The history of the Alien sequels post-Aliens is a maze of failed concepts and combative producers having zero clue what they wanted creatively from their filmmakers, ultimately having very little vision for what the films should be. Nothing could be a better of example of this during the notoriously horrid pre-production and production process for what would eventually become David Fincher’s Alien 3, a film which the director disowns.
Fincher was essentially the fourth and final director on the project after attempts to sway Ridley Scott to return failed along with a young Finnish director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, The Long Kiss Goodnight) exiting during script development and New Zealand writer-director Vincent Ward essentially replaced with Fincher moments before production was underway as sets had already been constructed at Pinewood.
Scraps from that wild creative development could be mined for future films.
One interesting aspect of the Renny Harlin incarnation was that he was interested in exploring the origin planet of the xenomorphs, elements of that concept would be picked-up by Ridley Scott years later for his failed attempt to make Alien 5 then seemingly reworked for Prometheus and Alien: Covenant.
“My first concept was we go to the planet where the aliens come from, with Ripley and a team of scientists and soldiers, and we find out what they really are. Are they evil, horrible killing machines who are taking over the world? Or are they just animals with a survival mechanism? That’s one way that I wanted to do the movie.”
Renny would request screenwriter Eric Red to replace the previous writer, who had recently worked on the Kathryn Bigelow directed and James Cameron produced horror action film Near Dark to take another pass at the script.
He would also put out the idea of setting the film in Kansas, while producers kept pushing the idea of a prison ship, which Harlin was totally against and lead to his exit in 1989. Renny eventually directing The Adventures of Ford Fairlane and Die Hard 2 instead for 20th Century Fox.
“So for about a year we just went back and forth with these ideas and finally when we had this script of a prison ship and aliens, I said “I’m sorry, I can’t do this”. And it was a very crazy and scary thing to do. I was 29 years old, I was dealing with a huge studio, which was my dream, and I quit.”
The previous script based on a story treatment from producers Walter Hill and David Giler meant for Ridley Scott was penned by science fiction/cyberpunk author William Gibson, his novels would heavily influence the world of the Matrix. Details of Gibson’s 1987 script was revealed in a magazine article that chronicled the development of the film.
“[Brandywine] suggested the Marxist space empire, and I happily elaborated on that. In spite of its almost instant archaism, I found it fun. I couldn’t recall a single piece of Cold War space opera in which the other guys were commies … [The script] was sort of like a Cold War in space, with genetic manipulation of the Alien replacing nuclear war.”
Taking it’s real world influence from the Cold War arms race, replacing nukes with two feuding military factions racing to create an army of xenomorphs. Hicks and Bishop would be the focus of the film, back when producers were unsure of Sigourney’s return and their attempt to replace her with Michael Biehn.
Gibson’s story, drawing heavily from Hill and Giler’s treatment, picks up where Aliens ends - in deep space with the Sulaco troop carrier. Due to a failure in the on-board navigational system, the ship - carrying Ripley, Newt and Hicks in the hibernation chambers and the wrecked android Bishop - strays into a sector of space claimed by the Union of Progressive Peoples. The Sulaco is intercepted by a small shuttlecraft and searched by U.P.P. commandos, who are attacked by a alien facehugger that had been hiding in the synthetic entrails of the android. The soldiers blast the parasite into space, remove Bishop from the Sulaco for study and return the ship to its original course. Soon thereafter, the ship reaches it’s destination, Anchorpoint - a Company-run space station/shopping mall.
A fire started by by additional aliens aboard the Sulaco leaves Ripley in a coma, and it is left to Hicks to trawl through Anchorpoint in an effort to determine if rumors he’s heard about the Weyland-Yutani Corporation are true. The Company, he correctly suspects, is creating an army of alien warriors. (Unbeknownst to anyone on Anchorpoint, the Company’s archenemy, the U.P.P., thanks to the alien larvae gestating inside Bishop, is doing the same things.)
Inevitably, both the Company’s station and the U.P.P.’s station become infested with the parasite - and Hick’s team must join forces with U.P.P. survivors to destroy the alien horde. The script closes with an Alien 4 teaser: Bishop notes that the humans are united against a common enemy - they must now track the aliens back to their source and destroy them.
I wouldn’t be terribly shocked to see William Gibson’s script being reworked into Neill Blomkamp‘s version of Alien 5, pursing the xenmorph as a weaponized instrument of warfare leading to an arms race and attempt on destroying them before they’re unleashed all over the galaxy. Gibson’s script has been making the rounds for years online, Blomkamp having access to it and working off it wouldn’t be hard to imagine.
Neill has said he wanted to make a film that felt like genetic sibling of the first two films and a direct sequel to Aliens. William Gibson’s script seemingly went in that direction and we’ve seen Ridley Scott take old Alien 3 concepts and run with them before, so it’s not a big leap to make.
Some clues might include Blomkamp’s desire to resurrect Hicks, Newt and maybe even Bishop (hinted by Weaver), along with ignoring Fincher’s film. Using original concepts meant for Alien 3 would sort of explain the reasoning behind these creative choices to bring back characters and retcon the sequels. The William Gibson film was meant to lead into a fourth film, and Neill has already talked about Alien 5 leading into Alien 6.
Other hints in official concept artwork with the derelict engineer ship in the hands of Weyland-Yutani in a massive company facility, that seemingly might be influenced by company owned space station Arnchorpoint from Gibson’s script. Also, the inclusion of mercenaries that could be working with another faction taking the place of U.P.P.
We’ve seen Weyland-Yutani’s military force teased over the years in the video games Aliens: Colonial Marines and Alien: Isolation, their commandos were briefly shown in Alien 3. While never really seeing how they maintain their dominance over a majority of the universe outside being flush with wealth.