Written by: Big Ross, CC2K Staff Writer
One of the things I love about writing for CC2K is that I’ve had the opportunity to read scripts for movies. Some are for projects that are only beginning production or are still long from it, and others that ultimately went unrealized, having never gotten beyond the writing stage. This review marks the first time I’ve been given the opportunity to read a script that exists somewhere between those two extremes. Having recently reviewed Joss Whedon’s original script for Alien: Resurrection, I was contacted by an ambitious young screenwriter who gave me a copy of his draft for a fifth Alien film, one that he still hopes will get picked up by a major studio for film production.
Let me state for the record that I had nothing to do with writing this script, I don’t personally know the screenwriter, Jacob Kunnel, nor do I have any stake in whether or not his script ever becomes a movie. I’m just an all-around geek and fan of the Alien film franchise, and my goal here is to offer as objective a review of the script for Alien Planet that I can for other like-minded geeks who might find such a thing interesting. With all that in mind, let’s get into this proposed conclusion to the epic story of Ellen Ripley.
The first thing to consider is that this is indeed a film about Ellen Ripley, and it is not a prequel, reboot, or remake. This is a true sequel that, while ignoring the events of the two Aliens vs. Predator films, includes all four of the Alien movies as canon, i.e. it doesn’t pull a Superman Returns and accept some of the previous films while rejecting others. Sigourney Weaver could definitely still star in Alien Planet, as the script takes into account her current age (not to mention her alien/human hybrid-like biology).
The second thing to keep in mind is that while James Cameron certainly upped the action ante with those colonial marines and queen vs. Ripley-in-an-exosuit-cargo-loader finale in Aliens, and there was an attempt to return to that in the fourth film, this script comes off much closer to the original thriller from Ridley Scott or David Fincher’s Alien3 in terms of tone.
While in general I find that refreshing, there is a bit of a double-edged sword element to this script. As indicated by the title, Alien Planet sees the arrival of Ripley (along with the crew of a deep space exploration vessel) on the home world of the alien species. The first half or so of the script occurs on the ship as it approaches the planet and introduces major characters of this crew, allowing us to become acquainted with them via Ripley. The latter portion of the script takes place on the planet itself, as Ripley and her new companions struggle to survive. I can’t go into too much detail, but one weakness of this script that I perceived while reading it is that while I was with the crew on the ship, I was anxious to get down to the planet’s surface. I found myself more interested in discovering what that world would be like than I was with these new characters.
I am calling this a weakness because, as I mentioned, this script is very much in the vein of a survival story of people ill-equipped to deal with the danger of the aliens (granted, the colonial marines really were no match for them either, but at least they were better prepared than the crew of the Nostromo). So really, as much as I wanted to get to the planet’s surface I realize that this portion of the story just can’t be very long; even the most heavily armed and grizzled of space marines couldn’t last long on an entire planet of these monsters. Furthermore, in a script such as this one, you need to become emotionally invested in the characters; I think that is required for this film (or any like it) to be successful. In that respect (and IMHO), the characters of Alien Planet came off less like the crew of the Nostromo, and more like the inmates of Fury 161. While the former were varied and interesting, the latter seemed like carbon copies of a single character: a white bald guy with a British accent (Charles S. Dutton not withstanding).
Getting into just what Ripley and the other crew members find on the surface, I don’t want to reveal spoilers, but I did find it very exciting that some of the Alien mythos that appeared in the first film, only to be ignored by the sequels, makes a prominent return in this script. I won’t say anymore, but you hardcore Alien fans may guess what I’m referring to. It was a nice development and one long overdue.
It’s obvious that Kunnel is a big fan of the franchise, and he has crafted a story that really attempts to do right by what’s come before and the character of Ellen Ripley in particular. I think that while it could benefit from continued work on character development and such, this script is a valiant effort that brings the Alien franchise full circle. I just wonder if it will fly with producers wanting to compete with comic book superheroes, giant fucking robots fighting each other, and explosion-a-minute action flicks, any and all of which seem to be the order of the day in Hollywood.
On a penultimate note, Kunnel has communicated his hope to me that Alien Planet will be “the first real 3-D horror film,” something that goes beyond the shtick of My Bloody Valentine or even Jaws 3D (a reference for you older readers). Of his vision for this he’s said, “Imagine it as a 3-D movie. Not only a 2-D movie in 3-D, but a new way to follow a character, to create certain imagery and a filmic language that’s defined through space and geography.” Now I’ll be honest, I had a hard time imagining how this would actually be realized in the theater. If you’re raising a quizzical eyebrow as well, you may want to check out his essay on the future of 3-D filmmaking. There seems to be a great deal of potential here, and whether this script is ever produced or not I find his ideas regarding 3-D incredibly interesting.
Finally, an obvious question is why give what amounts to fan fiction (if I’m brutally honest) this kind of attention, especially when it has been confirmed that a revisiting of the Alien franchise will come in the form of a prequel from Ridley Scott’s own production company? Well, why not? First off, the idea of an Alien prequel is incredibly worrisome. Remember the last time a celebrated director returned with a prequel to a famous, 20-year-old sci-fi franchise? Yeah, I for one do not have high hopes for this project. And while there are fans out there of Alien: Resurrection, the uncertain future for Ripley’s character never really felt right to me. This upcoming prequel may be really good. Maybe. But in the event that it’s just another big-budget, CGI effects-laden clunker, at least you can say you read about this cool script for a proposed final chapter to the saga of Ellen Ripley written by someone who truly cares about her story.
As a special bonus, check out storyboard pieces and a concept drawing by Timothee de Place, as well as a larger view of the Alien Planet poster by Jacob Kunnel below in our gallery!