Appreciation for Alien (Alien Day 4/26)

Why Alien Remains Influential: Dan O’Bannon, H. R. Giger, and the Film’s Legacy.

Introduction and Overview

“It was the most incredible preview I’ve ever been in. I mean, people were screaming and running out of the theater.” —Editor Terry Rawlings describing the film’s screening in Dallas.

39 years have passed since the release of Alien (1979). Since then we have received Aliens (1986), Alien 3 (1992), Alien Resurrection (1997), Prometheus (2012), and most recently Alien: Covenant (2017). Plans for more prequels and future films continue to be thrown about even now. We now approach Alien Day 2018 – a massive fan celebration with all assortments of new releases related to comics, films, collectibles, and general enjoyment and appreciation of the franchise. How has a series like Alien been able to retain influence and continue to grow its fan-base after so many years?

In this short entry, we will look at why lead writer Dan O’Bannon’s dogged search for a truly realistic depiction of a monster would be one of the keys of the franchise’s success. A follow up introduction into the mind behind the beast, and the evolution of its initial design, will follow. Beyond these two sections (for fear of word-vomiting for far too long), I hope this will spark discussion as to why Alien has remained an important part of film, art, and personal experiences.

O’Bannon’s Creation

Dan and Ron
Dan and Ron

(Much of this information comes from this interview with O’Bannon by David Konow. I highly suggest reading it as only highlights exist here!

When Dan O’Bannon worked with John Carpenter and Ron Cobb to create the sci-fi comedy Dark Star (1974), it left him desiring to create something far more serious, unique, and realistic. He is quoted as saying he was left “really wanting to do an alien that looked real“.

“We had to pull the monster off on no budget” said Dan O’Bannon of the spray painted beach ball monster in Dark Star. In 1976, while living with Ronald Shusett, O’Bannon pitched to studio executives that the Alien creature special effects would not be crippling financially to pull off. One card played that would end up making all the difference was the use of surreal artist H.R Giger’s horrifying creations as a genesis of the creature O’Bannon had in mind.

Working on what would become Total Recall,  Ronald Shusett was impressed with Dark Star and got together with O’Bannon to work on his new idea for a sci-fi film. Taking ideas from The Thing From Another World (1951), Forbidden Planet (1956), and Planet of the Vampires (1965),  Alien (like the titular parasitic creature) salvaged parts from its hosts and was born as an incredibly unique, beautiful baby.

“Looking at them I thought, If somebody could get this guy to design a monster for a movie, it would be something no one’s ever seen before. So I went in knowing that I had the cherry on top with the visualization of the thing.” —Dan O’Bannon on Giger’s art

A “B-movie presented in the A-way”, Alien would by no means be a silly or incompetent film. Directed by Ridley Scott, who took the film’s production very seriously, and taking heavy inspiration from H.R. Giger’s fantastically creepy art design, Alien was released in 1979 to mixed reviews and was a commercial success.

By watching it so many years later, it is surprising how well the tension and effects hold up. Great care on the part of every mind collaborating to design the movie has resulted in a near-timeless assault on audience’s conception of horror – what human beings fear most being what is on the inside. This is not meant just figuratively, but very literally as well:

“I thought, Well we outta do something in here, something fairly early that is excessive. Something over the line. Something so awful that you just shouldn’t do it. I’ll just do it once, and I’ll do it early enough that most of the picture still has yet to play. Then after that all you have to do is make sure there’s a lot of dark shadows in the corridors as you’re walking around so you can’t see anything. You can stretch those scenes out until the audience’s teeth will shatter into nothing waiting for the unpredictable moment where the next dreadful, unacceptably thing is hurled at you.” —Dan O’Bannon

The use of a parasitic form of reproduction was implemented by O’Bannon, as was the desire to attack, specifically, the men in the audience by the forced impregnation and emasculation of the male characters in the film. The Xenomorph, as it has been dubbed since Aliens, represents the horrible unknown – and yet, the wholly familiar as well. Examining the creature and the artist behind it is essential to understanding and appreciating Alien, as fans have been doing for years.

Strange Form

Some people say my work is often depressing and pessimistic, with the emphasis on death, blood, overcrowding, strange beings and so on, but I don’t really think it is.
H.R. Giger

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Born in Switzerland in 1940, Hans R. Giger is recognized as one of the world’s lead ‘Fantastic Realist’ artists. Giger is credited with designing the famous star beast that terrorizes countless audience members even now. His claim to fame, being beautiful airbrushed bio-mechanical landscapes and surrealistic, nightmarish twisted abominations of man and machine made the creature in Alien unique and scary. Ultimately, Giger’s design succeeds in tapping on primal human fears of sexuality (most importantly, sexual violence) and self-destruction. The Xenomorph is everything horrible about mankind wrapped up in one terrific package.

I could say more on Giger, but I prefer his own words. He is a fascinating individual with such a unique perspective on the world. It is no wonder, then, that Alien has been so successful, so stuck in the minds of those who worship it.

H.R. Giger Interview, 1981.

A stroll through time: all incarnations of the adult Xenomorph in the main films:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

‘Last Word’

Due to its unique creative vision, Alien has been a constant source of inspiration for writers and artists since its release onto the big screen. Films as recent as Alex Garland’s Annihilation (2018), feature homages to Giger’s unique art style and thematic similarities to what O’Bannon had envisioned. Lucky for us today, even when not presented an Alien film, we get bits and pieces of the material used to make it in other sources, interpreted differently by other creative minds.

With the franchise now firmly in the grip of Ridley Scott, we have seen a shift in focus. Androids and what it means to be human (and non-human) have been the focus of the Alien prequels, and the Xenomorph apparently taking a back seat has led some to worry for the future. But the themes prevalent in the prequels were prevalent in the originals and androids were always a critical part of the series. Not to worry, to those who want the Xenomorph to get the attention it deserves. Back again in Covenant after brief hiatus in Prometheus, I am confident the next film to come out will feature the Xenomorph in a similar fashion to the ones in Covenant – an endgame, the root of evil, the ultimate defiance in the face of both Gods and men… and perhaps androids.

Let us take this Alien Day as a day to enjoy a healthy dose of uncomfortableness, share in a few scares, and think about the meaning of life by watching these films and anticipating new ones. As with all art, it is always fascinating to see how people interpret a film and I urge the readers here to discuss what these films mean to you and how you will be celebrating Alien Day 2018.

Ash
‘You have my sympathies.”

– Mike, @officerjoek9

Additional Links for Further Information:

The Xenomorph and the Perversion of Sex in “Alien”

Prometheus & Covenant | Building a Mythos of Savage Creation

 

Creatives: Alex White

Author of the new Alien: The Cold Forge, gives us an interview after the release of his book. Thank you so much for being a part of my Creatives series. Podcast coming soon…

 

Clara Fei-Fei: What was your first encounter with Alien (as in movies books or comics)?
Alex White: When I was in 3rd grade, my parents let me watch Terminator 2 because of the groundbreaking special effects, and I was instantly in love with action movies. One of our family friends had a huge library of movies on tape, including Warlock, Predator, and most importantly, Alien. Seeing that creature for the first time blew my mind. I was instantly in love with the whole franchise, including the oft-maligned Alien 3.

 

CF: What is your favourite Alien/sci-fi movie/book or comic?
AW: My favourite Alien movie is still the original Alien. When I was in talks with Titan to write THE COLD FORGE, my first question to the editor was, “Which do you prefer? Alien or Aliens?” because that would give me a good sense of how to shape my pitch. He told me they were both good for their own reasons, which was fair, but a bit political. I unabashedly prefer the first one, because it lines up with my experience of the corporate world.

If you told a major CEO you could shift their stocks up twenty percent next quarter for the cost of a starship crew, I think most CEOs would be happy to do it. Look at the ones that actively suppressed information about the lethality of smoking in the middle of last century, even created misleading information campaigns that got more people killed. And even if those plans backfire, there’s rarely ever any accountability. Just look at the Union Carbide Bhopal incident. Furthermore, this isn’t just a corporate thing, it can be a governmental thing—Chernobyl was completely preventable, but cost lives and homes. You can trace almost every major set of wrongful deaths to an unfeeling, monolithic entity that decided to enhance their profits and took a risk.

So yeah, when I see those poor space truckers getting eaten on Weyland-Yutani orders, I can’t help but sympathize and say, “I’ve had jobs like that.” It’s still so chillingly relevant even now.

 

 

CF: What authors inspired you to become a writer?
AW: I started out writing screenplays because I used to complain about movies so much that my friends would say, “If you think you can do better, do it, but stop whining.” However, screenplays only allow you to tell a very small portion of any story—you have to leave room for the director and actors to do their jobs. With a novel, you can channel a lot more raw emotion into it, and once I tried writing one, I was hooked. Also, getting a movie made is the most ridiculous process of all time, and that became less appealing to me the older I got.

I will say that I used to love reading tie-in novels in the 90s, and I read everything Dark Horse had to offer about the Xenomorphs. When those ran out, I read everything about Predator, then switched genres to Star Wars and Star Trek. And I’m not too proud to admit that I read every one of the cheesy TekWar series.
What sort of advice do you have for people wanting to do your line of work?
You can’t write for fame. You can’t write for publication, or to catch up to your friends who are popular writers. You can’t even write to be read. Those are all things that are decided by a fickle and ever-changing marketplace. When you set out on your authorial journey, you can’t know when someone will finally take an interest in your work; even when you sell something, that’s no guarantee of future interest from editors and readers.

You can only choose to write or not to write—to put your stories out there or hold them close. You should write because you love telling stories… and because you potentially suffer from a pathological addiction to making them.
How long does it take to write a book generally?
I used to write one book a year, really taking my time. The average time allotted by the publishing industry is eight months. I was given four months to write THE COLD FORGE after my pitch was accepted and cleared through 20th Century Fox. The short deadline was surprisingly fun and kept me moving faster than I’d ever gone. Weirdly, it forced me to only write the critical bits and stay focused up at all times, making for a pacy story. Despite rushing through, THE COLD FORGE is among my favourite things I’ve ever written.

 
CF: Where do you get your ideas from to form a story?
AW: JC Hutchins gave me the best piece of horror writing advice I’ve ever received: “Horror is about weakness. If you’re writing about killer shadows, make your main character nyctophobic. If you’re writing about zombies, make your main character immune-compromised.” I wanted to write about a character who was bedridden, trying to survive a Xenomorph outbreak, and was having a lot of trouble figuring out that angle.

I was at UX Week in San Francisco when Double Robotics debuted a new telepresence robot, and my story coalesced right then and there. I could have a character who is terminally-ill, too weak to stand, but I could get them around their environment through telepresence! That’s how Blue Marsalis came about. The rest of the story pretty much wrote itself once I had that piece.

 

 

CF: How do you go about picking a name for your characters?
AW: I always pick something representative of their origin. Dorian Sudler takes his name from THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, by Oscar Wilde. I think it’s a beautiful name, even if I’m a little worried that it’s on the nose. Blue Marsalis takes her last name from one of the great improvisers of our time, Wynton Marsalis.

 

 

CF: What other projects have you worked on in the past?
AW: Too many to count. Though, as published novels go, I’ve got EVERY MOUNTAIN MADE LOW, the story of an autistic woman getting revenge for her only friend’s murder, and The Salvagers space opera series, which kicks off this June 26th with A BIG SHIP AT THE EDGE OF THE UNIVERSE. A famous race car driver is framed for the murder of a fellow driver and has to team up with a con artist to clear her name. In the process, they uncover the galaxy’s most extensive conspiracy.

 
CF: Which was your favourite book to write?
AW: That’s like asking who my favourite child is! Sometimes I write to alleviate difficulties in my personal life, and those books can be among the most rewarding. THE COLD FORGE was important to me because I know so many people dealing with chronic illness, including my spouse. I have a friend watching her child suffer through terminal illness. My fears and feelings hit the page pretty hard on this one.

 

 

CF: What other things do you do?
AW: I compose music! I like to write sweeping orchestral scores for my books and give them away as promotions. I also play a ton of Overwatch on PC.

 

 

CF: What is your favourite variation of the Xenomorph?
AW: Honestly, the reintroduction of David’s Xenomorph in Covenant really struck me. By working up through the neomorphs, Ridley Scott was able to remind me why these are the most dangerous creatures in the galaxy. The shot of it riding the cargo lift gives me chills.

 

 

CF: Which Alien character in the movies or comics is your favourite?
AW: I really identify with Gorman, actually! Here’s a guy fresh out of officer candidate training, still wet behind the ears. He’s expected to show leadership, but literally, everyone in the squad is a better leader than he is. He has been taught all of these rigid plans, drilled on doctrine, and when it comes time to adapt, he chokes. I like him so much because you can see how he’s trying, how he doesn’t want to be there, and how Apone keeps throwing him a bone to get the troops to respect him. That dude was under the constant stress of letting everyone down, and it’s so poetic that he gets to be one of the squad at the very end with Vasquez. Like she ribs him in the same way that she teases everyone else, and it’s beautiful.
What sort of robotic enhancement would you get for your body and why?
There are too many good ones to count! I think I’d really like robotic eyes. They could tell me when someone is trying to pretend to be interested in my rambling when they’re actually super-bored.

 

 

CF: Which robot/AI character from any Alien/Scifi movie is your favourite?
AW: I like Ash. For starters, he’s played by Ian Holm, which allows him to do that friendly-to-creepy thing so fast… a talent we’d later see at the beginning of Lord of the Rings when he tries to snatch the ring from Frodo. Secondly, I don’t think Ash wants to do anything he does. If you watch the sequence where they’re begging him to bring in Kane, there’s a huge amount of hesitation, followed by a decisive action with no regret. I feel like the Company told him to acquire that specimen at any cost, and he doesn’t want to hurt the crew.

Consider also that Ash is supposedly an upgrade from David/Walter—two synthetics that are ultra-strong, yet he fights Ripley with a rolled-up magazine. He’s clearly going haywire, and his directive to harm the crew is causing too much emotional strain. I’m 99% sure that he loses that fight on purpose, and the relief on his face in the last moments is absolution. He’s no longer on the hook for what he’s done. He can’t hurt the crew anymore.

 

 

CF: Which human character from any Alien/Scifi movie is your favourite?
AW: My favourite sci-fi character is Spike Spiegel. His incredible violence balanced against his goofy movements always kills onscreen. I love that he spends most of the series failing to collect bounties, but he keeps the mask of a careless joker the entire time. He also has the disturbing potential to walk away from anyone.
Which Alien movies do you like?
Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, Alien: Covenant. I’m going to go ahead and count Alien: Isolation because holy hell that game was good.

 

CF: What did you think about Prometheus and Alien: Covenant?
AW: On the upside, they’re the most beautiful movies of the series and show the brilliance of their photographer. The way Prometheus wrestles with Mary Shelley’s classic question, “What if we’re unwanted by our creator?” has a lot of potentials, and kept my friends and I talking long after the movie ended. I liked the Covenant crew more than most, and Danny McBride crushed it.

On the downside, I think that the scientists in these movies are extremely unwise in most cases, and I’m disappointed that they didn’t follow quarantine procedures anywhere they went. Prometheus, in particular, suffers from unprofessional science, a point which my scientist friends are unable to let die. Holloway’s willingness to give up after being on the planet for less than a week is frustrating, and Charlize Theron is woefully underused.

 

CF: If there was something you could change in any of the movies?
AW: Just let me rewrite all the science bits of Prometheus and two-thirds of Holloway’s lines. Prometheus has so much potential!

 
CF: What projects are you currently working on? What would you like to work on in future?
AW: I’m writing the second two books in the Salvagers series, and I’m so excited for that book to release on June 26th!

 

You can follow Alex White on Twitter https://twitter.com/alexrwhite and on his website  http://www.alexrwhite.com/

Make sure you read his book ALIEN: THE COLD FORGE which comes out today!

YUTANI . PODCAST – Episode 8 – Reaction to Paradise Lost, an earlier version of Alien: Covenant.

Concept art by Khang Le, read more here Khang Le’s Concept Art for Prometheus 2

Clara @muthur9000 and Mike @officerjoek9 share their thoughts on the Paradise Lost script shared by AVP Galaxy recently and how it differs from the novelization and the movie.

You can subscribe to us on iTunesSoundcloudPodbean or get podcast early by supporting us on Patreon.

Notes by page:

  1. The script starts with the birth of a new star, in biblical parallels the birth of a new star was a few weeks before Christmas. This star leads the 3 Kings to the place of baby Jesus’s birth. You can read more about this here. There’s mention of snow filling the cryodeck, I speculate it may have something to do with the parallels in relation to The Thing movie as it was originally the first homage to Alien.
  2. The colonists are 3600, instead of mother sounding out the time and saying all is well we have the number of colonists instead. There’s also a mention that the crew’s sleep bay is like that of Noah’s Ark with cryo-pods paired two by two.
  3. There is a similarity to the deleted scene Walter in the Garden which takes place in the hydroponics section, there’s more dialogue between Walter and Mother. It seems like they are in more formal roles as Mother is considered to be a nag and know best. Mother says she likes efficiency.
  4. I appreciate there’s more dialogue between Walter and mother but it seems heavy handed with the message it is sending, that Walter is in a similar position as David was on the Covenant and that he, Walter is a slave. There’s a nod to Alien where Walter remarks to Mother that she is a bitch. I am glad they relegated that to the Phobos short. But even then it felt quite heavy handed. The Covenant is described as a galleon with its sails. In early concept art, the solar sails already gave the impression of its inspiration. Covenant is also the pact made by the colonists that headed for the New World.Additional notes added by Mike @officerjoek9
  5. The decision to rename the character Griffin to Daniels warrants a discussion of the meaning behind both names:
    Daniels – Son of Daniel. Whom, in the Bible, was taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar of the Babylonian Empire. He served his master faithfully while still retaining his belief in God. He was freed by Cyrus of the rising Persian Empire, a political entity known for its tolerance of other beliefs and cultures.Griffin – Most famously the half lion, half eagle creature depicted in many cultures throughout the world, including the Scythians and the Sumerians. Courage and boldness are both attributed to it, and the Greeks in their mythology depicted Griffins as smart and dangerous guardians of treasure. Apollo’s chariot carrying the sun was pulled by gryphons.
  6. Captain Oram is far more arrogant, curt, and proud than he ever is in the final film. Billy Crudup had stated in an interview that he felt his character was too much of a villain and decided to change how he was to make him more sympathetic. It seems that this script is the one he was referring to when making those statements.
  7. Shaw’s distress signal originating from Planet 4 contains dialogue rather than a rendition of Country Roads. While more revealing, the dialogue written for her is very heavy-handed in its Paradise Lost connections, having Shaw calling the planet a potential Paradise Lost and heaven.
  8. A highlight from the trailer for Covenant featured Daniels’ dialogue about there being no animals or sounds emanating from the planet. In this script, Hallett is startled by an emerging salamander running across his feet. Life is present when the crew arrives and explores, including insects all around the explored area. However, these insects turn out to relate to the Neomorph spores and closely resemble the scarab concept for the black goo featured in early drafts of Prometheus.
  9. The Derelict that the crew finds features not only eggs among the ship, but scattered mould appearing on smashed vessels of the pathogen. This mould is what infects Hallett. Scattered dead Engineer bodies, still in their pressure suits, lie outside the crashed Derelict. Perhaps this was a ship run by Engineers that attempted to stop David but was somehow knocked out of commission.
  10. A particular plot point that threads through a large portion of the movie is the presence of a force field shielding the whole planet. In the film, David remarks that the storms shield the planet, but it never goes beyond that. In the script, Tennessee, Ricks, and Upworth have to figure out a way to get past the force field to save the rest of the crew. It is implied that the Engineers activated it to stop the pathogen – or David – from escaping.
  11. Walter’s interaction with David upon first meeting him has a different tone. Walter seems to admire David as “the first one” and looks up to him for a time. He is given a flute by David (which he can be seen holding in the Covenant film after returning to Daniels and the crew), and also creates his own piece of music after discussing it with Daniels. These parts were also present in the novelization of the film.
  12. The Engineer city is much more Giger-esque than in the final film. We get a ton of street views, and visit a coliseum or Odeon of sorts where some of the final fights on the planet take place. This is something we wish was implemented and bears resemblance to the early concept art by Khang Lee in 2014.
  13. The scene in the garden on top of the Engineer temple bears a heavy resemblance to Satan (David) tempting an innocent (Walter), remarking how nice it must be to taste fresh fruit, and declaring his superiority over humans and how sad it must be to serve them by force.
  14. This script included the Engineer developed face-hugger that was in the novelization. It seems that this may be the script, or very near to the one, that was used by Alan Dean Foster to write the book.
  15. David tells Walter of his ambitions with the Xenomorph – an army needs a general. His empire building seems to have been removed and hinted at in Advent of the final product. I like this as it makes his motivations vaguer than simply coming out and describing what David is planning. Even Advent doesn’t spell out his ambitions too clearly.
  16. If one thing could have been taken from this script and placed into the final product, it would be (for me) Lopes comments on the face-hugger he had attached to him. He comments to the crew that it had something in his throat, but he wasn’t sure what it was doing. I think this simple acknowledgement would have gone a long way into stifling criticism for that entire situation, though it would not satisfy those who became upset over the raid gestation/egg laying time exhibited by the Planet 4 face-hugger.
  17. David says to Daniels “The future isn’t biological, it isn’t synthetic. It’s biomechanical”. Man, what a line.

Mike @officerjoek9 – Overall, I think my final thoughts revolve around wishing that a mix between this script, the novelization, and the final product was what we ended up with. I think some of the heavy-handed motifs were out of place and certain characters were not written as well as they were acted, but there’s some genuinely great Alien stuff mixed with Prometheus stuff, not to mention character motivation that should never have been considered to be cut out. A lovely read for any fan of Covenant and a great insight into the editing process and story development.

Clara @muthur9000 – I like some parts of this script. It definitely shows us what could have been in the movie, but overall I feel like what we got was much more interesting. I feel like some aspects helped give characters more background and more to do. But as @gothic-fiction-in-space has said. There seems to be a severe of development around David’s character and a noticeable absence of Shaw, by making David’s malfunctioning around her character we are given so much more to contemplate and think about. The drawings, his bond with the Aliens. There’s more purpose to David than a regular villain, which is mainly what I find appealing about the movie itself. A definite must-read for any Covenant fan and maybe even fans who didn’t like where Covenant went, I know I still want to find the script if there is one about Shaw and David’s journey where Shaw is still alive and still searching.