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ALIEN (1979) - Illustrated Reference
Alien was directed by Ridley Scott and premiered on 25th May 1979. Starring Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto. Screenplay by Dan O’Bannon. Music by Jerry Goldsmith. 117mins.
Commercial towing vehicle Nostromo intercepts a transmission of unknown origin. The crew awake from hypersleep and head towards the source of the signal. Landing on a mysterious planet they discover a derelict alien spaceship and its dead occupant, its chest ripped open. It soon becomes clear the signal was a warning not an SOS.
Dan O’Bannon (1946-2009) had co-written the low budget sci-fi comedy Dark Star with John Carpenter in 1974, Carpenter directed and O’Bannon also acted in the film as Sgt. Pinback. The alien in the film looked like a beachball.
Following Dark Star, O’ Bannon wanted to make a film where the alien creature was convincingly unearthly and genuinely frightening. He teamed up with screenwriter Ronald Shusett and they came up with a story which had the working title Star Beast and would eventually change to Alien.
They pitched their script treatment to the studios as “Jaws in Space”. After the super success of Star Wars 20th Century Fox studios were quickly looking for another science fiction movie set on a spaceship flying through space. Alien was that film.
Directors considered for the project included Robert Aldrich, Peter Yates and Walter Hill who was one of the producers. Than one day the producers saw a film called The Duellists (1977), the directing debut of Ridley Scott (1937-) who had previously been noted for his television commercials. They were impressed with what they saw.
They offered Scott the job it was an offer he couldn’t refuse. Scott’s influences were to be 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Principle photography took 14 weeks from July 5th to October 21st, 1978.
Dallas: As most of you may know, we're not home yet. We're only halfway there. Mother's interrupted our journey. It seems that she has intercepted a transmission of unknown origin.
Ripley: A transmission? Out here?
Lambert: What kind of a transmission?
Dallas: Acoustical beacon. It repeats at intervals of 12 seconds.
Dallas: I don't know.
Tom Skerritt (1933-) / Dallas, Captain of the Nostromo.
Born in Detroit, Michigan, Tom Skerritt’s movies include Top Gun (1986), A River Runs Through It (1992) and Contact (1997).
Ripley: Ash, that transmission... Mother's deciphered part of it. It doesn't look like an S.O.S.
Ash: What is it, then?
Ripley: Well... it looks like a warning.
Sigourney Weaver (1949-) / Warrant Officer Ripley. We find out her first name is Ellen in the sequel Aliens. Meryl Streep was considered for the part.
Born in New York City, Alien was Sigourney Weavers first big movie, she reprised the role of Ripley in Aliens (1986) in which she was also Oscar Nominated for Best Actress, Alien 3 (1992), Alien Resurrection (1997).
Weaver also received Oscar nominations for the films Working Girl (1988) and Gorillas in the Mist (1988). She recently starred in the James Cameron blockbuster Avatar (2009).
Veronica Cartwright (1949-) / Lambert, navigator on the Nostromo.
Born in Bristol, England, Veronica Cartwright had appeared as young Cathy Brenner in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds in 1963. She outsmarted the alien seedpods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) and played the wife of astronaut Gus Grissom in The Right Stuff (1983).
Harry Dean Stanton (1926-) / Brett, the engineering technician of the ship.
Born in Kentucky, USA, popular character actor Harry Dean Stanton has been appearing in films since the 1950’s, he can be spotted in The Godfather Part II (1974), Farewell My Lovely (1975), Escape from New York (1981) and Repo Man (1984) amongst many others.
John Hurt (1940-) / Kane, the Executive Officer of the Nostromo.
Born in Derbyshire, England, John Hurt has appeared in over 100 films, receiving Oscar nominations for Midnight Express (1978) and The Elephant Man (1980).
Hurt was nominated by the British Academy for his role as Kane in Alien. And he sent up the role in Mel Brooks sci-fi spoof Spaceballs (1987). Recent films include V for Vendetta (2006) and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008).
Parker: It's a robot. Ash is a god damn robot!
Ian Holm (1931-) / Ash, the Science Officer. Unknown to the crew Ash is an android, he gets instructions to bring the alien lifeform back to Earth.
Born in Essex, England, Sir Ian Holm was Oscar nominated for Chariots of Fire (1981) and his films include Juggernaut (1974), Time Bandits (1981), Greystoke (1984), Brazil (1985), Hamlet (1990), and The Fifth Element (1997)
Holm played Bilbo Baggins in The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) and The Return of the King (2003). And will reprise the role in the upcoming prequels.
Yaphet Kotto (1939-) / Parker, the Chief Engineer.
Born in New York City, Yaphet Kotto has played Bond villain Mr. Big / Kananga in Live and Let Die (1973). Other films include Across 110th Street (1972), Brubaker (1980), The Running Man (1987) and Midnight Run (1988).
Bolaji Badejo plays the title character. Badejo was a 7ft 2in Nigerian design student discovered in a pub by the casting director.
Ridley Scott thought his tall thin frame would be perfect for the Giger designed alien costume.
Ripley: How do we kill it Ash? There's gotta be a way of killing it. How? How do we do it?
Ash: You can't.
Parker: That's bull***!
Ash: You still don't understand what you're dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.
Lambert: You admire it.
Ash: I admire its purity. A survivor... unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.
Parker: I've heard enough of this, and I'm asking you to pull the plug.
Ash: Last word.
Ash: I can't lie to you about your chances, but... you have my sympathies.
Science Fiction author A.E. Van Vogt sued Fox for plagiarism, claiming the film had many similarities with his short story “Discord in Scarlet” which features an alien creature sneaking aboard a space ship, attacking the crew and laying it’s eggs inside their stomachs which then hatch and the young eat their way out. The case was settled out of court.
There are also similarities with Van Vogt’s story "Black Destroyer" which featured a lethal catlike alien which infiltrates a spaceship killing the crew one by one.
Both tales were collected in Van Vogt's book Voyage of the Space Beagle.
Screenwriter Dan O’Bannon, a fan of 50’s science fiction, later said that he didn’t steal Alien from anybody, he stole it from everybody!
In early script drafts Dallas was female and Lambert and Ripley were male.
H.R. Giger (1940-) a Swiss surrealist painter, was hired to design the creature in all it’s various stages.
When looking for the ‘look’ of the alien, Ridley Scott came across Giger’s painting Necronom IV and decided that was what he wanted. (see picture)
Ridley Scott’s highly detailed storyboards, dubbed ‘Ridleygrams’, so impressed 20th Century Fox studio that the budget for Alien was doubled from $4.2m to $8.4m.
Actor Jon Finch had been cast in the role of Kane and started filming but fell seriously ill from diabetes and had to be replaced. John Hurt took over the role.
The dead occupant of the derelict ship was nicknamed the “space jockey” Ridley Scott used his two young sons in space suits in some shots to make the large model they built look even bigger.
The studio at first balked at the cost of building the space jockey, especially when it featured in only one scene, but concept artist Ron Cobb convinced the studio heads that it was the films “Cecil B. de Mille shot” showing audiences that this wasn’t a cheap B-movie.
In the original script and novelization there was a relationship between Ripley and Dallas which didn’t make it into the finished film.
The scene where the alien bursts through Kane’s chest shocked the cast, they knew what was happening to Kane but didn’t expect an explosion of blood.
Their reactions in the film were real. Veronica Cartwright, in particular, freaked out when the blood hit her. The scene was filmed with four cameras in one take.
Ridley Scott made sure the alien was always filmed at odd angles so as not give away the fact it was a man in a suit. Audiences seeing the film for the first time weren’t sure what they were looking at which made it more frightening
The shot of the alien’s tail moving around Veronica Cartwright’s feet was taken from Harry Dean Stanton’s earlier encounter with the alien.
Condoms were used for the tendons on the alien’s jaw.
To get Jones the cat to hiss and spit on cue a German Shepherd dog was brought on to the set.
In the DVD Director’s Cut Ridley Scott trimmed some scenes and added some previously deleted ones including Ripley’s discovery of Brett and Dallas cocooned by the alien in a part of the ship. Dallas is still alive and begs Ripley to kill him, she sobs as she burns him with her flamethrower. The scene had been removed because it slowed down the pacing nearing the climax of the film.
In my opinion it should have been left as a deleted scene, the momentum of the film comes to a dead stop at that scene. For this reason the original theatrical is my preferred version.
A shocking climax was considered at one point, the alien would kill Ripley biting off her head. Than it was to communicate with Earth mimicking Ripley’s voice, but thankfully that idea was abandoned.
Composer Jerry Goldsmith wasn’t happy when he found out Ridley Scott had replaced his end credit music with Howard Hanson’s symphony no.2 which was the temp track Scott had been using for the end credits..Goldsmith's track can be heard on the soundtrack CD.
One of the foreign titles for the film is The 8th Passenger of the Nostromo which is pretty good in a creepy sort of way.
Alien was Oscar nominated for Art Direction and won an Oscar for Best Visual Effects. It was nominated for seven British Academy Awards – Supporting Actor (John Hurt), Most Promising Newcomer (Sigourney Weaver). Costume Design, Editing, Music (Jerry Goldsmith), and winning for Best Soundtrack and Production Design.
Alien was a big hit in the summer of 79 grossing $81m in the US and a total of $105m worldwide. But it would be 7 years before we found out if Ripley was rescued.
Alien was among the films selected for preservation in the 2002 National Film Registry. It ranked #6 on the AFI’s 100 Thrilling Films list and #7 on the AFI’s Top 10 Sci-Fi films.
The film poster depicting an alien egg with the clever tagline “In Space No One Can Hear You Scream” has become a classic.
Three sequels followed – Aliens (1986 James Cameron), Alien 3 (1992 David Fincher), and Alien Resurrection (1997 Jean-Pierre Jeunet). Plus two prequels – Alien vs Predator (2004 Paul W.S. Anderson) and Aliens vs Predator – Requiem (2007 Colin & Greg Strauss).
Ridley Scott directed a prequel to Alien in 2012, Prometheus starred Naomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba and Guy Pearce. The film received mixed reviews from critics and SF fans but went on to gross $403m worldwide.
The Alien and various hybrids have also been the subject of novels, comic books and computer games. In the Dark Horse comics series the Alien has been pitted against the Predator, Terminator, Judge Dredd, Green Lantern, Batman and Superman!
Critical reaction to Alien at the time was harsh, they hated it but audiences loved it and flocked to see it in droves. Over time the film has grown into a classic and it's now regarded as one of the greatest science fiction films, and one of the most influential films ever made.
Ripley: Final report of the commercial starship Nostromo, third officer reporting. The other members of the crew, Kane, Lambert, Parker, Brett, Ash and Captain Dallas, are dead. Cargo and ship destroyed. I should reach the frontier in about six weeks. With a little luck, the network will pick me up. This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off.
The Critics Wrote –
"A tour de force of pure horror... The alien is an insane mesh of hungry teeth straight from the painting of Francis Bacon." (J.G. Ballard, American Film, 1987)
"Has the usual number of inconsistencies, improbabilities and outright absurdities characteristic of the sci-fi and horror genres. What is interesting, though, is its hostile critical reception, despite the excellent visual values, direction that is no more hokey than usual in such films, dialogue that (when it is decipherable) is par for the course, and acting that is generally superior. What earmarks Alien as a probable audience hit and certifiable critical flop is merely that the horror is more horrible than usual.” (John Simon)
"The movie is terrifying, but not in a way that is remotely enjoyable." (David Denby, New York)
"A horrid film, skilful and studied in its nastiness, and there is little the cast can do to mitigate its manipulative horror... those with the stomach for indulgent nastiness may go and gibber.” (Film Illustrated)
“Empty bag of tricks whose production values and expensive trickery can not disguise imaginative poverty.” (Time Out)
"It's an old-fashioned scare movie about something that is not only implacably evil but prone to jumping out at you when you least expect it. There was once a time when this sort of thing was set in an old dark house, on a moor, in a thunderstorm. Being trendy, Mr. Scott and his associates have sent it up in space." (Vincent Canby, New York Times)
"A few more ambitious and serious sci-fi films have followed in the footsteps of "Alien," notably the well-made "Aliens" (1986) and "Dark City" (1998). But the original still vibrates with a dark and frightening intensity." (Roger Ebert)