Neill Blomkamp may have been poised to retcon Alien 3, but it would appear that Sir Ridley Scott isn’t as willing to let the third film fade into the ether just yet. There was a time when 20th Century Fox was trying to get Ridley Scott to sit in the director’s chair for the third entry and at that time, William Gibson was working on the first drafts of the film. Gibson himself said that Ridley was tentatively attached to the direct the film while he was working on his second (and final draft) of the film.
That never came to pass though. Scott would go on to direct Black Rain and Thelma and Louise, Alien 3 would go through a tumultuous development and many more writers before finally seeing release in 1992. Scott would not return to the Alien universe until Prometheus in 2012.
The sequel to Prometheus, Alien: Covenant, is due for release in May 2017 and while its predecessor was stripped of its overt Alien elements, the sequel appears to have no such trepidation. As well as returning back to Alien, it would also seem that Alien: Covenant is borrowing quite heavily from William Gibson’s Alien 3 scripts (and possibly some aspects of Eric Red’s) and creature designs from the days of Jon Spaihts’ involvement with Prometheus.
In October 2016, Alien vs. Predator Galaxy revealed to the world that Alien: Covenant would feature a new type of Aliens that was known behind the scenes as Neomorphs. The Neomorphs are the result of the local ecosystem being mutated by the accelerant/black goo.
Over time, pods started to grow on the trees and the ground, and release a spore when disturbed. These spores infect several members of the Covenant crew by entering the body through the ear and nostrils. The spores cause the growth of the Neomorphs inside the infected hosts .
The concept of the Neomorphs seemed to be heavily influenced by a different variation of Alien (known as the New Beast) introduced in William Gibson’s Alien 3 scripts and their design borrows from Jon Spaiht’s proto-Aliens. Genetic Memory – Influencing the Neomorphs will be taking a look into the past to see just where the concepts of the Neomorph may have gestated. (beware spoilers)
William Gibson’s New Beast
William Gibson was responsible for writing the first two drafts of Alien 3. His first draft was completed sometime in 1987, with the second being completed in January 1988 and there are some marked differences between them. The scripts take place primarily aboard two space stations, Anchorpoint (Weyland-Yutani financed) and Rodina, a station ran by the Union of Progressive Peoples (the script plays heavily on cold war allegory). Their respective staff was in an arms-race to grow Aliens and of course, all hell breaks lose.
One of the significant developments to the Alien that Gibson’s script would have made was an entirely new method of propagation for the Alien species and that was via airborne spores that were capable of rewriting the host DNA and transforming the infected into an Alien, a variant that Gibson’s script referred to as the New Beast.
The scientific staff of both Anchorpoint and Rodina are able to grow their own Aliens using cloned genetic material that is left behind in Bishop when he was attacked by the Queen at the end of Aliens. Somehow the presence of this material results in a traditional Alien egg growing within Bishop’s cryo-tube. This is the only instance within the script that the Queen’s residual genetic material results in the creation of a traditional Alien egg.
The crew aboard Rodina note just how easy it is to manipulate the Alien DNA, speculating that the Alien could be an artificial weapon that was the end result of another long lost cold war. While it isn’t specifically addressed, the different ways in which the staff of Anchorpoint and Rodina manipulate the DNA results result in different variations of the Alien appearing in Gibson’s script. There’s a nice little moment where the script notes how similar the Alien DNA looks like the interior of the Derelict at a microscopic level.
The starting stage of the Aliens that are grown aboard Anchorpoint is a miniature egg that releases an airborne spore rather than a facehugger (like the pods in the Alien: Covenant trailer) and the scientists aboard the Rodina skip the egg and facehugger stages entirely and somehow grow a chestburster instead. The bulk of the script takes place on Anchorpoint and as such the Alien we see the most of are the New Beasts.
The New Beast seems to function in much the same way as Alien: Covenant’s Neomorph’s do. After the Anchorpoint scientific staff grow the miniature egg, an accident results in two of the crew being infected by the airborne spores.
“Two of the tubes BLOW OUT. Nutrient fluid and plastic shards everywhere. Welles and Tully go down. A louder ALARM cuts in; red lights strobe. Locks in the doors THUNK shut, an automatic containment measure, as Spence, outside, throws down her coffee and begins to struggle with the door-controls, trying to reach Tully. Tully, facedown in a pool of the fluid, see that he’s nine inches away from the gray pigeon’s-egg of alien tissue. His eyes widen. Gets to his knees as carefully as he can. Reaches slowly — slowly — sideways, manages to snag a pair of plastic tongs and a shallow lab tray from the counter…
Welles tries to scramble to her feet, loses her balance in the slippery goop, and snatches at his arm. He nearly falls on top of the thing, but cuffs her roughly away, kneels, tongs poised… Beat. A tiny orifice opens; for a split-second something glitters above the thing, a faint, fist-sized cloud of dark mist. Then it’s gone and Tully’s moving, swooping in with tongs and tray.”
Aside from one bizarre instance where an Alien biting a character results in him being infected and birthing multiple “new-model” chestbursters (and an earlier occurrence of someone birthing “dozens” of chestburster, though we don’t see how he became infected), all the births of Aliens on Anchorpoint are as a result of these airborne spores.
Later on in the script, Hicks and several other Colonial Marines are investigating a hive where they find a Queen. Unlike in Aliens, this Queen doesn’t lay eggs through an ovipositor but rather is encountered in a scene that sounds very reminiscent of what we would later see in Alien: Resurrection when the Newborn is born:
“The central shape is revealed as an enormous mutant queen. The thing is splayed on its back, mortared into the mass of resin, its vestigial head toward Hicks and the Marines. Its abdomen is arched like an inverted scorpion-tail, tipped with a swollen, semi-translucent sac that ripples and pulses in the glare of Hick’s lamp. A biomechanical birth-factory.”
The Queen is eventually awoken by the Marine’s conflict with several nearby New Beasts. The Queen releases the cloud of Alien spores that would then infect a large majority of Anchorpoint’s population before being killed by Corporal Hicks:
“As the swollen, podlike tail-tip splits open with a sickly, tearing SOUND,releasing a puffball cloud of dark mist — we’ve seen it before, in miniature, with Tully in the lab — which begins to rise, drawn up toward the giant fans above the air-scrubber…”
As far as we know, Alien: Covenant doesn’t feature a Neomorph Queen spreading spores around but rather pods that release the spores which seems related to the accelerant first introduced in Prometheus.
Unlike the traditional Alien lifecycle, the spores seem to mutate the infected host into an Alien-like creature rather than incubating and then birthing a completely separate entity. William Gibson’s refers to the process in the script as “the Change.” The first character that this happens to is Welles, a member of Weyland-Yutani’s Bioweapons division:
“As Welles begins to stammer, her eyes betray a terrible consternation. She rises from her chair, lurches forward, catching herself on her hands. The C-C-C-C-C phases into a chattering palsy as a thick strand of blood-streaked drool descends toward the table. Fox, seated to her left, has instinctively shoved his own chair back, ready to run. Everyone else is frozen with shock.
As the chittering tooth-burr becomes a shrill SHRIEK of inhuman rage, the transformation takes place. Segmented biomechanoid tendons squirm beneath the skin of her arms. Her hands claw at one another, tearing redundant flesh from alien talons. Then the shriek dies. She straightens up.
And, rips her face apart in a single movement, the glistening claws coming away with skin, eyes, muscle, teeth, and splinters of bone… SOUND of ripping cloth. The New Beast sheds its human skin in a single sinuous, bloody ripple, molting on fast forward.
An instant of utter silence as the featureless mask moves. From side to side. Scanning.”
We don’t know how closely that relates to Alien: Covenant’s Neomorphs though. It remains to be seen if the spores in Alien: Covenant rewrite the DNA of the host or if they result in the incubation of a new creature.
William Gibson’s second draft would significantly reduce the number of Aliens and also see the removal of the Alien Queen. The New Beast’s life cycle still functioned in the same way with the addition of one of the characters being bitten. This bite infected the character and he would eventually begin to transform into one of the New Beasts. This was a change from the first draft where a bitten character would birth several chest-bursters.
Based on what we know and have seen of Alien: Covenant’s Neomorphs, I think it’s pretty obvious that there are plenty of similarities between Ridley Scott’s Neomorphs and William Gibson’s New Beasts.