It’s human nature to wonder about the road not taken.
And while that wondering has inspired at least one great poem, it’s also been responsible, I think, for the recent rash of Hollywood remakes and reboots.
A couple of authors have even caught the bug, writing “alternative” versions of classics (with added zombies), or writing a “companion novel” telling the exact same story as before, but from the perspective of a different character.
This realm of fan service and cynical cash grabs has never really interested me. But I found myself finally sucked in this weekend.
For the first time, I downloaded an audiobook: “Alien 3”, by sci-fi great William Gibson. This is the quintessential “road not taken” story, being based on Gibson’s unused script for David Fincher’s 1992 film of the same name.
“Alien” franchise fan circles have been waiting for this script to come to life for decades. They were largely underwhelmed by the film as released, and convinced that a work by the father of cyberpunk would have made for a much better blockbuster.
With this audiobook, an Audible original featuring the voices of two original stars from the franchise, they got their wish.
Three decades of hype
It should be said that I don’t mind the original Alien 3. So I haven’t spent much time wishing it turned out differently.
That fact should have made me less likely to be underwhelmed by the final product; I didn’t bring three decades of hype to the table.
I was looking forward to it, though. It promised to be a nostalgic trip back into a familiar universe, with good actors at the head and a script by an accomplished author.
Sadly, it was complete rubbish.
Show, don’t tell
As an audio drama (an aural medium) based on a film script (effectively a guide for a visual medium), the finished product tried for the best of both worlds but wound up falling painfully between them.
The dialogue — which is the only thing we “hear” in an audio drama, minus the sound design — is littered with unnatural, clunky exposition. This is common when the writer wants the audience to grasp important plot points or ideas quickly, so they can move the story along.
In novel and short story writing, it’s lazy, and unchallenging for the audience. Plus, it goes against the “Friend” fiction team’s mantra of “show, don’t tell”!
But it’s even worse than that.
Film scripts typically include stage directions or scene-setting language to give cinematographers, directors and actors an idea of what they should be doing, and what the writer had in mind.
Listening to Alien 3, it seems like these directions were absorbed into the dialogue, too. So not only do the characters very inorganically explain the plot, they also hilariously describe the physical actions they’re carrying out step by step as they’re doing them.
A lack of trust in the audience
Rather than audio drama, it quickly becomes audio description. Characters frequently say things like “I’ll just pick this up” as they . . . erm . . . pick something up.
This really takes the listener out of the drama. And it’s quite annoying!
Perhaps it can be chalked up to the nature of the source material, but it feels like a lack of trust in the audience to put two and two together.
For the most part, the script seriously disadvantages the cast, too. It’s impossible for them to sound believable while saying seriously unbelievable things.
All in all, my first audiobook was not a success.
But it did remind me that what we want isn’t always what we get!
For more from the “Friend” team, read our blog here.