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Alien 3: The Lost Tale Of The Wooden Planet
We investigate Vincent Ward's Alien movie that never was...
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Worrall envisions the Alien stalking Ripley within Ward's wooden environment.
Worrall envisions the Alien stalking Ripley within Ward's wooden environment.

Vincent Ward is one of those filmmakers who, for the sake of convenience, tends to be tagged with the label 'eccentric'. While he may well accept that as a compliment, it doesn't quite get the measure of the man. Born in a small rural community near Wellington, New Zealand, in 1956, he spent much of his childhood playing alone on the family farm (Ward was not an only child, just very much younger than his siblings), appreciating from an early age the redness of nature's tooth and claw. "Once I saw a hawk dive out of the sky and pluck the eyes from a live lamb," he writes in his autobiography Edge Of The Earth. He also became fascinated at this impressionable age by "the apocalyptic engravings" in his grandfather's leatherbound Bible. "I imagined I saw demons rising up out of the flaming fields to peals of thunder as my father burned back the barley stubble. Fire attracted me, and I felt a compulsion to watch as he set alight the pyres of stillborn lambs.

"My childhood was not extraordinarily eventful," he adds. "It's the emotional intensity with which I viewed the world that dominates my memories."

It would seem, from Empire's long, trans-hemispherical phone conversations with Ward about Alien III, that such intensity has barely waned. Indeed, it's driven him as an artist and filmmaker: when funding for The Navigator, his third film, collapsed during pre-production in 1986, he refused to abandon it and started again from scratch, sticking with the project all the way through an extremely demanding shoot. Not for nothing did Newsweek once describe him as combining "Werner Herzog's dogged visionary zeal with George Lucas' showmanship".

Tellingly, he appears to be one of the only participants in Alien III's tortuous realisation happy to revisit the whole farrago today; he is still passionate about his vision for the movie, and despite Empire speaking with him early one Sunday morning his time, he can (and does) relate the plot, beat by beat, in some detail, and with great enthusiasm.

At the lagoon's edge. Note how Worrall made the world aged, decaying and worn.
At the lagoon's edge. Note how Worrall made the world aged, decaying and worn.
Ward's supposed eccentricity is perhaps borne out by his initial response to Fox executive Michael London's suggestion that he direct Alien III: "No." It wasn't that he disliked the material - Ward loved Scott's "visually strong horror" and "respected" Cameron's entirely different take - just that he preferred to generate his own, something he felt sequel-making would deny him. Undeterred, London sent over the scripts that had been written so far, including Twohy's prison-colony work-in-progress. "I hated them," says Ward. "I thought, 'This is just more of the same.'" However, his next planned movie - which would eventually become 1993's Map Of The Human Heart - had hit a snag, and besides, a strange, compelling notion was forming in his mind, something that could be "as different from Alien as, say, Alien is from Metropolis or Blade Runner". He relented, and accepted London's invitation. "I just wanted to get out of Australia (where Ward was based at the time) for a break," he half-jokes.

On the plane his notion calcified into a Big Idea. "After The Navigator I wrote a book (Edge Of The Earth), and started exploring more medieval imagery, and I came across engravings and so on that I hadn't seen before," he says. "One of them was of a devil being cast out of someone's mouth. So on the plane over some of these images came to mind. By the time I got to LA, I had a complete story."

At the meeting with London, Giler and Hill, Ward's pitch, as he recalls, went something like this: "What if this Alien had been encountered somewhere in the distant past on Earth? People would have thought of it as some kind of devil. Then, what if you had like a sort of powerful sect on Earth (in the future of the Alien movies) who reject all technology beyond a certain date. So the ruling forces say to the sect, 'Okay, you wanna live this way? We have an old satellite - huge thing. We'll tow it into outer space and you can just live there on your own.' They just give them a place to live where they know inevitably they're gonna die.

"The sect agree, but they believe in having an environment that looks archaic. Within that environment - a huge, round satellite about a mile in diameter - you have maybe 16 floors, each one about 100 metres high. It's layered like an ant's nest, or bee's nest, and each layer has been largely clad with huge areas of sculpted wood. They can grow wheat there, and even have windmills and orchards. In a way it's like a monastery. The satellite [named 'Arceon'] has a range of technologies that allow it to survive in outer space: it has a means of dealing with gravity, and a means of dealing with air, and it has a low surface atmosphere. It looks like a meteorite on the outer surface." This was what has since been called the 'Wooden Planet' vision.

The producers, it seemed, loved it. "It was a little far out," remembers Giler, "but that's what we wanted: to push this thing a little bit." Soon after, Ward met with Sigourney Weaver and they hit it off. She found his concept, she says, "very original and arresting". Ward was hired in late 1989. Alien III was finally greenlit.

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