This piece originally appeared as part of my BFS Award nominated weekly newsletter, The Full Lid . If you liked it, and want a weekly down of pop culture enthusiasm, occasional ketchup recipes and me enjoying things, then check out the archive and sign up here.
Alien 3 shouldn’t work. I remember seeing it, hating it and then slowly enjoying it more every time I watched it after that. It’s a wildly dysfunctional parade of English character actors shouting at one another with some laughably terrible special effects but somehow it works. It’s grimy, bloody knuckled and brutally honest and it’s a great coda to the series. Which makes the existence of the movies that followed it kind of awkard but hey, that’s a whole different episode.
Anyway, Alien 3, it turns out, was written several times. Vincent Ward produced a script about a wooden planet with an atmosphere you could breach with a ladder and inhabited by monks. Eric Red wrote a script that was basically Mall of America in space with added Xenomorphs. And then,there’s the William Gibson script. Mockingly described as ‘marines versus space commies’ it included Bishop, Newt, Hicks and Ripley to various degrees and pitted the Corporation state of Weyland Yutani against the UPP. Who are, in fact, space communists. Derided at the time, and one of the few that wasn’t really mined for parts for the eventual movie, it’s a script that’s taken on a curious life of it’s own recently. Dark Horse adapted into a comic and now, from legendary audio producer Dirk Maggs, Audible have released a full cast audio drama. One headed by Michael Biehn and Lance Henriksen reprising their roles from the original movies.
So is it any good?
Yeah! It takes a little while to get going which is to be expected given the media change but the script rattles along and sets up and explores some pretty interesting ideas. The cold war has gone interstellar and the Sulaco is steered back through UPP space by company intelligence officers to provoke them and (Potentially) seed an alien or two. It works, as it always was going to, and the running and screaming hits pretty quick. Maggs and his team are exceptional at that and this really does feel like a movie, right down to soundtrack cues and special effects. Even the ‘stand ins’, Laurel Lefkow and Mairead Doherty as Ripley and Newt do an excellent job. Lefkow in particular has the exact right amount of John Wayne to make ‘Get away from her, you BITCH’ really land.
The ideas that are core to the script pop too. Gibson’s story, as every version of Alien 3 does, asks us to swallow the difficult pill early. The Queen laid an egg in Bishop on her way to the title fight, because of course she did. If you can’t deal with that, there’s eye rolls galore here. If you can, what follows is a tight, well plotted and nasty piece of SF. The reveal that the alien is a biological Von Neumann machine and can use any vector to infect people is especially great and honestly could and should be folded into future movies. The entire third act too is fun, as we follow the survivors’ macguyvering what they can together on two different space stations at once. Even the hybrids, aliens who are humans reprogrammed from the inside out feel like a credible threat and lead into a surprisingly close tie in to Prometheus. Namely, as Bishop argues, that the aliens are an instrument of global unification, a common threat for us to unite behind. Would you like to know more? That’s a brilliant idea, infinitely better than anything the series has done since the actual Alien 3 and I’m haunted by the movie we could have got if they’d run with it. There’s a handful of moments like that here and Gibson’s definition of just what the Colonial Marine Corps do is another one that absolutely should have made it to the screen.
The cast also impress and it’s a delight to hear Biehn and Henriksen back in these roles. Of the two, Henriksen gets the better material, with Biehn’s Hicks too often reduced to explaining the plot, but both get solid arcs. The rest of the cast are also good, especially Rebcca Yeo as Chang. A UPP commando and no one’s victim, she’s the breakout character of the newcomers and fans of Drummer from The Expanse will find a LOT to enjoy in her work. Beltalowda!
Are there faults? Sure. There’s a lot of ‘It’s hanging onto that thing but has lot it’s footing!’ dialogue which you can’t get around and a recap of Aliens which will make you feel old once you realize how old people who’ve never seen Aliens now are. But aside from that this is a fiercely determined, inventive and strong entry to the franchise. One, I’d argue, is notably better than several of the movies that did get made.
Alien III is an audible exclusive and is available from them now.