Back in the late 80s, one of my uncle’s friends decided to leave the London rat race and pursue his dream of opening a comic shop in Bath. He did so successfully, and my uncle would bring back news of all the cool stuff he saw when he visited the shop – back then, geek merch was far less available to the world at large; you’d need to visit specialist shops in order to find those sorts of items in the UK.
Being an Alien fan ever since he saw the first movie on the big screen in 1979, my uncle – who introduced me to the franchise – was obsessed with the films, and picked up some very cool metal xenomorph badges from one of his visits to the shop, along with an illicit copy of the Alien 3 screenplay by William Gibson, which he passed on to me once he’d read it. It absolutely fascinated me; not just the fact that I was potentially holding the source material for the next Alien film – which was a good few years away at that point, not to mention the fact that when it did arrive, it was in a vastly different form than Gibson’s script – but also the peek behind the curtain at how film scripts were written and structured, right down to location details and even shot descriptions in some cases. It was mesmerising to me.
I should probably also mention that at the time, as a young teen, I was also pretty obsessed with Gibson’s cyberpunk novels, having read Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive in quick succession at an age that could probably be described as ‘too young’ (though I was of course technically too young for the Alien movies too. Suck it, establishment!). So the fact that my then-favourite author was tackling Alien was a massive thing for me.
Having enjoyed Gibson’s unique take on the franchise – which saw Hicks step up to be the main protagonist alongside a repaired Bishop, sending a comatose Ripley off into space and away from danger when the shit hits the fan – I’ve long thought that it’d be interesting to see some form of adaptation of the material, as a ‘what could have been’ type exercise, as well as just being able to see the story told in a more visual or dramatic format than the somewhat dry screenplay I’d read all those years ago.
So the comic book adaptation of the unproduced screenplay felt like a huge event to me when it was announced (plus, there’s even an audio drama adaptation of the script now, starring Michael Biehn and Lance Henriksen). Gibson’s future cold war, socialists vs capitalists take on the material, as well as his spore-based, John Carpenter’s The Thing-esque spin on the xenomorphs, has finally been able to find a wider audience.
Yet it’s a bit underwhelming, in all honesty. Though there’s nothing wrong with the bold and colourful art – by Johnnie Christmas, who also adapts the script – it all feels a little too cartoony (though his rendering of Bishop/Lance Henriksen is perfect). The cast of characters feels a bit too sprawling and thinly sketched from a writing point of view – one of the strengths of Alien and Aliens are the full casts of characters, with every single one being memorable in their own right. It’s certainly not the case with Gibson’s Alien 3, which feels as if it’s stuffed with underdeveloped characters that you don’t really have any time for. The political subtext seems a little undercooked too, even though that was one of the most memorable parts of the original screenplay for me. In comics form, the series feels a little slow to kick off, then seems to end just as it pushes into high gear.
The transformations that occur when characters are infected by and ‘changed’ by the xenomorph infection are well handled, however, though it’s a disappointment that the xenomorphs themselves look little different to the ones we saw in the previous two films.
It’s an interesting curio then – and it’s great to see something made of Gibson’s script, which became one of the most famous unmade screenplays in Hollywood, thanks to it appearing in full on the internet – but far from essential. Perhaps in another world, in a galaxy far, far away (whoops, wrong franchise), we would have seen Gibson’s script rewritten and developed to its full potential before reaching the big screen. As it is, it’s fascinating to see what could have been, but feels far from essential even for longterm fans of the franchise. One thing the Alien franchise did well for some time was to try and give a completely different feel to the material in every film; though it wasn’t always successful, it was cool to see sequels that weren’t slavishly trying to reproduce the look and feel of previous movies – that’s something Gibson attempted, which should be applauded even though the end product, at least in comic book form, doesn’t quite work.
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