The overall plot of Paul WS Anderson’s AvP remained largely unchanged through the course of its journey from script to screen. The heat bloom, the pyramid, the hunt, Lex and Scar are all present, as are most of the major cast in one way or another. But how many of these concepts were changed quite a lot on the way.
Part pointless trivia, part search for insight, this article will go over those changes and see how the story developed — for better or worse — until it hit the silver screen.
Note: I’m hesitant to use the novel for anything other than broad strokes, as without the source draft Cerasini was working from, it’s often impossible to tell what’s embellishment and what’s from the script. It’s also clear that many changes were made to coincide with the script as it developed, which further clouds what was in the original draft.
In the Beginning …
The Film: We open in space, with a satellite detecting a heat bloom beneath Bouvet Island off the coast of Antarctica.
The Journey: Originally the film was to open with a pre-credit teaser set in North Cambodia in 2000 BC (or 3000 BC according to Anderson in a making-of featurette released while the picture was in pre-production). A hunting party is being stalked and killed by an Alien, until a Predator comes along and blows it to pieces.
This was changed to a different teaser, set in 1904 in the same whaling station the characters discover later in the film. This teaser scene plays out slightly differently in the September 26 draft script and the shooting script. The most significant change is the identity of the hapless whaler: in the final version he’s Karl, a “bearded, tough, strapping whaler”, while in the draft he’s “Jimmy, all of 19”. “Jimmy” gets a single line in the script before the Predator attacks, “Karl” does not.
A more minor difference is that Jimmy actually sees the Alien that’s about to attack him, while in the film the Alien is only revealed when we cut to the Predator vision.
The Cambodia opening was storyboarded (visible in pre-production featurettes), but abandoned in the scripting stages. The 1904 opening was shot and is available as the opening of the film in the “Extended” version of the movie on home video release. It’s a much more truncated version, without opening shots of blood-stained snow, and lasts about one minute.
Note: The novel uses both teasers, but this doesn’t appear to have ever been in the script. When AICN reviewed the script in October 2003, they said that it went from Cambodia to the satellite. It’s likely Cerasini combined the two versions solely for the sake of the novel.
Our Hero Arrives…
The Film: Alexa “Lex” Woods is climbing the Lho La Ice Fall in Nepal when she gets a call from Maxwell Stafford, representing Weyland Industries. He informs Lex that Weyland requires her services, and picks her up in a helicopter.
The Journey: Lex’s name was ALEXIA “LEX” KLINE at least until the September 26 draft. Her introduction is significantly different. Rather than climbing a mountain in Nepal, she’s taking photos of endangered birds in Alaska. She’s still on a cliff, but she’s already set up camp.
Max doesn’t appear at all in the scene — she speaks to an associate of her own named GABE who informs her that Weyland is looking for her. Instead of the helicopter teleporting onto an ice ledge like in the finished film, it rises up in front of her vantage point on the cliff, ruining her shot of the birds.
In the production script, she’s specifically climbing Mt Everest.
Our Leading Man’s Money Problems…
The Film: Sebastian De Rosa is in Teotihuacan, Mexico, looking for a burial chamber. He believes he’s discovered an ancient artefact, only to realise it’s a pepsi cap. Disheartened, he assures his team that he’ll get the funds together and keep the dig going. As he gets to his tent he runs into Max, who informs him that Weyland is offering to fund his dig in exchange for his time.
The Journey: Sebastian’s introduction is much the same, except he’s not Italian; it’s Sebastian WELLS, not Sebastian De ROSA. Likewise the representative of the ministry of the interior, JUAN RAMIREZ (scenes filmed, but cut from the finished film; he’s only visible in a single shot in the theatrical cut) is JUANITA RAMIREZ.
Sebastian doesn’t reassure Thomas about his ability to reopen the dig, and his dialogue with Max is much shorter. For that matter, Thomas is largely a nonentity in the early versions: he exists, and is named, and is Sebastian’s right-hand man, but most of his material is taken by another character for most of the film (see further below).
Note: Presumably Sebastian’s nationality was changed to reflect the actor’s, as he refers to himself as growing up in Tennessee later in the September 26 draft.
“Our Favourite Geek”…
The Film: Miller is introduced riding in the helicopter with Lex towards the ice cutter Piper Maru.
The Journey: The October 29 AICN review mentions a scene where Miller is introduced in the Smithsonian in Washington. The September 26 draft keeps his introduction the same as the movie.
The Ice Cutter…
The Film: The characters are introduced to each other during a presentation by Mr Weyland, where he explains why they’re here: there’s a heat bloom under Bouvetoya that seems to be coming from a subterranean pyramid.
The Journey: The action aboard the Piper Maru was significantly cut down by the time the film was released. This is also where the scripts start to significantly change in some aspects from the release version.
Firstly, an entire character and subplot were changed and ultimately excised. In the draft reviewed by AICN, “Verheiden” is a rival of Sebastian’s, whose team is actually brought in to replace Sebastian’s in Teotihuacan. He’s then brought on the expedition as well.
It’s revealed Verheiden and Lex have a romantic history. In the novel, Lex’s romantic history is shifted to Quinn instead. Whether this was actually drafted or simply Cerasini keeping deleted material to deepen the narrative, like the Cambodia opening, is unknown.
In the September 26 draft, Verheiden is entirely absent; his role as a “soldier of fortune” isn’t mentioned until the production draft. His role in the story in the September 26 draft is taken by a muscular Italian named VINCENZO, a member of the security team.
Likewise by this point the entire romance subplot has been completely removed, even if it was ever shifted to Quinn. All that remains of the additional character interactions prior to the debriefing by Weyland is a scene where Sebastian is bringing bags into Lex’s room and they momentarily flirt. A stack of “scene deleted” and “there is no scene [x]” annotations in the draft show that many scenes aboard the ship before and after were cut.
By the shooting draft, we get what we see in the movie: Lex and Miller approach in the helicopter, cut to the debriefing.
The beginning of Weyland’s debriefing of the crew includes the material with Miller pissing off the roughnecks by playing on their equipment. This is largely unchanged in the shooting draft, and was even shot but cut from the final print. It can be viewed in the “Unrated” cut of the movie.
Many names are different. All of the names of the guides they find to replace Lex, or which she suggests to replace her, are changed. ROUSSEAU, the French security member is, JAMISON. There’s another scientist called ALBRECHT in the script, who first appears on the boat. He has almost all of the material that would go to Thomas by the production draft.
Lex’s discussion with Weyland to change his mind about hiring the less experienced guide is much shorter and features less clunky platitudes than the production draft. Another minor change in the September 26 draft is that it’s Max, rather than Rousseau, who lets Lex know the chopper is refueled.
As a minor note during this section, in the September 26 draft the ship’s captain, Leighton, is actually mentioned and has a few lines of dialogue with Weyland and Max. He informs them the ship can’t proceed any further and they have to go out in the Hagglunds. He has a fairly minor role in the novel as well, but is entirely absent in the finished picture.
Aren’t There Predators in This Thing?
The Film: Miller and Sebastian try to talk Lex into staying on the mission. Lex advises them to stay on the boat, Sebastian asks whether they stand a better chance with her or the number two choice; cut to the Predators in space, shooting a laser at the whaling station to drill a hole to the pyramid.
The Journey: The first significant change in terms of structure is that the Predators are introduced slightly later into the script.
Rather than being introduced after Lex is thinking about leaving, they’re introduced after the team has disembarked from the ice breaker. It’s actually Sebastian’s “Hunter’s Moon” line that prompts the cut to the Predators coming around from the far side of the moon.
The Predators aren’t shown firing the laser to drill the hole; instead, we see the much publicized deleted scene of the Predators waking up from cryostasis. ADI built nude Predator models for the sequence, but it was never filmed.
It’s also worth noting here that it was originally intended for there to be 5 Predators, not 3, but this was cut down for budgetary reasons.
The Film: After the crew discovers a mysterious hole has been drilled into the ice for them, we see Predators gearing up.
The Journey: This is longer in every version but the final film, with a shot of the Predators standing at the viewing window in the ship watching the approaching Earth. This image was released as a promotional still, but the sequence itself has never surfaced.
We also see a Predator hand in all the script versions after the Predator drop pods have landed: this was apparently filmed as well, but cut.
And Aliens, Finally …
The Film: While entering the pyramid, one of the team members steps on a pressure plate which triggers the awakening of the Alien Queen. Soon after, the team discovers the sacrificial chamber
The Journey: The Queen being awoken is the same in the September 26 draft, but not in the draft reviewed by AICN. In that version, the Queen is awoken by removing the Predator shoulder cannons later in the story.
Thomas is never mentioned in the September 26 draft of the script after “Albrecht” and “Jamison” are told to stay in the sacrificial chamber. All of Thomas’ dialogue in the finished film is given to Albrecht.
Attack on the Camp …
The Film: The Predators descend on the whaling camp and massacre everyone.
The Journey: This is admittedly much the same, but the September 26 draft is much more gruesome. The team are explicitly mentioned having been gutted and decapitated, although off-screen; their mutilated, frozen corpses are discovered by Quinn.
Taking the Weapons …
The Film: Max and the security team remove the Predator shoulder cannons and trigger the shifting of the pyramid.
The Journey: As stated above, this was apparently when the Queen was meant to awaken in the AICN draft. Interestingly, it was Verheiden in that draft, rather than Max, who removes the guns to trigger the temple, “ever the glory-seeker”.
The Film: Rousseau and Thomas watch as the Alien eggs appear in the sacrificial chamber, and are promptly face-hugged in bullet time.
The Journey: What’s somewhat remarkable is that the bullet-time is explicitly written into the screenplay even as far back as the September 26 draft. Although it’s Jamison, not Rousseau, and Albrecht, not Thomas, the scene is almost identical. About the only significant difference is that Albrecht is apparently taking photos at the time, while Thomas isn’t in the finished film.
The Film: Rousseau awakens, surrounded by face-hugged scientists. She convulses, and an Alien explodes from her chest.
The Journey: This scene is completely absent in the September 26 draft. The Aliens are never shown birthing. They simply appear, fully grown, later on.
Bizarrely, the remaining characters in the rest of the pyramid — Sebastian, Weyland, Lex et al. — see statues of Aliens and Predators fighting as they wander the hallways and ask “Do you think this is what happened to Jamison and Albrecht?”
Another interesting issue is that Lex uses her walkie talkie to try to contact Jamison and Miller, who’s currently standing right next to her.
In the production draft, the scene is in place and even mentions a “PG-13 friendly” spray of blood during the burst. Whether this is a legitimate comment from the script or an aside added by the uploader is unknown.
In the Tunnels …
The Film: Verheiden and Miller are separated into tunnels, and Connors gets lost on his own. Verheiden and Miller later find Connors’ gun after he’s taken by Aliens. Verheiden promptly falls down a hole and is likewise abducted, moments before Miller is also taken.
The Journey: Things get slightly bizarre here.
The September 26 draft and shooting script are almost identical except for Verheiden’s name. In the draft script, Miller isn’t abducted after Vincenzo; in the shooting script, as in the movie, he is. So far, so good.
But in every version of the script there’s a later scene of Miller coming across Weyland’s body on the stairs.
So in the draft script he escapes the tunnels, comes across Weyland, and gets abducted by nearby Aliens.
And in the shooting script he gets abducted in the tunnels, then finds Weyland, then gets abducted by nearby Aliens … ?
The scene of Miller finding Weyland was indeed shot — it was featured fairly prominently in the trailers. And in the commentary Anderson says that the shot of Miller getting grabbed was actually from elsewhere. So why the script includes a scene that was ostensibly done in post or reshoots, while leaving a later contradictory scene intact, is unknown.
Scar vs Aliens …
The Film: Weyland tries to slow Scar down with a makeshift flamethrower and is killed. Scar pursues Lex and Sebastian into a chamber, but is cut off by the shifting pyramid. He kills a facehugger and an Alien before being caught off-guard by a second face-hugger after blooding himself.
The Journey: The room Scar kills the Alien and facehugger in is much larger in the September 26 draft, full of pillars that obscure the view. The Alien attacks while Sebastian and Lex are still in the room, and is killed before the face-huggers. Scar cuts off the Alien’s arm with his throwing disc before delivering a killing blow.
There’s no tease of the face-hugging in the draft: the first hugger to attack does so after the blooding, and he kills it. Another face-hugger is mentioned, behind the first, but isn’t described jumping at Scar.
The Final Countdown …
The Film: Scar and Lex discover the Alien hive. After finding Sebastian and putting him out of his misery, Scar sets his wrist nuke and throws it into the pile of eggs. Scar and Lex run out of the pyramid and Lex sees a dark shadow at the end of the tunnel heading towards the surface. Aliens attack; one Alien wounds Scar and is killed by Lex. Before the others can get them, they take off on the sled up the tunnel to the surface just in time before the wrist nuke explodes. They outrun the explosion as the whaling station collapses behind them.
The Journey: The first major difference is that while Scar still demonstrates the nuke in the hive, he doesn’t activate it.
Secondly, the Queen is behind Lex and Scar, not ahead. An Alien still attacks and wounds Scar, but he and Lex escape on the sled before the rest can get to them. At the top of the tunnel, Scar watches the Aliens — including the Queen — making their way up towards them. Now he activates his nuke, and throws it down the tunnel.
The Final Showdown …
The Film: Lex is given the warrior’s mark by Scar moments before the Queen surprises them and attacks. They team up to send her down into the icy waters off the shores of Bouvetoya, but Scar is mortally wounded in the process and dies.
The Journey: The September 26 draft features many of the same beats as the finished fight, but arranged very differently.
Firstly, they still have Scar’s shoulder cannon on the surface. Lex uses it to shoot at the Queen and take chunks off her crown. The Queen’s chains are much more of an issue in the September 26 draft, where they lash out “like steel whips” as the Queen moves. One of them disarms Lex of the shoulder cannon.
Scar takes much longer to reappear in the draft. Lex escapes from under the separator, hides in the whaling station, gets attacked, and returns to the separator to wrap the Queen’s chain to it. The separator falls and hits the ice, much like in the film. Here, the Queen grabs Lex and pins her down — and here Scar returns by throwing a disc at the Queen.
The Queen dislodges the disc and Scar strikes a samurai pose, goading her on with a hand motion. There’s a storm raging as Scar fights the Queen with his spear, trading blows. Scar manages to impale the Queen, but is promptly impaled himself on her tail. Lex attacks the Queen with her Alien tail spear like in the movie, and is thrown away just like in the film.
The Queen is finally defeated when Scar throws his spear at the cracking ice the separator is resting on. The ice finally breaks, and drags the Queen down with it.
So, Did It Get Better or Worse?
Honestly, I could make a fairly good argument that the story actually got worse between script and screen.
While the script certainly lacked in the character and dialogue departments as much as the final film, there was at least less cringeworthy dialogue on the page. Sebastian actually feels like a bit more of a human being than Mr Exposition in the final picture.
For example, when Lex asks him how to say “How do you say ‘scared shitless’ in Italian?”, on the page he states “Y’know, I was really starting to like you.” In the film he gives a comically long an-swer (“I can’t wait to get out of this pyramid with you because I’m shitting myself”), and the film continues.
The former feels like something a person in a high-stress environment might say. The latter feels like a cheap joke.
Small touches, such as moving Scar using his wristbomb at the mouth of the tunnel rather than in the hive, feel much better timed in the script than on the screen. Watching the Aliens swarming up the tunnel on and around the Queen would’ve made a much more interesting visual. The count-down wouldn’t be curiously long compared to other films, and probably could’ve avoided the car-toonish explosion that we see in the finished picture.
So we got more dodgy characters and dialogue and less interesting visuals. In my mind, adding more bad and taking away some good, even if the end result is still a disappointment, means the film went backwards during development.
Overall, this was clearly never going to be as good as the originals, even from the outset. But reading Anderson’s earlier drafts actually makes it slightly more understandable why he was given the greenlight to begin with.