ALIEN III by William Gibson (An Audible Original Drama)
Publisher: Audible Studios | Release Date: May 30, 2019 | Runtime: 2 hours and 16 minutes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Originally written in 1987 by William Gibson, legendary father of cyberpunk fiction thanks to his novel Neuromancer, this particular treatment for Alien III was never produced. Until now! Thanks to Audible Studios, and producer/director Dirk Maggs, the second draft of Gibson’s cult classic script has been brought to life as an Audible Original Drama starring Aliens actors Michael Biehn and Lance Henriksen, reprising their roles as Corporal Hicks and the android Bishop, respectively.
Picking up directly on the heels of Aliens, this version of Alien III is remarkably different than the film that made its way to the silver screen in 1992 under the direction David Fincher. Following Ripley’s final confrontation with the alien queen at the climax of James Cameron’s sequel, the Sulaco is returning home from LV-426 with the remnants of its crew in cryogenic stasis. A navigation error causes the ship to drift into a region of space controlled by the Union of Progressive People, aka “space commies!” Unresponsive to communiques from the UPP, the Sulaco is boarded and the UPP makes a confusing and startling discovery. Genetic material deposited into Bishop’s remains have developed into an egg, and when his cryogenic pod is opened, a facehugger leaps out. Forced to abandon their crewman, the UPP make off with Bishop’s torso and the Sulaco is left to continue drifting, until it reaches Anchorpoint Station. And that’s where the fun begins…
This version of Alien III is very clearly influenced by the time period in which it was written, playing out much like a Cold War-era drama and reflecting on the arms race of that time. Instead of the US outspending the Soviet Union to develop and stockpile nuclear missiles, the UPP and Weyland-Yutani are rivals competing to create the ultimate biological weapon by cloning alien genetic material. Needless to say, the pursuit of such awful and extreme weaponry comes at the expense of a lot of a lives.
As with Maggs’s prior Alien productions for Audible (this is their fourth collaboration to create an Audible Original Drama to commemorate the annual Alien Day celebrations and, for this year’s release, the 40th anniversary of Ridley Scott’s original film, Alien), Alien III is a sonic powerhouse. It’s exceedingly unlikely we’ll ever see a big-screen treatment for Gibson’s script, but this dramatization is the next best thing. Packed with a diverse cast of actors, sounds effects, and musical score, all that’s missing are the visuals. It’s a huge win for Audible to bring back Aliens actors Biehn and Henriksen, especially since their characters are the stars of this particular sequel. At the time it was written, Gibson was operating under the presumption that Sigourney Weaver would not be returning to the iconic role of Ellen Ripley, and so that character features in little more than a cameo. Although Weaver’s voice talents are absent, Laurel Lefkow does an absolutely magnificent job handling Ripley’s few speaking parts. Lefkow also voiced RIpley in the audio dramatization for Alien: Out of the Shadows, set between Alien and Aliens, and does such a good job you’d swear it actually was Weaver still in the role. Biehn and Henriksen slip comfortably into their roles, and it’s awesome having them in the spotlight this time around.
What I found most intriguing about this version of Alien III was Gibson’s prescience about the nature of the xenomorphs. During the process of their experimentations, one UPP scientist remarks that the alien’s “gene-structure had been designed for ease of manipulation.” Gibson, in this script, was already laying the groundwork for where the franchise would eventually be headed in Ridley Scott’s prequel films, Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. It’s intriguing to consider how different a direction subsequent movies could have gone had this script been filmed, simply because of how expansive certain elements introduced by Gibson were. Although some of these concepts would eventually make their way into cinematic canon, they could have been a revelatory expansion to the mythology of these alien creatures and their place in the cosmos almost thirty years earlier.
I remember reading the first draft of Gibson’s script online back in the early 90s, and although his first and second drafts have some sizable differences, there’s a reason his story has enjoyed a certain cult status among Alien fans. The Alien III that could have been presents an intriguing premise and lays out some potential paths for future installments to take (albeit in presumably different fashion than the eventual paths this franchise did take). It remains true to the sensibility of Alien with its isolated location and thinly staffed presence in Anchorpoint Station, but also expands on the nature of Weyland-Yutani and its rivals, giving us a small view at the wider nature of human’s colonization of space. Audible and Maggs have done a terrific job bringing the material to life for fans, like me, who always wondered what it would be like to have this alternate version of Alien III in their lives.