C.M. Bortolomeo's Alien 3, a Summary
I’ve been watching the Alien movies in order, and at some point I expressed my various admirations and disappointments with Alien 3 to onetime SMM writer and collaborator, C.M. Bortolomeo.
“You know, I’ve written my own screenplay for that one,” they admitted. Given Bortolomeo’s tendency to pursue projects that are unmarketable, incomplete, or impossible, I wasn’t surprised. I asked them to send it to me, and found it interesting enough to summarize below. Given the copyright status of the Alien franchise, it seems unlikely that Bortolomeo’s Alien 3 will ever come to light in any other format. It is doomed, like most of Bortolomeo’s work, to suffer uselessly in a purgatorial hard drive.
Bortolomeo’s version of Alien 3 closely follows the beginning of David Fincher’s. Ripley, Newt, and Hicks are depicted in cryonic stasis aboard the Sulaco directly following the events of Aliens. A Xenomorph egg is revealed to have appeared on the ship, releasing a face hugger that attaches itself to one of the humans within their cryotube. As in the film, it is not made clear who has been “impregnated” by the alien host. The onboard computer identifies the threat and ejects the trio in an escape pod that lands on Fiorina “Fury” 161, a maximum security prison planet. Again following the film, Ripley is saved, covered in black slime and “lice,” by a robed figure from the ink black ocean.
Here Bortolomeo’s version begins to take its own course. Ripley awakens in a dimly lit room filled with empty cots. The cots are filthy, the high walls stained with ages of moisture and mold. In the corner, several emaciated figures are huddled around a dull lamp. They seem to murmur breathlessly between themselves. As Ripley stirs up, all but one of them retreats into the shadows of the room. The one who approaches is cautious, skittish, yet his gaze is distant, unable to focus on objects close at hand.
Ceding to Ripley’s forceful questioning, the malnourished man identifies himself as Clemens, the prison doctor. Clemens hesitatingly recounts Ripley’s rescue, as well as the recovery of the drowned bodies of Newt and Hicks. When Ripley demands to see the bodies, Clemens explains that they’ve been disposed of. Only a fragmented Bishop remains, whose parts are in the scrap sector. Clemens tells the distraught and grieving Ripley that they are lucky to have died and “escaped the dark coils of the created world.” When questioned as to the means of the bodies’ disposal, Clemens at first doesn’t seem to understand. Ripley, vaguely remembering her “dream” aboard the Sulaco, insists that the bodies must be incinerated to prevent the spread of “infection.”
“There is no incinerator here,” explains Clemens, “and no shortage of infection already. Only the coils, within which the bodies of your companions have been irrevocably sealed.”
When asked what he means by “coils,” Clemens explains that he’s referring to the labyrinthine passages of the Fury prison. Clemens explains that he and the few scattered figures in the room are the last of the prison staff, and that the prison itself is among the first of its kind, designed to be wholly inescapable without relying on gates or private cells. Ripley then asks to send a message to the Weyland-Yutani Corporation requesting rescue, but Clemens emits a hissing laugh. “Modern machines have never been available to us. We are wholly forgotten here, if we were ever in mind at all.” After offering Ripley a sordid meal, which she refuses, Clemens suggests that she locate Bishop if she requires access to technology, since the robot appeared to be in “partial working order.” He explains briefly the directions to the adjacent scrap sector and departs with his fellow staff members, leaving Ripley alone in the reeking room of unmade and lice-infested cots.
Ripley begins to inspect the room, but sickened by the food and its conditions, is forced to leave. She finds herself within a structure of massive proportions. A fan with blades the size of a skyscraper churns noisily in the distance, immense hallways branch off into dozens of directions, and stairs upon stairs are visible in the yellow glow of intermittent lamps, disappearing into the depths of unlit heights. Ripley slumps to the floor, overcome by vertigo. The landscape seems entirely empty, but for a brief moment she imagines it crawling with Xenomorphs, coated with their cocoon structures in which human figures are sealed, Newt’s child face frozen in statuesque agony on each, a hellish and repellant vision rendered strikingly by Bortolomeo’s talent for what I call a “sheen of abjection.”
As Ripley regains her senses, a low, speech-like sound attracts her attention. She follows it, thereby reaching the scrap sector, which turns out to be an open cylindrical hallway crammed with junk. Soon, she locates the source of the voice. It’s Bishop’s, his half-crushed head attached to a shoulder and an arm (in this detail Bortolomeo again closely follows the film). Bishop groans in unfamiliar syllables, drawled phonemes that are either mindless babbling or words of a lost language. When Ripley picks him up, a distended eye rolls open.
“Ripley. So kind of you to rescue me,” he says in a slow, distorted voice.
When she tries to ask him about the events aboard the Sulaco, he interrupts.
“Not here… there is… something…” and falls silent. Ripley carries Bishop back to the room filled with cots. On the way, she looks over her shoulder just as a dark shape retreats into a thick veil of shadows hundreds of feet up one of the larger staircases. She calls out to it and is met with perfect silence.
“Don’t… draw their attention, Ripley. They’re… all mad.” Bishop manages, dangling from her arms.
Inside, she clears an insect-swarmed table covered with black chunks of molded food. Primitive pottery clatters to the floor. As she arranges Bishop, taking every effort to make him “comfortable,” he says “It’s dark in here, Ripley. I’m not quite what I used to be.”
This line, recognizable from Fincher’s film, is one of several phrases Bortolomeo latches onto and weaves deeply into the fabric of their own rendition. “It’s not that the original film is bad,” they explained (and I agree), “but skeletal, limited by the expectations of its audience. It wants to go deeper but can’t claw beyond the surface.” Lacking in Alien expertise, I cannot affirm that the film indeed wanted to go “deeper” than it did. However, I presume this claim of Bortolomeo’s has more to do with their repeated insistence that the work of art is always subject to desires wholly distinct from those of its creator.
On the table, Bishop recovers enough lucidity to confirm the events of Ripley’s “dream.”
“There was a breach detected, yes. It was with us the whole way, Ripley. It was with us the whole way.” Bishop can’t recall who was infected by the face hugger. He blames his damaged hardware before receding into another slumbering dysarthria. His voice never ceases, although its grainy, distorted syllables fade in and out of intelligibility. Exhausted, Ripley curls up with Bishop on the table and falls asleep, where she dreams of the labyrinthine prison constructed entirely from a seamless mixture of Xenomorph and human fragments.
When she awakens, Clemens is leaning over her and Bishop, an amused smile creasing his shrunken, malnourished features.
“Already they discuss the new creature, a human with two heads and three arms, one head filled with darkness, the other with light. You should know that the gods are their enemies. They’ll fear you only to the extent that they hate you.”
“Which head holds the light?”
Clemens only smiles and slinks quietly away from the table, leaving a plate of rancid black food behind. Ripley eats heartily, affording another of many moments in Bortolomeo’s script where the “abject sheen” is sought in careful depictions of revolting surfaces. Bortolomeo makes many notes deliberately orchestrating an ambiance that can only be hinted at in this summary, instances of backgrounds with shit-smeared walls, fragmentary glimpses of prisoners vomiting or copulating in pockets of darkness, clothes stiff with timeless accumulations of mold and blood—Bortolomeo’s intent seems almost subliminal, a murmur of formlessness and madness underlying what can be said to exist of a stable plot.
Ripley again searches the room for weapons, resolved to seek out the Xenamorph she is certain has by now hatched from Newt or Hicks. She finds nothing but a long knife covered with rust. She peels a layer of sheets from a cot, gagging at the smell, and shakes the bugs from it. With this she makes a sling for Bishop, in which she carries him for the rest of the movie.
“What are we doing, Ripley?” Bishop asks.
“This thing’s been part of my life so long now that I remember nothing else. We’re hunting, Bishop.”
“Just keep in mind that everything the Sulaco recorded has been automatically transmitted to the company. They’ll be sending a rescue ship, Ripley. You must survive.”
It is here where Bartolomeo’s version reaches its central expression. Ripley and Bishop leave the empty staff room and journey into the labyrinth. Bortolomeo takes special care to describe the scenery as Piranesian, a carceri large enough to tease the imagination with vistas of infinite replication and layering. The script becomes more impressionistic as unnamed inmates step into the scene momentarily before receding into undifferentiated shadow, a method of contrasts evoking Caravaggio’s tenebrism, a style Bortolomeo has adapted to narrative in previous works. It was clearly Bortolomeo’s intention to allow the gothic space of the prison itself to become the focal point of the film, an unsurprising move, given his insistence that “from the beginning, the Xenomorph and gothic spaces have been one and the same. Without abject spaces hidden from everyday sight—the air ducts, caves, and abandoned ships—the alien couldn’t exist.”
I have mentioned the inmates already. Ripley and Bishop encounter a host of them, men, women, and children alike. It is apparent that generations of prisoners occupy Fury, and all of them are, as Bishop calls them, “mad.” It would be useless to summarize the entirety of their interactions, since the cast of inmates continually shifts, rendering the organized communal action of Fincher’s film impossible. Nevertheless, a few salient developments arise from this section of the script worth mentioning:
a) It is clear that the inmates have adopted a religion close to the more pessimistic interpretations of Gnosticism. Bortolomeo himself mentions Bataille’s “base materialism” in this connection. Reality is regarded as monstrous and death is fetishized. Insanity and physical physical deformity are held in reverence, and it is suggested that in the depths of the prison are hidden beings unimaginably horrific. There is even the strict observance of certain taboos surrounding corridors declared “sacred ground.” It is suggested that these corridors are reserved for the creatures.
b) Although Ripley and Bishop are mostly avoided and sometimes threatened, it becomes apparent that the inmates regard them as a single deformed entity and are thus treated as sacred. They are allowed to roam the corridors with minimal harm, Bishop‘s distorted and often nonsensical voice echoing endlessly from the vast surfaces. Frequently, Bishop begs for death, a request that, when overheard by the inmates, is regarded as prophetic and worthy of intense fascination.
c) Ripley, dubiously interpreting several accounts of disappearances among the inmates as the work of the Xenomorph, intensifies her hunt for the creature. As their interactions with the inmates progress, it becomes clear that strange and often violent disappearances are common. Further fueling Ripley’s obsession is the fact that many of the disappearances are openly attributed to monsters within the labyrinth, and Ripley demonstrates an overwhelming eagerness to interpret descriptions of monstrous creatures exclusively in the context of the Xenomorph. Soon, she sees the Xenomorph everywhere, in every shadow, within every sweat-slicked swath of exposed skin. She also becomes increasingly ill and weak, a rapid deterioration that excites the inmates.
The film climaxes at the height of Ripley’s torment. In a filth-clogged tunnel, she thinks she sees a face hugger clinging to a sleeping child. Unhesitatingly, she kills the child with the knife and opens her chest. Bishop can only repeat Ripley’s name, quietly and without energy, until the child’s remains are scattered everywhere and no trace of the Xenomorph is found. Ripley, exhausted, sees that the object covering her face was merely a piece of cloth.
As Ripley succumbs to suicidal despair, her own physical pain increases. She tears through her clothes. The bulging contours of a Xenamorph are visible beneath her flesh. “Ah,” says Bishop, “That is why no rescue ship has arrived. They have us exactly where they want us.”
As Ripley’s screams echo through the passageways, Bortolomeo’s audience is left with the image of two gibbering inmates performing a sanctification of the passage’s entrance. The ritual takes some time and occurs in the light of a dim lamp, which magnifies their oddly bending and twisting bodies into enormous shadows on the walls. Ripley’s screams fade into silence over the course of the ritual. Once it is finished, one of the inmates retrieves the lamp. As they carry it away, the distant screech of a Xenomorph is heard.