Dark Horse Comics has just announced that William Gibson’s unmade Alien 3 script is going to be made into a comic book.
On the face of it, this is a brash move. The script is now decades old, and I’m sure that many casual Alien fans are almost completely unaware of the story. Alien 3 has come and gone, right? Why do we need a further, alternate-universe story?
I’m going to talk about why I’m so excited by this news, and why you should be too.
William Gibson is a name familiar to most SF readers as the man behind the cyberpunk movement. With the release of Neuromancer, and the subsequent string of novels, Gibson became hot property as far as SF was concerned. Who better to approach, all the way back in 1986-7 to write a sequel to Cameron’s Aliens?
I’m not going to retread the very chequered history of the third Alien outing here. If you are interested – and you should be – there are plenty of fine articles over the internet describing the path that lead to Fincher’s Alien 3. Suffice to say, there was lots of studio interference, no clear direction, and the involvement of numerous writers. Fincher publically disowned the resulting film, but looking back it’s clear that things could’ve been so much worse. In many ways, it’s surprising that the assembly cut of Alien 3 (there’s no director’s cut, due to Fincher’s disengagement from the film) is as good as it is. Very few elements of Gibson’s screenplay made it into the film.
Gibson’s Alien 3 is a real product of its time. Some of the plot elements would likely have worked much better back in the late 1980s, or early 1990s, than they do now. This isn’t as criticism, because you could say the same about Aliens – released at a time when the Vietnam War was still relatively recent history. But reading the script is like stepping back in time: it’s an alternate Cold War future.
Gibson does what so few writers in the Aliens universe have tried to do, in that he explains exactly why Weyland-Yutani (and by implication the US government) would want to weaponise the xenomorph. The comics provide a possible alternative in the form of other, equally competitive corporations (suggesting that Weyland-Yutani is just one organisation in a universe of other heartless, faceless companies), but Gibson’s approach is much better in my view. He gives us an antagonist, the guy on the other side of the conflict. His introduction of the Union of Progressive Peoples – basically space socialists – was a masterstroke. According to Gibson’s Alien universe, not only do the Colonial Marines look and sound to Vietnam-era GIs, the enemy is communist super-block intent of engaging in an arms race…
The themes of the screenplay echo many social and political concerns of that era. The alien, we learn, is more than just a creature: its genetic structure invites recodification, and manipulation. As one character points out, it’s closer to a living weapon, and may represent the end-product of another species’ arms race. The observation is blunt, and very on the nose – much of this first draft feels that way – but it’s also very apt, and something only recently explored in Alien: Covenant. These elements are interesting asides in a plot filled with epic action sequences. I personally felt that the adaptation of the alien life cycle was the most difficult aspect of the film to accept. The alien essentially becomes airborne, and by the end of the story the original cycle described in Alien is a distant memory. There are echoes of The Thing here, which I think hardcore fans would’ve baulked at.
I’m not going to link to the script in this article, because again you can find it easily enough. There are apparently several versions out there, although I’ve only ever read the first draft. This is the “crazy” version – Aliens on overdrive, with the action ramped all the way up to 11. Multiple aliens, weaponised xenomorphs, cross-species genetic modification: this version has it all. What’s especially interesting is that Gibson writes like an author. That’s obvious, right? Well not so much. Screenplays tend to be leaner, less prescriptive beasts than novels. Gibson’s Alien 3 literally reads like a novel, dripping in description and explanation.
But what I find most noteworthy about the screenplay is that it proves an Alien story can exist without Ripley. She featured only minimally; being injured during the evacuation of the USS Sulaco, and spending the rest of the story in cryosleep. This is Corporal Hicks’ story. He and Bishop take the reins, and they really run with it. The Colonial Marines are back, bigger and badder than in Aliens, and the action quickly spirals into what would’ve been the most bombastic film in the Alien franchise. Apparently later versions of the script toned down the action elements, and reduced the number of aliens involved.
We’re unlikely to ever see a film based on tis script. Instead, we have a comic book adaptation from Dark Horse. Johnnie Christmas’ art looks great, and it’s been reported that the storyline is going to remain faithful to Gibson’s script. I suppose in many ways, a comic book is a better home for this story.
The first issue of Gibson’s Alien 3 will be released on 7thNovember 2018.