Alien III remains a divisive and interesting entry in the franchise. It was directed by David Fincher, serving as a follow-up to James Cameron's beloved sequel Aliens. Yet, the project spent years in development and ultimately, the final product was something of a mixed bag. However, an earlier version of what could have been has been given new life, as author William Gibson's original 1987 screenplay for Alien III has been turned into an audio drama that is a very worthy and fascinating listen for Xenomorph fans.
William Gibson, a sci-fi legend, was commissioned by the studio shortly after the release of Aliens to write a third entry that would never get made. His script eventually leaked online and revealed what would have been a radically different movie. Now, the folks at Audible, along with director Dirk Maggs, have brought that script to life. While it may be easy to understand why this script wasn't used after a listen, it's compelling and could have set the franchise up for years to come.
The story begins after the events of Aliens, with Ripley, Newt, Hicks and Bishop still aboard the Sulaco on its return journey from LV-426. They are cryogenically frozen and traveling abroad until they hear an alarm blare and come to find out that they are no longer alone. They are then put square in the middle of ongoing unrest between The Union of Progressive Peoples and the corporate rule, led by Weyland-Yutani Corporation. Those who have intercepted the Sulaco are in for a nasty surprise, as a stowaway will threaten the lives of everyone at the installation. All the while, those at the corporate level may have other sinister plans in mind for the alien stowaway.
Easily the best thing about this audio drama is that both Michael Biehn and Lance Henriksen were recruited to reprise their roles as Hicks and Bishop, respectively. There's an instant authenticity to it, with Henriksen providing early voiceover as Bishop. The initial bit is spent recapping the events of the first two movies, rather succinctly, in order to help set the table for the new tale. Even though it's just a recap of movies virtually everyone who listens to this will surely be intimately familiar with, it adds something to those familiar events. The second Michael Biehn speaks, it's equally a delight.
In the movie we actually got, Hicks was killed off-screen. As was Newt, which is perhaps that movie's greatest sin. William Gibson's version would have skirted that sin. Minor spoiler, but Newt isn't dead and that is one of the biggest credits to it. The 1992 movie leaned heavily on Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley, as the first two entries had done. Not to give too much away, but Gibson went a very different way about tackling this particular story. One could argue Ripley is a bit underused. Then again, the argument could also be made that it gives us something different. Something fresh. That said, it's easy to see why not having Ripley at the story's center would give the studio pause and ultimately decide against using this script.
Franchise shepherd Ridley Scott has discussed in the past the need for the series to move away from the Xenomorph. The need to evolve. William Gibson also understood that. Alien III, his version of it, moves in bold new directions. This particular tale has a pretty clever and creative way to reintroduce the Xenomorph to this new setting. It actually dives into specifics about the Xenomorph that haven't been explored before, from a scientific point of view, which is pretty fascinating and adds a welcome layer. It also introduces something new entirely on the creature side, which would have surely been a welcome addition, had it ever made it to screen. Fascinatingly, somehow, this even connects with threads and themes introduced in Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, movies that wouldn't exist for decades after Gibson wrote his script.
Even though it's only audio, it doesn't skimp on the violence. Many of the familiar elements one needs for one of these movies are in play, while also not being afraid to tread new ground. William Gibson also introduces conflict outside of the aliens, which is key. That said, this audio drama, specifically, is not without its limitations. Without a visual component, much of what is presented doesn't have the same potential impact it might have otherwise. This is a franchise that has always been very visually driven. The visual component is certainly missed. Also, and perhaps this is a product of turning what was intended to be a movie script into a purely audio story, it is a bit laggy in the middle. Overall though, it moves along at a brisk pace and clocks it at 2 hours and 16 minutes.
At the end of the day, this may not be for casual Alien fans. But it absolutely feels right at home in the franchise and gives us a compelling, and maybe even maddening window into what could have been with Alien III, which almost certainly would have paved the way for a far more compelling fourth entry, as opposed to what we got with Alien: Resurrection. Audible has done us a favor and preserved a piece of would-be sci-fi history, perhaps as best as it can be preserved.