Review by C.J. Bunce
The best work of some of the best creators, especially movie directors, happens when the creators are tested by someone else’s source material, where they aren’t allowed to indulge themselves with carte blanche resources and instead show restraint in their skill and craftsmanship. Perhaps Stanley Kubrick’s best work really is his adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, and Quentin Tarantino’s best work is Jackie Brown, his adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch–both studies in how to create a perfect film. Although 20th Century Fox obviously wasn’t ready for it, William Gibson, known for “cyberpunk,” actually handled his screenplay for the third Alien movie quite well, but it was summarily discarded. Next month, dressed up and fleshed out is Pat Cadigan’s Alien3–The Unproduced, First-Draft Screenplay by William Gibson: A Novel. Pre-order Cadigan’s novel adaptation now here at Amazon. Readers will find no cyberpunk here, but what Gibson handed in was a better Alien franchise story than what became Alien3, not quite Alien or Aliens, but still one great thriller. Understandably, however, the script was rejected by the studio for missing a key feature that couldn’t be overlooked.
The biggest misfire of Gibson’s script? Corrected for the actual film as released, the misfire was the outright omission of heroine Ellen Ripley for the entire script. For readers, this would later be made up for in Tim Lebbon’s Alien: Out of the Shadows, still my pick for the best Aliens story yet outside the first two movies. But whoever told Gibson to cut Ripley should have been flogged for a major disservice for his script. Director David Fincher’s Alien3 might have been a memorable movie if Gibson had been able to write the movie the studio ultimately wanted, as his action and sequencing showed someone who could throw aside what he was known for and write the script that the content demanded. The movie Alien3 stands as one of the least successful of the franchise.
What readers do get in the screenplay-now-novel is a great Corporal Hicks story–Hicks being the character played by Michael Biehn in Aliens, and Biehn being probably the most under-appreciated action star of 1980s sci-fi, having also starred in The Terminator, and 40 years later appearing in the Star Wars franchise in The Mandalorian (how about a Star Trek role, next?). The story also revisits Lance Henriksen’s android Bishop as co-lead of the novel, as Hicks and Bishop find themselves brought together leading a group of military and civilians away from a Xenomorph attack on a mall-centric station that telegraphs to some extent the futurism of Luc Besson’s marketplace of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. The plot feels like a big homage to The Poseidon Adventure, including Bishop swinging for his life Gene Hackman-style at one point, all merged with an early Jurassic Park-brand sci-fi/horror thriller–an escape from the monsters.
The story begins where Aliens left off–after Ripley, Hicks, Bishop, and Newt nuked LV-426 from orbit in Aliens, they float away in sleep stasis in the Sulaco. In the novel we learn that cells of the Xenomorph stowed away on the Sulaco, and the ship flows into the control of a political faction that ultimately returns the ship (and its small crew) to its Weyland-Yutani owners, but not before taking the Xenomorph biological material and trying to use it for destructive purposes, which is also how Weyland-Yutani plans to use it, just as we learned in Aliens. This blows up on both factions, and after Hicks sends Newt home to her grandparents on Earth and Ripley in a coma into space “anywhere but here,” he joins with Bishop to escape or destroy the Frankensteinian creations the humans have allowed to grow. The novel allows for moments that begin to form that strange thread that forms the backbone of later Aliens franchise movies–did the Xenomorphs progress and evolve naturally, or were they created by someone as to be a military tool, an extinction machine, or bringer of a galaxy-wide apocalypse?
As a Hicks-centric story, readers will probably walk away knowing little about the character, his backstory, or what makes him tick. He’s really just another Marine grunt hero, and that’s a missed opportunity. This is in Gibson’s source material, not Cadigan’s interpretation, as you’ll find in the comic book adaptation of Gibson’s script from Dark Horse Comics (available here) and, of particular interest for fans of Cadigan’s novel, this audio drama of Gibson’s script starring Michael Biehn back as Hicks and Lance Henriksen back as Bishop. Then again, Cadigan might have helped fans by digging into Hicks’ backstory more. Who knows if the franchise would have allowed that here; perhaps it was too far from Gibson’s script. (For those fans of movie screenplays, note Gibson’s script is one of the few not available at The Daily Script website).
Yes, count this toward the top of the stack of Alien tie-ins, although, like adding an onion to a martini, it may not meet every Alien fan’s taste. Not quite matching the excitement, intrigue, innovative storytelling, and ideas as in Tim Lebbon’s Alien: Out of the Shadows, it’s a great alternate “what if?” story for fans interested in the franchise more as sci-fi/horror and military thriller. It’s a close second to Lebbon’s story.
Game over? Find out in Alien3–The Unproduced, First-Draft Screenplay by William Gibson: A Novel, available for pre-order now here at Amazon. It arrives September 7, 2021.