Think Prometheus Was Nuts? One 'Alien' Script Featured Anti-Tech Monks Living in a Wooden Satellite
So, Prometheus is out, and everyone’s obsessed with Aliens again. Understandably so—despite the inconsistent quality of the films, Alien‘s intensely biological aesthetic is so unnervingly potent that if we didn’t have collective nightmares about that.
So, Prometheus is out, and everyone's obsessed with Aliens again. Understandably so—despite the inconsistent quality of the films, Alien's intensely biological aesthetic is so unnervingly potent that if we didn't have collective nightmares about that fetal, acid-spewing creature, we probably wouldn't be human.
And that's to say nothing of the saga's compelling feminist undercurrent—I revisited the first installment of the series last night, and my immediate reactions were:
1) That shit's still scary, and
2) Hey, you could read the whole film as a metaphor for a woman's violent rejection of a fetus that threats to consume her life—everyone and everything she knows—but she has the power to cast it away.
Knew that Intro to Film Studies 46 class would pay off someday.
Anyhow, all the buzz got me Googling, and I discovered a couple interesting side notes to the Alien mythology. Most everyone knows the story of the first two films pretty well—nefarious corporation subjects "expendable" crew to violent alien creatures in hopes of getting ahold of a specimen; Ridley Scott explores the claustrophobic horror the alien begets in the first, James Cameron tracks an all-out interspecies war in the second. The third, David Fincher's directing debut, is pretty universally regarded as the point where the series goes south.
His film, creepy in a more generic, horror filmy way, takes place on prison planet where Ripley's ship crash lands. Everyone else that audiences had rooted for in Aliens dies, including an 11 year-old girl, promptly ingratiating the film to no one. From there on out, it's a plodding thriller, with a new dog-birthed alien on the loose killing prisoners, who also try to rape Ridley and disbelieve her story.
But it didn't have to be that way. It turns out that the film was notorious back in the early 90s for its dysfunction—a rotating cast of scriptwriters and directors were tapped and sent packing, and Sigourney Weaver was reluctant to get involved. One of the first script treatments was written by William Gibson, though none of his ideas were ever used. A somewhat astonishing 30 subsequent drafts were filed, with different directors coming and going from the project.
The most interesting script, however, was by far the one submitted by Vincent Ward and co-written by John Fasano. As in the prison planet story, Ripley crash lands on an isolated outpost. But instead of a planet filled with ex-cons, it's a wooden satellite inhabited by a monastic order. I shit you not. I just spent the better part of the morning reading the script, and it's far more complex than the inmate-land yarn. That, and it would have made for some horrifying, stripped-down action set pieces—there was supposed to be an alien attack in wooden communal toilets, a massacre in wheat fields set aflame, and scenes in a dusty library that could have been chilling.
The concept is this: An order of monks have been exiled from earth for, we later learn, rejecting technology. They were branded as traitors for renouncing consumer culture, and shipped into space. Two thirds of the way through the film, as they're looking for something that can be used as a weapon to fight the alien—since there's no technology, the priests first chase after it with pitchforks and staffs—the protagonist monk and an android spy-monk are explaining to Ripley how they got there:
The order was more of a counter culture, a reaction to the Technology that was beginning to take over everyone's lives. It was a simple enough idea – Read, don't watch disk. Walk, don't pump more carbons into the air. The earliest members renounced technology. Started to collect the remaining books. Nobody would have noticed if it hadn't been for the Virus.
Your Abbot talked about that. The New Plague.
A computer virus. A bad program. By this time the Corporate structure was transglobal, all the world's data storage systems were linked. It spread through two countries before it was stopped.
After a scare like that, thousands flocked to our retreat. People started clamoring for written information. For our books. They abandoned the modern ways —
I think I can see how this comes out. They gave up their possessions.
This was a threat —
To the Company.
They sold the technology. A movement to live simply was quickly twisted by Federal agents into a political movement against the Company-controlled World Government. Too much was at stake.
Too much profit.
We were sentenced as political dissidents. This orbiter is our gulag. All the men were packed up with all our books, and towed into space. Ten thousand men. The eldest died very quickly.
The Company had such a sense of irony. Sending you out on this wooden tub.
It's interesting to me that the Alien series is in many ways already an examination of the limits of technology, and the inherent superiority of biological life—all the soldiers' advanced weaponry, spacecraft and know-how time and again fail miserably to contain a primal force. So this film would have been a riff on that motif; stripped of our gadgetry and technological prowess, we still have the same chance in hell of ultimately overpowering the natural forces around (and within) us.
Each of the films also tackle unbridled corporate greed, of course, and the wooden satellite-dwelling exiles from the consumerist world would have offered a nice culmination of that theme. To risk getting woefully allegorical here, the Alien films are all to some extent about the various forces and institutions that we use to try to tame the untamable: technology, business, consumerism, etc. But it's no use, the films say—including the ones that didn't get made—even if we nuke it or launch it into space or retreat into an old library, the alien will always be there.