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Opening Alien’s chest

29 August, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

The Furies herald Memory: The Origins of Alien

Directed by Alexandre O Philippe
Certificate 12a

AT first glance, a 90-minute “making of”-style documentary to mark the 40th anniversary of the release of Alien might sound like something aimed solely at the true film buff.

Yes, it’s a marvellous film but do you really want to spend an evening at the cinema watching in-depth, behind-the-scenes descriptions by both technical geeks and luvvies explaining why it continues to be a torch bearer for great cinema?

Thankfully, Alexandre O Philippe’s deconstruction of Ridley Scott’s masterpiece uses the film as a mirror to reflect a much wider story: it puts the nasty, face-sucking, tummy-bursting horror into a social and historical context, and also reveals the stories and influences of the crew who co-operated on making a truly creepy space-age horror.

Films like this do not pull the curtain away to decrease the magic – instead you’ll marvel at the ingenuity of the film-makers.

Screen writer Dan O’Bannon, who died in 2009, wrote Alien and later worked on everything from Star Wars to Total Recall.

His wife, Dianne, talks about his work and offers a fascinating insight into his life.

The archive he left behind tells the story of how he and designer HR Giger soaked up a range of inspirations from comic books to American film, super heroes to Egyptian and Greek mythology.

It all came together in the early 1970s in a short story treatment called Memory – a 19-page idea that would become the film that introduces Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley to the cinema­going public and create one of the most powerful on-screen blockbuster heroes of the past 40 years.

Storyboards show how Alien developed. Artists such as Francis Bacon are cited.

John Hurt’s on-screen death is looked at and described by the actors. How they managed to get an alien to leap out of Hurt’s chest, that seminal moment in film history, is given more than a once-over.

The upheaval in American society in the 1970s – Watergate, the end of Vietnam, industrial unrest – are considered, Philippe argues, in the dynamics between the crew.

You may not notice it at first when you watch Alien, but the strife between the blue collars and the managerial posts speaks of the period. Philippe delves into the details.

You will want to see Alien again after seeing this – perhaps the documentary’s biggest selling point.

It a wonderfully watchable homage to one of the greatest scare-’em-ups of recent times.


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