Along with George Lucas’ Star Wars in 1977, Alien helped redefine the science fiction genre when it was released in 1979. Ridley Scott’s film was a bleak, lived-in look at the genre, a film which took a real world aesthetic and crafted a film which combines sci-fi, horror and family drama to deliver something which everyone can relate to on a primal level.
Alien is a film which has been well documented in books and DVD extras but 2019’s Memory: The Origins of Alien offers a fresh look at the film and shows how integral writer Dan O’Bannon was in crafting the film’s form, which turned it from a schlocky sci-fi film into an iconic piece of cinema. As the title of the documentary implies, Alexandre O. Philippe’s film delves into the origins of Alien, looking at how O’Bannon used his experience of working on John Carpenter’s debut Dark Star to develop a science fiction film which had a real-world aesthetic.
Philippe’s documentary looks at Greek and Egyptian mythologies and even the art of Francis Bacon helped inspire the script and Alien’s visual style. It talks about how O’Bannon crafted the script from his dreams and visions and how he was sure that artist H.R. Giger was the man to help design the creature. It shows how Alien was a perfect storm of talent and a film which brought out the best of all involved. O’Bannon’s script (and his story with Ronald Shusett) story worked on a primal level, Ridley Scott had the precision to bring Giger’s designs to the screen and the cast was a wonderful combination of actors who brought life to their characters. It’s also when you see how perfectly the elements came together that you realise how the franchise sadly lost its way after James Cameron’s sequel.
One thing that makes Memory: The Origins of Alien so essential is the access to talent that Philippe managed to wangle. Okay, so Ridley Scott appears from archive material – as do the late Dan O’Bannon and H.R. Giger – but the director has managed to round-up the likes of Roger Corman, Diane O’Bannon (Dan’s wife) and some of the film’s cast to help offer some serious insight into the film’s development and production.
It might not be the type of thing that will enthuse the casual viewer but fans of the Alien franchise will burst their chests over Memory: The Origins of Alien.