"Alien Resurrection", the Unproduced Script That Shaped Joss Whedon's Career

by Raz Greenberg

6 March 2011

Prior to gaining fame as one of the foremost pop cultural creators, Joss Whedon gained fame within the film industry as a screenwriter and script doctor. But of these early efforts, it was his script for Alien Resurrection that contained themes that dominated much of his later work.

Before inspiring legions of fans and winning critical acclaim for his television shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse, Joss Whedon worked as a screenwriter and script doctor on a variety of big-screen productions. The projects he worked on in vary from a handful of animated features (Titan AE, Atlantis: The Lost Empire, and notably the first Toy Story film) to action spectacles (Speed, Twister, Waterworld, and the first X-Men movie).

Whedon was involved in each of these films to a different degree, but two original scripts written by him during this early stage of his career are notable for having a very big impact on his later acclaimed works. Interestingly, the fact that both scripts suffered from poor execution made Whedon revisit many of their ideas and themes in his later works: he wanted to see them realized properly. The first of these two scripts is the teen horror-comedy feature Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which was directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui and released in 1992, later revised by Whedon into his first successful television show. Shortly before working on the show, Whedon completed another script that echoes strongly in his acclaimed television works–the script for Alien Resurrection, the fourth installment in the Alien film franchise. This article examines how the work on this script helped shaping many elements that dominate Whedon’s works to this very day.

The Alien Franchise and Joss Whedon

The Alien film franchise began in 1979, with the release of the first film in the series directed by former set-designer director Ridley Scott. The film followed the crew of the Nostromo, a commercial cargo spaceship on a mission from a big corporation. On the way back from the mission, the crew is ordered to investigate transmissions from an unknown origin, and the investigation turns into a struggle for the crew members’ lives when the ship is boarded by a lethal alien monster. The creature, whose unique anatomy combines organic and mechanical parts, is the perfect killing machine with its great physical strength, the ability to disguise itself, and its acid blood. The most horrible fate that the creature can bring upon its victims, however, is using them as hosts in its reproductive process: implanting its embryos within human bodies that are violently torn apart once the offspring is born. Through the course of the film, the character of Lieutenant Ellen Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) emerged as the dominant figure, leading the crew as the fight against the seemingly-invincible monster became more and more desperate. 

The clever combination of elements from monster movies, the futuristic dystopian cinema of the 1970s and the high production values of the post-Star Wars era made Alien a big success at the box-office upon its release–and the struggle between the film’s strong female lead and monster that defiles the human body in the most horrifying way imaginable also sparked many intellectual interpretations and discussions, of a volume that is quite uncommon to Hollywood blockbusters.

Subsequent films in the franchise kept the audience coming to the theatres, and they also kept the academic discourse around franchise alive, mostly due to the producers’ choice of choosing a new director with a different vision to each new installment. The first sequel, Aliens (released 1986, directed by future Academy Award winner James Cameron) took the franchise in a more military-action direction while further developing the original film’s subtext of gender roles and motherhood. Alien 3 (released 1992, the debut theatrical feature of music video director David Fincher) attempted to turn in a more metaphysical direction, applying religious subtext to Ripley’s fight against the monster, appropriately ending with her sacrificing herself to prevent the monster’s unleashing upon the human race.

As a prime (and still rare) example of a successful Hollywood horror/action franchise centered around a strong female protagonist, the heavy influence that the first three Alien films exerted can be easily traced to Joss Whedon’s works, and examples will be discussed further in this article. Whedon’s involvement with Alien Resurrection, however, makes the influence of the franchise on his work particularly interesting, because beyond being merely inspired by the Alien films, he also had a chance to give them his own interpretation.

Following Ripley’s death in Alien 3, Whedon’s original script for Alien Resurrection opens two centuries after the end of the previous film, with the heroine resurrected, cloned from her DNA by a team of scientists aboard the military ship, Auriga…

Dear reader:

Joss Whedon’s importance in contemporary pop culture can hardly be overstated, but there has never been a book providing a comprehensive survey and analysis of his career as a whole—until now. Published to coincide with Whedon’s blockbuster movie The Avengers, Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion by PopMatters (May 2012) covers every aspect of his work, through insightful essays and in-depth interviews with key figures in the ‘Whedonverse’. This article, along with previously unpublished material, can be read in its entirety in this book.

Place your order for Joss Whedon: The Complete Companion by PopMatters, published with Titan Books, here.

Spotlight: Joss Whedon
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