I assume it's common knowledge to most “Alien” fans the numerous problems that plagued the production of the wildly divisive movie “Alien 3”. Several different scripts, directors, rewrites and ideas came and went for years on end, until finally, we got the movie that saw the light of day on May of 1992, directed by David Fincher and starred by, once again, Sigourney Weaver. To say the movie was divisive is somewhat of an understatement I think… To this date, there’s still heated debate amongst fans on whether it was a worthy sequel for the franchise or just a pile of crap. Obviously, all this comes down to personal taste, but the general consensus when the movie came out was that after the enormous success of the horror focused “Alien” and the more action-oriented “Aliens”, “Alien 3” was definitely a disappointment to most people.
However, over the years there’s a large group of fans that have been defending the merits of the movie, especially the “Assembly Cut” that was released in 2003 that restored about thirty-seven minutes of footage that was missing from the theatrical cut. But of course, there are also people who think it still was a pile of crap, with half an hour of added scenes.
As for myself, I’ve always been stuck somewhere in between those two groups (not unlike my reaction to the prequels “Prometheus” and “Alien: Covenant”). Like most “Alien” fans, it has always rubbed me the wrong way how the movie nonchalantly kills two of the survivors and protagonists of “Aliens”, Newt and Corporal Hicks. Their death, in and on itself, is not the problem, it's the way they went about it… It felt so completely random, unnecessary and disrespectful to the people who had a lot of emotional investment in those characters because of our love for “Aliens”.
Now beyond that, I think the movie was really well made, it was obvious from the beginning that the intent was to go back to the roots and have the movie be horror based like the original and not action-adventure oriented like the sequel, and that’s just fine… The issue for me was that the characters never truly came alive, except for Weaver’s “Ripley” (of course), Charles S. Dutton’s “Dillon”, and Charles Dance’s “Dr. Clemens”. All the others were somewhat interchangeable for me so when most of them met their inevitable demise it just didn’t affect me much. The movie had great cinematography and a couple of very memorable moments that became somewhat iconic, like the scene in which the Xenomorph has a face-to-face with Ripley, and the ending with Ripley sacrificing herself to stop the Company from using the creatures as weapons. All in all, in my opinion, it was a noble effort but ultimately disappointing given how amazing the first two movies were.
Now, given how incredibly famous and culturally relevant the “Alien” franchise has become over the years, naturally, a lot of attention has been given to those failed pitches and scripts for the proposed “Alien 3” that never came to be. There were, reportedly, up to ten different scripts written for the movie by many different writers, and the most famous of those is the script penned by the renowned cyberpunk writer William Gibson. Gibson, known for his sci-fi novel “Neuromancer” (he also wrote the screenplay for Keanu Reeve’s sci-fi movie “Johnny Mnemonic”) penned the script in 1987; his first draft, the most famous one, was very action-oriented, with many different Xenomorphs battling the protagonists on a space station, but his second draft, written a year later, scaled down the action a lot and was more suspense and horror driven, like the first movie. Ultimately, Fox didn’t greenlit any of those drafts, instead opting for hiring other writers to pen more scripts.
When Gibson’s script resurfaced on the internet many years later, immediately generated a lot of attention from fans of the franchise, a lot of them claiming that the script would have made a vastly superior “Alien 3” than the one we got. So after years and years of fans reading and talking about the Gibson script, we suddenly had not one but two official adaptions of said script (the second draft) in the space of one year… Mind you, neither of them is a movie, but it still should be good news for the fans of the script and fans of “Alien” in general.
The first adaption of the script was made by the renowned comic book publisher Dark Horse comics, who adapted the script into a five-part comic book that was released starting on November 2018 and ending in March 2019. The second adaption was in the form of an audio drama which was made by Audible Studio. The audio drama is considerably shorter than any normal audiobook, given that it is based on a movie screenplay and not a whole book… It runs for two hours only, the same length as your average movie.
Given that for years I’ve been really interested in reading the Gibson script but never got around to actually doing it, I was very happy when I heard about these adaptations; I’ve always been fascinated by the stories I’ve read about unproduced movie scripts, by the “what if’s “ that come to mind when I think about those dead projects. In a very big and weird coincidence, the last unproduced script I read was that of another failed project that also would have featured not only Lance Henriksen but Michael Biehn too, both in prominent roles, and it was the nineties “Spider-Man” movie that James Cameron wrote and wanted to direct but ultimately couldn’t due to the license of the character being sold to Sony. He originally wanted Leo DiCaprio as Peter Parker, Henriksen as Electro and Biehn as Sandman. But I digress.
So first, I got my hands on the audio drama, and after hearing it I tracked down the comic and read it. I’m going to give my opinion on both, even though the basic story is exactly the same with some very minor differences between the two. I will address some minor spoilers about the story so if you want to hear or read the story completely blank, you might want to give this a read after checking either of them out.
The audio play begins with a somewhat unnecessary recap of the events of “Aliens”. I wouldn’t have minded this if it hadn’t run for so long… More than ten minutes are wasted on this recap, which is weird because I would assume that 90% of the people who found their way to this audio drama already know “Aliens” by heart. After the recap is done, we are informed that the Sulaco, with its dormant passengers and only survivors of the events that transpired in “Aliens”, have entered a zone of space claimed by the UPP “Union of Progressive Peoples”. A trio of UPP soldiers boards the Sulaco, and one of them is attacked by a Facehugger that hatched from an egg that had been deposited into Bishop’s body (his upper half) by the Queen before her battle with Ripley.
The action then gets transported to the Anchorpoint Space Station, a non-military Weyland Yutani facility where most of the story takes place. We are introduced to several of the station’s occupants: Jackson, the Operation Chief at Anchor Point; Tully, a bio lab tech; Spence, a crew member of the Anchorpoint; Rosetti, the senior scientist on board; and finally Fox and Wells, two representatives of the Weyland Yutani Weapons Division that want the Alien genetic material found on the Sulaco to weaponize it. Obviously, things go terribly wrong when they get their hands of said genetic material, and all hell breaks loose on the Anchorpoint (and also on the Rodina, the UPP station where the surviving soldiers that first boarded the Sulaco went).
The first thing I noticed about the play was how hard it was for me to follow everything that was going on, especially in the beginning when there were several characters talking on any given scene. During the first twenty minutes, when Bishop is narrating the story, I could follow everything that was happening just fine, but when the action got transported to the Anchorpoint station and the narrated part of the audio drama ended, there were times when things got very difficult to figure out for me. I had to look up a list of the characters' names just to try and follow the action and know who was talking to who on several scenes.
Just in case this has anything to do with my difficulty in following the story as presented in the audio drama, I’m going to mention that I have very little experience hearing audio plays or audiobooks… In fact, prior to this one, I had only heard one audiobook before: “Ready Player One”, also made by Audible and narrated by Will Wheaton. In that case, at first it took a while for me to get used to being narrated everything instead of reading it myself at my own pace, but once I became acclimated to that new form of media I highly enjoyed that audiobook and not once did I have a problem following the story.
Now, the main difference between an audiobook and an audio drama (at least this audio drama… I don’t know about others) based on a movie script became immediately apparent to me: Given that a book is meant to be read, when you’re hearing an audiobook you’re going to get all of the detailed descriptions that the author gives so that the reader can picture everything as best as they can with their mind´s eye; therefore you’ll never going to be lost and you’re always going to know exactly what is happening, which characters are in which situations, and a lot of times you’re even going to know their state of mind and their emotions at any given moment, etc. Now, the audio drama doesn’t have any of that, it almost doesn’t have any descriptions whatsoever… You don’t hear descriptions on the appearance of the characters, on the configuration of the space stations, on the look of the monsters, nothing… All you get is the dialogue between the characters and the background noise of the action (screams, explosions, lasers blasts, creature growls, etc) which are sometimes more distracting than helpful when one is trying to understand what the hell is going on.
After a while, when the number of characters decreased thanks to the titular creatures and I got used to the voices of the main characters, the story got a lot easier to follow, but I still was highly annoyed quite often by the lack of descriptions… For example, in one sequence, after being exposed to the Alien genetic material, Wells faces off with Spence when she finds out that the remaining alien embryos were being eliminated by the crew, and in that moment she transforms into a Xenomorph, called a “hybrid” in the story, due to the material to which she was exposed to… At that moment I was excitedly expecting to hear a description of this new creature, like, anything: what was it like, the color, the shape, the size… But I got nothing, just a lot of weird noises and growls, one character saying “Her arms!”, then Bishop saying “These appear to be biomechanical tendrils…”, then Hicks replying “She’s just turning into one?” to which Bishop replies: “Metamorphosis, so it seems…” and that was it.
Furthermore, the only way you kind of know when a character is killed off is either because another character yells his or her name just before you hear a growl and a scream, or because you just don’t hear from that character ever again… You never get a description on HOW did they die.
However, the production values on the play were top notch. The voices sounded crystal clear the whole time, and the noises and explosions throughout came out just as good as what you would hear in any Hollywood blockbuster. I had no problems with the production, the sound mixing and the sound editing, those were all handled really well and professionally.
Now, setting apart my gripes with the way the story was presented in the audio drama, I’ll comment on the story itself.
Having read about this script for years and knowing that the writer was a really well-respected sci-fi author, I sort of had high expectations for the story, and although I enjoyed it, it wasn’t as memorable as I had expected it to be. Maybe, after the masterpiece that was the original “Alien” and the classic that “Aliens” became, it was just impossible to follow up with anything that would surpass or even meet those levels of success. I mean the plot is fine, it has the classic ingredients one would expect from an “Alien” movie: a futuristic sci-fi setting, a group of characters which are picked off one by one by the creature (or creatures), some suspenseful sequences, some action sequences, some lore added to the mythology of the creatures, etc. This time though, the story has a political undertone that was maybe too on the nose for my liking… Obviously, the UPP in the story represents the communist Soviet Union and the people at Anchorpoint represent the American capitalists. Their conflict, the subplot about the arms race between them and the obvious parallelisms with the Cold War are interesting but again, I think it could have been handled with way more subtlety (“Aliens” also had some political undertones, with Cameron himself comparing the movie to a Vietnam war movie where the American soldiers are represented by the Colonial Marines who are entering uncharted territory and are ultimately outnumbered and besieged by their opponents who are natives to their surroundings… But at least in that film, it was done with way more finesse).
I felt the story took too long to kick into high gear, with the first two acts of the story presenting a lot of exposition. A point of contention for some fans of the franchise is definitely the lack of Ripley in the plot… She’s barely in the story at all. Personally, I didn’t mind it much, except for the fact that the way the story decided to set her apart felt way too contrived, as if the studio had forced Gibson to write Ripley out of the story and he just used the first excuse that came into his head. In fact, during the development of this script, the involvement of Sigourney Weaver in the movie was highly unlikely, so it’s probable that what I just described could have been exactly what happened. In any case, the protagonists of the story are Hicks, Bishop and one of the new characters who work at the Anchorpoint station. It was great to hear the voices of Biehn and Henriksen, and they effortlessly get back into the skin of their roles after so many years, but sadly, I kind of felt like their characters weren’t very developed in any meaningful way throughout the story. Hicks has a couple of hero moments and badass lines and Bishop has a couple of funny moments and some thought-provoking dialogue towards the end, but neither of them feels as fully-fledged as they were in “Aliens”.
The rest of the cast did fine, although there were a couple of moments in which I felt the voice actors overacted a little bit (I felt this, for example, during the meeting between Rosseti, Fox and Wells… The guy who does the voice for Fox felt really overacted and it even reminded me of some videogames from the nineties like the original “Resident Evil”, a time when the voice over work was incredibly cheesy and overdone and it was understandably mocked).
Also, there were parts of the story I felt were too forced or unbelievable. For example, that whole thing with the egg implanted into Bishop’s body… I mean, I appreciate that the story at least tries to explain how a Facehugger got into the Sulaco (unlike the “Alien 3” that we actually got that didn’t even try to explain that), but… really? How come neither Ripley nor Hicks or Newt ever noticed a somewhat big egg (according to the comic it wasn’t as big as a “normal” egg, but it was still big enough to be noticed) implanted in his chest after the fight with the Queen? I think the story implies that the egg grew in size while Bishop was in his hypersleep pod but still I found this plot point very hard to swallow. And also, that whole thing with the characters spontaneously transforming into Xenomorphs because they were exposed to the Alien genetic material… I don’t know, I wasn’t totally sold on that idea. I mean, I guess it would have made for a really cool and creepy special effects sequence, and it would have been an excuse to present a new and different design for the Xenomorph, but I don’t think that concept gels well with the “Alien” mythos; it kinda feels like it was borrowed directly from John Carpenter’s “The Thing”, so to me it felt very derivative.
All in all, if it had been made into a movie, I guess it would have kinda looked like a less wacky and more serious “Alien: Resurrection”. It’s hard to imagine how exactly would have turned up though, because SO MUCH of what makes or breaks a movie comes down to the specific actors chosen, the editing, and the direction. I agree with the sentiment that a good director can turn a mediocre script into a great movie and that a bad director can take a really good script and turn it into a dud of a movie, so I guess how the movie would have ultimately came out totally depended on who they would have hired to direct it, act it, edit it, etc etc. I thought for a good while who would I had picked, if the movie would had been made in ‘88 right after the script was written, and these are my choices:
Director: David Cronnenberg
Hicks: Michael Biehn
Bishop: Lance Henriksen
Ripley: Sigourney Weaver (although I seriously doubt she would had been involved with such a small role)
Spence: Rae Dawn Chong
Jackson: Rachel Ticotin
Tully: Joe Morton
Rosseti: Ronny Cox
Fox: William Atherton
Wells: Brigitte Nielsen
Walker: Peter Stormare
It’s really fun for a fan to theorize about that kind of stuff. What would have been your picks?
And lastly, I’ll talk a little bit about the comic, even though the story is exactly the same as in the audio drama. I really really liked the comic, even more so than the latter. With the comic, many of the problems I had with the audio play were nonexistent, for example: I didn’t have the issue of feeling lost and not knowing who was talking to whom, and also, you can finally see and enjoy the details of how everything looks like: the characters, the space stations and the creatures, which is really awesome in and on itself. The line art and the coloring were done really well in my opinion. I loved how dynamic and beautiful the colors felt during most action sequences, they really did come alive during those segments. If I had to complain about something (and I know this is nitpicking a little bit), it would be that the likeness of Lance Henriksen was achieved really well, but the likeness of Michael Biehn… Well, not so much I thought, which felt weird, given how accurate to the original actor Bishop looks throughout the comic.
If I would have to recommend one adaptation over the other, I would, without a doubt recommend the comic. If you would like to enjoy both, I would recommend reading the comic first and then hearing the audio drama, that way you won’t feel as disoriented as I felt while listening to it for the first time.