Whenever Hollywood finds a movie that ends up being popular and successful, the next thoughts are of sequels or franchises (or, in some cases, both). In the history of mainstream American cinema, there are many examples of film series which have suffered from exec interference, or there being creatives at loggerheads with each other about the direction a series should take, leading to there being a great many roads not taken.
One such example is the Alien series – in recent years, Neill Blomkamp (District 9; Chappie) worked on Alien 5, which was to ignore the events of the previous two films, and reunite Sigourney Weaver and Michael Biehn; however, Ridley Scott’s renewed involvement with the franchise saw the project put on hold, and finally killed altogether (although reports vary as to how official it had ever been in the first place that it was supposedly going ahead), with Blomkamp moving onto Robocop Returns, only to have to drop out due to scheduling conflicts.
It was, however, was nothing compared to the struggle to being a third movie to the silver screen way back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Several different pitches were put forward, with a range of writers producing unmade script after unmade script. One of the most famous of these was by Vincent Ward, focusing upon a monastery satellite made of wood, and it nearly made it to fruition, until it ended up being scrapped when pre-production had already started, with David Fincher being drafted in to try to put something together, leading to 1992’s controversial Alien³.
Before all this occurred, however, one of the earliest attempts involved the father of Cyberpunk, William Gibson, who wrote two drafts of a mooted third entry in the series. In 1987, he was approached by the films’ producers David Giler, Walter Hill and Gordon Carroll, who asked him to put together a script for the next one, which would pick up from Aliens. However, one stricture which was placed upon him was that he wouldn’t be able to use Ripley, due to Sigourney Weaver apparently not being interested in reprising the role (although it has also been reported there was a plan to have her return as the lead in a mooted Alien 4).
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Gibson wrote his two versions over the course of 1987 and 1988, but neither of these was ultimately successful, with his involvement in the Alien saga coming to an end, and his story never set to see the light of day. Or so it was thought. In fact, William Gibson’s Alien III is perhaps one of the most accessible unmade film scripts of all time – in 2018, Dark Horse Comics did a comic book version, based upon his second draft script; and in 2019, Audible has produced an audio drama, adapting the same script, bringing back Michael Biehn and Lance Henriksen as Hicks and Bishop.
The man behind the project is Dirk Maggs, who’s perhaps best known for producing audio adaptations for Radio 4 of the third to sixth books in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy series. Maggs also brought us the comic book characters Spider-Man, Batman, Superman and Judge Dredd for radio, as well as versions of An American Werewolf In London, Stephen Baxter’s novel Voyage, and official “parallel-quel” Independence Day UK, which took place concurrent with the events of the movie, and gave us the spectacle of no less than Patrick Moore engaging an alien in hand-to-hand combat.
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With a body of work and pedigree like that, Maggs was obviously the pick for bringing Gibson’s Alien III script to life; mind you, it also helps he’s had previous experience with the Xenomorphs, having already worked with Audible on adapting a trio of novels in the Alien series: Out Of The Shadows (featuring Rutger Hauer); Sea Of Sorrows; and River Of Pain. His modus operandi is putting together audio movies, and he always does an amazing job; listening to Alien III, for example, it’s easy to believe you’re listening to a film without the pictures, as the soundscape is so big and cinematic.
Perhaps the big surprise of the script by Gibson is that it’s so mainstream – and this is by no means meant in a derogatory sense, but it isn’t quite the radical departure from you might perhaps expect, based on Gibson’s other works. As such, it’s hard to see why the script was rejected, as it seems to tick all of the boxes required by the producers in putting the story together; the biggest of these is reducing Ripley’s role within the story to virtually a cameo; as this is an executive decision, rather than conscious creative choice on Gibson’s part, you can forgive him for doing this, as it was a box he was obliged to tick.
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However, it stifles the development of the story significantly, and feels a retrograde step in a massive way – although there are some female characters in Gibson’s story, none of them have a leading role in quite the same way as Ripley did in the earlier films; this means that it’s down to the men to step in and save the day, and while it’s great to have Hicks and Bishop in action, given their rapid demise in Alien³, it’s still a massive shame that there isn’t someone on hand to effectively take over the role in proceedings which would otherwise be there for Ripley to fill.
It’s also easy to say that the story feels like very much a product of its time, not only in terms of its reversion to more typical Hollywood gender roles, but also because there’s a very 1980s ‘Cold War in space’ backstory going on, due to there being a competing power bloc challenging the big corporations, comprised of nationalities from what are (or were) predominantly Communist countries. Both glasnost and perestroika were still in relative infancy, and the Soviet Union was yet to topple; however, the resurgence of Russia in the 21st Century perhaps makes this aspect of the story feel less dated than it otherwise might.
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The big challenge with audio drama is the lack of visuals, and particularly when you have antagonists which are all essentially mute characters, bar the odd hiss or some other SFX. However, it’s also an issue that Big Finish have had to face when putting together their Doctor Who audios, due to the Weeping Angels having the very same drawback, yet they made it work, and so has Dirk Maggs here with Xenomorphs. He’s also nicely tweaked the script to give Bishop some narration which helps to get through some of the parts which would be difficult to get across in sound alone.
All in all, this is a bold exercise which has paid off handsomely, and is worth having a listen to, as it’s definitely fascinating to not only hear a ‘what if?’ finally realised, but to also have some of the original cast members from the previous movie return, as this helps give it some legitimacy and extra authenticity. In space, no-one can hear you scream, but on Audible, you can definitely hear everyone scream.