Full-length articles haven’t been forthcoming lately, but my excuse is, I hope, solid enough. It’s my last semester of university and I’m aiming to cinch my first-class honours [Update June '14: cinched!] In addition to that, I’ve been slowly stewing over an article that I’ve been researching for almost two years now. I promise that once it’s finished you will learn something new and exclusive to Strange Shapes. I’m very excited about it… but these lips are sealed for the moment.
But I don’t want to leave my visitors hanging, so as a form of compensation I thought I would write a list of ‘did you know?’ facts and trivia about the series that hopefully even the long-term and well-read fan will find illuminating.
I will update this article with more tidbits whenever they come to mind, since at this moment my brain is being occupied by Arthurian knights and gumshoe Marlowe types. In the meantime if you’re interested in Anglo-Saxon literature or 19th century Romantic poets or even articles on Rainer Maria Rilke then you could always drop by my sporadically updated blog Conversazione. No? Then let’s proceed with Alien…
- One director who was approached to helm Alien? Steven Spielberg. “I first met Spielberg when I was working on Alien,” revealed concept artist Ron Cobb, “at one point Spielberg was considered as a possible director for the original Alien. It was just a brief thing, he could never work out his schedule to do it, but he was interested.”
More on Cobb’s monumental contribution to Alien in: Space Truckin’ – The Nostromo.
- Rewriting Ripley (originally ‘Roby’) as a woman wasn’t all too taxing for producers Walter Hill and David Giler: “We really just had the secretary change ‘he’ to ‘she’.”
Check out Roby to Ripley for the story on the whole process.
- We all know that Giler and Hill rewrote Dan O’Bannon’s Alien script, but the story is not as simple as that. The producers firstly altered the story so the Space Jockey was a human pilot, the Alien was already a Company bioweapon, and the egg silo was an off-world government construct known as ‘The Cylinder’. In this iteration of the story the Nostromo crew were lured to the planetoid to serve as fodder for the Company’s new weapon, with Ash standing in as an overseer. O’Bannon and Ron Shusett watched the story spiral further away from the original concept and complained to Ridley. Hill and Giler, apparently begrudgingly, rewrote the script accordingly.
More in: Writing Alien and The Derelict/Pyramid/Silo.
- Nope – in the final film the Company did not know about the Alien being on the planetoid. “This particular corporation didn’t have a preconceived notion that an alien would be found on this mission,” explained Ridley, “much less the particular alien that is brought onto the ship. The idea of bringing it back alive would not have been on the minds of the corporate executives when they first received the alien transmission. They just had high expectations when they ordered the Nostromo to investigate – it was purely out of curiosity.”
Why else did you think they didn’t follow up on the Alien between the first two movies? Confused? Don’t be, it’s simple. See The Android and Space, 2122 – 2179 for clarification.
- Speaking of androids, there’s cause to believe that Ash was originally written as a human, until David Giler made a joke about his head falling off. He was almost a Martian too, if Ridley had gotten his way…
Back to The Android.
- Giler and Hill also flirted with the idea of having the Nostromo crew summon Genghis Khan and Jack the Ripper to fight the Alien.
More in: Sandals in Space.
- Ridley Scott originally envisioned the Alien as being a female.“I wanted a very feminine creature,” he said. “The idea of associating danger and sexual desire, to have a creature that was at once desirable and lethal, and that was exciting.” It was up to associate producer Ivor Powell to try and cast a woman suitable for the role, a job that he found quite embarrassing: “I remember one of the tallest models, and quite a well known model of the time, was this woman called Verushka, and she came in, and well literally there she was in a little pair of knickers … I had to photograph and take Polaroids of all these women in various states of undress, you know, for the Alien.”
Much more about the Alien’s design and casting in The Eighth Passenger.
- Bolaji Badejo didn’t play the Alien in two of its most gruesome appearances. Christopher Lee stuntman Eddie Powell played the creature as it swooped on Brett and snatched Dallas. Badejo found the harness for Brett’s scene too restricting and the vents were too small for him to fit into.
More in The Eighth Passenger, and check out Bolaji Badejo’s only interview too.
- Harry Dean Stanton passed on the opportunity to work with Stanley Kubrick due to commitments with Alien. “He wanted me to work with him once, but I was in London doing Alien,” Stanton explained. “He was doing The Shining with Jack [Nicholson], and he wanted me to play the bartender.” The role of Lloyd the bartender went to Joe Turkel, who was later cast as Eldon Tyrell in Blade Runner due to his phantasmagoric performance in Kubrick’s movie.
More in: The Engineers.
- Meanwhile, Yaphet Kotto, afraid of being typecast in sci-fi movies after Alien, turned down the role of Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back. “I was having lunch with Veronica Cartwright, and [Irvin Kershner] came over and asked me if I wanted to do the part, and I said no. He asked why, and I said, ‘Because they’ll kill me off. I’ll have trouble finding work after that.’ I said, ‘I’ve got something I want to do called Brubaker in Ohio. That’s where I’m going after the movie is over.’ I knew I had to get back down to Earth.”
More in: The Engineers.
- “I wanted [the Alien] to be insect-like. Like an ant. Because if you examine an ant under a microscope they’re kind of elegant, and I wanted him to be very elegant and dangerous.”
Is that James Cameron talking about his sequel? Nope, it’s Ridley Scott on the original creature.
More on the Alien and its insect influences in, well: The Insect Influence.
- Some preliminary ideas for an Alien 2 included the original creature following Ripley back to Earth; a new expedition being besieged by numerous Aliens (and a Space Jockey) inside the derelict; the planetoid exploding and spreading its spore around the universe; and a prequel. There was also talk of a TV series…
More in: Writing Aliens.
- Alien is lauded as a classic today, but the critical reception at the time was lukewarm. Pauline Kael later wrote that “It would be very convincing to say that there’s no hope for movies – that audiences have been so corrupted by television and have become so jaded that all they want are noisy thrills and dumb jokes and images that move along in an undemanding way, so they can sit and react at the simplest motor level. And there’s plenty of evidence, such as the success of Alien.”
See: Bad Alien Reviews.
- One reason I launched Strange Shapes was because of the repeated assertion on fan forums that the creators of Alien hated Aliens. Was it true? Absolutely not. Quite the reverse. Even Dan O’Bannon, who was infamously not shy about saying what was on his mind no matter how acidic the opinion, was supportive: “[Aliens was] a good answer to the problem, which is how to sequelise this. Plus, he was very wise not to try to handle it as a fear-evoking horror suspense tale like the first one. He was able to turn it to something he could work with to advantage. And you know, it was pretty good.”
More in Alien Alumni on Aliens.
- “I had a terrible drug problem, but I got through it,” admitted James Remar, the original Corporal Hicks. “I had a great career and personal life, and messed it up with a terrible drug habit.”
Have a look at Remar in the role at: The Other Hicks.
- When Michael Biehn first got a look at the Aliens script while The Terminator was in post-production he fancied himself in the role of… Hudson. “I had just done Hicks’ [heroic type] role in The Terminator,” he said in 1986, “and was looking for a role that took me over the top and out a little bit.”
More in I Love The Corps!
- Daniel Kash, who played Spunkmeyer, secured his role by offering James Cameron a gift. “Cameron said he really liked my coat, so I told him if he gave me the part, it was his. So, when he gave me the part I gave him the coat.”
More in I Love The Corps!
- Did you spot all of the spaceships in the brief exterior shot of Gateway Station? You might recognise something from Gerry Anderson’s Terrahawks.
More on the orbiter in: Gateway Station.
- The term ‘Xenomorph’ was originally coined by James Cameron for an unfilmed project called Mother. “In Mother,” Cameron explained in an affidavit (p. 20), “humans have plundered Earth and look to exploit another planet … Because the planet’s environment is dangerous to humans, a ‘xenomorph,’ my term for a genetically engineered alien creature, is created based on a local life form in order to serve the needs of the Company.” Essentially, ‘xenomorph’ was a proto-term for ‘avatar’.
More about James Cameron’s Alien creatures: Biomechanoids.
- Some aspects of the Alien Queen were also adapted from Mother, which featured “a female genetically engineered creature attempting to ensure the survival of its young.”
More about the creation of the Alien Queen: Her Infernal Majesty.
- The powerloader, as conceived in Xenogenesis, was a four-legged contraption. Cameron changed it into a bipedal machine after seeing the AT-ATs in The Empire Strikes Back. He hired Syd Mead to provide some preliminary designs. Ironically, the AT-AT was based on some of Mead’s work for US Steel. Cameron eventually designed the powerloader himself, settling on its forklift exoskeleton design.
More about the powerloader: Powerloader.
- The powerloader/Alien Queen fight is influenced by the climatic scene in Cameron’s short film Xenogenesis; but it was also spun out from Mother. Cameron explained that “In the final confrontation in Mother, a human in a ‘power suit’ (utility exoskeleton that is a sort of cross between a fork-lift and a robot) fights the alien creature that I called the ‘Skraath’ or ‘Skraith,’ a black six-limbed panther that I had previously created for another project called Labyrinth.” It’s obvious by now that Aliens and Avatar came form the same cloth, right?
More about the powerloader in, yep: Powerloader.
- William Gibson’s Alien III script is widely available online, but have you read about his rare second draft…?
Have a gander in: Cold Wars: William Gibson’s Alien III.
Whet your appetite and I’ll catch you all when I can.