20 Fascinating Facts About The Troubled Production Of Alien 3
It was always going to be tough to match Ridley Scott’s horror masterpiece Alien and James Cameron’s equally amazing action-focused sequel Aliens. Released in 1992, the disappointing Alien 3 saw Sigourney Weaver reprise her role as Ellen Ripley, a space officer turned expert xenomorph hunter who finds herself stranded on an intergalactic prison with little hope of escape. Below are 20 shaven-headed, slimy facts about the grimiest instalment of the Alien franchise ever made:
20. Corporal Hicks was originally going to be the main character
During early discussions about a second Alien sequel, it was suggested that Michael Biehn’s character Corporal Hicks should be the main character, with Sigourney Weaver‘s only planned involvement being a brief cameo. The idea was to have Ripley remain in a coma for much of the movie’s runtime, whilst Hicks and his team evacuated their ship after a disastrous experiment combining human and alien DNA.
At the time Weaver was less keen to reprise her role as Ellen Ripley, and so shifting the series’ focus to the beloved Hicks made sense. However, this version of the story was eventually thrown out, and Michael Biehn’s character was unceremoniously killed off instead. Biehn found the way that Hicks was dispatched so hurtful that he even refused to give the studio permission to make a dummy version of his likeness so that Hicks’ corpse couldn’t be convincingly shown.
19. A large number of concepts and scripts were abandoned
The draft of Alien 3 that showed Hicks launching an unconscious Ripley into space in a lifeboat and fighting to the death alongside Bishop to protect his space station, was neither the first nor the last to be scrapped. A number of different concepts and scripts for Alien 3 were worked on, and eventually scrapped, including an action-focused two-parter that would have featured “an epic battle with alien warriors mass-produced by expatriated Earthlings.”
A 1987 William Gibson script, which was later adapted into a Dark Horse comic book, was followed by abandoned efforts from both Eric Red and David Twohy. These were in addition to a well-received draft by Vincent Ward, which would have seen Ripley land on a ‘wooden planet’ filled with monks, and was later described by journalist David Hughes as being one of “the greatest sci-fi movies never made.”
18. Sigourney Weaver insisted that no guns feature in the film
Way back in 1979, Sigourney Weaver made it a condition of her casting in the original Alien, that her character Ellen Ripley be allowed to go through the entirety of the film without using a gun. She tried to convince James Cameron of the utility of this idea, but he instead managed to convince her to drop it, after taking her to a shooting range to get her more comfortable with firearms.
However, by 1992’s Alien 3 Sigourney Weaver was much more comfortable in her stardom and value to the franchise, and so felt confident enough to insist on her no guns policy again. She managed to convince David Fincher and the rest of the team that while guns could be used in the movie, the action couldn’t rely on them, which is how the plot point about the scarcity of firearms on the prison planet came about.
17. Filming began before the script was even finished
Right from the beginning, Alien 3’s production was chaotic and troubled. Countless screenwriters came and went after contributing to the story, leaving David Fincher to inherit a screenplay that was muddled beyond repair. Even worse, Fincher was banned from making major changes, and was told to utilise as many set pieces from earlier drafts as possible, as the set was already half-built before the script was finished.
It took numerous years and $7 million for the film to even begin shooting, and they did so with a half-finished script. Everyone in the cast felt the pressure of pulling together a production that threatened to spin wildly out of control, but none so much as David Fincher, whose future in the film industry seemed to hinge entirely on whether he could get the movie out to theatres not too far over budget and in a reasonable time frame.
16. Alien 3’s alien was originally going to be a whippet in a xenomorph costume
There’s no doubt about it: the Alien series’ titular creatures are always terrifying, no matter the quality of their respective entry into the franchise overall. However, Fincher almost ruined the scariness of his aliens by casting an animal best known for being the opposite of spooky: a dog. Essentially, when it came time to bring the fast-moving, four-legged alien to life, Fincher suggested dressing a whippet in an alien costume.
A trial alien costume was made, but the end result was far more comical than it was nightmare-inducing, with the xenomorph trotting merrily around rather than chasing after its prey. Instead, a rod puppet was developed that could be operated by multiple crew members at once, giving the alien an indecisive and unpredictable quality that really boosted up its scare factor.
15. Fincher shot some scenes against the wishes of the producers
As a director right at the beginning of his career, David Fincher often felt powerless on the set of Alien 3 to stand up to producer and studio meddling. The studio objected to many of Fincher’s ideas over the course of the production and outright banned him from shooting certain scenes, even when he felt that they would help create a more consistent tone and a story that was easier to follow.
In one case, the studio put their foot down and told Fincher that a sequence featuring Ripley alone in the understructure underneath the prison compound couldn’t be included in the film. In retaliation, Fincher set the rest of the cast up with an exercise, then grabbed Sigourney Weaver and a camera and snuck away to shoot the scene. The studio was outraged, but did include the scene in the movie’s final cut.
14. A pilot episode for a tie-in cartoon series was made
Alien 3 wasn’t just an ambitious production because of its brand new visual style, its ballooning production costs or the amount of overtime the crew had to work. It was also supposed to launch a new spin-off entry into the Alien franchise, namely a cartoon series called Operation: Aliens. The cartoon was mostly designed to promote a toy line and sell merchandise, and didn’t have the same horror tone as the movies themselves.
Operation: Aliens was supposed to be released at the same time as Alien 3, but the cartoon was never even made. All that remains is the pilot episode that was brought to life by a Korean animation studio, and a few stray pieces of concept art and merchandise, such as Operation: Aliens posters and toys. The team behind Operation: Aliens later said that Fox was, unsurprisingly, nervous about turning Alien into a children’s property.
13. Michael Biehn got paid almost as much as he did for Aliens despite not appearing in the film
When previous major players of the Alien franchise found out that they wouldn’t be appearing in Alien 3, their responses varied wildly. Carrie Henn, who played Newt, reportedly replied to interviewers asking how she felt about her character being killed off with a stoic “life goes on”, whilst Michael Biehn was a good deal more irate.
Not only did Biehn ban the production from recreating his image in any way in order to stop them from showing his character’s death. he also demanded an exorbitant fee in order to sign off on his image appearing at all. As a result, Michael Biehn was paid almost as much for a photograph of his face marked with the word “dead” in Alien 3, than he was for being one of the stars of Aliens.
12. Director David Fincher disowned the film
It’s fair to say that David Fincher had a terrible time shooting Alien 3, and that his experience wasn’t exactly all made worth it in retrospect by the final product. Fincher constantly and publicly lamented the amount of studio interface he had to navigate whilst shooting the film, claiming that the producers did not trust him to deliver a polished end product.
Fincher later disowned the film entirely, saying in 2009 that “no one hated it more than me, to this day no one hates it more than me,” and his negative experience even caused him to briefly consider his career in Hollywood. Sigourney Weaver spent all her press appearances singing Fincher’s praises, and making it clear that he was a talented director who just needed another project to prove himself. Her instincts turned out to be right.
11. James Cameron called the film “a slap in the face”
Sigourney Weaver was not the only one to have strong feelings about the quality of Alien 3, but lay the blame at the feet of the studio rather than David Fincher himself. James Cameron also had a visceral reaction to the movie, calling it “a slap in the face” to both himself and fans. In Cameron’s case, it was the decision to kill off Hicks and Newt the thing that hurt him the most.
James Cameron did sympathise with David Fincher however, saying that the fledgeling director had been handed a “big mess on a plate”. Critics also seemed to sympathise with Fincher’s plight, as legendary film critic Roger Ebert called Alien 3 the “best-looking bad movie [he’d] ever seen” and praised its dark visual style.
10. Sigourney Weaver insisted her character be killed off
Whether Ellen Ripley would be in Alien 3 was one of the biggest quandaries regarding the movie’s production. Both Sigourney Weaver and Ridley Scott heard rumours about an upcoming Alien vs Predator movie, which made them hesitant to return to the franchise. However, Weaver was soon mandated to appear, as Fox president Joe Roth insisted she star in the movie.
As a compromise, Weaver agreed to return and star in one last Alien instalment but insisted that the character of Ripley not survive. The plot, which involved a Queen Alien growing in Ripley’s belly before her heroic attempt to throw herself into the furnace, was all borne out of Weaver’s insistence that she would not be returning to play Ripley again.
9. John Fasano was never credited for his work on the movie
Though there were many drafts of the screenplay for Alien 3 before the final story was locked in, one of the most influential came from John Fasano. It was Fasano who introduced many elements that remained in the final script, such as the prisoners having found religion during their incarceration, leading to the monastery-inspired architecture in many parts of the compound.
Fasano’s contributions to the project were so huge that had he not quit, he would have received a screenplay credit on the film, despite much of the final story being completely different from what he had envisioned. Unfortunately, Fasano quit after learning that his friend Larry Ferguson had been brought onto the project behind his back, and so it was Ferguson that ended up with the credit.
8. The studio insisted on a punishing shooting schedule
The constant disagreements between David Fincher and the studio executives at Fox didn’t just affect Fincher. They also had a top-down, knock-on effect, with chaos reigning at every level of the production. The script being unfinished when the shoot started, along with the masses of work that were scrapped before Fincher joined the team, meant that the crew were constantly playing catch-up to avoid the movie going too far over budget.
For the majority of the Alien 3 shoot, the crew were working 18 hours a day, six days a week. The shoot was also cut to 70 days from David Fincher’s proposed 93, which added extra urgency to every scene that was set up. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a malfunctioning pyrotechnic led to five crew members being injured, which led to further delays and the production going ahead with a reduced crew.
7. H.G Giger shared his designs for new Aliens for free
When it comes to the look of the now-classic Xenomorphs, H.R. Giger was instrumental. Giger developed many of the alien designs that we see throughout the series, but also many that never made it into the movies, such as a sensual lady alien with over-exaggerated lips that would kill its victims by kissing them, and a puma-inspired alien with long claws.
When it came to Aline 3, Giger was asked to develop a whole host of aliens, but his input was soon abandoned in favour of work from Tom Woodruff and Alec Gillis’. However, Giger was so eager to share what he had come up with that he paid to have his designs faxed to David Fincher, and didn’t even ask for a fee if his aliens were used. In the end, Giger’s Bambi-inspired alien did make it into Alien 3, but Giger himself was only credited for the original alien designs from previous movies, leading him to successfully sue to the production for updated credit.
6. It was the most intense shooting experience Sigourney Weaver had ever had
Alien 3 might have been a mixed bag as far as public and critical reception goes, and the on-set atmosphere might have been pretty high stress, but at least one cast member had a fulfilling time working on the movie. Sigourney Weaver constantly praised the skill of her director David Fincher, complimenting him for guiding her through the most intense shooting experience of her working life.
On her first day working on Alien 3, Sigourney Weaver was made to lie under a sheet completely naked, half-blinded by the bloodshot contact lenses she had to wear, with lice being poured over her face and into her hair. Though she had survived unpleasant conditions whilst working on Gorillas in the Mist in 1988, Weaver called her first day on Alien 3 the most intense experience of her working life, even though she felt immediately 100% comfortable with Fincher.
5. An early version of the script was based on Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
Of all the versions of Alien 3 that were proposed, maybe the most bizarre was the version that combined elements of Peter Pan and Snow White and the Seven Dwarves with a science fiction action plot. This version of the script would have seen Ripley fall from the sky like Wendy, before being adopted by a group of monks.
After the havoc wreaked by the alien, there would be seven monks left, symbolising the seven dwarves. Like Snow White, Ripley would then be placed in a life support tube, as though awaiting her Prince Charming. Unfortunately, development on this version of the script was halted basically immediately, with FOX CEO Joe Roth reportedly saying: “What?! What are they doing over there?! What the f**k is going on?!”, before firing the screenwriter responsible.
4. A Star Wars toy was used in the miniatures sequence
One of the conditions of the production of Alien 3 was that special effects had to be kept to an absolute minimum where possible. The movie was already headed to exceed its budget when the production phase started, and so cost-cutting measures abounded. This meant being particularly ingenious when it came to shots of the EEV being lifted out of the water at the beginning of the film.
Rather than custom making miniatures, the practicals team used cannibalised parts from a store-bought Star Wars X-Wing fighter model kit, in order to build the crane that lifted the EEV. With a fresh coat of paint and some weathering, the crane looked believable and well-used, rather than an action figure that was previously used to fight the Empire.
3. David Fincher didn’t want to show the alien coming out of Ripley
Maybe the most dramatic scene in Alien 3 comes at the end of the movie, when the long-awaited Weyland–Yutani rescue finally arrives, and request that Ripley undergo surgery to remove the Queen that is growing inside her. Despite assurances that the creature will be promptly destroyed, Ripley refuses and leaps into the prison’s furnace, with the creature bursting out of her stomach at the last possible moment.
Despite the palpable horror of the moment, David Fincher was actually dead set against showing the alien queen escaping from Ripley. Fincher believed that the terror would be cut in half once we actually saw what the monster looked like, and so planned to keep it in Ripley’s stomach. The ending was only changed when the team realised that it was too similar to a scene in Terminator 2, which came out while Alien 3 was shooting.
2. The real animal carcasses used made the set unbearably gross
As far as horror movies go, the Alien franchise doesn’t rank the highest on the gross-o-meter. Though body horror is a huge part of the series, many of the scenes are shot in low light to minimise exposure to the truly vomiting-inducing stuff, and the aliens themselves are often shot sparingly to ramp up the tension even further. However, shooting Alien 3 involved some truly revolting realities.
To create the sounds made by the aliens, the crew bought animal heads and stomach linings from an international market, tearing and pummelling them to create the sounds of characters being brutally killed. The chestburster scene was even shot using real blood and guts, which made the set smell unbearable and caused many crew members to get sick, as the set piece had to be reset over and over again under hot lights. Yuck.
1. Ridley Scott came to set to commiserate with David Fincher
For David Fincher, maybe the only bright spot in the mess that was the making of Alien 3 was that he had the support of the people whose opinions really mattered. Not only did Sigourney frequently and vocally praise his talent and confirm his version of events in regards to the blatant studio meddling, but Ridley Scott himself showed up to set to commiserate with him.
Allegedly, Ridley Scott walked right up to David Fincher to ask how he was doing, to which Fincher replied simply: “Really bad”. Scott gave Fincher his sympathy, sharing his experience working on the first Alien, which was similarly plagued with studio involvement. Scott also advised Fincher to choose a small-budget independent movie to work on next, so he could show his stuff without all the outside pressure.