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Alien 3: The Unproduced Screenplay by William Gibson – Pat Cadigan

It may be saddled with the unwieldy title of [deep breath] Alien 3: The Unproduced Screenplay by William Gibson, but this book adaptation by Pat Cadigan is a treat for fans of the Alien series. Gibson’s script took the story in a completely different direction from the Alien3 movie which finally made its way to theaters making this a rare opportunity to experience the road-not-taken.

The book begins where Aliens ended. An alien embryo secretly hitches a ride in the android Bishop for the Sulaco‘s flight home from LV-426. Along the way, a navigational glitch sends the Sulaco briefly into an area of space claimed by the UPP, an anti-corporate collective. UPP soldiers board the Sulaco and take Bishop before allowing the Sulaco to continue on toward the massive Weyland-Yutani deep-space station, Anchorpoint.

Once docked the boarding party finds an adult alien onboard and a firefight ensues. In the chaos, Ripley’s hypersleep pod is damaged putting her into a coma but Corporal Dwayne Hicks and Rebecca “Newt” Chambers are rescued and revived. Soon after, Military-Science goons arrive at Anchorpoint and immediately order experiments on genetic alien material. Meanwhile, using the data recovered from Bishop, and some trace material left inside him, the UPP begins their own experiments. With Ripley out of commission, it is up to Hicks to continue the fight as a new, terrifying version of the xenomorphs emerges.

Alien3 had a long, strange trip before it made it to screens in 1992, fully six years after the critical and box office smash Aliens made writer/director James Cameron a household name. During that time more than twenty scripts were considered at one time or another for the follow-up. Before work began the only consideration was that series heroine Ellen Ripley, played iconically by Sigourney Weaver, would be sitting this one out.

Weaver had expressed fatigue with the series and did not think there was much more story to tell for Ripley. The first writer the producers reached out to was William Gibson, science fiction writer and “inventor” of the cyberpunk genre with his novel Neuromancer. He finished his script and it was worked on for a few iterations before 20th Century Fox determined it was too expensive to film and they went back to the drawing board over and over and over again.

As presented here in an adaptation of Gibson’s original script by Pat Cadigan, this original story was admittedly too unwieldy to bring to screen as is. There are too many characters, two space stations full of them, and an alien that follows no established series rules. It definitely needed to be tweaked and refined. But wow, some of the scenarios Gibson came up with would have been amazing to see on screen. In fact, some of them we have. A viral version of the alien that can be turned into an aerosol is awfully close to how the characters are infected with the black goo in Prometheus.

A Poseidon Adventure-like subplot full of disaster and peril as a handful of survivors race to reach an escape ship is close to the similar race to escape in Alien Resurrection. The technologically challenged UPP found in this script is the spiritual cousin to the inmates of Fury 161 forced to fight the alien with torches and a metal forge in David Fincher’s radically different filmed version of Alien3.

But it is there the similarities stop. This is Aliens taken to the next level. There are multiple discussions about the aliens’ biology and the scientists express puzzlement over the aliens’ behavior. It is a creature that exists to kill. It seems to have no language, no family instinct, no loyalty, it simply kills. As one character points out, if it wasn’t so lethal it would be the most boring creature in the universe. This leads the heroes to surmise that the alien was created and is itself the culmination of a bioweapons arms race that likely destroyed their creators, echoing Prometheus and Alien: Covenant.

This aspect of history repeating itself is found in the arms race the Company and the UPP rapidly engage in while trying to crack the code of the alien to grow one from scratch. As expected, this goes very poorly, culminating in all-out chaos on the stations and the horrific death of hundreds. In the middle of this is Corporal Hicks trying his best to prevent what is coming, and then to save as many people as he can. The book ends with a tease of where we all thought this series was headed all along. It would be great if this alternate-universe version of Alien could continue to its conclusion, even if just in another novel. 

I like what David Fincher did with his Alien3, especially the extended cut far. Fincher’s movie is dark, brutally violent, and deeply nihilistic. It begins with Hicks, Newt, and Bishop all being killed in the opening credits as a fire breaks out onboard the Sulaco and their lifeboat crashes onto a decommissioned prison colony on planetoid Fury 161, with Ripley as the only survivor. It’s not for everyone but it’s a grimly beautiful movie. The problem with Alien3 is it took the scale back to Alien rather than ramping up to the next level. Gibson’s script and this novelization do not make the same mistake.

Gibson’s story is as big of a leap in scale as the jump from Alien to Aliens. It hits similar beats but made the story his own. Any fan of the original movies, and especially fans of Hicks, should put this one at the top of their must-read pile.

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