William Gibson’s “Alien III”: The Path from Screenplay to Audio Drama

William Gibson wrote his legendary screenplay for Alien III more than 30 years ago. Now you can experience it as an audio play, thanks to Audible.

Gibson wrote the script back in 1987 at the height of his fame as the father of Cyberpunk and cultural influence. He made science fiction hip and cool for the 80’s with Neuromancer, Count Zero, and his short story collection Burning Chrome. When word hit that he was writing the next Alien movie, everyone got excited – until the studio deemed it too expensive and put it in turnaround. It would have cost over $50 million at the time, which translates into over $100 million in 2019 dollars.

Gibson’s script begins shortly after the end of Aliens, after the Sulaco is rescued and taken to a space station. There were rumors that Sigourney Weaver didn’t want to return as Ripley, so Gibson had to write her out and shift the focus to Hicks and Bishop. The plot continues the themes from Aliens involving corrupt corporations trying to harvest the aliens as weapons and deepens it into Cold War bioweapons arms race. Of course, things go pear-shaped and Hicks and Bishop have to keep the new – and quite different – aliens from making it to Earth.

William Gibson’s Alien III: The Path from Screenplay to Audio Play

Audible is bringing William Gibson’s uncovered Alien III script to life in audio for the first time, to mark the 40th Anniversary of the birth of the Alien franchise. Alongside a full cast, Michael Biehn and Lance Henriksen reprise their iconic roles as Corporal Hicks and Bishop from the 1986 film Aliens.

Father of cyberpunk William Gibson’s original script for Alien III, written in 1987 as a sequel to Aliens, never made it to our screens, although it went on to achieve cult status among fans as the third installment that might have been after being leaked online.

This terrifying, cinematic multicast dramatisation – directed by the multi-award-winning Dirk Maggs – is the chance to experience William Gibson’s untold story and its terrifying, claustrophobic and dark encounters between humans and aliens, as a completely immersive audio experience.

The story begins with the Sulaco on its return journey from LV-426. On board the military ship are the cryogenically frozen skeleton crew of that film’s survivors: Ripley, Hicks, Newt and Bishop.

We travel aboard and hear an alarm blare. Our heroes are no longer alone….

Starring: Tom Alexander, Barbara Barnes, Michael Biehn, Cliff Chapman, Samantha Coughlan, Ben Cura, Dar Dash, Harry Ditson, Mairead Doherty, Lance Henriksen, Graham Hoadly, Lorelei King, Laurel Lefkow, Martin McDougall, Sarah Pitard, Michael Roberts, David Seddon, Andrew James Spooner, Siri Steinmo, Dai Tabuchi, Keith Wickham, Rebecca Yeo.

How the Screenplay Became a Hit with Fans

After the studio rejected it, executives, interns, film students and fans passed Gibson’s screenplay around as a curio and missed opportunity. The script became legendary as a result. Fans preferred it to the movie directed by David Fincher because it gave them what they wanted. Gibson didn’t kill off Ripley, Newt, Hicks or Bishop and expanded the lore. This screenplay subsequently became the Rosetta Stone for the whole Alien franchise. Gibson’s ideas were recycled and used in the Joss Whedon-scripted Alien: Resurrection and Ridley Scott’s recent prequels Prometheus and Alien: Covenant.

Last year, Fox granted permission for Gibson’s screenplay to be adapted into a Dark Horse comic and for Audible to make into an audio play. Producer-director Dirk Maggs has been producing audio drama adaptations from comics and novels since the 1990s. He produced The Death and Return of Superman, Judge Dredd serials, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere and Good Omens, and the previous Alien audio plays.

Both the comic and the Audible production use Gibson’s second draft of the screenplay. The 1988 draft is less action-heavy and features a smaller cast of supporting characters and doomed extras. Dark Horse’s comic adaptation was too lackluster to generate any real dramatic tension. The audio play does not have that problem. Live actors make it sound more real. The treat is hearing Michael Biehn and Lance Henriksen return as Hicks and Bishop. That makes this production feel authentic.

Changes in the Audio Version

The audio play begins with a 12-minute recap of Aliens narrated by Bishop. This is not from Gibson’s screenplay. Maggs cast a voice actress sound-alike for Weaver to re-enact Ripley’s lines from the movie. He also turned the stage directions at the start into Bishop’s narration.

The audio version gives the Chinese officer new lines to flesh out her character more than she was in the screenplay. Maggs also gives Bishop some drily humorous lines to disguise the exposition to help the listener understand what he’s doing. There are also lines where the characters react to their surroundings and their actions to convey information to the listener – a much better approach than the awkward “Look at that battle over on that hill”-type of dialogue.

This is the Alien III movie that fans wish Fox had made – and the closest we’re going to get to “seeing” it.

William Gibson’s Alien III is now available for download from Audible.