This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
In the beginning, it was supposed to be Dan Hedaya who got sucked out into space. His character, General Martin Perez, was originally set to exit Alien: Resurrection in spectacularly bloody fashion – his entire body ejected, limb by limb, through a tennis ball-sized hole in the space ship, Auriga.
Effects company Amalgamated Dynamics, Inc, spent several weeks in 1996 solving the problem of having a body pulled apart realistically by the vacuum of space. Test footage released by ADI shows the painstaking process of researching and testing practical means of creating Hedaya’s death scene, which would have concluded with his character’s screaming head stripped of its skin until only a gaping skull remained.
The results were almost comically grotesque and almost mesmerising to watch – so mesmerising, in fact, that Alien: Resurrection director Jean-Pierre Jeunet eventually decided that such a violent demise was more fitting for his movie’s most formidably villain, the Newborn, and not a relatively minor character. And so it was that the process of designing and testing began once again – this time on the practicalities of having a giant alien’s stomach rip open and its guts spill out on the floor before its skull shatters into countless tiny pieces.
The creative genesis of this gory sequence had its roots in the original Alien, where Ridley Scott wanted Lambert (played by Veronica Cartwright) to be “sucked out of the ship through an opening the size of a keyhole.”
“Not a very heroic ending,” Scott added – no doubt with a macabre chuckle – “but dramatic.” Ultimately, that scene was never shot due to time and budgetary constraints – and thus the death scene went unused, until screenwriter Joss Whedon reintroduced it in his script for the third sequel, Alien: Resurrection.
In one of his early drafts, Whedon has an unnamed soldier sucked out into space when corrosive alien blood eats through the window of the Auriga. “The blood eats a hole in the window,” the script reads. “The nearest soldier is sucked back against the window – he screams as he is sucked through a hole no bigger than his fist.”
That the victim of that undignified end changed twice – from a soldier to his superior, General Perez, and then again to the Newborn – provides a hint as to how much things were changed and shuffled around during Alien: Resurrection‘s making. The movie had a major problem to solve from the very beginning – how to bring back Ripley, who’d dived headlong into a burning furnace at the conclusion of Alien 3 – and Whedon was the writer brought in to help solve it.
In 2005, Whedon recalled why it was that Fox had opted for Whedon – then a respected script doctor and creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer – when thinking about writing a fourth Alien: it was because the sequel wasn’t going to be about a clone of Ripley, but a teenaged Newt.
“The history of Alien: Resurrection is fairly twisted also because I wrote a 30-page treatment,” Whedon said. “They wanted to do a movie with a clone of Newt as their heroine. Because I’d done some action movies and I’d done Buffy, they said, ‘Well, he can write teenage girls and he can write action, so let’s give him a shot.'”
In Amy Pascale’s book, Joss Whedon: Geek King Of The Universe, it’s said that the cloned Newt would be a heroine very much in the Buffy mould. “A young girl imbued with special skills and strengths to take out a particular enemy. Heads at Fox were concerned, however, that fans wouldn’t watch an Alien movie without Ripley, and the idea for a Newt adventure never got further than a 30-page treatment.
Whedon therefore signed on to a very different project than the one he wound up writing, and it’s fair to say he wasn’t entirely happy with the way Jeunet handled it. “There is always going to be a shitty Alien movie out there,” he said to Total Film in 2013. “A shitty Alien movie with my name on it.”
Reading through even early drafts of Whedon’s Alien: Resurrection screenplays, however, and it’s clear that much of his ideas and dialogue made the final cut released in the autumn of 1997. It sees Ellen Ripley revived as an alien-human hybrid aboard the Auriga, decades after the events of Alien 3. A new batch of scientists is still intent on harnessing the power of the acid-spewing xenomorphs, and hire a band of mercenaries to provide them with kidnapped human specimens to experiment on. Inevitably, the aliens escape from captivity, pitching the cloned Ripley and a dwindling group of mercenaries in a new fight for survival.
What did change considerably, however, is the final act.
Through the process of rewriting and reworking the Resurrection screenplay based on the director and the studio’s notes, Whedon came up with – and was forced to abandon – several different endings, many of them far more expansive than the one that ultimately capped off the finished film.
Whedon’s initial idea for the final alien threat was quite different, too. The Newborn, envisioned as a fleshy, gelatinous thing with glinting round eyes in the movie, was described in an early draft of Whedon’s screenplay as something huge and spider-like, with red veins pulsing beneath pure white skin. The classic alien’s inner jaws are joined by a pair of insectoid pincers that smash into the sides of its victims’ heads as it drinks their blood.
In one draft available online – which Whedon once stated is the first one he wrote – the Newborn and Ripley wind up on the mercenaries’ ship, The Betty, just as they did in Jeunet’s finished piece. But the difference here is that the ship ultimately crash lands on Earth in the middle of a forest.
Female synthetic Call (played by Winona Ryder), Ripley and two other characters survive the crash – but so too does the Newborn. Ripley, realizing that they’ve landed perilously close to a city, resolves to take out her nemesis before it can harm anyone else, and armed with a grenade launcher, prepares to do battle.
The Newborn may be only hours old, but it’s more than a match for Ripley, though, and she’s almost defeated when Call rides in to lend a hand on something called a harvester – a kind of futuristic, flying combine harvester. Battered by grenades and finally driven into the threshing jaws of the harvester, the alien abomination is ripped apart, its acid blood sparking a fire.
The story ends with Ripley, Call and the other survivors drinking whiskey in the dying embers of the alien and the now destroyed harvester machine. Ripley faces an uncertain future, but finally, she’s back home.
Whedon, it seemed, was determined to have Ripley and the alien return to Earth throughout the process of writing Resurrection. “I just kept saying, ‘The reason people are here is we’re going to do the thing we’ve never done; we’re gonna go to Earth.’ But there were a lot of things that we hadn’t done that we ended up not doing because of a singular lack of vision.”
When the ending in the forest was rejected, Whedon came up with three other conclusions, each taking place in a different location on our blue planet.
“The first one was in the forest with the flying threshing machine,” Whedon told In Focus magazine in 2005. “The second one was in a futuristic junkyard. The third one was in a maternity ward. And the fourth one was in the desert. Now at this point this had become about money, and I said, ‘You know, the desert looks like Mars. That’s not Earth; that’s not going to give people that juice.’ But I still wrote them the best ending I could that took place in the desert.”
Eventually, Whedon was told to forget about staging the final part of the Ripley-Newborn confrontation on Earth altogether – partly, it seemed to reduce costs. Another scene in one of Whedon’s drafts, a major action scene in a huge garden aboard the Auriga, was apparently cut for the same reason.
At any rate, Ripley’s final battle with the Newborn was filmed aboard The Betty instead, and concluded with the ungainly monster being sucked out in space as mentioned earlier. Eight years later, Whedon still seemed bitter about how the Newborn turned out.
“…I just gave them dialogue and stuff, but I don’t remember writing, ‘A withered, granny-lookin’ Pumkinhead-kinda-thing makes out with Ripley,'” Whedon recalled. “Pretty sure that stage direction never existed in any of my drafts.”
In the final cut, Ripley has to be content with looking down at the Earth from The Betty, though a sequence where The Betty lands on the outskirts of a destroyed, apparently abandoned Paris. This alternate ending still survives today as a deleted scene, and it’s odd to think that Resurrection could have concluded on a note so similar to Planet Of The Apes or, even more bizarrely, one edit of Sam Raimi’s Army Of Darkness.
Despite the difficult process of writing Resurrection, Whedon still seemed keen to write a fifth chapter in the franchise in December 1997. Entertainment Weekly ran a story in which Fox’s president of production Tom Rothman said, “We firmly expect to do another one; Joss Whedon will write it, and we expect to have Sigourney and Winona if they’re up for it.”
“There’s a big story to tell in another sequel,” Whedon added in the same article. “The fourth film is really a prologue to a movie set on Earth. Imagine all the things that can happen.”
That long-mooted sequel, which at various times had James Cameron and Ridley Scott attached, never happened, and Fox wound up making Alien Vs Predator instead. To date, a further Alien adventure featuring Ripley hasn’t emerged, leaving the longsuffering warrior stuck aboard the Betty, looking down at the welcoming atmosphere of our planet. As a consequence, Whedon’s concepts for Alien 5 went unrealized, too, and while Resurrection was undoubtedly a flawed film, we can’t help wondering what he might have done with an Earth-bound confrontation between Ripley and the xenomorph.
The kinship between Ripley and Call certainly comes across more clearly in Whedon’s drafts – the outsider status they both share, their sense of being apart from ordinary humans – and this too would have been an interesting relationship to explore in a sequel. Gradually, though, interest in following that story dwindled as various personnel drifted away.
“I’m not interested in making someone else’s franchise anymore,” Whedon would later state. “Any movie I make will be created by me.”
In more recent years, Whedon’s been unequivocal about the way Resurrection was made, particularly in terms of casting and design. “It was mostly a matter of doing everything wrong. They said the lines… mostly… but they said them all wrong. And they cast it wrong. And they designed it wrong […] They did everything wrong.”
Whedon may have been stung by the mixed response to Resurrection, but there is at least the hint of a happy ending to the story – in a round-about way. Without necessarily realizing it, Whedon had laid the groundwork his much-loved sci-fi show, Firefly.
“Someone pointed that out to me, the similarity between Serenity and the Betty,” Whedon said, when asked by In Focus‘s writer about the resemblance between Resurrection and his directorial debut. “And it just stopped me in my tracks. I was like, ‘Yes, my pony did its trick again!’ I really never thought of it until somebody pointed it out to me. But the irony goes further than I could have imagined because we shot it on the same stages at Fox where they shot Alien: Resurrection. In fact, Serenity was built over the pit that they dug for Alien: Resurrection for the underwater sequence.”
Out of the ashes of Whedon’s experiences on Resurrection, then, rose the cult favorite Firefly, with its Betty-like ship full of likeable misfits and rogues, and Serenity, the 2005 spinoff movie which served as Whedon’s feature debut as director. So who knows? Without Alien: Resurrection, maybe geek movie history would have been very different…