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In deep space, the crew of the commercial ship Nostromo--comprised of five men and two women--is awakened from their cryo-sleep capsules, halfway through their journey home to investigate a distress call from an alien vessel. The tale unfolds as they further look into the S.O.S. distress call from that battered commercial space vessel--only to discover that it's a warning call, rather than a call for help. However, it is too late to turn back as three members of the crew have already left to investigate the derelict ship. Far away in space and time, all five encounter an awesome galactic horror, that begins to kill the crew members one by one.
Harry Dean Stanton
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
James M. Walters
Dr. David Watling
Best Visual Effects
Best Art Direction
The story is simple and direct, one of the great virtues of the compact, suspenseful film. In deep space, the large tug Nostromo is returning to Earth carrying a cargo of mineral ore, its small crew in hypersleep chambers. Along the way, they are awakened by the ship's computer, "Mother," when it intercepts a nonhuman transmission from a planetoid, which they are required to investigate by lawful agreement among corporate interests operating in space. The crew consists of the captain, Dallas (Tom Skerritt), second-in-command Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), science officer Ash (Ian Holm), Lambert (Veronica Cartwright), Kane (John Hurt), Brett (Harry Dean Stanton), Parker (Yaphet Kotto), and Jones, a cat. A small team descends to the planet to discover a massive alien ship. The pilot of the craft is dead and the team discovers a chamber full of what appear to be eggs. Leaning over to investigate, Kane is attacked by a life form that springs from an egg, penetrates his helmet, and latches onto his face. The team evacuates Kane to the Nostromo for treatment, not realizing that they have allowed a fearsome Alien creature to play out its life cycle aboard their ship.
Alien had its beginnings when a major film project fell apart in France. Writer Dan O'Bannon had been working on designs for a big-budget adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune, to be directed by Alexandro Jodorowsky. The film never got off the ground and O'Bannon soon found himself sleeping on the couch of fellow writer Ron Shusett in Hollywood. O'Bannon dusted off an old script and with Shusett's help, wrote the story for Alien. One of the artists who was brought on to the ill-fated Dune project as a designer was a surrealist Swiss painter named H. R. Giger. O'Bannon later wrote, "...then we had to figure out the monster. Well, I hadn't been able to get Hans Rudi Giger off my mind since I left France. His paintings had a profound effect on me. I had never seen anything that was quite as horrible and at the same time as beautiful as his work. And so I ended up writing a script about a Giger monster."
O'Bannon envisioned the film resulting from his script to be a low-budget but efficient little thriller. He enlisted an illustrator friend, Ron Cobb, to do some preliminary paintings and drawings for the project and proceeded to shop the script around to studios. Many showed interest, but a production company called Brandywine (made up of producer Gordon Carroll and producer/ directors David Giler and Walter Hill) won out. Brandywine had a production agreement with Twentieth Century Fox, who set up a budget of eight million dollars, a much bigger budget than O'Bannon ever intended. Walter Hill would have helmed the movie but had to drop out due to another project. The producers instead hired Ridley Scott, who had helmed many high-profile commercials in England, but had only directed one prior feature, the critically-praised box-office disappointment The Duellists (1977). Walter Hill did a final rewrite on the script, which was shown to Scott, who later said, "I read it in forty minutes...and bang! The script was simple and direct; it was the reason why I did the film."
Design work on Alien proceeded; Chris Foss was brought in to do more concepts on spaceships, but work on the monster itself had yet to begin. O'Bannon finally brought in a book of H. R. Giger's paintings called Necronomicon to show to the director. "I looked down and saw this stunning picture," Scott later said. "I have never been so sure of something in all my life. And I said to Dan, 'Well, either my problems are over or they've just begun.'" Giger was hired for preproduction design work and given a studio space in which to work (the film would be shot largely at Shepperton Studios in England); he also promptly asked for an assortment of animal bones for his work materials. Giger painted a number of large canvases and using the bones as a base, he sculpted his ideas with Styrofoam. He had freedom to depict the life cycle of the Alien, and the stages called for different-looking creatures, dubbed by the crew the Face Hugger, the Chest Burster, and the Big Alien.
To portray the main creature, the filmmakers hired a six-foot-ten, 26-year old Nigerian named Bolaji Badejo, a design student in England. Giger made a cast of his body, and "as I do with all my work, I made the creature look biomechanical. Starting with the plaster core, I worked with Plasticine, rubber, bones, ribbed tubes, and different mechanical stuff like wires. The whole costume is translucent; the head is fiberglass." Scott was determined that the creature would look properly "alien" onscreen, so he opted to show it primarily in close-up views in quick cuts. Only once is the creature seen full-view.
The filmmakers of Alien, and Giger in particular, influenced the look and feel of science fiction films for several years to come. As Brooks Landon wrote in Cinefantastique from a 1988 vantage point, "[Alien] immersed us in a systematically alien environment, an entire implicit ecology, confronting us with a spaceship at once so vast and so strange looking that it subverted our comfortable distinctions between biology and machinery, our expectations of mechanical forms with implicitly clear functions, and with a creature that threatened us from without and from within." For better or worse, the dark, menacing, and erotic biomechanical combination of "circuitry and slime" became the default sensibility in films such as Saturn 3 (1980), Scared to Death (1981), Galaxy of Terror (1981), Lifeforce (1985), and the 1986 version of Invaders from Mars, among many others.
In the Los Angeles Times, Charles Champlin called Alien "preposterously scary and surpassingly well-done" and wrote that "not a frame... is flat or casual or perfunctory." Champlin also praised the production design and effects, concluding that "the effects are more persuasively out of this world than any I can remember. The sense of otherness the sense that this planet, this thing, this alien wreck of a ship derive from no previous models is very strong. What good is a fantasy that isn't fantastic? Eerie, this one is." On the other hand, Vincent Canby, writing in the New York Times, does not feel the film is different looking; he writes, "Alien is an extremely small, rather decent movie of its modest kind, set inside a large, extremely fancy physical production... It's an old-fashioned scare movie about something that is not only implacably evil but prone to jumping out at you when (the movie hopes) 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."
Even though Alien was a violent, bloody film with a hard "R" rating, Twentieth Century Fox did not hesitate to license the film out for a number of commercial products and toys. (At the time, Fox's Star Wars had been in almost perpetual release for two years and was still enjoying huge merchandising sales). There were Alien books, records, shirts, iron-ons, puzzles, games, bubble-gum cards, a "Blaster Target Set," and most notoriously, a large 18-inch Alien Action Figure. The Alien Action Figure boasted "mechanically operated jaws" (as in the movie, a teeth-bearing tongue extended from the mouth) and "spring loaded arms to crush its victims!" Although commonplace today, this was the first kid's toy marketed from an R-rated film, and it garnered some controversy at the time.
Alien was a natural for a sequel, and seven years later Fox released Aliens (1986), written and directed by James Cameron. This film wisely did not try to duplicate the deliberate horror-suspense mood of Ridley Scott's effort; instead, Cameron presented a non-stop action picture and cleverly expanded on the Alien life cycle.
Producer: Gordon Carroll, David Giler, Walter Hill
Director: Ridley Scott
Screenplay: Dan O'Bannon (screenplay and story); Ronald Shusett (story)
Cinematography: Derek Vanlint
Art Direction: Roger Christian, Les Dilley
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Film Editing: Terry Rawlings, Peter Weatherley; David Crowther (director's cut)
Cast: Tom Skerritt (Dallas), Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Veronica Cartwright (Lambert), Harry Dean Stanton (Brett), John Hurt (Kane), Ian Holm (Ash), Yaphet Kotto (Parker), Bolaji Badejo (Alien)
by John M. Miller
The Book of ALIEN, Paul Scanlon and Michael Gross, 1979, Simon and Schuster.
"Making ALIEN: Behind the Scenes" by Mark Patrick Carducci and Glenn Lovell, Cinefantastique Magazine, Volume 9 Number 1, 1979.
"Giger: Sliming Technology" by Brooks Landon, Cinefantastique Magazine, Volume 18 Number 4, 1988.
The Alien Saga
Alien burst onto the pop cultural scene when alien entities were looked on with favor, wonder, and goodwill. Think of the lanky sightseers in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), or the eccentric oddities in the Star Wars (1977) cantina, the intergalactic place where everybody knows your species. It was Alien that restored the palpable horror in extraterrestrial encounters that began in The Thing from Another World (1951) and continued throughout the 1950s and into the 60s. But the difference between the experience of Alien and, say, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), is the national trauma of seeing the blood and guts of Vietnam close encounters on the six o'clock news.
The documentary begins with the birth of the idea, a brainchild of filmmaker Dan O'Bannon, who was sparked onto the idea of a parasitic alien creature by H.R. Giger's conceptual artwork created for an aborted pass at Dune. The documentary gives equal weight to each step of the project's gestation, from several script drafts penned by O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett, to nibbles of interest from Roger Corman, and finally, to 20th Century-Fox's conclusive participation, headed at the time by Alan Ladd, Jr., a dead-ringer for his father. Initially interested in the unprecedented chestbursting scene, Fox and its production partner Brandywine Films commissioned a final script by Brandywine's Walter Hill and David Giler. The Brandywine team made several major adjustments from O'Bannon and Shusett's script, including changing Ripley from a male into a female character.
The Alien Saga touches briefly on the first film's influence on the horror/science fiction genres, but develops fully the production history of the Alien's spawn, namely its three sequels. Each sequel, from the blockbuster Aliens to the critically misunderstood Alien3 and the pretentious, over-the-top Alien Resurrection, is given a complete historical analysis, from casting to shooting to critical and popular reception. Cast members like Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Tom Skerritt, Carrie Henn and Ian Holm discuss their experiences, while Michael Biehn, Ripley's love interest and hard-nosed grunt in Aliens, discusses his displeasure at his character being unceremoniously killed off for Alien3. Ridley Scott and James Cameron, directors of the first two films, appear in archival interviews, but there's not a peep from directors David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, helmers of the last two.
Aside from candid and insightful interviews, The Alien Saga offers theatrical trailers, featurettes and other unseen material, including H.R. Giger's bio-mechanical conceptual artwork, on-the-set footage of the productions in process, and even rare screen tests of Sigourney Weaver, directed by Ridley Scott on elaborate sets built in London. The Alien Saga DVD is a great primer for Fox's upcoming Alien Quadrilogy, the comprehensive set of all four films. On the other hand, the DVD could stand as a reason not to invest in the sure-to-be hefty boxed set. Either way, The Alien Saga is worth a look, not just for the fascinating history behind a popular franchise, but a reminder to just how unique and daring the Alien series was - and still is.
For more information about The Alien Saga, visit Image Entertainment. To order The Alien Saga, go to TCM Shopping.
by Scott McGee
The Alien Saga
Got a wonderful defense mechanism. You don't dare kill it.- Parker
It's a robot. Ash is a god damn robot.- Parker
I can't see a goddamn thing.- Lambert
Quit griping.- Kane
I like griping.- Lambert
Whenever he says *anything* you say "right," Brett, you know that?- Ripley
Parker, what do you think? Your staff just follows you around and says "right", like a regular parrot.- Ripley
Yeah, shape up. What are you some kind of parrot?- Parker
When we throw the switches, how long before the ship blows?- Ripley
Ten minutes.- Parker
No bullshit?- Ripley
We ain't outta here in ten minutes, we won't need no rocket to fly through space.- Parker
Originally to be directed by 'Hill, Walter' , but he pulled out and gave the job to Ridley Scott.
Veronica Cartwright was originally to play Ripley, but producers opted for Sigourney Weaver.
An early draft of the script had a male Ripley.
All of the names of the main characters were changed from the original script by Walter Hill and David Giler during the revision of the original script by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett. The script by O'Bannon and Shusett also had a clause indicating that all of the characters are "unisex", meaning they could be cast with male or female actors. However, Shusett and O'Bannon never thought of casting Ripley as a female character.
Conceptual artist H.R. Giger's designs were changed several times because of their blatant sexuality.
Re-released in United States October 29, 2003
Released in United States April 1981
Released in United States 1998
Shown at WideScreen Film Festival in Long Beach, California October 23-25 and October 30 - November 1, 1998.
Released in USA on video.
Selected in 2002 for inclusion in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.
Released in United States Summer May 25, 1979
Re-released in United States October 29, 2003 (Director's Cut)
Released in United States April 1981 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition ("Scared to Death": Horror Movie Marathon) April 2-23, 1981.)
Released in United States 1998 (Shown at WideScreen Film Festival in Long Beach, California October 23-25 and October 30 - November 1, 1998.)
Released in United States Summer May 25, 1979