The following is a guest editorial submission by Michael Foertsch, a freelance journalist based in Germany who managed to speak with Stuart Hazeldine, a British filmmaker and screenwriter who had penned an early draft for an Alien 3 sequel back in the 90's titled Alien: Earthbound. Although Fox reportedly liked Hazeldine's script, by the time they had received it they had already approved Joss Whedon's script for Alien: Resurrection and so, Earthbound never got made. Below, Hazeldine discusses the plot for Alien: Earthbound and why it failed, for the first time ever:
This summer Alien: Covenant hit theaters. Ridley Scott finally tried to bridge the gap between Prometheus and his 1979s Alien. We already know it's not the best Alien film – but better than Prometheus. Down the road, we might also see Neill Blomkamp take on the Alien-Universe. Or at least: We still hope too. Based on concept arts and the several hints surrounding the plot the biggest mystery is not if this could be an interesting shot at the franchise, but how Blomkamp will treat Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection. How can Hicks and Ripley still be alive? Clones again? Nah! Sigourney Weaver confirmed that Blomkamp will work around this problem in a pretty easy way. He will pretend that the stuff from the last two movies never happened – or only in another timeline. Why? In David Fincher's Alien 3 and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Resurrection stuff happened that most fans didn't like.
Yeah, Alien 3 and Resurrection were not quite bad movies but they weren't that good either. But what's even more important: There would have been interesting alternatives. There was the original script for Alien 3 by Vincent Ward in which Ripley would have crashed on a wooden monastery planet called Arceon. She was to be chased by an Alien in a giant library and monks would get wrenched thru toilets. This could have been pretty bonkers and genius at the same time. And there was William 'Neuromancer' Gibson's screenplay that was going to be pure madness – featuring Alien-Monkeys and impregnating spores – humor has it, that some ideas of this were revived or Alien: Covenant. And what about Alien: Resurrection? Was there an alternative? Yeah, kind of. One not many know about. It's called Alien: Earthbound and was written by Stuart Hazeldine, the director of The Shack and Exam.
I first stumbled upon Earthbound some months ago. I was searching and asking for scripts of movies that never made it. Stuff like Roland Emmerichs ISOBAR, Clair Notos The Tourist, James Cameron's MOTHER. I can't really say when but in a scriptwriter's chat someone asked if anyone got the Alien script of “the guy who made Exam”. Exam is a confined space movie that I – at this time – had just watched and was really amazed by. Digging deeper it became clear that Earthbound is a thing known by many Alien-Fans – just that nobody really knew what it was about. I was hooked. I contacted Hazeldine and after some bugging he was willing to tell me about Alien: Earthbound. And let me just spoil something: if it made it to the screen it would have been a spectacular ride!
In the mid 1990s the then 25 years old Hazeldine just sold his first spec script for an action flick called Underground. Born in the UK he wanted to get noticed in Hollywood as well and watched out for ideas to make a name for himself. “Opening a movie magazine one day, I read that Joss Whedon was developing a fourth Alien movie using the idea that Ripley is cloned to bring her back from the dead – a great idea, I thought”, tells me Hazeldine. “It also said something about her teaming up with space pirates to battle Aliens on a starship.” That was something that made sense to him. The Alien series was quite from the beginning about clashing genres and worlds together. Ridley Scotts and Dan O'Bannons Alien was at its basic level about Truckers in space and Aliens was the Vietnam War in space. “But the third time wasn’t quiet the charm because Alien 3, prisoners in space, whilst underrated in my opinion, didn’t reach the same dramatic heights as the first two”, says the British writer/director. “Their only concession to newness was to create a dog Alien and take away the guns, in the hope that these elements would pique audience interest. Well, that was something I guess, but it wasn’t enough.”
The simple idea that Ripley is teaming up with pirates was not what the audiences expected and deserved, Hazeldine thought. He remembered an interview with Sigourney Weaver where she said that the Aliens needed to reach earth at some point in the future. This would be the next logical level of escalation, "She was right", says Hazeldine. "I personally wanted to see what happened when the Aliens reached earth and I knew the audience would too." Knowing that a movie goes through many different scrips and proposals like Alien 3 he started writing a rival spec to Whedon's. "If it was no good it wouldn’t sell, and if it did sell by some miracle, Fox would make it work", he thought. "I had nothing to lose."
The starting point for Hazeldine was the same Joss Wheadon took. Ripley has to come back after she died on Fiorina “Fury” 161. “Sorry, Joss“, he says. “It has his idea but hardly the first time something like that had been done in sci-fi, and because I knew nothing more than his basic cloning premise I was pretty confident that I would execute it in a markedly different way than he did, which proved to be the case. I didn’t go the Alien-DNA route at all.“ There's more to it – later on. But bringing Ripley back from the dead is one thing. Getting the Xenomorphs to earth and getting suspense, horror and action is another one. “Either we drop nukes and wipe them out before they spread, or they spread so fast that we can’t wipe them out and we’re toast“, considered Hazeldine; the discussion nearly every Alien fan may know. “Neither is very interesting dramatically.“ Instead of just bringing the Aliens down to our planet Hazeldine thought Ripley and some Marines should try to stop them from reaching earth's surface. This would prove to be an environment that would be as claustrophobic and confined as the interstellar tug cruiser Nostromo. But … wait: Wasn't this even the last third of Resurrection? Right. “'Oh my God, the autopilot is tripped and we’re headed to earth with Aliens in tow!'“, jokes Hazeldine. “For me that wasn’t going to be enough.“
The Mid-Twenties-Stuart-Hazeldine revolved the Alien movies in his mind for a clever hook. And he found one. “In the first Alien there was mention of some kind of traffic control called Antartica Station, I recalled, and that got me thinking”, he goes on. “What if there was a space station above earth, but instead of orbiting earth like Gateway Station did in Aliens, and most other space stations… what if instead it was connected to Earth?” Just think about the current dreams of a space elevator but with a giant station that was attached to the 80 mile long tube that goes up from the cold ice flats in Antarctica. “After a Prometheus-style prologue in which explorers happen upon the Alien homeworld and get face-huggered when they enter one of Giger’s un-used Alien pyramids, I had the infected ship drift home to Antarctica Station on auto-pilot“, Hazeldine begins to tell the story. “Then the Aliens overrun Antarctica – the Station not the continent – , contact with Earth far below is lost, and the creatures start moving down the connecting tube at a rate of knots. In 72 hours they’ll hit ground and then it’s game over for humanity: a perfect ticking clock.“ So what do you do? Nuke the Aliens and with them Antarctica Station, right? Nope. 'Cause this would blow thousands of giant parts over the earth and likely poison the atmosphere.
“Instead they decide to send military engineers into the belly of the station to plant a fuel-air bomb that will incinerate the station from the inside“, Hazeldine thought. “A much more environmentally friendly method of destruction.“ Beside the tech guys would have been soldiers. But instead of the USCM Marines we know these guys were going to be UN Troops. But these guys knew nothing about the Xenomorphs so they would clone Ripley and her memory to help them take on the star beasts. But, like every sane person Ripley won't join them for this would be a suicide mission. But the UN Marines have a joker: Ellen McClaren, Ripley’s twenty-something year old granddaughter as well as a marine who gets attached as a squad leader. After loosing her daughter, Newt and her cat Jonesy, she's is the only one Ripley can relate to and feels responsible for. So Ripley agrees to do the job. They fly up to the station, docking in on the space port and find themselves in the middle of a war. Beside the humans the Aliens have infected a colony of genetically engineered giant jumping spiders that were created for pest-control in the new off-world colonies. And this alien spiders are even more aggressive and creepy than the ones we know. But wait for it... “Turns out the place they need to plant it is slap-bang in the middle of the spider aliens’ nest“, tells Hazeldine. “Ripley comes up with an ingenious plan to distract the creatures so the team can complete their mission.“ Sounds crazy? Yeah, of course but also like a lot of fun!
Hazeldine did not wish to divulge much of the rest. But there would have been another Bishop, some old and known characters and a side story about who the cloned Ripley really was. Would she really remember all the stuff that happened to her original body and mind in the past? Would she have the same feelings or is she a completely new person? The young writer was pretty satisfied with his 14-page spec script and made his agent call 20th Century Fox. Fox agreed to accept the script for review initially, but: “24 hours later he [Fox] calls back, having obviously been spoken to by business affairs, and he apologizes, ssid he couldn’t legally read it“, remembers Hazeldine. “I had a promising Alien spec, but no one would read it“.
Just some time later Stuart was on his way to Los Angeles and got the chance to have a look at Joss Wheadon's early script. Not that he didn't like it – but he was skeptical. “Joss is a stone-cold filmmaking genius”, Hazeldine wants everyone to remember. But to him: Resurrection wasn't enough of what Alien is about. The first screening of Alien: Resurrection in 1997 and the opinions of other Alien fans confirmed his feelings. Right the next day he was again on a plane to Los Angeles and a few hours later he found himself in a room with the Fox executive who was not allowed to read his Earthbound script. “I asked him if he ever did read my script and he says yes: when Resurrection was safely in post-production he did“, remembers Hazeldine. “I asked him what he thought of it, and he said if he’d read it before they made the movie he would have combined the best elements of my script and Joss’, and Resurrection would have been a better movie for it.“
“I guess I should have been flattered by that, but being young and idealistic I was just frustrated and annoyed at getting so close to the holy screenwriting grail with no cigar to show for it“, says the Exam-director. So after he got asked by the Fox executive what he thought about Resurrection Hazeldine he told him his opinion. In detail. “I was going to say what I knew legions of other Alien fans would want to say in my place“, the then young director says. This was not the smartest move but it felt good to him. “Oh dear“, Hazeldine jokes. “And that is the closest I ever got to writing an Alien movie.“
Alien-hybrid Spidermorphs taking over an orbiting Earth space station certainly would have turned the tide for the Alien franchise, had it been made. The story itself, from what we know may have contained enough substance to salvage what eventually became of Resurrection, but would it have been the direction you would have liked to see the franchise take? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Big thanks to Michael Foertsch for conducting this interview and exclusively sharing it with us!
Banner artwork by Uncannyknack on DeviantArt.
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