk was a product of a few weeks of intense, hysterical story conferences with the studio to rush to get the picture into production and it turned out completely awful…”
~ Eric Red, Arrow in the Head interview, 2001.
It’s hard to find a fan of Eric Red’s Alien III. Though scripts by William Gibson and Vincent Ward have become appreciated by fans (usually figuring into ‘Greatest Scripts Never Made’ lists), Red’s is usually openly ridiculed – maybe fairly.
Red had a solid filmography at his back before being recruited to pen the third movie by Brandywine Productions, with credits including the minimalist thriller The Hitcher and grungy vampire movie Near Dark, but Alien III would be his first foray into big-budget franchise pictures. It would also be his last.
Cast of Characters (in order of appearance)
Sam Smith – The lead character, “Captain in the Special Forces”.
John Smith – Sam’s father, a “career military officer”.
Mary Smith – Sam’s mother.
Karen Smith – His sister.
Mark Smith – His kid brother.
Sergeant Chong – a Japanese military officer.
Dr. Alice Rand – Science Officer.
Screenplay also includes various named but one-off characters, and several unnamed military and special forces.
The plot revolves around the generically-named Sam Smith. He lives in North Star (pop. 251), an orbital colony that is modeled on 20th Century Kansas rural life. Instead of the bleak, functionalist cargo containers at Hadley’s Hope, the milieu here consists of “postcard shots of the dusty, average mid-western town. Farmhouses. Silos. Windmills. A Drive-in. Fields of Wheat. Fields of Corn. An A&P. A School. A Grocery Store. A 7-11.” Sometimes the script mysteriously refers to the colony as “Sulaco Space Station”. Endearingly, it is also known as “Shitsville” by its youth.
In the beginning, Sam awakens from a nightmare that placed him aboard the Sulaco. Inside were ruined cryotubes and a shred of clothing with the nametag “Ripley”. In the dream, Sam is part of a rescue squad who are quickly ravaged by an Alien. He quickly wakes up… to find that one of his arms is bionic. At breakfast with his family (General John, Mary, Karen, and Mark Smith), Sam is told that he has been unconscious for two weeks, and is lucky to be alive. His injury is blamed on a technical fire aboard his rescue ship, though Sam has flashbacks to a vicious encounter with a strange alien being. John Smith explains to Sam the nature of his recovery: “They used the latest android Synthetic technology on you … They found enough of you to put back together. The rest we… we had to reconstruct.”
Sam and his father drive around town, the former noticing that many families have moved away, apparently due to an increasing military presence. Locals accuse the soldiers of being complicit in illegal experiments with the colony’s denizens, and Sam is quizzed by military personnel about any recollections of his “accident”.
The truth is revealed to Sam when, having sneaked into a military base, he activates a 3D hologram of the events aboard the Sulaco, which show him and his men being slaughtered by an Alien:
“He sees himself and his soldiers, like laser ghosts, whirl in horror, totally unarmed as the Alien swings down from the rafters and hits them. Sam screams out as he sees the creature’s jackhammer jaws piledrive the recreation of him in the torso, taking his arm and a good part of his ribcage with it. Sam is splattered with green holographic blood. THE CAMERA PUSHES IN TO A TIGHT CLOSE UP OF SAM’S FACE as his face contorts in anguish. He watches the monster tear his men to pieces, ripping them limb from limb in a greenish slaughterhouse, their faces screaming in total silence, which makes it worse.”
Sam confronts his father about keeping the secret from him, but General John justifies the secrecy: “I have a job, Sam. I’m here to do my job.” Afterwards, Sam stows away in a truck filled with pigs. It enters a military installation. At the end of the journey “Sam tumbles head over heels with fifteen fat, rolling pigs down a stained, stainless steel shaft in almost total darkness. They all slide together.” In this pit are animal pens spread across a big, steel-beamed warehouse space. The floor is covered with straw and wet with blood and guts. Suddenly “the belly of a pig ruptures and a chestburster smashes out in a sickening spray of intestines. The Pig Alien has the wide torso, tiny head, and little legs of a pig.”
Inside the pen are multiple forms of the Alien creature, and the monster line-up reads like a Kenner toy bonanza. There are dog Aliens, cat Aliens, the aforementioned pig Aliens, and even chicken Aliens. Sam escapes the pen and sneaks around the base, spying on scientists and his own father, who seems to be conferencing with military brass, several scientists and Dr. Rand, a shady top scientist. Rand declares that the Alien’s genetic material is compatible with organic and inorganic material. “Imagine a living, organic jet fighter,” she says, “or an Alien tank.” More importantly, she claims to have managed to effectively control the Alien. When she attempts to demonstrate this, one of her Alien subjects punches a hole on her skull.
Chaos ensues, with a swarm of Aliens tearing through military personnel. When Special Forces come to the scene, Sam takes charge:
Sam: I’m Sam Smith. Captain Special Forces. I think I’m the ranking officer here.
He flashes the I.D. card in his wallet. The Special Forces team surrounds him.
Sam: I think it’s pretty simple. We have to kill that monster and get everybody the fuck out.
Sam and the team assess the situation, and find that an Alien nest is quickly being established. Not only that, but with any Queen figure still immature, the Aliens have still still managed to reproduce:
On the black and whit screen, the Alien is weaving huge, suspension bridge-like cocoon all over the warehouse area. Thirty people, half mutilated or dead are spun into the cocoon. The fifteen foot Alien looks like a weave-woman with the tender care it takes in building its nest.Sam operates a joystick on the controls. The TV camera zooms in and pans to reveal tortured, slimed faces in the thick tendrils of cocoon from floor to ceiling. Some are already beginning to reform…
Sam decides to rescue his father, who is trapped within the hive. He runs into his pal, Sergeant Chong, who assists him. They find Sam’s father, and pull him from the hive and into the airducts, but not before an Alien reaches for them–
Sam grabs a grenade from his belt. He bites out the pin.
Sam: Breakfast of champions!
He chucks the grenade into the Alien’s mouth. The creature swallows it. KRAKA-KABOOOOOOOOOOM! It gets its head blown off.
The script also plummets into Friday the 13th styled sex n’ murder:
INT. ZERO GRAVITY CHAMBER – SECTOR “C”
A set of panties float in the air.
Two naked bodies, slick with sweat, floating and thrusting in the anti- gravity room. Russ massages Terry’s breasts, fingering her hard nipples, her body wrapped around his. As they float in the room, he turns her over and puts his head between her legs. She wraps her soft thighs around his face.
Lauren: OH YES!
She goes down on him too, her head bobbing between his legs.
Russ: C’MON BABY OH JEESUU–!
Her legs are wrapped around his back and plunges into her, pressing her face to his as their tongues meet, their two perspiration slick bodies revolving upside down, suspended in zero gravity, stars and space seen through the window of the room.
Lauren: OH! UH-HUH!
He slides out of her and turns her over in the weightless space, taking her from behind his hands squeezing her flushed, jiggling tits at he slams into her, her wide, soft buttocks slapping his waist.
Russ turns her over as they both about to come. She straddles him and they thrust desperately, revolving in the air, their bodies shivering in orgasm.
After that bizarre scene comes…
He opens his eyes and his guts come out his mouth. The huge, thick, slimy teal rips through his torso and smashes out Laurens chest, taking her ribcage, intestines and left tit with it. Their eyes are rolled up in their sockets and the mutilated corpses are flung off the tail. Three Aliens crawl through the floating blood and guts towards the airlock door. More follow. An armoured slew of crawling monsters.”
Apart from the slasher elements, we also get a traditional Alien cocoon/flamethrower scene:
Colonel Sinclair: H-heeelllpp m-meee. P-please…
Sam and the rest turn to look. A horrible halfway transformed Colonel Sinclair is all sewn up in cocoon substance, his arms and legs molted mostly away. He realizes he is turning into one of those things. His face is torn as much with terror as hideous agony.
John Smith hits him with a douse of flame from the flamethrower blowtorch. The charred crisped remains of the Colonel slowly smolder in the blackened, burning cocoon.
Sam: Let’s get out of here.
Meanwhile, the earth begins to rumble all around the colony. Sam and the special forces are besieged by Aliens. Chong is blown out into space (“Poor old Chong”) and we segue into a space battle with a batch of Aliens and space-suited commandos. Around the colony, Aliens are wreaking havoc in cornfields and in 7-11’s. The Smith family fight off an Alien home invasion, but luckily Mary Smith is adept at combat:
An Alien crashes its claws through the kitchen window in a decimation of glass and wood frame. It shoves its snout through.
Mary: Okay you ugly motherfucker, suck on this.
She grabs a handful of knives from the wall and thrusts them inside the monster’s face. Lots of acid. It makes a grab for her but its arm goes down into the garbage disposal. Mary flicks the switch on the wall.
GGGGGGGGRERRRRRGGRGRGRGRGRGRMMMM!!!! The creature loses its arm below the elbow. Mary grabs her kids in her arms and tugs them with her down the steps into the basement as the creature thrashes in agony while the sink melts away.
She then kills an Alien with a chainsaw, and the family is quickly saved by Sam and co. The special forces and armed civilians -bikers, farmers, drunks and ramblers- then face down a moving wall of Aliens. After a protracted battle, the Aliens are defeated. The locals begin evacuating the ravaged space station, but the Smiths return to their farmhouse. Unfortunately, John Smith has been injected with Alien spore, and he begins to transform. In this scene, he explains some of the shenanigans going on:
John: We’d b-been experimenting with the Alien. Couldn’t t-train it. B-but we isolated its cell, i-its genetic code. F-found that on the genetic level is was a purely predatory cell and t-thought if we could fuse it with a human D-DNA we could make a stronger, more resilient h-human. Sam, I didn’t want to test it on anyone. I tested it on myself. S-Sam they put the Alien cells in m-me. S-somethings happening to me you’ve got to get out you’ve ggggGGGGGGGGGGGOOOOOOOOOOOOEEET–“
Outside in the farmyard a cow emulates The Thing From Another World as “legs burst out the side of its ribcage as its spine jerks and splits in showers of blood and acid”; this strange cow-insect-Alien conglomeration proceeds to attack. The Smiths escape the farm, but Alien-John sets about establishing more spawn, resulting in Alien roosters and Alien mosquitoes, all culminating in what Red can only describe as a… thing:
Fifty humans have been turned into an Alien Thing. They have fused together into one…thing. It is a two story, moving, murderous ass of armour and flesh, eyeballs, and tongues, screaming mouths and jackhammer jaws in a huge, an amorphous blob of arms, legs, talons, hooks, snouts, and teeth. There are the teeth… The Alien Human Thing is advancing down the block.
This creature’s appearance precipitates the unfurling of the space station:
The skin is peeling off North Star. The farmlands and hills are burning away, revealing the metal endoskeleton of the space station that lies beneath, charred and blackened beneath the smoldering skin of the farmlands. The small pickup speeds across a road that is sizzling off the huge steel girder structure of the Sulaco station. Below the beams can be seen the full fifty stories of the space station, dropping away into the hellish infinity. The whole frame work is shaking and shifting, the beams ripping loose and dropping miles down into the bowels of the ship. Great fires burn fifty stories down. Boiling, billowing clouds of fire and debris are surging upwards from the bottom of the space station.
There is a race against time, the station falls to pieces, and the Smiths appeal to Alien-John for mercy (which is granted) and board a spaceship, but not before saying goodbye to their Alien father:
John Smith, with the last drops of humanity in him, helps first his wife, then his daughter across to the silo. He reaches out his hand and picks up Mark. The little boy’s face is soaked with tears. Real tears pour from John Smith’s face as he holds the child near his mutated features. He looks at him one last time, then places him down with the rest of his family.
The family escape and “Sulaco Space Station” becomes an orbital biomechanical vessel, a fusion of Alien DNA, human flesh, and steel girders and plates. This Bio-Station attempts to pull back the Smiths’ escape craft, but Sam retorts by firing nuclear missiles at the beast. The survivors are left adrift in space, but a rescue ship shines a light upon them. “The four space suits hang, floating, as the rescue ship starts for them. Fade out. The End.”
A key problem is that the script feels tonally out of sync with the rest of the series. The dialogue is hammy and prone to emulating bottom-rung 80’s actioners, and the prose has strangely jejune sentences like, “Ten or more Facehuggers are scrambling across the gore-splattered straw floor for Sam. They want his ass.”
Most grievously, the characters are dull. The military’s motivation is cardboard. The Aliens have all the hardiness of toothpaste. Sam’s bionic arm is slightly developed and then dropped completely, like a forgotten detail. The Alien variants are comedic. An Asian character is referred to as a “chink” and a “Jap”. It switches names frequently (North Star becomes Sulaco Space Station, Mark Smith becomes John Jnr) and also steps into redneck parody. For example, one character (Old Man Perkins) yells into his cornfield, “Harrison, if this is your cow run loose again on muh property I’m gonna shoot him down like I keep tellin’ yuh!” In another example of unintentional humour, when a married couple are attacked inside a convenience store the husband grabs his wife and exclaims, “LETS GET THE FUCK OUTTA HERE, MARY!!!” The entire script plays like a strange precursor to Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem. There’s nothing in the script comparable to The Hitcher’s quiet foreboding and horror, and nothing approaching Near Dark’s swagger. It’s a flat script. as far removed from the Alien series as it is from Red’s more impressive work.
Red explained to Arrow in the Head the trouble with planning a sequel to a successful series: “Sequels are very demanding to do. They have their own group of problems. When you do the first picture, you’re basically setting the ground rules, you’re designing the engine, you’re building the car and setting how it works. Sequels have different requirements because you both have to use the things that worked in the first picture if you can, but also give it a different spin and make it different. They’re tricky, they’re not as simple to put together as they might seem.”
But according to Red there was another problem impeding the story-writing process – the producers. “The basic problem when I was involved, for five weeks, was they didn’t know what they really wanted. They really wasted talent because of that. Another major problem was they didn’t want Sigourney back, so I had to go through a whole series of new characters.”
Though it’s easy to empathise with someone having to tolerate indecisive (and dictatorial) producers, crafting new characters and scenarios is a writer’s job. Weaver referred to the resulting script as being “a real disaster, absolutely dreadful.” Meanwhile, Red continued to blame Hill and Giler, who “had no story or treatment or any real plan for the picture. They were very disorganised and irresponsible.”
After the debacle with Red’s script, Giler and Hill looked for another screenwriter, this time settling on Critters 2 writer David Twohy. Though Twohy’s last screenplay had featured the same elements as Red’s Alien III (that is, vicious aliens in a small-town America environment), he was to give the producers a very different sort of story…
Sigourney Weaver talks to Starburst magazine about surviving, dying, Hicks, Newt, Clemens, killing the Alien, birthing the Alien, and more…
Starburst:Alien 3 has just grossed $25 million in its first weekend. Is that the highest of all time for a film starring a woman? Sigourney Weaver: I’m sure it is [smiling]. I don’t know.
SB: You got paid a reported $5.5 million for this movie. Do you see yourself as a leader for women to get good money? SW: Well, only once and probably never again. If I did another big budget action movie, then yes, I probably would go to the wall again. But most pictures don’t have that kind of money, and I don’t want to be considered as one of those actors who wants a lot of money, because a more interesting film might not find its way to you then.
SB: So why did you do another Alien movie? SW: Well, firstly I think we approached this one with a lot of trepidation, because the first and second ones were so successful and so well done that, in my opinion, I think that everyone was a little worried that if we did a third one it wouldn’t measure up. So everyone took a long time and tried to figure out what story we should tell and what elements we should try to duplicate.
SB: It’s taken quite a lot of time to come up with those elements. What were they? SW: Well, I know that we decided that James Cameron had done ‘guns’ so brilliantly it would be best not to try and reprise that. I don’t think there was any moment when people said, ‘Ah, let’s just do another Alien‘. It was more like, ‘Well, let’s think about it and see if we can come up with an original idea and a wonderful director, and then let’s go ahead with it.’ It was a very slow process and that’s why it took so long.
SB: There were many changes in the script and also problems about appointing a director. Did that cause a lot of disruption? SW: I think of it as a constructive process really. Vincent Ward came in with a very original idea, and a very arresting one as far as I and everyone else was concerned. And then for various reasons he probably didn’t want to do an Alien film. See, there’s a big Alien responsibility as well as just telling the story – and then David Fincher came in and he was very keen to do it and was obviously a brilliant young man.
Weaver and her co-star.
SB: It seems to me that the director is the most important individual on the Alien films. SW: Me too. I’ve always felt that the directors have always been the stars of these pictures. And until we found the right kind of genius I think everyone was a little apprehensive. It was like the project never felt set, and then we found Fincher. I think we felt we were in good hands.
SB: Did David Fincher impress you? SW: Oh yes, he was great, I mean, the first thing out of his mouth was, ‘Shave Ripley’s head’. So we knew that this wasn’t going to be a quiet, undaring director – and he’s very funny too, which is nice to have on a difficult set. On a long cold freezing, uncomfortable movie a few laughs go a long way.
SB: So much has been made of the shaved head. How did it feel? SW: It made me feel colder. Actually you have no idea, I mean you don’t have long hair, but it’s amazing how much your head stays warm when you’ve got hair. So I just felt colder most of the time, and other than that, I just felt lighter.
SB: Do you think it change Ripley? SW: I think she felt more frail, perhaps because she had no hair we all sort of looked like these skeletons in a way, and I felt it brought out everyone’s vulnerability, but I don’t think it made her tougher. In fact it made it ore surreal because you could never see yourself in the mirror you always saw the character facing you.
SB: But there has been criticism about the shaven heads – that you couldn’t make out who was who, and that it might change the perception of people. SW: I actually disagree with those people. I think it makes everybody’s face really jump out. Maybe you do have to pay more attention to the faces of the people, but I think it brings out the faces and the vulnerability of these actors very much.
SB: There are some people who see it as a symbol of being very offensive. SW: Yeah, that’s what it’s there for. You have all these convicts on this planet and they all look even more frightening – and solely because of this hair style. In some ways it’s just an act of defiance. I also noticed, while in England, that there were a lot of people avoiding me – but I guess it wasn’t usual to see a 6 foot tall bald woman walking in the streets of London.
SB: But did you like it? SW: I liked it in a way that I found it very liberating, and my husband was very supportive. He pretended to like it and then told me, after my hair had grown back, that he had hated it, while my daughter tried not to look at me. But non of us [in the film] had hair anyway so we all knew who was in the cast. So if you saw a bald person at Pinewood you knew it was a friend, so you could say, ‘Hello’. And the only other thing that was a problem was that it took a lot of up-keep. We had to shave it every two days, because even then two days’ growth looked shaggy – but yeah, I found it okay. You should try it.
SB: You managed to swindle yourself a co-producer’s credit on this movie. How did that come about? SW: [Laughs] Well I think they made me a co-producer out of courtesy. They knew, as an actor, I would open my mouth a lot, so they thought, ‘Why not make it legal?’ [Smiles] I don’t ever recall asking to be co-producer, and I was very touched they [Walter Hill, Gordon Carroll, and David Giler] invited me to be on board – and it was a fascinating process, and one in which I learned a great deal. And I felt very privilege to participate in some decisions.
SB: Did you have a lot of input? SW: I had a certain amount of input. I would call it ‘input’. Some people have called it ‘control’, and I never wanted control. I just wanted to be able to hear all the different ideas and voice my own thoughts, but it was never ‘control’.
SB: Would you co-produce the next movie? SW: Not if I had any sense [laughs]. [Note: Weaver did in fact co-produce Alien Resurrection.]
SB: The trailer for Alien 3 has a shot of yourself and the Alien with the voice over saying ‘the bitch is back’. What did you think when you saw it? SW: Someone else asked me this, Fox called me about the trailer, which had already been made, and I remember seeing it and saying, ‘Am I supposed to be the bitch?’ And they said, ‘No, no, it’s the Alien,’ and I think anyone who’s seen Aliens knows that the bitch is the creature.
SB: The production of Alien 3 seemed to take forever – certainly pre-production. Did that cause you any problems? SW: Right, their plan was that I would not be in the third one and come back and save the day in the fourth. It was a very good script, but Fox very nicely wouldn’t make the film without the character of Ripley.
SB: So when Fox said this did you immediately jump at the chance to do Alien 3? SW: What I basically said was: I love this character, and I love to do another one if you can give me something that Ripley hasn’t had the chance to do before.
SB: Was the original script what you wanted to do? SW: Well, the first script I read was the one without me, we made half an effort to write me into it, but in the end it didn’t work.
SB: So, personally, what did you want to do? SW: I wanted her to have a different set of circumstances, and I think the writers came through brilliantly for me in regard that firstly, in this picture she‘s the alien, she’s disliked and an outcast and oddly that’s one reason she’s not afraid of the convicts, because in some ways she’s like them, in that the system has sort of thrown her out onto the garbage heap as well – and this really appealed to me and was extremely challenging. So, selfishly, I wanted to do it once I saw what the basic storyline was.
SB: As a co-producer, did you have a lot of involvement regarding Ripley’s dialogue? SW: I would say I had some input in this one, because I kept saying I didn’t want to go over the same territory, and again I trusted the writers. I mean a lot of people write Ripley like a pissed off gym instructor. David [Giler] and Walter [Hill] have always understood that she’s a person, while some of the writers had her swearing constantly, and actually Ripley almost never swear unless she’s really in trouble, so it’s really David’s and Walter’s credit
SB: Did you have any say about there not being any guns? SW: I think I said no to guns, but it wasn’t up to me to dictate those kind of things, but to me it was more original to investigate what real courage is. Which is when you don’t have any weapons and you cannot even get along with each other, how do you go about fighting this common enemy?
SB: Would you say that her sexuality was a weapon in this one, considering the planet is inhabited solely by men? SW: Absolutely, sounds good to me (laughs)
SB: Ripley seems to have more responsibilities in this film, but at the same time appears to be more feminine, how have you played her this time round? SW: I guess I’ve tried to play Ripley just as an ordinary person that is put in extraordinary circumstances and comes through, and that enables her to take care of the people that she hates. There’s this unjudgmental quality about her. She may judge them very harshly intellectually, but she will still try to save them. That’s what makes her female and that’s what makes her a hero. It makes her a good officer.
SB: Did you get involved in the politics of making this film, considering the problems it had? SW: Well, I would have been involved in that anyway because I was making it every day, and we had a lot of pressure understandably from the studio saying that we were spending too much money and taking too much time, so that would have affected me anyway. At least in this case I felt I could get on the phone and say, ‘We understand there’s a lot of pressure, but can we just reduce it for this week because we were under enough pressure as it is thank you.’
SB: Was it the toughest Alien to work on? SW: No, it was the easiest in some ways, because we had a lot of laughs and it was a friendly company. I think the hardest one for me was the second one because I had to carry the little girl and the gun almost everyday , and that was just so physically draining, and the active power station which is such a lovely place to work in winter!
SB: Talking about the second one, are you pleased with the new Aliens special edition? SW: I’m happy that the three minutes was put back in.
SB: You mean when Ripley’s told about the death of her daughter by Carter Burke? SW: Yes, that was the scene.
SB: Do you know why it was cut? SW: I think it was probably to do with the fact that the film was already around two-and-a-quarter hours and that was probably long enough, but I was very disappointed that that scene wasn’t in the original, because it changed everything. I based Ripley’s whole relationship with Newt due to the fact she lost her whole family and that was the price she had to pay for surviving the first one. I think Jim [Cameron] is also upset that it wasn’t in the original release.
SB: In that scene Burke shows Ripley a photo of an elderly lady that was her daughter, which I read somewhere was a photo of your own mother, is that true? SW: Yes it is, I pulled a bit of my weight on that one!
SB: Does the production differ on this one compared to the previous Alien films? SW: Very much so. I mean, the directors I worked with in these movies I really have to take my hat off to. I think it was Ridley Scott who showed me what could be done with the character of Ripley. Basically he let me go off and do what I wanted, but at the time I didn’t realize what a great opportunity it was at first because I was such a snob. I really didn’t want to do science-fiction, but I learnt quickly that this was an unusual and brilliant opportunity. The second one, James Cameron had written without having ever met me, and when I read the script, to me is kind of crazy of the studio, but they in fact just took it for granted that I would be in it because it was such a great role, which it was.
SB: Were you surprised by the script for Aliens? SW: When I finally was sent the script I was very busy, and I think that I skipped over a lot of stage instructions which went on and on about the guns, and I didn’t realize that they were the stars of the film. So when I got there, there was all this amazing hardware coming out every day, and I was a member of Hand Gun Control in America, and I was just amazed that I was in this very war-like picture, and to be honest I was never comfortable with the aspect of it, and Ripley didn’t have to be a ‘gun creature’ for this part.
“When Ripley finds [Newt], her life means something again.” ~ Sigourney Weaver, Starburst, 1987/
SB: This movie like the others was filmed mostly in England, this time with a mainly inexperienced British cast. Did you have to guide them through this picture? SW: Well I’ve always tried to do that, because I’ve noticed all the best actors are the ones who can help the other actors perform. They will bring the best out of you, because you’re not thinking about yourself. With the character of Ripley in Aliens she was more like a mother hen in a way to all those actors because, for a lot of them, they were doing their first film. Whilst in this movie these guys were more experienced than I was, they had been in the theater, done every conceivable play, and so I was listening to them, but I think in the Alien pictures everyone sort of takes care of each other, the delineation between the cast and crew becomes muddy because we were all freezing, exhausted, dirty and bloody.
That that’s one of the things I like about the Alien films. It really feels like a collaboration . It’s like one giant crew, and you often forget that you’re in front of the camera.
SB: You don’t think the American audience will find it difficult to understand some of the accents, or was anybody dubbed? SW: Oh no, no one was dubbed. I love the accents. I think they’re great, but saying that, there are still some people back home asking what a ‘wanker’ is.
SB: You’ve played Ripley three times now. What do you admire about her; is there anything you dislike about her and are there any similarities between you? SW: There are certain things I don’t feel any kinship with. I think one of the reasons why she is so brave is that she doesn’t have a powerful imagination. She tries to think clearly, it’s kind of like ‘The Right Stuff’, the way they train pilots to react if something goes wrong they go to plan A and if A didn’t work let’s try B and so on. That’s what I feel about Ripley, but I’m not very Ripley-like.
I try to keep a cool head but I’m not always successful and I scream when I see a mouse, but I am trying to make an effort with my daughter when I see a creepy crawly and go, ‘Oh yes, that is a spider, let’s go pick it up and look at it’, and things like that, but that’s a real effort for me.
SB: Do you enjoy playing Ripley? SW: It’s been a real privilege to play her because she is so different from me, and I find a very comforting presence when I play her, she’s good company and I’ll miss that.
SB: One of the most horrifying scenes in the movie is the autopsy. SW: The little creature they had playing newt was a life-size dummy of Carrie Henn. It was very difficult for me because as soon as they pulled the sheet off her little face I just thought I was going to die. It was excruciating scene to do personally, and I think it was meant to be that excruciating to watch.
SB: But did you have to kill off Newt? SW: You wanted her to be on this planet with rapists and child molesters? There was a desire on behalf of the filmmakers not to continue with the family ideas that Jim Cameron had started because that was so much him, and I think it was very romantic and in some ways very sentimental. But I think the producers wanted to make a very dark unsentimental film and to get back to something like the first one where no one really gets along.
I was horrified by what they were going to do with Newt. It was a very difficult scene to play, and in fact when it premiered I asked Fox to fly Carrie Henn over so we could watch it together, because I was so afraid that she would be freaked out. I’d already written to her and told her what had happened, and of course she wasn;t freaked out at all. She’s always been so cool about this stuff, but yes, I was upset by it.
Carrie Henn on Newt’s death in 1995: “Life goes on.”
SB: But it was still pretty callous of you. SW: Yes, I know, but the variety of things that could of happened to her had she survived the crash were awful. So to me it was better to kill her off right away, and there were other options which were even more unsavoury concerning Newt. I think that Vincent [Ward], and I’m not too sure of this, had a chestburster coming out of Newt. So in terms of all things considered, for her to drown was very tame, it’s not that everyone hates children, what we were heading for was an end of the century film, where what you expect doesn’t happen and that you can’t count on anything. It is awful. I agree with you.
SB: In Aliens Ripley spent nearly all of the film saving the little girl and within the first five minutes in this one she’s drowned. It just seems to make the second one pointless. SW: Well, I certainly can’t speak for Fincher, but I think he would say, ‘Yeah, it was pointless,’ and that’s the point of this picture and the philosophical bent of this movie.
SB: In the first movie there seems to be an attraction between Ripley and Dallas, and in Aliens with Hicks. SW: Yeah, and they all get killed! [laughs].
SB: Two pretty good looking guys but you don’t have any physical contact, while in this picture within ten minutes of the start you’ve met a bald ex junkie and you’re in the sack together. SW: Oh, I think Charles holds his own, while with Hicks it’s just hinted at, and if Jim [Cameron] had been directing the third one we would have continued that relationship, but it was so much his view of life that I guess we felt we couldn’t continue, and as for Ridley [Scott’s] film there was a scene in the original script where myself and Tom Skerritt had a love scene.
SB: Was that filmed? SW: No, I don’t think so, we did it in the screen test. It’s pretty awful and very bleak. I mean people forget how bleak the first one is; it’s very bleak And the bit with me and Tom is sort of like, ‘I need some relief,’ and it’s a very heartless scene.
SB: So why do you think that after having the one thing Ripley cares about die, she immediately gets into bed with someone? SW: Well, don’t you think they were these kind of lost souls and that she was on her own and so was he, what I liked about it, even though it was a bit far-fetched, was that it showed she was going to start over again, she really was going to try and lead a new life.
SB: As in the first one, your leading man gets killed off rather early in Alien 3. SW: Well, killing Charles Dance is very similar to the first one when John Hurt was the obvious hero, and the same sadistic writers [laughs] really pulled the rug out from under the audience. When he was the one that everyone thought would go on to the end and that also applied to Tom Skerritt. And it’s the same case with Charles Dance, as brilliant as he is in the film, everyone expects that he will continue, and the next step would be that Ripley tells him about the Alien and gets his support, and in the end I guess the writers just didn’t want it to go that way.
Behind the scenes for Clemens’ exit.
SB: The sex scenes in Alien 3 really aren’t sex scenes, was that cut on purpose? SW: This has been asked before and I’m fascinated, because we didn;t think a lot of people would want to see the two of us grunting and rolling around. I mean, when I see a sex scene with characters I respect, to me it’s not a pure love story, and I guess I want to respect the characters’ privacy. So I think what we did was cut to the chase, as it were, and in my opinion it was a very sophisticated shot. You see all of it; there has been nothing cut out. I found in America that one of the reactions was, ‘Why does Ripley sleep with a man who she hardly knows?’ while in your country it’, ‘Why didn’t we get to see you sleep with him?’ [laughs].
SB: Just prior to Alien 3 you had a child, and in the movie there’s also the strange pregnancy you have to deal with. Was there any comparisons that helped you? SW: Well, it didn’t compare at all. It really didn’t help me because Ripley was so close to the little girl that losing her was traumatic enough without my trying to even make a parallel with myself. And the other thing really didn’t seem like a pregnancy; it felt more like a cancer.
SB: The ending is quite touching, especially as Ripley seems to embrace the Alien, as if Ripley felt that she was the mother. SW: I love that and I’m glad you think it too. It was Fincher’s idea that it wouldn’t be a brutal ending -that it was a tender ending- because, yes, in a way it was her child and that she had been this frustrated mother. I think some of that comes from me because I wanted to be a mother for so long before I was successful. I always wanted Ripley to have a normal life and instead of getting that life she has this awful thing happen which seemed to bring a kind of intimacy with the Alien.
David [Giler], Walter [Hill] and I talked quite a bit about that. Ripley had this daughter that she had lost then then found another daughter that she also lost, and now she’s carrying this creature which I hope will be a surprise to the audience, and I never lost the irony of that.
Personally, I think that if you do a monster movie it should also be about that kind of intimacy. It should be about the guts of life – that’s where you’re threatened most of all.
SB: Of the many criticisms concerning the movie most have been about the ending being too similar to T2, and that there were several different ending shot. SW: There were no different endings. What you see is the original ending, and what we shot recently we never got to finish. In the end we went with the ending that was in the original script, and yes it is a little bit like T2 but we didn’t feel that it was too similar to change it. There was an ending where she churned up and got back into her space vessel and went away.
SB: It was Vincent Ward’s script when Ripley would somehow vomit up the Alien embryo… SW: Right. It was a very powerful scene but I don’t think you could actually film it, and there was something very depressing about er getting back into the space shuttle and going off into the stars again. It just seemed to me that this for better or for worse was her destiny, and she does save the world from the Alien. Theoretically she kills the last one, this is the Queen and it would have taken over the world so she does make the right choice.
SB: So this is finally the end of the line for Ripley? SW: Well, if Walter, David, and Gordon and all those guys can come up with some amazing scenario where Ripley could be reconstituted from her finger nail clippings, I’m not saying no. It’s just that how many times can the same character wake up to the same situations again and win, and then go back to sleep and then have the same thing happen in the next movie?
SB: Would you like to see more Alien movies? SW: I hope they will make more Alien films because I think there’s a whole new aspect of the series that really hasn’t been dealt with since the first one, which is, ‘What is it doing, what does it want from us, how does it communicate, where does it come from?’ All of these things.
SB: What is the Alien to you? SW: To me the Alien is anything that terrifies each of us the most. It’s a very personal image that manifests itself in this Alien creature which is so indestructible. It’s whatever our own personal nightmare is.
Interview from Starburst issues 168, 169, and 170.
Ever since 1982 science-fiction fans have looked at Ridley Scott’s Alien and Blade Runner and noted similarities between the two. Many concluded that the two movies at least shared connective tissue, if not universes. Though Blade Runner was not constructed to stand in canon with Alien, the two intertwine not only in terms of aesthetics and thematics, but also share visual and audio cues, as well as behind-the-scenes inspirations that reach both before and beyond either Blade Runner or Alien.
“I’m looking for another science-fiction script right now,” Ridley Scott told Fantastic Films in 1979, shortly after completing Alien. “Something that has a little bit of speculation or prediction about it, rather than just a thriller. Purely, as an art director, I find the the whole area of hardware and environment fascinating. One day I’ll do a film just about people, hardware and environment. Actually, that’s what science-fiction is all about, isn’t it?”
The project that Scott next latched himself onto wasn’t Blade Runner, but Dune, a film which, under Alejandro Jodorowsky, helped to introduce many of Alien’s creative team to one another. Dan O’Bannon was introduced to Chris Foss, HR Giger and Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud during Jodorowsky’s attempt on the film, and all four moved on to craft Alien’s characters, creatures, vehicles and environments – now, in an amusing case of synchronicity, Alien’s director was tackling Dune, and he took Giger along with him.
Unfortunately for fans of Herbert’s novel, Dune collapsed again, this time after Scott pulled out due to the death of his older brother, Frank. However, Scott found that working helped him to grieve, and he took another science-fiction film under his wing; an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, for now titled Dangerous Days, and later known as Blade Runner.
Though Blade Runner existed in a world quite distinct from Ridley’s 1979 effort (that is, they share no continuity) it still found itself being informed by Alien as well as that film’s creative contributors. Firstly, Scott’s vision for the film was drawn directly from a strip penned by Dan O’Bannon and inked by Moebius during their Dune days. “We had [Moebius] working a little bit on Alien, and I tried to get him involved in Blade Runner,” Ridley revealed to Film Comment magazine in 1982. “My concept of Blade Runner linked up to a comic script I’d seen him do a long time ago; it was called The Long Tomorrow, and I think Dan O’Bannon wrote it.” The Long Tomorrow would also influence some imagery in Prometheus.
The most notable and obvious onscreen relationship between Alien and Blade Runner was in the grungy aesthetic employed by Scott. In Alien the Nostromo is cramped, dirty, oily, and battered. In Blade Runner the city is an amalgamation of crumbling stone and retro-fitted tech. “We’re in a city which is in a state of over-kill, of snarled up energy,” explained Scott, “where you can no longer remove a building because it costs far more than constructing one in its place. So the whole economic process is slowed down.” This meant that the towers and apartment blocks of the film were in a state of half-collapse, half-construction; old brick and cement infused with new steel girders and soaked in neon light.
Looking over the smoke and grime of Los Angeles, Scott quipped that, “This [film] kind of followed through on Alien, because there was almost like a connective tissue between all the stuff I went through on Alien, into the environment of the Nostromo, and people who still have Earth-bound connections … this world could easily be the city that ports the crew that go out in Alien. In other words, when the Alien crew come back in, they might go into this place and go into a bar just off the street where Deckard lives. That’s how I thought about that.”
Indeed, it’s not hard to imagine Dallas sulking at Taffey’s, or Parker mending a spinner.
The most famous of Alien and Blade Runner’s connective tissue are the latter’s visual homages. Screens from the Nostromo’s monitors appear within the spinner vehicles. Top images are from Alien, the bottom from Blade Runner.
Other Alien/Blade Runner parallels include the role of corporations in the future. Scott imagined that companies would become bigger than legitimate political institutions and would act as de facto governments. These industrial imperialists would hold monopolies over property, robotics, space-travel, off-world colonies, the terrestrial police, paramilitary units and even, in the case of the replicants and the androids of Alien/s, the creation of life.
In an 1984 interview, Ridley Scott said in regards to the corporate worlds of Alien and Blade Runner: “Here you see a large corporation that does something in one area buying up another corporation that specialises in an entirely different field. Obviously two separate sides of the conglomerate world -perhaps engineering and biochemistry- will eventually merge, just as I think industries will develop their own independent space programs.”
Sound effects from Alien also returned. Alien/Blade Runner editor Terry Rawlings revealed that “There’s this low, monotonous, humming noise you hear every time you’re in Deckard’s apartment. It’s there all the time, but you don’t know where it’s coming from until the end of the picture. Then Harrison discovers Sean Young sleeping under the sheets in his bed, and you realize that that sound has been coming from these two flickering TV monitors besides Deckard’s bed. Well, in that particular case, we reused a sound effect originally created for Alien. It had been done by a terrific sound editor chap named Jimmy Shields; Jimmy had initially cooked up the sound you hear in Deckard’s apartment for Alien’s Autodoc, the automated medical scanner John Hurt’s put under after the facehugger clamps onto his head. The reason we reused this audio bit for Blade Runner was because Ridley just liked the sound of it. It was so dynamic, it really stood up and hit you in the ear. Or tickled it, as the case may be.”
Blade Runner and the Alien series continued to intermingle throughout the 80’s and 90’s. Syd Mead, who had designed Blade Runner’s cityscapes, was recruited by Aliens writer/director James Cameron to design the Sulaco and its interiors. Though it can’t be seen onscreen, Dallas’ profile during the inquest sequence details his prior work and transits for one Tyrell Corporation.
Androids, Replicants, and dangerous days: Neither Alien nor Aliens explored the roles and social statuses of their respective androids, but the plight of Roy Batty and his replicant cohorts informed, in some small way, the performance of Bishop actor, Lance Henriksen.”When I got the part,” he said in 2011, “the first thing I did was look at actors who’d played characters like that, Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner, Ian Holm in the first Alien. They were phenomenal.” Earlier, in 1987, Henriksen had told Starlog, “I read a couple of books [for Aliens].” One book, Mockingbird by Walter Tevis, gave Henriksen an idea of Bishop’s unseen struggle with his artificial nature that reminds one of the elegiac mood hanging about the replicants. “There’s a bit in it where the android knew how to play a piano,” Henriksen explains, “but didn’t know why. He didn’t know what music was, but he kept hearing it. It was part of his builder’s input that hadn’t been completely erased. That image stuck in my mind, and what it translated to me was that there were feelings that Bishop didn’t understand, like a joke.”
Henriksen also alluded to technophobia in the Alien-verse: “For [Bishop], the world is xenophobic. He’s an alien to anything alive. He must be as careful as, say, a black man in South Africa, where you make a mistake and you’re out.” Henriksen concluded by saying, “You’re either replaced or you’re destroyed,” an allusion to Deckard’s “They’re either a benefit or a hazard” line.
In addition to being a theme of Blade Runner, technophobia, persecution, and Ludditism were points in William Gibson’s Alien III, and similar themes also swiveled around Prometheus’ David.
For Alien 3, David Fincher hired Blade Runner’s director of photography Jordan Cronenweth, solely based on his work on Scott’s movie. Unfortunately, Cronenweth’s struggle with Parkinson’s Disease caused Fincher to release him from the film, only two weeks into shooting. Rumours abounded that Twentieth Century Fox had strong-armed Fincher into firing Jordan, but the director ploughed on with Alien 3 with Alex Thomson serving as cinematographer.
Blade Runner managed to bleed itself into other areas of Alien 3. Though Ridley had envisioned the Nostromo and Company as being one-part Japanese, his film never made this overt. Los Angeles in Blade Runner however capitalised on the idea. The streets are strewn with Asian bicycle riders, lanterns, lingo, graffiti and advertisements. Seeing this, Fincher decided to make Weyland-Yutani’s presence on Fiorina 161 reflect its Japanese heritage; as such, the company’s logos in the film are accompanied by kanji, as do soda machines and other props scattered around the film. They usually translate as “Weyland Yutani kabushiki-g/kaisha”, meaning “Weyland Yutani joint-stock corporation”. Another obvious example is the large red lettering in the prison scrapyard.
The famous “Hades” landscape from Blade Runner also influenced-
-this shot of Fiorina’s hellish machinery. “A pretty nice Blade Runner-esque shot,” according to Richard Edlund of Boss Film.
Alien 3 matte painter Paul Lasaine added a Blade Runner homage in his painting of the Fiorina refineries, where distant towers styled after the stacks from Blade Runner‘s famous opening shot were included in the background – which you’re unlikely to have a chance of spotting in Alien 3 due to the overlapping effects and the diminutiveness of the painted towers. Allegedly, the Tyrell Pyramid structure is also in there, somewhere.
When Ridley returned to the Alien-verse with Prometheus, he also considered featuring some allusions and outright references to Blade Runner. “There’s one idea that I’m very sad that we didn’t do,” explained Prometheus concept artist, Ben Proctor. “Ridley, one day, came in and said, ‘You know, I’m thinking what if it’s the Weyland-Tyrell Corporation? Is that cool?’ Maybe the bodyguards, you know, that come out with Weyland, maybe one of them says Batty on his uniform. And we’re like ‘Awesome! Do it, do it!’ And it didn’t end up making it but I thought that was a really cool thing that there is such a compatibility between the sort of, you know, dystopian future of Blade Runner and Alien that they may as well be the same universe. And if we’re doing a Weyland versus a Weyland-Yutani, why not have corporate mergers shifting and make some kind of a connection there. I thought that was cool.”
Batty, a proposed Weyland Corp mercenary, obviously modelled on Rutger Hauer.
But a role as a military man wasn’t the only piece of connective tissue that was planned for Prometheus, as Ridley had toyed with the idea of casting Hauer as Peter Weyland.
Ridley’s sketch of Weyland. “Rutger or Max,” it reads. Rutger Hauer and Max von Sydow were originally considered for the role.
Ultimately no nod to Blade Runner made it into the film, but an ode of sorts did make it into the home release, courtesy of Alien Anthology/Blade Runner/Prometheus DVD/BDproducer Charles de Lauzirika. A memo dictated by Peter Weyland reads:
“A mentor and long-departed competitor once told me that it was time to put away childish things and abandon my ‘toys’. He encouraged me to come work for him and together we would take over the world and become the new Gods. That’s how he ran his corporation, like a God on top of a pyramid overlooking a city of angels. Of course, he chose to replicate the power of creation in an unoriginal way, by simply copying God. And look how that turned out for the poor bastard. Literally blew up in the old man’s face. I always suggested he stick with simple robotics instead of those genetic abominations he enslaved and sold off-world, although his idea to implant them with false memories was, well… ‘amusing’, is how I would put it politely.”
The easter egg attracted much attention online. However, Lauzirika told movies.com that the memo was only a gag, and not intended to be taken seriously:
‘That was me having fun and being cutesy. I wrote all that stuff. I actually said this at the press conference they had in London, which is that if it’s in the film, it’s canon. I would argue that the viral pieces that are included in the Peter Weyland Files are canon just because they originated with Ridley and Damon Lindelof. I would say those, to some degree, are canon. But anything else – especially these which are kind of like little cute, embedded text graphics on the menus – I wouldn’t take those too seriously. It’s just meant to be an in-universe framework for those viral pieces.
As a Blade Runner fan, and because there’s been so much talk before this even occurred with people on the Internet speculating that maybe Alien and Blade Runner and Prometheus could all exist in the same universe, it was just more of a wink at that. Absolutely nothing to be taken seriously. I mean, I sent it to Ridley and he had no comment. [Laughs] So, it’s just icing on top of icing. It’s not the cake. It’s a fun, little side thing that’s very superficial. And, by the way, it in no way officially establishes that it’s Blade Runner because, if a lawyer were to comb through that, there’s no reference to Tyrell or anything in Blade Runner. It’s just a very lightly intentioned joke.”
~ Charles de Lauzirika, movies.com, 2012.
One last thing: in the 1980’s rumours of a Blade Runner sequel surfaced – to be directed by James Cameron. “I have nothing to do with Blade Runner II,” Cameron told Starburst magazine in 1989. “I wouldn’t be interested and I don’t want to go around cleaning up after Ridley Scott for the rest of my life!”
Alien/Blade Runner banner created by Space Sweeper. Many thanks.
After the disastrous production of Alien 3, director David Fincher distanced himself from the film before outright condemning it and removing it from his official filmography. He then went on to build his reputation on films such as Seven and Fight Club, and the subject of Alien 3 has been nigh-on taboo ever since. For the Alien Quadrilogy boxset, DVD producer Charles de Lauzirika (who would later craft the Alien Anthology and Prometheus releases) tried to convince Fincher to participate in a new cut of Alien 3. Fincher seemed to consider the idea, before refusing. Charles was left to piece together an assembly cut of Alien 3 using Fincher’s old notes and memos from the shoot. Here, originally from The Digital Bits’ coverage of the Quadrilogy, are de Lauzirika’s attempts to contact Fincher and assemble the new cut.
“Obviously, the big person who’s MIA [from the Quadrilogy] is David Fincher. That pains me, because the whole reason I took on this project was to put his work in its best light, and to try to salvage as much as I could from the wreckage that the film ended up being. That said, I don’t feel like it’s for me to single-handedly rescue this film – not that I could, even though I wanted to. That’s not what I’m going to do. But as a fan of Fincher and his work, I felt like I wanted to really try to show what his original vision was for this film – to show people what he wanted to do, and to preserve that for all time. But, without Fincher involved, that’s not necessarily going to happen. We’re going to show you what he was working on, and show you some of the alternate ideas he was working on. We’re going to show you the footage he shot and later abandoned – you’re gonna see all that stuff. But it’s not going to have that extra level of authorship that it would’ve had, if Fincher been a part of this project. There are very few directors out there who do commentary better than David Fincher. As a fan, I would just love to have him do a commentary for this, as much as I know he would’ve hated to do it. This, of all of his films, is the one that most needs his voice in terms of what went wrong… and what went right, perhaps. I know the overwhelming majority of his thoughts will be negative, but that’s interesting. It’s a cautionary tale for young filmmakers out there. People, who want to follow in Fincher’s footsteps, want to know why his first feature film went wrong. It would be fantastic to see what he had to say about that.
We’ve gotten people to talk about it [Alien 3] in the new interviews we’ve done, but I’m not sure we’ve gotten one hundred percent honesty from everyone. Again, it was an incredibly difficult project. Most people either don’t want to talk about it, or they want to forget about it, or they have forgotten about it, or they want to whitewash the whole thing. We’ve only had a couple of interviews that I would really consider brutally honest. But my final cut of the documentary, which did go into some interesting detail and was initially approved by Fox, eventually scared the hell out of some Fox executives and lawyers. So they went and made several cuts without my participation, most of which made absolutely no sense to anyone working on the disc. I’ve actually taken my name off of the documentary because of it. I’ve disowned it and it’s truly a shame because the primary reason I signed on for this project was to create an in-depth documentary on Alien 3.
So for those people who are expecting this DVD to really be the tell-all – all the dirt you’ve always wanted to hear about Alien 3, it’s not going to be that. It’s not going to be Hearts of Darkness for Alien 3. But it was that … before, much like the film itself, studio politics ruined it. I wrote a very long letter to Fincher, explaining exactly what I wanted to do and why I wanted to do it. I was very passionate about it. I basically said, ‘I’ll do anything, just please be a part of this.’ I’ve never actually spoken with him directly, but I was told by his people that my letter at least got him to consider it, and they said they’d entertain the idea. So that’s when we really dug in and started looking for material. Eventually, we found this long lost, one hundred and fifty minute cut of the film. So we sent it over to his office.
The thing you have to understand is, Fincher was circling around three different projects for his next film at the time. Of the four directors, he’s probably the closest to actually going into production on something, so his schedule is tight. Plus, it was a very negative experience for him. This film was hell for him. So to come back and talk about it must be painful. If you look at his filmography on the Panic Room DVD, Alien 3 isn’t even on there, so he’s obviously disowned the project. All these things kind of combined into a very polite reply from his office: ‘No, he won’t participate, but good luck. You’re free to do whatever you want, you just can’t call it a director’s cut.’
I’d like to think my letter had some effect, but frankly, it may just be that he didn’t care. But I wanted him to know that even if he didn’t care, I would care. I would try to do the best I could – to put his work in the best light I could. Now, I don’t know that we’ve done that. I think that what we have done is to capture a snapshot of the film in the state it was in before it really got interfered with in post production – before it got taken out of Fincher’s hands. I don’t know if it’s an actual quote, but I seem to remember at one point hearing Fincher say something to the effect that, ‘The only way to do a director’s cut of Alien 3 is to burn the negative and start over.’ I know he mentioned once that, during the L.A. riots in ’92, when some of the fires and vandalism was getting pretty close to one of the labs where the negative for Alien 3 was stored, he kept hoping that it would get burned to the ground. What you’re seeing [in the assembly cut] is a reconstruction of the direction the film was going. After this point, it started getting cut down and cut down, and then there were re-shoots. So this is the first cut of the film after development hell and after production hell, but before post production hell. As such, it’s a very unusual piece of work. When you see this cut, you’ll really understand how Alien 3 ended up the way it did, because the film was literally being rewritten as they were shooting. And it shows. The film really feels cobbled together. It doesn’t make for a very entertaining experience, but it’s fascinating, if you’re a fan of the film, to be able to see how it got so badly screwed up.
Among the things we dug up early on were various drafts of the script, the shooting script and what’s called the lined script, which what the script supervisor actually had on set and was using to make notes about which takes were going to be used. We also found some alternate cuts of certain sequences that were in these boxes, to use as reference to see how things had evolved and where they had come from. We went through all the storyboards, all the call sheets we could find. Basically, we took advantage of anything we could use to get a sense of how things were coming together and what the plan was for the way things would be put together.
That said, we really had to be careful, because we’re not the filmmakers. The one thing I was always adamant about was that we’re not in the business of revisionism. We’re not going to make a cut that we think is a better cut. We’re not going to tinker and play and have fun with someone else’s movie. All we’re going to do is to take it as close as we can to what we’ve ascertained, via all the documents we have and the research we’ve done, is the original vision of Alien 3 before all the interference occurred in post. I don’t know if we’re a hundred percent in line with that, but it’s not because we didn’t try. It’s because we didn’t have Fincher’s guidance, or we don’t have the materials to do it more accurately. That’s been particularly an issue with the effects shots that were abandoned back in the day before they could be finished.
The first big sequence involves Ripley crashing on Fiorina in the EEV. Clemens finds the EEV floating off-shore, and Ripley’s washed up on the beach. That’s a sequence that was alluded to in the early trailers for the film, which show Clemens walking around on the surface. You get to see him carrying Ripley into the facility. All that is the first big chunk. Then there are a couple of subplots that were pretty much gutted from the theatrical version, the biggest one involving the prisoner Golic. He basically ends up worshiping the Alien, calling it ‘The Dragon.’ He’s a very simple-minded person, who starts killing his fellow prisoners so he can get closer to the Alien.
I get the sense that this is the stuff Fincher was really interested in, because there’s a difference in the direction and the direction of the performance. It’s much different than just seeing a guy in a monster suit chasing a bunch of bald guys around in the dark, you know? It’s not typical of what you’d normally expect to see in a film like this. It would be the equivalent of watching Alien, and following Brett around for a day – it’s an interesting little off-shoot, but the rest of the story doesn’t rely on its inclusion.
There are also some more moments of Clemens and his relationship with Ripley. Then there’s an extended action sequence that was heavily abridged in the theatrical version, in which Ripley comes up with a plan to scare the Alien into a toxic waste dump. In the final version of the film, they try to do this, but they fail and the place blows up. Several of the prisoners end up getting killed, and the Alien gets away. In this version, they actually capture the Alien. For all intents and purposes, the Alien is defeated and the prisoners go on about their business waiting for the transport to arrive and take Ripley away. Then, re-entering the story is Golic, who escapes and frees the Alien, which leads to a whole set of other problems. It’s mostly Golic’s story that’s being restored. The character was played by Paul McGann. He must have been crushed when he saw the final version of the film. He had such an interesting role. He was still in the final cut, but like ninety percent of his work was cut.
The ox caravan that carries the EEV off the beach and into the facility – originally, one of the oxen was impregnated by a ‘super facehugger’, which is also a creature you don’t see in the theatrical cut. A super facehugger is basically a normal face hugger, but with extra armor, because it’s carrying the seed for a queen Alien. It’s only been seen in a few photos. I think Cinefex magazine had some shots of it. You only see it in a long shot in the new cut, but it’s there. That leads to the funeral scene for Hicks and Newt. In the final cut, it’s basically a montage between the funeral and the dog giving birth to a ‘dog burster’. In this cut, we cut to this dead ox instead of the dog, and what Fincher nicknamed a ‘Bambi burster’ emerges. It’s basically the same idea, just with a different animal. And it really doesn’t make much sense when you think about it, because the ox is dead, so how is the alien gestating in the body of a dead animal? That’s probably one of the reasons why it was cut. Also, there are more dog lovers out there than ox lovers, so seeing the dog go through this pain instead is more emotionally powerful.
My editor, David Crowther, had just finished his rough cut restoration of the special edition version of Alien 3, and we were planning to have a private screening of the cut that evening – myself, David and a few other people from the office. Given that it’s a two and a half hour cut, we figured we should get dinner. Most of the guys wanted pizza, but I wanted a burrito, so I drove over to this Mexican place near our office called Poquito Mas.
So I’m standing there in line, ordering my ahi burrito, when out of the corner of my eye, I see something that sets off alarms in the back of my head. I look over, and there’s David Fincher, sitting there with someone else eating his dinner. Immediately, I seized up like I’d just seen Jesus. And I’m thinking, what do I do? Do I interrupt him? Do I introduce myself? Do I invite him to check out the screening of the film with us?
I immediately call back to the office on my cell phone, and I’m telling the guys, ‘Fincher’s here at Poquito Mas! What do I do?’ In those moments, for some reason, I totally geek out. Do I dare talk to him about this film he obviously hates so much? Of course, the guys all said, ‘You’ve got to get him. You’ve got to go talk with him.’ Naturally, as I get off the phone and I’m about to do just that… Fincher gets in his car drives off.
I didn’t really feel bad about missing the opportunity, because he seemed to be having a pretty intense discussion. It didn’t seem like he was in a very approachable mood. And I figured, what could be worse than going up to him when he’s in a bad mood and saying, ‘Hey, do you want to come and see the long cut of Alien 3?’
Then, about a week later, Fincher actually called my office. Mark Romanek [who directed One Hour Photo– another DVD Lauzirika produced] had talked to him about me, and put in the good word… which, coming from Romanek, is a major deal to me. I mean, I worship both of these guys. Mark gave Fincher my number, which was incredibly nice of Mark to do. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in the office when Fincher called. But he left this really cryptic voicemail: ‘Yeah, Mark Romanek told me to call you about Alien 3…’ and about halfway through the message, he just kind of drifted off. It was almost like he lost the heart to even talk about Alien 3 right then in the middle of this message he was leaving me. We played phone tag for a while and never actually spoke directly. So I’ve saved this voicemail. For a while, I was toying with the idea of putting it on the DVD as an Easter egg until my better judgment kicked in. I doubt Fox’s lawyers would have cleared it anyway.
So those are my two brief non-encounters with Fincher on this project.”
Fiorina 161’s oppressive and bleak beachside is attended by creaking, derelict cranes and structures, manned only by prisoner labour whenever the surface is intermittently hospitable.
“The E.E.V tumbling end over end as if unguided and out of control, within the pull of Fiorina’s gravity field,” reads one draft of Alien 3. The escape pod burns through the stormy sky, observed at a distance by prisoner Clemens, “gaunt in a way that suggests the years have been filled with suffering of a kind we are never meant to wholly understand … Wind whips at his plastic protection. At his feet, the dark sand is alive with tiny iridescent insects.” The E.E.V turns white-hot, flares through the clouds, and “disappears over the horizon line of a black sea in a turmoil of whitecaps.” Ripley has arrived.
For the crash, a plate of the sea exploding under the impact of the E.E.V. was shot, with the escape pod itself to be composited later. “The director wanted enormous explosions [for the crash],” explained George Gibbs, who headed the special effects team responsible. “Some were as big as eighteen hundred feet wide, with water towers that went one hundred twenty to one hundred fifty feet in the air. It was difficult because Fincher wanted a really rough looking sea and it was nearly impossible to work in those conditions.”
Like Acheron/LV-426 of Alien and Aliens, Fiorina 161 is unfriendly or at least indifferent to its human inhabitants. Grey and grim with roiling stormclouds and rust-tipped mountain peaks, the only organism crawling its surface apart from the few humans we encounter in the movie are swathes of lice, whose presence necessitates that the human population shed their hair and adopt an impersonal and uniform look. Oxen -beasts of burden- are apparently brought in for a lifetime of toil and a destiny in the prison’s meat locker. Fiorina is Hell by night and Limbo by day.
“This is Fiorina, and it’s supposed to look very toxic, so I played around with toxic materials, and I used razor blades and all sorts of tools to get texture. And this [matte painting] had to be so large because they had the miniature [E.E.V.] coming in and turning to crash.” ~ Michelle Moen, Alien 3’s Matte Dept. Supervisor.
In a nod to other cinematic landscapes, matte painter Paul Lasaine added to his painting of the Fiorina refineries [image at the top of the page] distant towers styled after the stacks from Blade Runner‘s famous ‘Los Angeles 2019’ opening shot – details which you’re unlikely to have a chance of spotting in Alien 3 due to the overlapping effects and the diminutiveness of the painted towers. Allegedly, the Tyrell Pyramid structure is also in there, somewhere. An obvious similarity with another cinematic alien world is Fury’s twin suns – perhaps a tip of the hat to Star Wars‘ Tattooine sunset. The shores of Fiorina were filmed on the dreary Blast Beach at Seaham and at Blyth Power Station – perfect for the planet’s monochromatic landscape, and was apparently shot by Jordan Cronenwerth [Blade Runner again] before he left the production.
“It was a terrific looking spot. There had been a colliery nearby and they had dropped all their slag onto the beach. So the sand was black and the water had a real brackish look to it.”
~ Rich Fitcher, Boss Effects Co-Supervisor.
“Deep space on this particular planet is not zip-fasteners and lycra,” explained Charles Dance, who plays Ripley’s seaside saviour, Clemens. “The look is deeply depressing – very gray, underlit and somber … [The prisoners are] a pretty sad lot, but they’ve all managed to survive long-term imprisonment against all odds in this dreadful environment.” For the shots of Clemens wandering the dust-swept planet, a facility set was built on a studio backlot.
“Actually, this script has retained the look of a religious community,” continues Dance. “The men have embraced a sort of strange religious cult in this prison. Some of the prison inmates are homosexual, but they’ve all taken a vow of celibacy, so nobody does anything to anybody. All the costumes are very monk-like, colored in grays and browns. We have these wonderful hooded coats which reach right to the floor, and which are made out of government surplus tents. The look is both monk-like and menacing… [Clemens is] very much a loner, and not at all popular with the other members of the staff.”
“The movie originally began with me walking along this strange, weird, desolate beach, with a lot of huge, derrick-like construction all around. We were going to shoot it in Newcastle, but FOX decided they couldn’t afford it, so in the end we built this wonderful, great big beach on the backlot of Pinewood. It was very cold, and we had these huge wind machines, so I was breathing in dust all the time. And I was running along this ridge carrying Sigourney, having just rescued her from the crashed ship. The scene was shot over two days, and was very uncomfortable.” ~ Charles Dance, Fangoria, 1992.
Explaining the role of his character, Dance is blunt: “To be honest, the powers that be at 20th Century Fox simply decided it was time that Ripley had a man – that’s my principal role in this picture. We find each other, because neither of us has had a partner in God knows how long, and we’re drawn to each other. Clemens reacts to this pretty nervously – he’s not sure whether he can handle it, since it’s been such a long time for him. The other men on the colony are very threatened by Ripley’s presence, and to some extent, they blame her for bringing this disaster -the Alien- with her.”
The bulk of Fury’s exterior scenes were filmed but ultimately cut from the theatrical release, though they were restored to the 2003 Assembly Cut. These included Clemens discovering Ripley washed up on the beach, carrying her back inside the facility, and the prisoners utilising oxen to haul the E.E.V. from the sea.
“I thought it [the excised intro] made a major difference, because the beach scene set up these inmates and the environment and the fact that the doctor was a loner. All those things were very important, and the fact that you saw the way they worked, and that it was very barren, and it was just these odd moments that they could get outside and that they used Stone Age type gear – those scenes at the front were invaluable to the film. To see her [Ripley] brought into the place, you saw what it was like, you saw all those bugs and other stuff. It just set the whole place up and what it was. And we never had that.”
~ Terry Rawlings, Alien and Alien 3 editor.
For the shots of the fiery refineries shown at the film’s climax, Richard Edlund and his team at Boss constructed a miniature set out of cardboard, foam core and other pieces, Edlund: “From the standpoint of our task on Alien 3, we had to create the Alien [miniature rod puppet], but we also had to help create the environment, so we did numerous miniatures and matte paintings, one of which was the furnace set, which was a pretty nice Blade Runner-esque shot.”
Because they wanted the hellish landscape to have depth, a matte painting was dismissed and a set built with a shoestring budget attached. Forced perspective gave the added depth necessary and the crew smoked up the studio for a hellfire vibe.
Hell by night. The shots of the smouldering prison facility and its furnaces were inspired by the opening shots of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.
Having brought life to an Alien army and their 14-foot tall matriarch in Aliens, Stan Winston was initially sought out by Twentieth Century Fox to resume a role as Alien 3‘s creature designer due to his previous Oscar-winning work. Unfortunately for the production, the effects maestro was unavailable, with 1990-91 seeing him directing his second feature, A Gnome Named Gnorm, which he then followed with more Oscar-winning work, crafting the physical effects for the T-1000 on James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Instead of leaving the new Alien project hanging, Winston recommended two of his former protégés for the job, Tom Woodruff Jnr and Alec Gillis. The two had previously cut their teeth with Winston on The Terminator and Aliens and had recently left his employ to form their own monster shop, Amalgamated Dynamics Inc., or ADI.
In their foreword to The Making of AVP, Woodruff and Gillis explained how they were approached: “In 1990, Gordon Carroll, one of the producers on the first two [Alien] pictures, called us to ask if we were interested in creating the effects for Alien 3. The plan was to return to Pinewood Studios outside of London and he wanted someone who knew the drill. By now, we had formed our own company, Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc.”
Of their split from Winston and their company’s formation, Gillis explained: “Tom and I had worked well together at Stan’s and both had similar interests in where we wanted to go as filmmakers, so it just seemed logical [to found an effects company together.]” Gillis added elsewhere: “It was good timing for us to leave, and we parted with Stan’s blessings. He’ll always be our mentor, and he sometimes recommends us for jobs.”
The Alien 3 creature design story didn’t begin with either Winston or ADI. In the early (and varied) scripting days, artists Stephen Ellis and Mike Worrall sketched the creature in a series of poses and contexts; from the Alien coiled in a foetal position, to the creature lurking under floorboards, crouching upon lintels, and snatching monks from the latrine. Their concepts, taking off from Vincent Ward’s script, were almost hypnagogic in style (Worrall’s website describes his art as being “dreamlike … often inspired by historical themes,” perfect for Ward’s vision) with the Alien taking on a variety of forms, including a centaur-Alien and an Alien-sheep with the impression of an anthropomorphic moon on its backside; all presumably born from the wooden world’s livestock.
Ward’s Alien was also chameleonic, able to blend into the wooden makeup of the film’s medieval orbiter. It also took on a Morphean quality, invading Ripley’s dreams to haunt her with visions of her deceased daughter, whose face was to protrude from its jaws. The creature became a psychic as well as physical stalker. “It’s almost like he’s playing with me,” Ripley says to her confidant, Brother John (a proto-Clemens character). “Maybe they have some sort of race memory. Maybe he knows what I did to his ‘mother’. That’s why he didn’t just kill me … He has to torment me.” These metaphysical leanings were discarded upon Ward’s eventual departure and the script’s many subsequent rewrites.
“Hypnos” themed Alien.
The Alien itself, in some of the early concept art, seems to have a mollusc-like exoskeleton, its thighs sporting flues and its tail curled spirally coiled like a gastropod shell, and it’s not hard to imagine that the dome may be nacre-lined and iridescent. In other pieces, the creature is more generic.
There is some brief musing on the nature of the Alien in the script that isn’t present in the films. Locked in a cell with an android named Andrew, Ripley and the machine conclude that the Alien may have been bred for interstellar warfare.
“Maybe they are from some sort of aggressive soldier race,” muses Andrew. “Warring parties drop the eggs on opposing planets-” “-and the Alien takes on the form of the creature that finds it,” interjects Ripley. Andrew’s speculation regarding the origin of the Alien was not explored within the films themselves, though the issue was later (somewhat) addressed in Prometheus.
A more bestial design. Note the elongated insectile arms and crowning dome.
During the Vincent Ward period co-producer Gordon Carroll extended an invitation to Giger to work on the film. Allegedly, Giger was not available at this time. Later, when newcomer David Fincher took over directorial duties, the production re-established contact and Fincher travelled to meet Giger at his home.
“While I was working on my idea for The Mystery of San Gottardo, Gordon Carroll contacted me about Alien 3,” Giger told International Tattoo Art magazine in 1995. “I told him that I was working on a new creature and could probably combine it.” However, the producers weren’t interested in Giger’s side projects and designs. “Gordon Carroll asked if I was interested. ‘Yes, why not?’ Then it was, ‘Do this, do that and that!’ Just like when I started Alien.”
Though no script for the new film was presented, he knew what he was to create: an aquatic facehugger, a new chestburster, and a four-legged interpretation of the Alien being. “I worked like crazy on it,” Giger told ImagiMovies magazine in 1994. The artist relished the chance to revisit and revise his Alien monster. “I had special ideas to make it more interesting,” he said. “I designed a new creature which was much more elegant and beastly compared to my original. It was a four-legged Alien, more like a feline – a panther or something. It had a kind of skin which was built up from other creatures, like a symbiosis … I made a very long tongue like a sword and the Alien’s mouth should look beautiful. With the monks this time there’s an erotic fascination, and when it kisses them, you only see the mouth close-up. Then the tongue comes and you only see blood running …”
Giger quickly set to work, re-drawing his original Alien design and ruthlessly cutting out and changing what he didn’t like about it: including the “stiff, useless hands,” a tail that is “too much [like a] crocodile’s,” the Alien’s “useless pipes … only given to give help to the long head,” and the “too short ribcage.” Giger also discussed the shortcomings of the original creature with Cinephage in 1992: “Nothing in Alien worked so we did not show much [of the creature]. And that’s the highlight of the film. The tail of the monster never worked Ridley wanted it to beat the air. It never worked. It was horrible (laughs). Nothing was what we wanted from the start. We wanted the monster to be translucent. Ultimately, it was a man dressed in a suit.”
In Giger’s redesign, the Alien’s back tubes are removed, the face features erotic lips, and the ribcage is extended, “like twisted steel”. The tail has also gained a sword-like protrusion, rather than a stinger. The words “sphinx” and “spider” are thrown in, suggesting the creature’s dual nature as something cunning but primal, elegant but frightening, regal but beastly. Transparency also seems to have made the list of improvements. “This time around it had to be more animal-like, more elegant,” explained Giger. “You shouldn’t get the feeling that it was a man wearing a suit. Basically, the head had to remain unaltered but the body had to change. David Fincher, the director, told me I would have total freedom.”
With Fincher tackling the production in England and Giger designing and sculpting the new Alien from his home with assistant sculptor Cornelius de Fries, Fincher and Giger communicated solely by fax. “I think the fax machine is a great invention,” Giger said of the communications between Fincher and himself. Giger had made himself “a prisoner” during the production of Alien, and suffered a great deal of anxiety due to the pressure. Being able to communicate via fax from the comfort of home apparently relieved him of a great deal of needless stress. “I hardly have to leave my house anymore! So after I go to bed at 6AM after having worked all night, I can transmit that night’s work from my bedroom.”
Working through July and August 1990, Giger had his redesigned Alien worked out within a few weeks, from paper sketch to a seven-foot-long bust, which he had sculpted with De Fries and had financed from his own pocket. He likewise sketched the aquatic facehugger, an image of an impregnated Ripley, the Bambi-burster, and provided drawings demonstrating his new Alien’s deadly athleticism.
“This looks great!” Fincher said in response to Giger’s work, their correspondence shared with ImagiMovies magazine. “Finally, we are all excited again. We want you to feel free to give your all … I am doing everything in my power to ensure you have control over your creation.”
Fincher also provided some creative feedback, his major contribution being the Alien’s new, thick lips: “We did give it Michelle Pfeiffer’s lips,” he said, “That’s what they’re based on. It always had these little thin lips, and I said to Giger, ‘let’s make it a woman when it comes right up to Ripley.’ So it has these big, luscious collagen lips.” This erotic moment was already conveyed in Ward’s script: “The Alien wraps his arms around Ripley,” it reads, “Thin lips pull back for a kiss.” The thickness of the lips were pared back for the film, but were still fuller than those of the original Alien.
Giger’s blueprints for his new Alien. The creature’s arms were to be adorned with small flues that would emit an unsettling hum that would signal the creature’s temperament. The detail on the head he called a “finger-brain” that would ripple like wheatstalk in the wind.
During their initial meeting, Fincher showed Giger some preliminary sketches of the Alien provided by ADI. “[Fincher showed me] some sketches made by people who would be responsible for the execution of the work,” Giger told ImagiMovies Magazine. “These looked rather like a bird. There was no similarity to the Alien, and they were far from my ideas.”
Giger himself telephoned ADI at the studio and the two entities found that they shared some similar plans for the Alien’s design, such as the removal of the pipes which adorn the Alien’s back. “[Giger] called to say that he hoped we’d get rid of the tailpipes,” said Gillis. “He’d just put them there to break up the human form of the suit and had never liked them. It was a very welcome coincidence.” However, it is clear that ADI considered themselves as the wardens of the creature’s design for the third film: “The Alien is Giger’s baby, and he was calling to find out what we planned. After that we stayed in contact and he faxed drawings and ideas that proved very helpful when we were deciding how the Alien was going to develop.” Clearly, ADI were under the impression that Giger was an accessory to the film’s creature design, rather than, as Giger himself had been led to believe, the hub on which it turned. Giger himself would later blame Fincher’s lack of transparency for the confusion. “When Woodruff and Gillis said they had their own ideas I was very upset. They said that they liked my work and might use some of my sketches, but they would make their own interpretation.”
When Giger offered his Alien bust to Twentieth Century Fox for the price of the mold and not for the actual time spent designing and constructing the creature, Fox rebuffed him, and they also declined film footage of the creature that Giger had shot and provided for reference. The production then severed all contact from Giger as Alien 3 went into shooting for a tumultuous year and ADI began work on crafting the Alien as intended for the film. “I invited all of them to visit me in Switzerland,” said Giger, “but I heard they didn’t want my input.” ADI themselves cited the infamously hectic production as being the reason for their declination.
Of the situation, Giger said, “David Fincher neglected to inform me that Woodruff and Gillis were also contracted to take care of the redesign of the Alien – I found out much later. I thought I had the job and that Woodruff and Gillis would work from my plans. On their side, they were convinced that it was their job and accepted my ‘suggestions’ with pleasure. They believed that all my effort was based on a huge love for the matter, because I worked hard even after my contract was over. Today, I am convinced that it was a game by Fincher to keep both sides happy and obtain the maximum for his movie … In the contract it states exactly how I should be credited … They break the contract because they’re saying in the movie that it’s only ‘original design by Giger’ and not Alien 3, so it looks like I didn’t work on it … Mr. Fincher never gave me any credit. That did not just happen; it was made to happen. I never heard from the man responsible, and I don’t know why he did it.”
Fincher himself explained, “We worked with [Giger] and used as much of his input and ideas as we could.” From there, Fincher goes on to describe his mission statement for the Alien and does not address Giger’s involvement: “More importantly, we thought: How can we make this thing scary again? On the second film they compromised on the actual mechanics of each of the creatures and made it more like a bunch of pissed off Jacques Cousteaus’. It worked because of the sheer scale and how little you saw of these fleeting glimpses in the strobes of the machine guns firing. We really wanted to do something that was more elegant and simple.”
Giger summarised the situation: “I wish Ridley Scott had come back. He had said to me, ‘If we ever do another, you’ll create a new monster.’ Working with him would have been wonderful – not a man with no experience. They told me that the Alien this time would be intelligent; it would be special. But, in the end, it was just a slimy creature.” To International Tattoo Art magazine, he said, “In the end they used many of my ideas, but what was finally in the movie was very much different from what I imagined Alien 3 to be.”
Though Giger and Fincher had set out to create a whole new Alien breed, the artist found the monster, bipedalism aside, to be far too familiar to the original film’s creature: “In a way, they went back to my designs for the original Alien, and that was disappointing.” Giger also said of the film, pre-release: “Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to the finished film. And don’t get me wrong, I do hope it will be a success.”
When it came to portraying the actual Alien, ADI already had a solution in mind. Tom Woodruff had watched the stuntmen on Aliens don and perform in the Alien suits, and recalled that he wasn’t impressed: “I remember … putting on one of the Alien suits and doing different body poses and positions for still shots, and looking at them later and thinking was an improvement over what I’d seen on set.” Post-Aliens, Woodruff got his first monster jobs playing Gillman in The Monster Squad, as well as playing the eponymous creature in Stan Winston’s Pumpkinhead.
Alec Gillis: “Tom had a small list of credits for playing monsters we designed, and we went to the producers with the notion that it made the most sense for him to play the Alien. Tom had experience inside suits and we had a complete set of body molds that would allow us to start work immediately. The producers as well as the director, David Fincher, supported our notion.”
The Alien suits were made from foam latex and crafted to be skintight to hide wrinkles in the costuming. They were also absent zippers, which required Woodruff to spend up to ten hours inside the suit. Design-wise, the Alien’s domed carapace was restored, rather than the ridged head of the second movie. ADI also stripped the creature of its purely biomechanical texture. Giger’s original Alien was man-shaped but replete with metallic joints and muscles in a strange and frightening alchemy of teeth, claws and steel. ADI’s Alien is a sepia-toned mesh of bone and flesh. Though ADI’s original mold of the suit retained some biomechanic textures, most if not all of this detail was lost because of the film’s ruddy, muddy lighting.
Tom Woodruff explained ADI’s approach to the Alien design, and their interpretation of Giger’s aesthetic: “The Alien was so well known that there wasn’t a lot we could do with it except try to make it look even more alien than in the first two films. Most of our changes were stylistic, because we really wanted to go back to the original paintings and designs for Giger, which hadn’t been fully realized.” Elsewhere, Woodruff explained to Cinefex magazine: “We tried to give it an organic, sculptural feel and remain truer to his [Giger’s] concepts than even he had been. Some of the things he had done in the first film were completely serendipitous.”
Alec Gillis adds: “Even Alien wasn’t completely true to Giger’s vision. I don’t mean to be pompous, but his own suit wasn’t accurate to his paintings. Our goal was to sculpt Giger’s designs into repeating organic textures, almost like dear antlers. We also put more colour into the Alien, which was originally just black and sepia. Since the effects of Alien 3 wouldn’t have the spectacle of the last film, we wanted to make this creature into a believable organism.” Making the Alien “a believable organism” saw the creature being stripped of any overt biomechanical details, with knots of muscle, papulae and blistered skin making up the details between the creature’s bones.
Visual trickery, such as shooting from a low angle or having Woodruff stand on boxes, gave the illusion that the suited performer was in the range of seven-eight feet tall, in line with the previous creatures in the series.
Originally, the Alien was to be born from the body of an ox, but this idea had to be scrapped and re-shot when the filmed footage was deemed subpar. “The scene was written that there was a group of oxen towing the EEV on the shore of Fury 161,” explained visual effects producer Richard Edlund, “and a facehugger was going to impregnate one of the oxen. In the end however, David didn’t like the sequence we shot with the chestburster coming out of the Ox, and for a reason I’m not sure of, they changed the host to a rottweiler.”
Fincher explained, “It looked stupid. We put masonite filters on the lens and we still couldn’t shoot the thing so that it looked right. The ox stuff just never played. I wanted something faster and more predatory than an ox. As a result, the final Alien is not as elegant a creature as it was before, but it’s more vicious. The change to a dog broke everyone’s heart, because it had already been done before in The Thing, but it helped when we got to the big chase sequences at the end, because it gave us exciting POVs and explained the ravenous attack mode this thing was in … we wanted it to be fast and big and powerful and dumb.”
Though the new Alien was born from a non-human host, portraying the creature as a non-anthropomorphic being wouldn’t be possible with Woodruff alone, and so a rod puppet was devised to fill in for the more beastly long shots of the Alien’s attacks.
“From a practical standpoint,” said Woodruff, “the idea of putting a man in a rubber suit works because you get the coverage you need and you have something to work with on set; the actors have something to work with. We’re hoping that most of the time when you see the creature it’s gonna be the puppet, because it’s got things to it you can’t do with a man in a suit.”
The rod puppet Alien and its compositing was handled by Boss Film in conjunction with ADI, who provided a mold for the 40inch puppet. Boss also handled the CG elements in the film, which included the creature’s shadows and a brief shot of its dome cracking. Laine Liska, an experienced stop motion animator, oversaw the puppetry of the Alien. With David Fincher overseeing the filming, the Alien’s actions were filmed in front of a blue screen in LA with a special motion control camera in a process called ‘mo-motion’, and later composited over existing footage shot back in England.
“We initially tried it with the body of the Alien on motion control, but it moved more like a bunny rabbit than an Alien,” explained Liska. “It really started working when we started doing everything by hand, including running the puppet along a ramp so it covered distance as it moved. Most of the time there were four of us working the puppet – one person on the front legs, another on the back legs, another operating the tail and me on the head and the torso. For the upside down shots of the Alien on the ceiling we had to have a person for each limb, so there were six of us clustered around this little puppet, all moving as fast as we could … He [Fincher] suggested a lot of different animals for us to copy. He wanted it to be very predatory, very cougar-like and at other times he wanted it to move more spidery, almost like an insect.”
Fincher said of the process: “We wanted the creature to walk on the ceilings and really sell the idea that this thing is a bug from outer space.”
“That was one of the challenges of the production: to come up with a technique of shooting the Alien. How would we shoot the Alien? How would we create the Alien in this movie? Nobody had ever seen the Alien running in the way he was running. He runs on the ceiling, on the side, all over the place. We had to develop a look. How does an Alien look when it runs? … It was a very difficult project to get the Alien to look menacing and terrifying in motion.” ~ Robert Edlund.
Despite the expert crafting of the model and convincing puppeteering, the compositing of the Alien was a disaster, and one of the most maligned special effects in the series. Appearing with a green outline and blurred details, the rod puppet fails to stand out as an impressive, living creature and instead serves as a distraction; a reminder that the creature is not real.
“I like the Alien head very much,” Giger said of the final design, “that was nicely done, but not the neck … The thing I don’t like really is when [the Alien] opened its mouth and the silly tongue comes out. I never liked this tongue. I always wanted to eliminate it, but Ridley Scott wanted it. It was okay in [Alien] because it [shot out]. But in the third it comes out slowly like false teeth.”
After a private screening of the film, Giger was aghast to see that he was not credited for having worked on the new design, and when the effects work and design were nominated for an Oscar award his name was likewise omitted. After some legal wrangling, Giger’s name was restored to the credits on home release.
In 2010, Tom Woodruff claimed that the third film represented his favourite experience working on the series: “I think my favourite was Alien 3 for a combination of reasons. That was an early film that Alec and I did on our own. On Aliens, the Cameron movie, we were part of Stan Winston’s team. Stan was amazing and inspiring to work with but with Alien 3 it was our own show. It was also the first time I wore the Alien costume. We really had a chance to work on screen a lot and work quite a bit with Sigourney in the scenes. Just being around David Fincher was a huge experience just to see that level of filmmaking from a guy that young. It was also a bit intimidating because David was way ahead of the curve and if anyone was going to find something that wasn’t working it would be him.”
Fincher himself made it clear that his experience making the film was hellish. In one of his milder quotes, he says, “We did what we had time to do, and we had a lot more interesting ideas that we would have liked to do … and we ran out of money. Unfortunately, when you have no prep time you spend a lot of money on stuff that never gets shot or does get shot and isn’t properly thought out. It [the production] never moved quite as quickly as I wanted it to.”
Finally, Fincher also claimed that Fox had tampered with his film’s colour and light scheme. “I could not get the screen to be black,” he recalled. “I couldn’t get the creature to come out of the shadows unseen.”
STRANGE SHAPES is a blog dedicated to Ridley Scott's Alien and Prometheus, James Cameron's Aliens, and David Fincher's Alien³.
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"[Alien] created such a benchmark for visual design in science fiction, as well as photography, acting, sound, and editing – all the things that one did not necessarily associate with science fiction."
~ James Cameron.
"It's always a tough job to follow a successful film with a sequel to it ... 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."
~ Ridley Scott.
"I actually think that Alien³ is a pretty good piece of work, in terms of film-making. Fincher early on showed what he had as a film-maker, and I think the film has some great stuff in it, some beautiful photography."
~ James Cameron.
"The first two Alien films are two of my favorite movies ... I love Alien and I respect and really liked Aliens. Jim’s movie is one of the twenty best movies ever made."
~ David Fincher.