William Gibson's Alien 3
Ridley Scott’s Alien came out when I was a kid and I was not allowed to go and see in the cinema. I caught it a while later, in a drive in while I was by the seaside. As a kid who grew up reading science fiction, Alien was probably bigger, for me, than Star Wars (I had seen a lot of that sort of action in the pulp stories I had been reading – Hamilton and Williamson and Brackett…) and possibly than Blade Runner.
Forty years on (my, I am old), I still love the first movie – a great atmospheric horror – and the sequel, Jim Cameron’s Aliens – the template for military SF. And I have a weak spot for the fourth instalment of the franchise, that to me always was like a lost snippet of that other franchise, Firefly/Serenity.
The third movie, sorry, I hated it. I saw it on a late-night screening with two friends, and found it blah. Too much running around, and they killed off two characters I had loved in Aliens, Bishop and Hicks.
But what if they had not been killed off?
Notoriously, cyberpunk author William Gibson had written a screenplay for the third Alien movie, but the script was jettisoned for… reasons.
Later, that script was made into a series of comics by Dark Horse, and finally, last spring, Audible developed an audio-drama from it. And got Michael Biehn and Lance Henriksen to reprise the roles of corporal Hicks and synthetic Bishop.
I missed the comic, but just finished the audio drama.
And oh boy, talk about a missed opportunity.
The plot in a nutshell (and spoiler free): after the events as seen in Aliens, the Sulaco is recovered with its passengers reasonably intact. Brought to a space station, while various factions vie over the knowledge and the biological samples the Sulaco brought back, an alien stowaway slips on board. But there’s also another menace, as the alien DNA proves to be virally aggressive.
As the situation spins out of control, and having put Ripley and Newt out of harm’s way (and out of the picture), it’s up to Bishop and Hicks to try and save the day.
It’s easy to see why Fox decided to try another angle – after the hi-octane action of Aliens, Gibson’s Alien 3 is built on tension, and takes its time to explore a number of side issues, chiefly the Cold War-style politics of the Alien universe. Interesting from an SF point of view, but maybe too slow for the average moviegoer. But after all, wasn’t Alien 3 as released a story about people playing cat and mouse against a single alien? Only very depressing and without explosives.
Indeed, after the hordes of xenomorphs unleashed by Jim Cameron, this game of cat and mice against a single xeno is probably a step back to a more sf/horror tone. Throw in the fear of the contagion and the power games of Weyland Yutani and others, and the film would have probably been too talky and not enough action-packed.
But it would also have taken Ripley out of the spotlight, to set up Hicks and Bishop as the new heroes of the franchise.
That alone would have been worth watching.
But we at least can listen to it (even if we miss the visuals to enhance the tension and the sense of menace).