Arceon was to be the principle setting of Vincent Ward's script for Alien3. It was envisioned as a man-made planet or satellite constructed largely of wood, and was home to an order of reclusive, technophobic monks among whom Ripley was to find herself stranded.
Arceon is a man-made satellite that has been re-purposed by an order of reclusive monks who rejected all modern technology. Originally constructed of metal, it was largely clad in wood and turned into a giant floating monastery by the monks. Inside, it consists of numerous levels, some as much as 100 metres high, that are, according to writer Vincent Ward, "layered like an ant's nest, or bee's nest". The small planet contains an abbey, libraries, mess halls, communal lavatories and a large glass works, as well as open fields where crops are grown and sheep are reared, lakes and even an extensive sea on one of its lower levels, which acts as a reservoir supplying water to the population. Arceon maintains a thin atmosphere, while at its center a "technology room" is said to maintain and refresh this atmosphere, allowing the monks to survive. Entry to this room is strictly forbidden.
- "We were sentenced as political dissidents. This orbiter is our gulag. All the men were packed up with all our books, and towed into space."
- —Anthony, regarding Arceon's origins (from Vincent Ward's Alien III script)
The origins of Arceon began with the emergence of a counter-culture on Earth that rejected all modern technology, technology that the group's followers believed was taking over everyday life in a destructive way. Among their other beliefs, the group believed traditional books were preferable to more technologically advance methods of reading literature, and began collecting bound texts, which were becoming increasingly scarce. The movement went largely unnoticed at first, until the outbreak of an incredibly powerful computer virus that spread rapidly throughout the vast computer networks shared by the trans-global corporations that effectively ran the planet. The virus, known as the "New Plague", was eventually eradicated, but even so immeasurable volumes of data were lost from the planet's linked storage banks. As a result, people flocked to the monks' cause, rejecting modern technology and adopting the traditional methods they preached.
The huge shift quickly began to undermine the profits of the powerful corporations, such as Weyland-Yutani, and as a result the monks and their followers were branded political dissidents. The male members of the group were rounded up; the companies provided them with an artificial satellite on which to live and banished them from Earth, sending with them their vast collection of books. Supply ships from Earth helped the monks survive, but even so many of the eldest members died quickly.
After some time the supply ships stopped visiting the orbiter, now christened Arceon by its inhabitants, but by this time the monks had become self-sufficient and managed to survive without them. However, the arrival of Ripley and the Alien eventually led to the satellite's destruction. The technology room that supposedly maintained Arceon's atmosphere was revealed to be a lie, and the few surviving inhabitants realised that the orbiter was always supposed to be a death sentence for them — the corporations knew that they would all perish when the planet's atmosphere finally became unbreathable. Only the crops the monks grew helped to refresh the air, but fires started by the rampaging Xenomorph burned these to the ground, and the blaze rapidly spread through the satellite's wooden structure. Eventually the entire satellite was consumed by the fire, with only Ripley and Mattias, the dog of one of the monks, escaping aboard the EEV that had brought first her there.
Behind the Scenes
The unorthodox setting is undoubtedly one of the key factors in the continued interest in Vincent Ward's unproduced script.
- "[It's] an environment that looks archaic. Within that environment — a huge, round satellite about a mile in diameter — you have maybe 16 floors, each one about 100 metres high. It's layered like an ant's nest, or bee's nest, and each layer has been largely clad with huge areas of sculpted wood. They can grow wheat there, and even have windmills and orchards. In a way it's like a monastery. The satellite has a range of technologies that allow it to survive in outer space: it has a means of dealing with gravity, and a means of dealing with air, and it has a low surface atmosphere. It looks like a meteorite on the outer surface."
- —Ward on the wooden planet
Despite the unusual setting Ward had in mind, those involved with the film were genuinely interested in exploring Ward's world. However, it is also true that many struggled to understand how a satellite made of wood could sustain life, although Ward was adamant that the satellite was not made of wood, only covered in it, like scaffolding that had grown outwards from a technological core. Originally, the orbiter was perfectly ordinary, but was then modified by the monks to resemble an ancient abbey. Parts of the wooden monastery set were actually constructed before the script was abandoned.
The Alien3 making-of documentary, Wreckage and Rage, spends some time discussing Ward's script, and includes several concept illustrations that show his "wooden planet". Empire Magazine described the setting as "undeniably attractive — it would have been visually arresting and at the very least, could have made for some astonishing action sequences". In the same article, Norman Reynolds, the production designer originally hired by Ward, remembers an early design idea for "a wooden library shaft. You looked at the books on this wooden platform that went up and down... Imagine the kind of vertical jeopardy sequence that could have been staged here – the Alien clambering up these impossibly high bookshelves as desperate monks work the platform". Sigourney Weaver described Ward's overall concept as "very original and arresting".
- Strange Shapes - Wooden World: Vincent Ward's Alien III
- Dan Jolin. "Backstory Alien III - Alien:Reinvented", Empire Magazine, December 2008, Pg 156
- Jolin, Dan."Backstory Alien III - Alien:Reinvented", Empire Magazine, December 2008, Pg 153