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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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Alien 3
Ripley in her dungeon cell, about to suffer the mother of all nightmares...

It's not entirely surprising that, now Murdoch had turned up the heat, Alien III's producers started to worry about the commercial viability of Ward's concept. Indeed, the studio was now even more concerned to keep a lid on costs and see a quick return on its investment, because it had already poured a worrying amount of money into - ironically - Harlin's Die Hard 2 and Cameron's The Abyss. All too quickly, Ward's pitch turned in his peers' minds from exciting idea to unviable, indulgent flight of fancy. Holes began to be picked. "I had a hard time with it," says effects art director David Jones, considering the shallow-atmosphere idea. "Atmosphere has to be built up over thousands of feet." FX man Tom Woodruff, Jr., who plays the Alien in some scenes of the final film, took issue with the idea of the Alien 'taunting' Ripley. "It added too much of a human agenda to the Alien," he says - evidently missing the point that this occurs during Ripley's 'morning sickness' episode, and that Ward had established an "ambiguous" relationship between her and the Alien; "It (he) was effectively father to the embryo inside her and so therefore would not want to destroy her during its gestation," maintains Ward. "The thought of that creature licking at her would be truly frightening and kind of wonderfully revolting, sexual and protective at the same time, even if it was only in her nightmare. It would make you feel she had gone to hell and back, and when she finally kills it the satisfaction would be very primal."

The entire Wooden Planet concept itself also came under fire. "We could never quite get him to explain why this planet should be wood," says Giler on the Quadrilogy. "The interior was clad with wood before it went into outer space," responds Ward. "You can clad the interior of a spaceship now with wood!"

The Alien protects it's foetus in Ripley's dream.
The Alien protects it's foetus in Ripley's dream.
Perhaps the key criticism levelled at Ward was that he was less interested in the Alien or Ripley than he was in his world. This is certainly Pruss' claim: "The movie's called Alien because it's about the Alien," he said in '92. "I couldn't get that across to Vincent." Weaver has also since voiced that she had a similar concern. "Frankly, I think he never wanted to make an Alien picture in the first place," she said. "The elements were there but there was no story involving Ripley. He really did not know what to do with my character."

Ward recognises both Weaver and Pruss were "in an awkward bind", and understands their comments. He admits that "in retrospect it would have been smarter to outline more horror beats and Ripley-character beats straight up, even if it wasn't the best way to nail a realistic world for her to move through."

Ward was clear from the outset that, through his world, he was re-imagining the Alien through God-fearing (or rather, devil-fearing) medieval eyes: less H. R. Giger, more Hieronymus Bosch (indeed, the bizarre, hellish paintings of the 15th-century Dutch artist were a key reference point for the director). It's central to his plot, and he insists he was "more than happy to scare the bejesus out of people!" As for Ripley, he concedes that he focused on the harder job of "making the surrounding characters come alive" while only sketching Ripley's throughline, assuming he'd have more time to detail it. An approach he now recognises was unwise: "When you're working with a star and showing treatment drafts at such an early stage, that's not such a good strategy!"

Even so, he had clear intentions for the character. He was particularly taken by Cameron's idea, seen in the Aliens Special Edition, that Ripley had a daughter who had died of old age. Though he was keen to be rid of the surrogate-daughter figure of Newt ("One of the first things I wanted to do was kill her off. She kind of annoyed me," he laughs), he wanted to place at the thematic heart of Alien III the idea of Ripley searching for family. "You can't keep living your life fighting creatures without much of a family," he says. "How would you survive? Families give us something. We're communal, social creatures. So Ripley's big regret is that she missed out on a personal life. She seeks some sort of strange atonement for not having had a relationship with her daughter."

Over the months, the producers, in Ward's words, "became more conservative". And he became less comfortable being supposedly responsible for the fortunes of an entire studio. Things started to become, as they say, political. Ward says he was warned by his line producer that his "tall, beautiful" assistant was "phoning in every night to the studio". He was also informed that the studio was having phone calls with production designer Reynolds behind his back. Reynolds, for the record, denies this: "I wasn't, actually! I'm really the director's man. My dealings are with the director as opposed to the producers." What is certain is that there was a growing atmosphere of mistrust.

Eventually, Ward was sent notes that were, he says, "very adamant about what could and what could not happen in the script. Now it was felt it should be more like Alien and Aliens, so they suggested, 'Let's make it a mining community!' How boring! 'Let's have that guy who turned out to be a robot (Lance Henriksen)!'" Ward protested: "Guys," he said, "you can't do the same thing in this film, another character that has milk come out of them - it's gonna be predictable! Try something else!"

Soon after, Ward received a message that he should meet with "one of our key senior executives at Fox" the next day. He was made to wait outside for an hour, "like a school kid". His mood darkened. The meeting did not go well. The Wooden Planet, he was told, had to go. Shortly afterward, Ward left Alien III. "Basically, the only reason I signed on was because I had a strong idea for the story," he sighs, "and the very fabric of that story had been chipped away. It just became a remake.

"It was a weird situation to find myself in," reflects Ward. "I'm one of those people who like to see things through. I don't mind compromising if it will improve the story. But you're dealing with people where it's not known as a 'film' - it's called a 'franchise'. So you don't want your Kentucky Fried Chicken or your McDonald's to look different. You gotta have the same coloured walls, and the doors in the right place..." He pauses. "There's only so much you can say, really. It just comes down to creative differences."

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