Vincent Ward's Alien III was a 1990 script draft for a sequel to Aliens. Ward was the fourth of six different writers to tackle the Alien3 project, and his unused script is by far the most famous of those created for the film. It is set on a monastery satellite called Arceon (not to be confused with Acheron), which is largely constructed of wood and crewed by an order of reclusive monks who have rejected all modern technology. Much of the plot and several of the characters from Ward's script were fused with the prison setting from David Twohy's script to form the basis of Alien3 as it was ultimately made. Ward's screenplay was written after Twohy's script was rejected, and was followed by the first draft of what would become the final shooting script, written by Walter Hill and David Giler.
The story begins with monks working in an antiquated glass works. One of the monks, Brother John, tends to the wounds of another, who has burned his arm in an accident. Bells signal that it is time for lunch, but while the other monks head to the mess hall, Brother John instead ascends through the wooden monastery to the library, where he reads with his dog, Mattias. The leader of the commune, known as the Abbot, permits John to take one of the books from the library — an act that would normally be strictly forbidden — and read outside.
Brother John ascends further to the surface, and the monastery is revealed to be a man-made space station called Arceon, constructed mostly from wood around a metal frame. On the surface, Brother John sits beside a lake, and as he reads to Mattias, he notices a shooting star in the sky. Over the following days, more and more monks assemble to watch the comet as it approaches the space station.
Eventually, the star crashes down into the lake and is revealed to be an escape pod. Brother John rushes out to the pod in a small boat and climbs inside. It becomes clear all technology has been cast aside by the monks, and the monk has never seen anything like this before. Within, he finds the shredded, bloodstained clothing of a child and the head of a doll, before stumbling upon a distress message recorded by Ripley, in which she states the Sulaco has been infested by Xenomorphs and Corporal Hicks and Bishop have been killed. She plans to escape with Newt in a lifeboat. After viewing the message, Brother John discovers Ripley still asleep inside a hypersleep capsule, and he rescues her from the craft, despite the protests of the other monks.
After having a nightmare about a Xenomorph, Ripley awakes inside the monastery. Outside her window, she sees fields of wheat, all housed beneath the surface of Arceon, with the ceiling high above painted to resemble sky and fitted with large windows to allow sunlight to filter down. As she watches, the Sulaco escape pod is lowered down, having been recovered from the lake. The Abbot enters and tells Ripley a little about their community, explaining that they have no radio for her to call for help and that she was found alone inside the pod. Ripley in turn attempts to warn the Abbot about the Alien, which she suspects was responsible for Newt's death, but is rebuked; the Abbot suggests her recounting of the events on LV-426 are all lies, as he believes Earth was destroyed decades previously in an event that led to the monks rejecting all technology. The Abbot has Ripley locked in her room and forbids Brother John from making contact with her.
Later that night, Brother John and another monk, Brother Graham, witness a Chestburster emerge from one of Brother Graham's sheep. Before it can escape, they kill the infant creature by burning it alive. Following the incident, Ripley is subjected to a one-sided trial by the Abbot and the other senior monks at the commune, who charge her with bringing the "evil" to their commune. Her protestations regarding the Xenomorph are again ignored and she is declared responsible for the appearance of this "devil" that came from the sheep. She is imprisoned in the lowest levels of Arceon, and resigns herself to her fate.
However, Brother John does not share the Abbot's belief that Ripley is to blame for the events at the monastery, and eventually decides to head into the lower levels to seek her advice. After he leaves, several monks are killed by a Xenomorph in the communal lavatory.
In her cell, Ripley has discovered that another man, an android named Anthony, is imprisoned in the chamber adjacent to her own, having been banished when it was discovered he represented the technology the monks had vowed to cast out. Ripley passes the time recounting to Anthony her experiences with the Xenomorphs and her knowledge of the creatures. When Brother John arrives he begs for Ripley's help, and while she initially refuses to go on fighting the Xenomorphs, an act she considers futile, he ultimately convinces her to help him and frees both her and Anthony. They elect to head to the "technology room", the chamber where the station's air and gravity are produced, in the hopes of finding something that may be used as a weapon. As they move there, Brother John reveals that the order on Arceon started out as an anti-technology movement on Earth, which grew exponentially after a computer virus wiped out a huge proportion of all the data stored on the planet. People flocked to their cause, and their rejection of modern technology threatened Weyland-Yutani's profits. As a result, the movement's members were banished aboard Arceon for the crime of "political heresy".
Back on the upper levels, the Xenomorph runs amok through the helpless monks, who have only farm tools with which to defend themselves. It attacks several monks in a field of corn, and soon the crop is set ablaze. However, the Abbot escapes, and eventually reunites with Ripley, Anthony and Brother John in the lower levels. Upon reaching the door to the technology room, they are attacked by the Xenomorph. While Ripley struggles to open the door, Anthony and Brother John fight the creature off using the bear traps that have been set in the area to stop monks venturing into the technology room. They succeed, but Anthony is badly damaged in the process. The survivors make it into the technology room and seal the Xenomorph outside.
The survivors discover the "technology room" in fact contains nothing but wood and cloth windmills that circulate the station's air and water, and the truth becomes apparent — Arceon was never meant to be sustainable, and was always intended as a death sentence for the heretics as its air would eventually run out. To make matters worse, the fires started by the Xenomorph's rampage have now used up a large amount of the remaining oxygen and also destroyed the crops that helped to refresh the atmosphere.
As the survivors argue about escaping, a new type of Chestburster erupts from the Abbot's head, killing him. Ripley and Brother John elect to make for the Sulaco escape pod and use it to flee the station; however, Anthony is forced to stay behind due to the damage he received during the earlier fight with the Xenomorph. After the others leave, Anthony is killed by the Xenomorph.
Eventually, Ripley and Brother John reach the library, just below the escape pod, but are again confronted by the Xenomorph. As the two survivors fight the creature, its acid blood starts a fire that destroys the library's floor, and all three fall through into the glass works below. The Xenomorph falls into a vat of molten glass, apparently killing it, but it emerges again and prepares to attack. Ripley opens a large dump tank and douses the creature in a torrent water, causing its glass-coated exoskeleton to explode through thermal shock.
Ripley and Brother John make it to the escape pod, but as they prepare to leave Ripley realizes she has a Chestburster inside her. She prepares to send Brother John away on the escape vehicle while she stays behind to die. However, Brother John refuses, and by beating Ripley's chest, he manages to make the Chestburster crawl out of her through her gullet and into his own throat, saving her and infecting himself. Condemned to death, Brother John leaves the escape pod and walks into the fires raging across the surface of Arceon, killing himself and the infant Xenomorph inside him. After watching his sacrifice, Ripley flees the dying space station in the escape pod, Brother John's dog Mattias by her side.
With Ward's script, many of the key aspects of the filmed version of Alien3 were finally established. The idea of introducing Ripley into a reclusive all-male population was laid down here, and several of the main characters in the film can trace their origins back to this screenplay; for example, Brother John bears similarities to Clemens (although Clemens was clearly also derived from Packard in David Twohy's script), while Brother Kyle and the Abbot can be seen as the templates for Dillon and Andrews, respectively. The deaths of Newt and Hicks at the start of the story are established, although here they are killed by Xenomorphs instead of dying in the EEV crash. "One of the first things I wanted to do was kill [Newt] off," Ward later explained. "She kind of annoyed me." Ward further elaborated that his motivation for killing Ripley's adopted 'family' from Aliens was necessary to allow his screenplay to explore the mindset of someone suffering from loss and their subsequent quest for personal redemption. "Ripley's big regret is that she missed out on a personal life. She seeks some sort of strange atonement for not having had a relationship with her daughter.
Ward was also the first of the writers for the third film to explore the idea of Ripley being impregnated with a Chestburster, although crucially in this script she ultimately survives the ordeal. Her impregnation was supposed to embody something of a mockery of her parental desires. The manner in which the Alien antagonist is killed in the film, with thermal shock causing its exoskeleton to explode, is taken from this screenplay. The overtone of religion comes from Ward's script as well, later realized in the final production of the film by having the inmates participate in an apocalyptic faith with a strict vow of chastity; these religious overtones are particularly apparent in the film's extended Assembly Cut.
Primarily, the plot of Alien3 was taken from this story, but little of the surrounding world remained in the film (although early versions of the shooting script did feature a glass works at the Fiorina 161 Class C Work Correctional Unit, before it was replaced with a lead foundry). Despite his credit for the story in the finished movie, Ward noted that the things he liked best about his script, and those that he believed would have made it work, were not used in the film. Strangely, Ward's script mentions that Amanda Ripley-McClaren was still alive, albeit old an crippled, when Ripley was rescued from hypersleep at the beginning of Aliens; while this is how the situation was described in James Cameron's original treatment for the second film, in the actual movie, Amanda is said to have died in the intervening years. It is unclear why Ward contradicts this.
The wooden planet
- Main article: Arceon
Doubtless one of the main factors that has led to such interest in Ward's script is its unique setting — a planet or satellite constructed largely of wood and manned by an order of reclusive monks. The Alien3 making-of documentary, Wreckage and Rage, spends some time discussing Ward's script for the film, and includes several concept illustrations that show his "wooden planet".
Since Ward's vision of the wooden planet was never borne out into the arena of public scrutiny, the praise for the concept is obviously reserved for those who have taken a particular interest in the development of the third Alien film. However, Ward's proposed version of Alien III has gained a certain following in response to both the making-of documentary coverage and a 2008 article in Empire Magazine that discussed the unproduced script.
As with all of the unproduced Alien3 scripts, Ward alters the nature of the Xenomorphs, bestowing the creatures with fairly substantial new abilities in his story. Notably, the Xenomorph in his screenplay is able to alter the texture and color of its skin and exoskeleton so that it may blend with the surrounding environment — at one point, the creature's external appearance changes to resemble wheat so that it is better concealed in a field of the crop, while later its exoskeleton takes on the appearance of wood, allowing it to camouflage itself against a wooden wall. The creature is apparently able to implant Chestbursters inside victims directly. Upon learning from Ripley that these characteristics are not typical of the species, Anthony proposes that the Xenomorph may be a "King", although what role it may play alongside a Queen is not elaborated upon. The creature can spit acid, an ability actually given to the Runner in Alien3. Ward is also the first to show a Xenomorph swimming (later realized on-screen in Alien Resurrection).
The idea of a Xenomorph born from a non-human host is explored again, although the creature that emerges from a sheep in the screenplay is killed almost immediately, and the main Xenomorph in the story is assumed to be spawned from a human. A new type of Chestburster, the "Headburster", is introduced, bursting from the victim's head as its name implies.
In the third film, the Chestburster inside Ripley takes far longer to emerge than those in the preceding films. While never explicitly stated, this is assumed to be because it is a Queen and therefore requires a longer gestation period. In Ward's script, however, where the Chestburster is never said to be anything other than a regular Xenomorph, the extended gestation period is explained by Ripley theorizing that the embryos remain dormant until the victim eats, which she does not do for the duration of the story. However, this does not fit with what is seen in the previous movies from the series; while the Chestburster inside Kane does indeed emerge when he begins eating, this is not the case with Mary, the colonist found alive in Aliens, who could not possibly have consumed food in the lead-up to the birth of the embryo inside her as she was cocooned in the Hive at the time.
- The sequence where the Xenomorph attacks the monks in the wheat field is strikingly similar to a scene in The Lost World: Jurassic Park where several mercenaries are attacked by velociraptors in a field of long grass. Both dwell on the trails left by the creatures as they move through the wheat/grass towards their prey, and describe victims being suddenly pulled down out of sight amongst the foliage.
- Dan Jolin. "Backstory Alien III - Alien:Reinvented", Empire Magazine, December 2008, Pg 156