In a franchise where Alien 3 exists, it’s easy for films with less complicated narrative developments to be seen as having a simple journey. But what we might tend to forget is that there are countless pitches and treatments that are never heard of outside of studio executives, a point that was re-iterated to us recently in our interview with screenwriter Alex Litvak who shared the various pitches and attempts he’d made in an effort to get Predator 3, and then a 4, put into production.
Just think of all those Alien 5 and Predator 3 pitches and treatments that are probably locked away in a vault at 20th Century Studios! But sometimes we do hear about some of those pitches or treatments. Back in 2019 I wrote a piece on the Alien 2’s that never happened, talking about all the possible directions that we heard about that the Alien sequel could have gone.
While James Cameron’s Aliens had a fairly straight forward narrative development, with the details from his treatment to finished script remaining largely consistent – with some interesting could-have-beens – the storynotes that Walter Hill and David Giler had handed the writer/director were a fair bit different!
We’ve never really known much about what those original notes had entailed. As we explored in our previous article on possible Alien 2s, when 20th Century Fox was purchased by Marc Rich and Marvin Davis, the new management had had no interest in working on anything that the previous CEO Alan Ladd had been interested in. This included more Alien.
Speaking on Superior Firepower: The Making of Aliens, David Giler attributed the disruption more to Norman Levy, the then vice chairman of 20th Century Fox, explaining that Giler was told that Levy was “really opposed to it.”
According to J.W Rinzler in his recently released Making of Aliens, the development of a sequel was actually mandated in 1983 by a settlement following a years long court battle between Brandywine and 20th Century Fox regarding the profits from Alien. Though Fox weren’t obligated to actually produce an Alien 2, they were required to put the project into development. While they weren’t certain where to go with it, Hill and Giler eventually settled on taking the next film into a more militaristic direction.
But in 1984 Norman Levy resigned as vice chairman from Fox following Barry Diller’s appointment as the Chairman. It was after this further change in management that David Giler was approached in the parking lot of 20th Century Fox by an un-named executive who spoke to Giler about an Alien sequel. Giler was asked “what do you want to do?”
“So I kind told him this story that was a cross between Southern Comfort that Walter and I had made since, and The Magnificent Seven that we were working on at the moment. And he said ‘Great, that sounds fine!’ We all had a meeting, and we were on.”
In 2001 Orion published Aliens: The Illustrated Screenplay, which contained an interview that Paul M. Sammon had conducted with James Cameron several years earlier in 1998. While discussing the writing process of Aliens, Cameron told Sammon how after having gotten the opportunity to write a treatment for Aliens following a largely disastrous pitch meeting with Walter Hill and David Giler, he had asked for whatever notes the Brandywine producers had come up with. According to Cameron he was handed a one-paragraph story outline by David Giler.
“That outline said something like “Ripley gets rescued and goes back to the planet with a bunch of soldiers. They are attacked and eaten.” That was pretty much it. Except that – and I’ll never forget this – the outline concluded with the sentence; “And then some other bullshit happens.” Which I thought trivialised the entire process of actually figuring out what the story should be.”
Cameron hadn’t been far off! That summary had actually ended simply “some bullshit.” But it had been 15 years, so we’ll have to forgive him the lapse in memory! But for the longest time the above was the extent of what we knew about Hill and Giler’s early ideas for an Alien 2!
Enter J.W Rinzler. Following on from his phenomenal The Making of Alien book with The Making of Aliens, Rinzler continued to dig up those unseen scripts and documents and for the first time ever dished the details on what Hill and Giler had handed to James Cameron!
Somewhat more than the one paragraph summary that Cameron recollected, Rinzler dug up six pages of story notes for Alien II, with the apparent codename of The Mining Co. The first page was a summary that gave the broad strokes of what Hill and Giler had developed for the sequel up until that point.
Their notes open with a very similar setup to the finished Aliens where Ripley is awakened after a lengthy sleep drifting through space, to find skepticism regarding her claims, and that the as yet unnamed planetoid had become a colony and was home to many families.
“The Narcissus arrives back on earth. Ripley is gotten out of hypersleep. Fifty years of earth time has passed. Twenty minutes in hypersleep. Those responsible for the corporate decisions involving the alien have been deposed or destroyed, and a new era reigns. No knowledge of the alien exists, previous records lost or destroyed. The planet of the Spotted Dick has been colonized some five years previously, so far without untoward incident. Ripley finds it difficult to believe that the inhospitable planet could be auspicious for any kind of settlement. This colony seems however to have tamed its harsher elements and is in fact now farming peacefully. Ripley’s dire warnings about the planet’s other inhabitants is greeted with some scepticism. However, a mission, an investigative trip, is commissioned. A group of very tough military types is put together and sent out.”
Unlike the storm-lashed moon that LV-426 would eventually become, Hill and Giler had imagined a much greener locale for the colonists to inhabit. A later story note would specify that something had actually happened to the planet such as a meteor impact shifting the moon’s orbit – not a terraforming project – giving it a more hospitable nature.
“Meanwhile back on the planet… we see the glory of the frontier space colonies. A hardy group of families tilling the virgin soil, building a community, etc. Small children playing on a mountainside discover a shaft – the entrance to the alien space craft cleverly disguised as a mountain (or something equally prosaic). Unaware of the horrors within they toddle in for a look.”
The source of all the pain and suffering that would befall this farming colony would come not from the glory or money seekers like Kane or the Jordans, instead from the colony’s young children playing, blissfully ignorant of what they were about to unleash.
“Eventually, of course they discover the egg chamber. I don’t know how much value there is in having the toddlers’ heads bitten off in gruesome fashion by their alien contemporaries, so perhaps it is merely by the introduction of some other element, like light or warmth, which triggers the hatching of not just one of the horrible eggs but all of them. The whole egg chamber bursting into life. The kids beat a hasty retreat.”
Alien vs. Predator Galaxy once again turned to one of our favourite Alien artists, Declan Loftus, to visualize the scene in which the colony’s children discover the Alien eggs.
The summary goes on to describe the “tough guys” arrival and discovery of a colony that is either in the midst of an Alien infestation, or like in Aliens, already wiped out.
A further similarity to the finished product was that the “tough guys” would discover an Alien hive; perhaps an extension of the deleted cocoon sequence from Alien, rather than an inspiration from insects. An interesting concept here is that Hill and Giler considered having the Alien hive as an actual living entity itself.
“The aliens having made structures out of themselves and cocoons out of the colonists. It might be that the team is already inside one of the sky structures discovering the cocooned colonists when they then discover that the structure itself is alive and hostile.”
And without an airlock to turn to, Hill and Giler concluded that the Alien threat should be ended…somehow…
“The answer to all this is clear. Our team has to get off the planet and destroy it. Maybe they should discover something on the spaceship left from the dental patient that tells them something about the alien and its potential menace to all other living forms. That it’s an anti-life force. Some bullshit.”
What followed was another five pages of story details. Unfortunately the whole thing isn’t included verbatim in the book, but Rinzler did go on to include how the story notes continued. Ripley and her team of ultimate badasses – sorry, Ripley and her team of tough guys come to the realization that they can’t just deal with the alien threat by blowing up the planet, because obviously the spores would just fly off through space and infect countless worlds.
As an interesting aside here – the idea of LV-426 exploding and sending the alien eggs flying through space infecting other planets was one of the concepts that “The Officially Authorised Magazine of the movie Alien” reported as being explored for potential Alien 2 ideas. The magazine, published in December of 1979, included the following as a potential direction for the sequel.
“The planetoid of the Alien explodes, sending Alien eggs to earth where – shades of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS – a whole flock of the monsters runs rampant.”
Instead, Hill and Giler would turn to the interior of the Derelict to find their solution. What kind of solution? Hill and Giler had evidently not figured that part out yet. But it would come after a whole lot of shooting and death, of course.
“The team sees only one real shot at conquering the alien hordes. They must find the entrance to the spaceship, penetrate to the very bowels of the egg chamber, and hope they can find a way to destroy the aliens from within.”
Cameron’s Aliens would find itself inspired by the Vietnam conflict, in which the Colonial Marines land on LV-426 full of bluster and confidence in their technology, only to be over-come by the technologically inferior Aliens. In an interesting reversal of this, Hill and Giler had considered how their own military forces would take on the role of the guerrilla warrior.
“While searching for the entrance, the team lives like guerrillas in a supremely hostile enemy territory. Several of them are wiped out in an excruciatingly violent fashion and the survivors are on razor’s edge, fighting among themselves – some ready to abandon the planet and leave the universe to its fate. Ripley manages to hold the team together, until they find the entrance.”
It does sound like Hill and Giler’s idea would have seen a much more detailed look within the Derelict, as Ripley and her surviving forces fought their way through the crashed vessel to find their undecided deus ex-machina.
“Penetrating the egg chamber is a descent into hell. More members of the team are lost, but finally Ripley and the few survivors reach the center of the chamber. They find inscriptions (or some sort of information) that tells them that aliens are than mere flesh-eating monsters. They are an anti-life force that could endanger the living universe.”
On the topic of “life force,” as another interesting little aside, original Alien scribe Dan O’Bannon would go on to co-write a film called Lifeforce in 1985, a film that featured several extra-terrestrial vampires that fed on people’s life force. The life force sucking aliens in that film were defeated by a special ancient weapon made of leaded iron. Despite the connection, I think it would be safe to say that wasn’t the direction Hill and Giler were aiming at for their solution here.
“In some magnificently clever fashion, Ripley and the team figure out how to reverse this anti-life force; in a sense, causing the aliens to implode. Ripley and the team fight their way out of the chamber and with only seconds to spare, blast off the planet, as the aliens implode, in a black hole effect, or something similar.”
Written on paper as an anti-life force, it sounds a little underwhelming but I have to admit I do like the implications that the Aliens would have had a deep-rooted history in the galactic background as some sort of natural antagonist to life. I find it very reminiscent of the direction one of my favourite comics, Aliens: Apocalypse – The Destroying Angels, would take the Aliens as a “universal wave of extinction” that would wipe out life on a “cosmic scale.”
However, as always, it would have greatly depended on execution and would ultimately not come to be. The direction that James Cameron took Aliens in would share several similarities to the notes that Hill and Giler had compiled, but would ultimately take a much different direction, becoming a genre defining film in the process. And then some other bullshit.