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The Making of Alien 3 – Part Three: “Ripley Died on the Way Back to her Home Planet”

Script issues abound as we dive further into the making of Alien 3.

After science fiction author William Gibson walked away from the third Alien film in 1988, director Renny Harlin and producers Walter Hill and David Giler were left looking for a new writer. While Gibson had adapted to writing screenplays surprisingly well for a novelist with no previous experience in that department, this time around, the producers wanted to choose someone who’d already written movie scripts. Enter Eric Red, who had penned The Hitcher and Near Dark. Neither of the horror films had done spectacularly at the box office, but they were critically received well enough that the producers trusted Red would provide an adequate script for Alien III (Red’s script kept Gibson’s title).

What Red wrote was certainly… a collection of pages where events happen and characters say words. To be completely fair, the producers gave him less than two months to submit his draft and continued to be unclear about what they were hoping for. Red later explained: “The basic problem when I was involved, for five weeks, was that they didn’t know what they really wanted.”1 The tight deadline certainly explains some broad issues with the plot and the script’s abundance of spelling and grammatical errors (some sentences are only comprehensible based on context), but the most baffling aspect of Red’s script is how it chooses to follow up the ending of Aliens. Like Gibson, Red was told that Ripley wouldn’t be the star of the third installment. However, for reasons that aren’t clear, Red’s script doesn’t put the focus on Hicks instead… or Bishop… or even Newt. In fact, in an absolutely baffling “Poochie died on the way back to his home planet” move, Red kills all of the survivors of Aliens off-screen.

If fans were upset over the unceremonious deaths of Hicks and Newt in the version of Alien3 that was actually filmed, then they would’ve been completely enraged by Red’s take on the movie, where a massive xenomorph slaughters everyone aboard the USS Sulaco while they’re in hypersleep. There isn’t even a funeral scene, like the one Hicks and Newt ultimately received in the final film. The death of Ripley, one of the most iconic women in science fiction and horror, is treated as an afterthought. This is such a bizarre and cruel choice that it’s uncertain if Red himself is to blame for it, or if someone higher up the chain of command instructed him to kill all of these beloved characters.

Alien
Alien3 (1992) | 20th Century Studios

If Giler and Hill told Red to adapt their “Cold War in space” idea, then they certainly weren’t clear about it. Supposedly they gave him Gibson’s scripts to go off of, though Red himself denied that the producers provided him with anything to work with: “[Giler and Hill] had no story or treatment or any real plan for the picture. They were disorganized and irresponsible.”1 There’s no way to say for certain who was telling the truth here but based on the way Giler and Hill treated Gibson, it’s not a stretch to assume that the producers didn’t give precise instructions. Also, the writing was on the wall for the relevance of the Cold War themes that the producers wanted so badly. The Berlin Wall fell about a year after Red was asked to write his draft, and the Soviet Union no longer existed by the time Alien3 finally hit theaters in 1992. The basic premise of Gibson’s script would soon feel dated, so it makes sense as to why Red might have chosen to scrap it in favor of a new direction.

Red’s script opens with special ops soldier Sam Smith, the film’s remarkably generic protagonist, leading his unit on a recovery mission aboard the Sulaco. There, he finds strange eggs and the bloody remains of the last movie’s heroes. Ripley is only identifiable by a “shorn off name tag”. Suddenly, Sam and his men are ambushed by a fifteen-foot-tall xenomorph. They are completely defenseless against the beast, as Sam had told his men to leave their weapons on the shuttle because “It’s just recovery”. Why he thinks the military would be sent on a mission where there’s no chance of combat is unclear. Needless to say, the situation becomes a bloodbath, and… Sam awakens from the nightmare. He’s back home with his family in North Star, a recreation of your average Smalltown, U.S.A. housed in a glass dome aboard a military space station. Sam’s right arm has been replaced by a mechanical one, and his father and superior, General John Smith, tries to gaslight Sam into believing that he lost both his arm and men to a fire from malfunctioning equipment during his last mission.

Despite the military’s best efforts to convince Sam that there was no alien, he notices strange happenings around the station that leave him hell-bent on discovering the truth. Everyone in North Star suspects that the military is up to something clandestine, creating tension between the redneck civilians and the soldiers. Sam eventually finds out that the military has successfully captured the xenomorph from the Sulaco, and they are testing its applications as a bioweapon. Curiously, Weyland-Yutani, the megacorporation that had been trying to acquire the xenomorph to do this in the last two films, is completely absent. Later, Alien: Resurrection would also ditch the megacorporation in favor of bland military antagonists.

Sam finds that military scientists have been using facehuggers on farm animals. The result of these experiments are xenomorphs in the shape of the creatures that they’ve developed inside. There’s a good possibility that Red borrowed this concept directly from Gibson’s drafts or notes, but Gibson never actually went as far as to include something as absurd as alien chickens, which are a thing in this draft. Red’s script also introduces the idea that the xenomorphs can molecularly transform and assimilate not just living things, but technology as well. Apparently, the military is interested in xenomorph jet fighters and tanks, which sounds wild, but honestly that sort of tracks with the baffling spending habits of the U.S. military.

Alien
Cover art for Alien (2021) #8 by Mark Aspinall

Sam’s search for answers leads him to a demonstration featuring the gigantic xenomorph from the Sulaco. The scientist showing the alien off greatly overestimates how much control she has over it, and it immediately kills her and breaks free. The alien manages to cocoon most of the soldiers present and somehow impregnates them without any facehuggers. Like in Gibson’s draft, fully-grown xenomorphs burst out of the soldiers’ flesh, and everything goes to hell. For some reason, multiple drafts for the third Alien film stray away from the simplistic xenomorph life cycle presented in the first and second movies. They sort of just make things up as they go, with some characters suddenly developing an alien inside of them with little to no explanation.

Following the big alien’s escape, the story goes from one massive action scene to the next. It seems doubtful that it would’ve been possible for the filmmakers to create many of these moments with the budget and practical effects at their disposal, as Alien III was being worked on before Jurassic Park came along and showed how computer animation could bring otherwise impossible scenes to life. There’s a fight on the surface of the space station, where spacesuit-clad soldiers try to avoid the floating acid blood from the swarm of aliens they’re gunning down. Later on, hundreds of xenomorphs run through a cornfield on their way to North Star, where the rednecks put aside their contempt for the soldiers and join them in a battle against the monsters. Curiously, the clash happens at “high noon”, meaning that the hundreds of aliens are fully illuminated by sunlight in this sequence. With no way to hide any complex mechanisms that the (many) xenomorph costumes might require, pulling off such a scene without extensive CGI would’ve been a nightmare. There’s also a zero-gravity sex scene between two scientists, who are oblivious to all of the chaos. Predictably, the couple is slaughtered by a xenomorph mid-climax, because no one is allowed to be horny in horror movies.

Cover art for Alien (2021) #7 by Mark Aspinall

After it seems that the people of North Star are victorious, it’s revealed that John has been keeping another secret from his son: earlier, he was voluntarily injected with xenomorph DNA as part of the military’s bioweapon research. John violently transforms into an alien/human abomination, and Sam tries to escape with his siblings in a truck. This is where things start to get truly bonkers. While racing towards town to pick up their mother, the Smiths find that all of the livestock aboard the station have become alien hybrids, thanks to a mosquito that bit John and quickly spread his infection through the ecosystem. The road is blocked by alien cattle: “six-legged monstrosities with double sets of [metallic-y] jackhammer jaws ripping through their snouts and armored, triple jointed legs…”2 Sam unceremoniously blows up the freakish bovines with his rifle’s rocket launcher.

Everyone in town except Sam’s mother, Mary, mutates into a human-alien hybrid because an infected chicken fell into the water supply. By the time Sam picks Mary up in the truck, all of the alien hybrids have fused together into a giant monster: “Fifty humans have been turned into an Alien Thing.  They have fused together into one… thing. It is a two-story, moving, murderous [mass] of armor and flesh, eyeballs, and tongues, screaming mouths and jackhammer jaws in a huge, [amorphous] blob of arms, legs, talons, hooks, snouts, and teeth.”2 The station trembles and collapses around the truck as it too morphs into an alien. Sam, his siblings, and his mother manage to make it to the station’s only remaining shuttle, but they’re confronted by John, who is now a colossal, four-armed alien monster. John musters all of his remaining humanity to keep himself from slaughtering his family, and he cries as he helps them board the shuttle. The Smiths wave goodbye to John and take off as the station concludes its gruesome metamorphosis.

However, this turns out to be the script’s second fake-out ending. As Sam prepares to enter hypersleep with his family, he’s horrified to discover that the shuttle is also infected. It comes alive around the Smiths, dragging them towards the mass of tentacles and mouths that was a space station only moments before. The family gets into spacesuits and jumps out of the shuttle, but not before Sam launches its nuclear missiles at the massive alien. Both the infected station and shuttle are consumed by the explosion, and the floating family sees a U.S. Army ship arrive to rescue them as the story finally comes to a close.

Red’s script is a mess. The best anyone can say about it is that it’s not boring, and that its sloppiness lends to some unintentional comedy gold (humorously, Red accidentally writes that the human-alien hybrids form a “murderous ass”). As mentioned before, this draft is barely readable in certain parts. Red goes back and forth between calling the youngest Smith sibling “John Jr.” and “Mark” and the station is sometimes referred to as “the Sulaco” even though it’s clearly not the ship that’s boarded at the beginning of the film. The characters are mostly two-dimensional stereotypes, and their dialogue seems to be written based on secondhand accounts of how humans speak. As Sam and his family take off, he exclaims: “This son of a bitch came off the launching pad. I’m gonna have to fly it through the dome. Hang on because this is going to be rough.” There’s some weird racism regarding a character named “Sergeant Chong”. The stupid decisions that the characters make go far beyond the usual ones made in horror movies- for some reason John waits until he’s turning into a ravenous monster to tell his family that he’s purposely been injected with xenomorph DNA. There’s so much wrong with the script that it distracts you from its biggest sin: killing off everyone from the last movie in the most tasteless way possible. As ruthless as the theatrically-released Alien3 was in getting rid of Hicks and Newt, the movie at least had the decency to treat their passing as a tragedy. Red’s Alien III kills *all* of Aliens’ characters, and somehow feels less than nothing about doing so.

Art from Alien 3: The Unproduced Screenplay #4 by Johnnie Christmas

The Alien blog “Strange Shapes” describes Red’s draft as “a strange precursor to Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem”, which is a remarkably accurate comparison.3 Like Requiem, Red’s script emotionlessly slaughters small-town nobodies by the dozen, and in doing so it just feels weirdly mean-spirited. Most of the kills lack a satisfying sense of fun, and none of them have any emotional weight because these aren’t really characters that we care about. A good horror movie kills lots of characters, but it also makes you feel something about them while they’re still alive, whether it’s disgust or protectiveness.  Everyone in Red’s Alien III script (except Sam, his mother, and his siblings) exists to carry out one function: die.

There’s no denying that Eric Red was dealt a bad hand. He was forced to crank out a script remarkably fast, and the producers told him that they “didn’t want Sigourney back”.1 You can see what he was going for: a B-movie that amped up the action and the scares higher than Aliens. In that regard, it would’ve been a success, but Red’s Alien III would’ve been void of any real substance. The first film played with themes of sexual violence and corporate greed, and the sequel expanded upon these parallels and explored the dueling nature of Ripley and the xenomorph Queen’s motherhood. The final version of Alien3 continued to develop these ideas by making them more concrete: subtext is dropped when some inmates attempt to rape Ripley, Weyland-Yutani has a more direct presence in the film’s finale, and Ripley has a queen embryo inside of her. However, Red’s Alien III would’ve completely stripped the xenomorphs of their psychosexual terror and, as mentioned before, dropped Weyland-Yutani and Ripley entirely.

Operation: Aliens trading card art by Denis Beauvais

Red wasn’t oblivious to his script’s many issues. In fact, he didn’t really seem to think it was worth defending. “That’s the one script I completely disown because it was not ‘my script’”, he revealed in a 2010 interview with Moviehole. “It was the rushed product of too many story conferences and interference with no time to write, and turned out utter crap.”4 Weaver herself later read the script, and described it as “a real disaster, absolutely dreadful”.1 Giler, Hill, and Harlin were also not impressed. They wanted something new, and for all the batshit insane things that happen in Red’s Alien III draft (we first realize that a cow is mutating when it lactates acid while being milked), it was mostly just a bigger, stupider version of Aliens.

The producers let Red go at some point after he submitted his draft in February of 1989, hoping that their third pick for writer would offer them something fresher. The next proposed version of Alien III introduced a setting that influenced the final version of the film, but it was built around a very different type of story. Next time, the Alien franchise does a good old-fashioned prison break.

Alien3 (1992) | 20th Century Studios

Citations:

1. http://www.michaelbiehn.co.uk/gallery/displayimage.php?album=800&pid=21869#top_display_media

2. http://web.archive.org/web/20220909202438/http://horrorlair.com/scripts/alien3_red.html

3. https://alienseries.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/animal-farm-eric-reds-alien-iii/ 

4. https://web.archive.org/web/20160822090314/http://moviehole.net/201024765-caffeinated-clint-back-in-the-red 

By Quinn Hesters

Quinn is a vat-grown living advertisement created by the LEGO Company to promote their products. When he's not being the flesh-and-blood equivalent of a billboard, he's raving about the X-Men on Twitter.

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