The primary thing to bear in mind here is that this is not specifically a documentary about Alien as a film. There are no real great insights to be found here in the making of this movie in terms of the way it was filmed, how the script was written, the casting or the effects etc, so if that is what you’re after than this is not the documentary for you.
Instead, Memory: The Origins of Alien is an examination of the mythos that it draws from and the films that have inspired it, with much of the running time spent delving into the particular psyches of the people who came together to make this film; their inspirations, their demons, their dreams. This is a thoughtful examination of the particular lightning in a bottle that was the relationship between Dan O’Bannon, Ridley Scott, H.R. Giger and Ronald Shusett, looking back at the history of each man, discussing the events that shaped them and how each brought their own little touch of magic.
For O’Bannon it was the original story ‘Star Beast’ and the chestburster. Shusset gave us the nightmare-inducing Facehugger; Giger was responsible for much of the look of the film and, of course, the design of the titular Alien itself, and Scott was the one finally responsible for taking all this and bringing it to the screen.
The film looks at not only the men, but also what went into getting the film made in the first place, from how O’Bannon went from Dark Star to Alien; how Giger’s disturbingly horrific and sexual artwork was initially rejected by 20th Century Fox execs who thought it was “sick” and didn’t want him anywhere near the film, culminating in an in-depth look at the aforementioned chestburster scene, which is arguably one of the most iconic scenes in cinema history, right up there with Hitchcock’s seminal shower scene from Psycho.
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Alien is a film of many parts. It draws from varied sources, borrowing from movies such as It: The Terror from Beyond Space and Planet of the Vampires as well as literature such as H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘At the Mountains of Madness’ and even from a Francis Bacon painting called ‘Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion’, which features not only some particularly unsettling imagery on its own but also features an eyeless head that rises from a long straight neck, a single row of teeth on display, reminiscent of ‘Kane’s Son’ within the film – the chestburster.
There’s surprisingly little time given to actually discussing the ‘Big Daddy’, the xenomorph itself, with the discussion revolving around the creation of the film rather than the plot or events within. There’s some touching on the themes of male rape, powerlessness, the idea of the faceless corporation concerned with profit and expediency over everything else, summed up in that one simple phrase – crew expendable.
There are no shortage of “Making Of” documentaries, books and commentaries about Alien, but none of them have examined it in quite this way before. With interviews with Diane O’Bannon, Carmen Giger, Veronica Cartwright (Lambert) and Tom Skerritt (Dallas) this is certainly one for the film buffs and lovers of Cinema with a capital C. But for those looking for specifics about the making of Alien as a movie, as a product, you might be left wanting.
Memory: The Origins of Alien is in cinemas from 30th August, and available on VOD and DVD from 2nd September.