Alien 3 had one of the most tortuous pre-production periods of all the ALIEN movies. And a key figure caught up in the off-screen tribulations was HR Giger, the acclaimed designer of the original Alien, whose contribution to the third film in the series has been the subject of much rumour and gossip. Here for the first time, Giger talks to Stewart Jamison about his own short-lived role in Alien 3 and how things might have been...
It all started nearly 15 years ago, when a virtually unknown Swiss Surrealist artist began to work on his first major film project, and transformed the face of science fiction.horror films forever. The artist was Hans Rudi Giger, and the film was ALIEN. Few could deny that Giger's bizarre, inspired designs for Ridley Scott's grunge tech creature feature were instrumental in its success, and helped spawn two equally successful sequels which played with variants of the Swiss artist's original conceptions. Yet, sadly, Giger's own chequered history on the Alien 'Trilogy' has left him with an unshakable conviction that his own not insignificant contribution to the Trilogy's success has been lost in space.
In 1985, writer/director James Cameron embarked on his own interpretations of the Alien mythos, but the seemingly obvious choice of reinstating Giger's creative skills was passed over in favour of employing Cameron's close colleague, Stan Winston. Winston was assigned the choice of producing the heart-stopping Alien Queen, a decision that both perplexed and generally hurt Giger. It was only when the third sequel was on the drawing board and 20th Century Fox approached him to work on the film, that the rift between him and the studio appeared to heal. Regrettably, the problem-plagued production left Giger not only with contractual difficulties but also a lingering frustration with seeing his initial designs remain unrealised.
What did Giger's tasks entail? " Well, I was only engaged on the project for a very short time, one month, in fact, to redesign my original creature," he explains. Giger was originally sought out by ALIEN 3's first director, Vincent Ward. "Vincent came to Zurich," recalls Giger, "and had these ideas for a wooden planet inhabited by medieval monks who manufactured glass, which I thought were pretty good, very different. One particular scene I liked took place at the end of Ward's script when the Alien would be seen to come out of Ripley's mouth. I even fashioned a device for extracting the creature. But I later heard that Vincent didn't like me, possible because I found it hard to understand all of his ideas - yet I was never officially involved at the same time as him."
Although Giger prepared preliminary sketches visualising Ward's storyline, the New Zealander was soon to be replaced by David Fincher, who officially employed Giger to redesign the original Xenomorph. Along with Fincher came a new script, though many of Giger's visuals were still based on Aliens at large within Ward's middle-ages monastery. Fincher, like Ward, made a fleeting visit to Giger's home as the artist remembers: 2 He was very nice. It was just a pity that everything went so quickly, and we didn't have time to work on any experimental designs."
Yet, even given the tight schedules, Giger still managed to create a model of his Xenomorph with the assistance of sculptor Cornelius De Fries, as well as draw up and fax sketches to Fincher. "I worked with some people here in Zurich on our own monster," he elaborates. 2When we'd finished we told the studio that the material was theirs and that we'd swallow the cost of materials and time, if they'd pay for transport. They turned us down." Why? Giger's own theory is that with t he hiring of Fincher came Tom Woodruff Jr and Alec Gillis, ALIEN 3's creature effects team. They believed their ideas to be more appropriate to the new screenplay than his. Says Giger: "when I'd heard that Woodruff and Gillis have their own version of the Alien I began to think that they didn't appreciate mine and that they probably had already sold Fincher on their ideas. But it just seemed my role in the movies never got to the right people.
How did Giger redesign something many people thought was already perfect? "My new creature is more sensuous and seductive," he says. It's not at all monstrous or ugly. The lips and chin on my new model are better proportioned and give the creature its more erotic appearance. When the mouth is closed it looks very voluptuous, beautiful. But when it opens its jaws the tongue inside the mouth is more like a spear...also very suggestive...which penetrates the head with greater velocity, snagging bits of brain. From Beauty to the Beast." Giger also redeveloped his creature's 'weaponry', by adding a couple of intriguing modifications. "The hands now had very Sharpe blades between the fingers," he explains, "which could shoot out, allowing the Alien to cut it's victim. This is in keeping with the new Doglike look of the beast, which is very fast and devious. In the end, they kept some of my ideas, but what is shown in the film is very much changed from my first design."
Giger also conceived the "Bambi Burster", the name given to the newly born Alien when it was initially to appear emerging from an Ox, rather than the Dog in the final film. "It was was a shame they didn't keep my original idea," laments Giger, "which showed the creature sliding out of a large Ox in a hanger, as it burned its way out of the animal using its acidic blood. I also created a 'Super' Facehugger which is based on an old design. One of the first scripts had it swimming, so I visualised how it would movie: the fingers would retract so that it would crawl just under the water's surface." But like so many of the surrealist's ideas it never made it to the screen.
So, the question on everybody's mind. What did Giger think of ALIEN 3? "The sets were atmospheric but felt that overall it was too dark in some scenes. I think it was very hard for Fincher, as he was trying to please everyone, but in the final analysis, the film lacks a dramatic edge. There are some very striking images, but I worked on it so I have to like it" And of the new creature? "The Alien you see in the film didn't change that much, and I was very disappointed. If they had let me completely recreate it, I could have come up with something special," suggests Giger. "Although it moves well, the creature looked very small, and because you only see it in short takes its threat is much reduced. What I did like very much was the tense, rapid point-of-view action sequences when the creature chases its victims down the narrow corridors.
Alien 3 was beset with a range of problems from multiple re-shoots to a budget that nearly doubled, and the result is a film that some feel revealed all these troubles. In Giger's own words: "All I ever wanted to do was make a good Alien". And after talking to the man and seeing his extraordinary unused designs for Alien 3, I couldn't help but feel sympathy for his sense of bewilderment and chagrin. A genuine missed opportunity.