Radio Play: Alien III: An Audible Original Drama (2019) - Reviewed

Back in 1992, 20th Century Fox announced in the summer there would be a third entry in the enormously successful and beloved science-fiction horror Alien film series.  With an original teaser screened showing the infamous green egg with light streaming from an open crack in it, an ominous voiceover announced something to the effect of ‘in 1992 on Earth, everyone can hear you scream’ as the camera pulls back to reveal the egg hovering over our planet.  What’s curious about this teaser is that it represented one of many various ideas, drafts and adaptations that were commissioned for what would or would not become Alien 3 

As the story ultimately went, producers Gordon Carroll and David Giler simply couldn’t agree upon one singular adaptation and the clock kept ticking towards that summer release date with no finalized script in the can.  Worse still, they kept swapping out directors.  First Renny Harlin set to adapt Neuromancer author William Gibson’s screenplay before bowing out. Then came Vincent Ward’s screenplay involving a planet of wood set in the deeply religious middle-ages.

Finally a pastiche with elements of Ward’s script with finishing touches by Giler, Walter Hill and Larry Ferguson before an unlucky David Fincher got tasked with directing what was shaping up to be a sinking ship before being kicked out of the editing room entirely with a studio mandated team cutting together whatever ended up in the can.  Needless to say, the end result did not go over well with critics or fans at all.

Lance Henriksen and director Dirk Maggs

fans were dismayed by the film’s bleak and nihilistic tone and depressed that it proceeded to kill off every single character save for a random stock character.  Before it even begins, Newt and Hicks are dead and at the end of a long, desperate and sad battle deep in the fire pit of Hell, the series’ heroine Ripley dies too.  Not to mention it takes place on a prison planet full of murderers and rapists eager to assault and exploit Ripley, a far cry from the crews of the Nostromo from the first film or the Sulaco from the second.

All in all it’s a huge downer fans, screenwriters and filmmakers have been futile in their efforts to de-canonize from the series.  Moreover, the film’s director would disown the picture and both actors Michael Biehn who played Hicks and Lance Henriksen expressed their own disapproval of what ended up onscreen.  The most recent and unsuccessful attempt came from Neill Blomkamp who envisioned a story not unlike that aforementioned earlier draft by William Gibson where Newt, Hicks and Ripley survive with the Weyland Yutani Bio-Weapons Division still trying to get their hands on a xenomorph at all costs.  That project came very close to actually going into production until the director’s film Chappie tanked and the idea was scrapped altogether.

Circa 2019, however, it looks as though some form of light opened at the end of the tunnel with British audio drama director Dirk Maggs who proposed in conjunction with the Audible company a splendid idea: fully adapt William Gibson’s unfilmed screenplay for Alien III.  Recruiting the acting talents of Michael Biehn and Lance Henriksen reprising their roles, Alien III: An Audible Original Drama at long last offers fans an alternative vision of what might have been the third Alien feature film!

Released exclusively through the Audible program and running roughly two hours, Alien III: An Audible Original Drama offers an entirely different experience with a variety of new untried concepts concerning the main characters and above all the biology of the xenomorphs themselves.  We’re also introduced to a socialist society known as the United Progressive Peoples who don’t take too kindly to the Sulaco ship from Aliens drifting into their territory.

Michael Biehn and director Dirk Maggs

Replete with sampling of the film’s sound effects of power loaders, doors opening and closing, the Pulse rifles from Aliens and of course the xeno screams, this audio drama though issued in stereo does offer directional use of the audio in such a way that you could close your eyes and imagine what you would be seeing.  Probably the most interesting new concept is one that would eventually crop up in some form or another in director Ridley Scott’s prequel films Prometheus and Alien Covenant: the Hybrid. 

With imperceptible particles in the air infecting any and all who come near it, soon crew members find themselves physically transforming into a new kind of xenomorph while the species of xenomorph fans are familiar with from the first two films also run amok wreaking bloody havoc.  Much like the videogame series Dead Space or John Carpenter’s film of The Thing, the idea is that people stop in mid-step before an alien organism takes over their body and turns it into its own killing machine.

Fans know full well actress Sigourney Weaver, who jump started her career with the role of Ripley, was tiring of doing these films and was looking for a way out.  With William Gibson’s screenplay, though Ripley survives she’s largely comatose and in the background before she and Newt are shipped back home while the torch is passed onto Hicks and Lance Henriksen’s android Bishop who also narrates the audio drama.  After this screenplay was junked and the studio marched closer to settling in on a director, Weaver’s stance of wanting out remained and ultimately it was her decision to kill off Ripley.

After listening to the audio drama, on the one hand it would have been great to explore the concepts of harvesting a new breed of alien that could take over another organism completely rather than growing out of it and having all the main characters survive is a welcome change over simply killing everyone off outright in a dismal morgue of a film.  On the other hand, yes it does feel less like a wholly original Alien film and more of a continuation of Aliens with a good chunk of the piece taking place on the Sulaco.  Moreover, the film would have been a disaster in director Renny Harlin’s hands.

Still, coupled with a comic-book adaptation of Gibson’s screenplay which came out alongside the audio drama, Alien III: An Audible Original Drama is something of a Godsend for Alien fans who wanted to see their favorite characters live while exploring new ideas and terrain for the series.  All the while it offered Sigourney Weaver a chance to pass the torch onto Michael Biehn and Lance Henriksen who reportedly were overjoyed to participate in the play.  If you’re an Alien fan, Alien III: An Audible Original Drama is an essential listening experience providing a glimpse into what might have been the third Alien picture.


- Andrew Kotwicki