Alien Isolation: Interview with Dion Lay and Will Porter

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Warning: contains spoilers for the single player game.

Six months after its release it can be unreservedly said that Alien: Isolation has definitely left a very positive mark on the series at large: not only was it very well received by the gaming press and various award ceremonies, but more importantly it was lauded by a fanbase that has become increasingly jaded and skeptical following years (some would say decades) of disappointment. Thankfully, Alien: Isolation is, as we pointed out in our Thoughts on Alien: Isolation article, an invigorating and encouraging experience that recaptures the claustrophobia and fear of the original film and renews faith (or at least, my faith) in the franchise’s longterm prospects.

Luckily, developers The Creative Assembly were kind enough to put Strange Shapes into contact with Isolation writers Dion Lay and Will Porter, who were likewise very generous in giving me their time during a very busy period for the team.

Strange Shapes: Alien is often considered a simple monster-on-a-ship story but there are deeper themes and subtleties going on that other film, comic and game writers have struggled with. Was there a learning curve when writing for a property like this as opposed to other projects that you have worked on, or any trepidation that you might make the same mistakes?

Dion Lay: Fortunately for us, when we started writing the game we already had a very strong vision and identity to adhere to. The foundation was the first Alien film and so that was always used as the acid test – would this character/plot point feel at odds with the film?

Working with an established license does introduce some restrictions, but at the same time it also means you start off with a lot of well-loved material to mine from and build upon. I think there’s always a struggle to come up with something new while not stepping too far outside the source material and the trick is deciding where you want the final product to sit along that line and then aiming for it.

Will Porter: In terms of backstory and world-building the original Alien never plays its entire hand, whereas modern movies generally feel compelled to spell out absolutely everything (often poorly) to cater for some unknowable lowest common denominator punter who’s somehow found their way to the multiplex. Games can be like that too, and I think that – as in Alien – with world-building in Alien: Isolation we left a lot of details about Sevastopol, Seegson and Weyland-Yutani hanging for much of the game. The intrigue comes when the player is encouraged to imagine what life used to be like on Sevastopol, and what happened to it.

It’s been many years since I was first introduced to the Alien universe, and I still find myself wondering about the Nostromo crew’s previous missions, their former Science Officer, Ash’s past experiences and the origins of Special Order 937. As such I think the learning curve, albeit one we adapted too quite quickly as it was so fun to do, was to give the player just enough information about Sevastopol to get their mind whirring and then to fill in the blanks themselves.

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SS: Amanda Ripley is familiar to fans, as an entity if not a character. Were there any concerns that foreknowledge of her ultimate (and relatively cosy) fate would hamper the outcome of your story in any way?

DL: I think we made a good case that the only information the audience knew about Amanda Ripley prior to this was from Burke, who was proven to be a manipulative and very shady character within a very shady company, so any information he gave could easily be false or manufactured for his own ends. Whenever we mentioned this the response seemed to be positive so we weren’t particularly worried about it.

The other thing it brings to mind is that there are a lot of stories where the audience knows the main character won’t really die but it doesn’t affect the tension of the stories at all. For example, we all know that Batman won’t die (okay, I know there have been exceptions as I’m a big comic geek) during his adventures but it’s still an exciting ride because his death means the player fails and that’s where the tension comes from.

WP: I think knowing Amanda’s fate, or at least what Burke informs is her fate, is actually a huge bonus. Speaking as a fan, you suddenly start to ask questions – and, as shows like Lost will testify to, having questions is so much more fun than knowing answers. What happened to her? Why the silence? Who is the McClaren when it comes to the name she dies with: Amanda Ripley-McClaren? If fore-knowledge of a character’s death were to hamper story-telling, then history books would be pretty dull! It’s the connective tissue between events that provides the interesting stuff.

SS: There are a lot of nice little touches in the game: snatches of Blade Runner-esque dialogue, origami unicorns, Kafka recitals, and even a purported visual reference to James Cameron – were things like these scripted and was there any sort of ode you would have liked to include that didn’t make the cut for any reason?

DL: There’s actually not much that was cut because we were very wary of putting in references and Easter eggs in case they detracted from the world or broke the immersion. You need to take a step back and make sure what you’re putting isn’t just because you want your favorite thing in the game! When we did put references in we still wanted them to be relevant in some way, for example the Kafka book went in because it was metamorphosis and the game is full of transformations – from the Alien life cycle to the population changing from civilians to survivors who would take extreme actions they never considered just to stay alive.

The only couple of things I can think of that were cut were from me, which was a bookshop called ‘Time Enough At Last’ which referenced the famous Twilight Zone episode and have the ‘Neversleep’ sleeping pills colored with red and green stripes in a reference to Freddy’s iconic jumper in Nightmare on Elm Street. In the end they didn’t really fit because I realized they were really just me trying to get some of my favorite horror stuff in!

WP: Something of mine I loved, that was recorded and in the game, but was ultimately cut was the androids quoting snippets of Shakespeare as vocal exercises. We had all these amazing Shakespearean actors so I followed through with that and snuck various ominous and death-heavy lines into the recording sessions. Androids would say something along the lines of ‘Initiating Vocal Routines’ and then deliver a malevolently neutral couplet or two.

Ultimately it was cut, I think because it didn’t fit the game world – which is probably fair enough, it certainly could feel like it was slightly out of nowhere. Then again I am still totally in love with the concept: of a man-made creation plunging into a gas giant on the edge of space still parroting lines written 650 years ago that it could never appreciate or understand. “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

The only remnant is the way that some androids will garble the line “to sleep perchance to dream’ when Amanda is smacking them round the head with the maintenance jack. All a bit wanky I know, but I guess I felt all those Conrad references needed some company :P

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SS: Refreshingly, no human in the game is straightforwardly malevolent. Everyone has their own reasons for doing what they do. How important was it for you to dispense with the black and white morality (specifically, the Company = evil) that is so prevalent in the other games and comics?

DL: This was really important to us and was something we discussed very early in development. One reason was that we felt having human antagonists would reduce the Alien to a supporting player in its own game, whereas it was key that it needed to be the ultimate threat (on a side note, another thing we were careful to do was to never call it a ‘Xenomorph’ or ‘bug’ as naming it made it slightly more knowable and less terrifying). Instead, the humans were simply trying to survive and that actually gave us a lot of interesting things to play with. Some of them may have been more aggressive than others, some would simply follow someone else and make them make the hard decisions and others would retreat and hide. Waits was willing to sacrifice Amanda for the good of Sevastopol, whereas Ricardo helped her escape even though it meant the Alien got free again, but both of them were just doing what they thought was right even though they had very different consequences.

WP: Yet another of the towering achievements of Alien was the way that the Company was so unknowable in their actions – not quite evil, just very distant and entirely dispassionate. They’re so big, one assumes, that morality has been lost in the post. I think fictional corporations that act like real corporations, losing humanity and the power of the individuals within through their size and internal wranglings, are far more interesting than straightforward ‘evil companies’ that you can never quite believe in. That’s why I’m so proud of Seegson and their history: there’s no maniacal laughing, just an also-ran company that no-one cares about slowly circling the drain. Likewise with WY, while we do pull a similar trick to that found in the original movie – there are good people who work for them, and there are good androids too.

SS: The game plays a neat trick, in that you think there is one Alien at large when in fact there is an entire hive at play. This led to some turmoil at Creative Assembly on whether or not to include the Alien Queen. Were there other challenges in writing the script to fit the constraints of being an Alien game as opposed to an Aliens game (for example, multiple enemies working co-operatively to assault the player)?

DL: In lieu of having multiple Aliens to escalate early on, we used the human encounters, Working Joes and the station itself to provide challenges as the player progressed, so I don’t think that specifically created many challenges for the writing team. I think the hardest part was trying to balance story dialogue with the fact that Amanda was on her own most of the time and really wanted to be silent because the Alien was hunting her. We had to pick our moments carefully with the level designers and make room for those parts where we needed some story information!

WP: I guess the only real challenge was deciding which audio diary characters knew there were multiple aliens, and which thought there was only one. By the end it’s clear that the Sinclair and Winter’s characters, for example, know that there’s more than one threat up in the vents. One of the key things about Sevastopol is that what people know is patchy and haphazard, so I think it actually helps the overall feeling of the game that no-one quite knows what’s going on – or indeed where the creature(s) has come from.

SS: Let’s speak hypothetically – if you were to work on a sequel, even in your head, what lessons from the first game did you learn that would inform how you proceeded with the second? Would you escalate things, or would you diverge from what you’ve already established, or simply refine it?

DL: Sorry, we can’t comment on any of that!

WP: What he said!

I would like to thank Dion and Will for giving time to answering my longwinded questions! And of course, I’d like to thank the kind folks at The Creative Assembly – I’m certainly looking forward to more incursions into the Alien: Isolation game world.

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The Prodigal Son: David 8

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“If I have a space ship worth god knows how much money and I’ve got to have a Company man onboard and that Company man is going to be a goddamn secret […] He is going to be a perfect looking robot. So that was the Ash thing […] I just wanted to have the same idea that the corporation would have a robot onboard every ship, so that when you are asleep in hyper-sleep for three or four years going at 250,000 knots an hour, you will have a guy wandering around like a housekeeper. He’s a housekeeper and he’s got full access to everything. He can look at all of the films. He can go into the library… he can do whatever he wants, and that’s David.”
~ Ridley Scott, collider, 2012.

Fondly remembered as one of Prometheus’ better parts, if not the best part, the android David inhabits a middle-ground between Ash and Bishop – he is malfeasant, but is not an antagonist; he valets the Prometheus crew, but is ultimately not beholden to them.

In Jon Spaihts’ Alien: Engineers David is first introduced aboard Weyland’s Wheel, where he acts as a concierge. “He’s cunningly built,” it reads, “but no one would mistake him for a real human being.” When Weyland is introduced, he elaborates a little more on his creation. “He’s a prototype,” he tells Watts. “Our 80 series. One of a kind for now, but if he performs, he will be legion.” This is obviously different in the film, where David appears very much human and, in the promotional materials at least, is said to be mass-produced already. Another divergence in the story is that Weyland does not board the Prometheus ship in secret, but instead sends David along as his “eyes and ears”.

There is also a very interesting exchange where David speaks with Watts and Holloway about his design specifications and capabilities:

David: My design’s not intended to convince. Simulating humanity is a complex task that diverts resources. My designers dispensed with that burden to optimize for intelligence.
Watts: Why look like a man at all? Why not be a box on wheels?
David: Being shaped like you, I can use spaces and equipment designed for you. But I’m not so limited. I hear frequencies you can’t hear. I see wavelengths of light invisible to you. I move faster. Exert greater force.

The scientists look at David in wonder.

Watts: You see yourself as a superman.
David: No.

He turns his unearthly eyes on them.

David (cont’d):
 Not a man at all.

David, overall, is very much an antagonist in Spaihts’ script. At first, he still serves the same function he does in the film: he decodes the alien hieroglyphs and quickly grasps the Engineer technology, and he still rescues Shaw after she is swept away in the storm, but by the midpoint he starts to display contempt for the human crew and, in one scene with Watts, he reveals a hidden agenda:

David: I was given two operating protocols for this mission. I was to render you every assistance – until you discovered what Vickers would call a “game-changing technology.” I was given a specific list. Then I was to go to protocol two […] Under protocol two I was to make sure that you and Holloway never spoke to anyone about this place. Various acceptable ways of making sure of that.

When he finally assaults Watts he does so with palpable malice, and when he gives chase he “runs like a demon, his legs steel pistons.” When he captures her it is in a grip akin to “iron manacles”. He then impregnates her with Alien spore. Interestingly, when the facehugger emerges, David strokes it gently – the facehugger ignores his touch and reaches for Watts.

“Subsequently, David, fascinated by these [Engineers], begins delaying the mission and going off the reservation on his own, essentially because he thinks he really belongs with the Engineers. They’re smart enough and sophisticated enough, great enough, to be his peers. He’s harboring a deep-seated contempt for his human makers.”
~ Jon Spaihts, Empire, 2012.

Watts expels the embryo in the Med-Pod, and she, Vickers and the rest of the crew attempt to stop David from re-activing the Juggernaut. He has gone rogue and has prohibited the Magellan ship from leaving the planet. The Juggernaut ship, David hopes, will resume its mission and annihilate mankind. It is revealed that he is fitted with behavioural inhibitors that will bend him to Vickers’ command, should she be able to reach him in time, but unfortunately, David harnesses the Engineer technology to override these countermeasures. “To interface with the Engineers’ computers,” he explains, “I had to learn to think in trinary code. Hardest thing I’ve ever done. And most unexpectedly…it delivered me from slavery. My behavioral limits were circumvented. I’m free.”

He awakens the last surviving Engineer and the encounter goes essentially the same way it does in Prometheus:

The Sleeper turns in astonishment. He looks down at David and answers in the same tongue. He is angry, accusing. He points at David, at the humans. Tones of accusation.

David cajoles, soothes, pleads. The Sleeper descends toward David. David spreads his arms in welcome – undeniable emotion on his face. Joy. The Sleeper lays his hands on David’s head as if blessing him. David is rapturous. The Sleeper speaks a single phrase

– – and tears David’s head off.

In the end, David’s decapitated head solicits Watts for rescue, claiming that he will need her. The script never tells us if she does set off with him, ending on a note similar to John Carpenter’s The Thing. “It was plain that David and Shaw were going to have to work together and deal with one another if they were to survive,” Spaihts told Empire. “That one shot of the ship taking off in the finished film really focuses you on a particular outcome, whereas my ending was much more open as to what was going to happen next. But it was very much about this shattered android and this scarred woman being left with no-one but each other to carry on with.”

Of course, the script underwent some drastic overhauls when Damon Lindelof was given rewriting duties on the project. In addition to removing the Aliens, eggs and facehuggers, he also remolded the role of Spaihts’ android. “I also became obsessed with David as the central character of the piece,” Lindelof told mtv.com in 2012, “and did everything I could to think of the movie through the robot’s point of view. Mostly because robots are awesome, but also because robots are awesome.”

He told The Hollywood Reporter that “I was really interested in and catalyzed by the robot, David — I felt like he was going to become the central figure of the movie. Because in the genealogical chain of things, there are these beings that may or may mot have created us, then there’s us, and then there’s the being that we created in our own image. So we’re on a mission to ask our creators why they made us, and he’s there amongst his creators, and he’s not impressed. Oddly enough, the one nonhuman human on this ship — that’s sort of a prison — exists to question why it is we’re doing this in the first place.”

“The idea that by creating a being in their image, humans can become gods. In the film, it is clearly stated that David, the android played by Michael Fassbender, ‘has no soul.’ I was interested in showing that as the film [progressed] the character is showing more and more feelings. Especially when one of the characters points out that he is not a ‘real boy’. David is upset, even angry, but he keeps his cool. In this, he is more human than the humans…”
~ Ridley Scott, leFigaro, 2012.

David’s role in Prometheus should be familiar to readers, but there is some interesting, if not contentious, background information to be gleaned from the promotional materials for the film regarding David and his android ilk. The Weyland Industries timeline, which again arguably has a tenuous connection to the actual series canon, details the creation and development of various David models beginning 2025 A.D.

The first David is ‘born’ on 7th January of that year (according to the Nostromo Crew Profiles, he shares a birthday with Ripley) and the timeline provides an interesting detail: “He is affectionately called David, a name Sir Peter Weyland had initially reserved for his own human son.” The next year Weyland patents “a chemical composition of classified properties able to almost perfectly replicate the biological features and textures of human skin.” From thereon, the development of David-type androids rolls on: David 2 is ushered into the world in 2028, and David 3 in 2035. The timeline notes: “After android regulations are lifted, the third generation David is deployed internally to test human acceptance of cybernetic individuals. Results are encouraging.” Further models appear in 2042, 2052, 2062, 2068, and model no. 8 follows sometime between 2073 and the opening of the movie.

Also for the promotion of the film, mock commercials were made to advertise the new David 8 line of android:

The Weyland Industries website offered all sorts of specifications and blurbs for the David 8 line. “David 8 is guaranteed to surprise you,” it promises. The model is “fluent in all known languages through a dialectic implant and can infer the linguistic components of entirely new languages if encountered. Communication between humans and David 8 should feel entirely fluid and natural.”

The site also proclaims that “His cadmium endoskeleton is guaranteed for the life of the product”, that he can blend “seamlessly into human environments” and instills a “strong sense of trust in 96% of users.”

Additional feature specs:

  • Multi-degree range of motion greater than human capacity
  • Micro-distributed accelerometers
  • 30x visual magnification with increased depth of field
  • Low-light auto-adapting feature (with assisted low-light focusing)
  • Non-reactive Polyurethane coating
  • 700-lb lifting capacity
  • Polymer-encased brain stem component

Then of course there is his maker’s signature, so prospective customers know he is the genuine, Weyland-approved product:

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In terms of his physical appearance, Fassbender told Time that “the inspiration we used was David Bowie and The Man Who Fell to Earth, and for films there were the replicants in Blade Runner. Greg Louganis, in terms of physicality. Lawrence of Arabia of course, and Peter O’Toole as Lawrence, and Dirk Bogarde. They were the ingredients.”

“I watched Blade Runner and I looked at the replicants. Well, I looked at Sean Young. There was something in her character, a quality there that I kind of liked for David, this longing for something or some sort of a soul at play there, a sort of vacancy also, a sort vacant element. I don’t know exactly what, I just knew there was a quality there that I liked.”
~ Michael Fassbender, collider, 2012.

When it came to dressing David they decked him in a grey Zhongshan suit, also worn by Vickers, and inspired by the spartan Communist uniform popularised by Sun Yat-sen and famously worn by Mao Zedong and also by pop culture dandies like Andy Warhol and David Bowie. David’s green fatigues also square him up with Bowie’s appearance in 1983’s internment camp drama Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.

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David also exhibits peculiarities (for a supposed machine who only simulates human behaviours for their comfort) like vanity and obsession. One thing close to his heart, so to speak, is David Lean’s opus Lawrence of Arabia. “Ridley and I are both Lean fanatics,” said Lindelof. “and it seemed appropriate thematically.”

“David seems to have some fascination with that film and the character Lawrence,” Fassbender adds, “and I always attributed it to the fact that Lawrence has got a very clear vision and he’s very pure in his pursuit of it. There’s not much questioning. He’s a very decisive character, and I think David sees elements of that in Shaw as well. That’s why he finds her so fascinating. He’s also an outsider like David; he’s an Englishman, but he’s not accepted really by the English or the Arab nations, so he’s kind of somewhere in the middle.”

“He’s got a life history of his own,” Fassbender told Time in 2012. “It’s just probably not relationship-affected. A lot of the time doing the biography is interesting because you can think about what was the character’s relationship with other kids in school, with parents, all that sort of stuff, but David was a programmed entity obviously. So it’s more about how his programming has stayed intact. Are his objectives truly programmed objectives, or has he started to develop his own motivations?”

“While the rest of the crew is in suspended animation, David is enjoying himself, tinkering with the ship’s many technical wonders,” Fassbender explained in 2012. “And like a child, David enjoys watching the same movie over and over again. Additionally, David’s views on the human crew are somewhat child-like. He is jealous and arrogant because he realizes that his knowledge is all-encompassing and therefore he is superior to the humans. David wants to be acknowledged and praised for his brilliance, yet nobody gives him the time of day.”

Most of the crew do seem disinterested in David. Vickers seems to begrudgingly tolerate his presence. Despite claiming David as a son, Weyland dismisses him as nothing more than a conglomeration of inorganic pieces and personal ingenuity (Fassbender commented that “It’s all about Weyland. He is the creator, you know? So when he goes ‘The son that I never had,’ it’s not because he has affection for David, it’s that he has such affection for himself and self-affirmation that he created this.”) Similarly, the supercilious Holloway treats him as nothing more than a dandiprat or an object of amusement. “I think synthetic life is inevitable,” Marshall Logan-Green told i09 in 2012, “and along that line bigotry and racism (if you will) will be inevitable as well. Although I can’t approach a role thinking of [my character] as a racist or a bigot. Certainly now I can look back and explain his disdain for Michael in that way.”

There are interesting parallels here between David and Aliens’ Bishop. Aside from the similarity between David’s wandering the Prometheus ship and Bishop’s scripted introduction (where he roams the Sulaco as the Marines lie in hypersleep) Lance Henriksen also frequently referred to Bishop as being “child-like” and how he was often hurt by how others receive him (one version of the script details that Bishop looks “wounded” when Ripley rebuffs his kindness.) “When I did Bishop,” Henriksen explained, “I was using the fact that I was 12-years-old. I was using my 12-year-old emotional life and thought of myself as a black kid in South Africa. That if I made a mistake anything could happen. So, that’s what I was using through that whole role. There was a certain innocence about Bishop that I created that way. And of course when you’re 12 you forgive adults because you know you’re going to outlive them.”

On David’s poisoning of Holloway, Lindelof explained, “That’s his programming. In the scene preceding him doing that, he is talking to Weyland (although we don’t know it at the time) and he’s telling Weyland that this is a bust. That they haven’t found anything on this mission other than the stuff in the vials. And Weyland presumably says to him, ‘Well, what’s in the vials?’ And David would say, ‘I’m not entirely sure, we’ll have to run some experiments.’ And Weyland would say, ‘What would happen if you put it in inside a person?’ And David would say, ‘I don’t know, I’ll go find out.’ He doesn’t know that he’s poisoning Holloway, he asks Holloway, ‘What would you be willing to do to get the answers to your questions?’ Holloway says, ‘Anything and everything.’ And that basically overrides whatever ethical programming David is mandated by, [allowing him] to spike his drink.”

Logan-Green chipped in that, “My definition of a robot, or at least a self-sustained robot, is to put together information. As much information as possible and data. To build on data. The only way they’re going to grow is to build on data. You meet David collecting data instantly. I think he probably hit a wall (so to speak) with this mission. They all hit a wall, at first, with this mission. And going back to his father, Weyland, and he’s told to ‘try harder.’ I think he understands that he will have to sacrifice a human life in order to achieve that collection of data.”

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Prior to the release of the film Ridley teased that it may feature two androids. Speculating fans immediately zeroed in on Vickers, whose costuming and seemingly robotic poise singled her out from the rest of the cast. “Yes, she does look like David,” Lindelof told mtv. “Yes, this was intentional. What better way to piss off your daughter than to build the male equivalent of her?” Vickers’ scorn for David is evident throughout the movie: first, in a brief cut when Weyland describes David as being like the son he never had, and later, and far more obviously, when she slams him against the wall in frustration as David and Weyland plot without her. The Weyland-Vickers-David triangle was an interesting dynamic that is alloted so little time that it appears more as an afterthought than anything even remotely subtextual. It feels incidental rather than integral; but of course others are free to come to their own conclusions.

As for David’s future, Lindlof told Time that by Prometheus’ end he has aligned himself with Shaw. “I think they’re going where she wants to go. His fundamental programming has been scrapped. Weyland [the man who built and programmed him] is dead and so now his programming is coming from God knows where. Is he being programmed by Elizabeth, or is it his own internal curiosity now that Weyland isn’t telling him what to do any more? He’s always been interested in Elizabeth, remember that: He’s watching her dreams when she’s sleeping in much the same way that he watches Lawrence of Arabia. He’s a strange robot that has a curious crush on a human being, and when Weyland is eliminated, I think he is genuinely interested in what she’s interested in. He reaches out partly for survival, but partly out of curiosity, and I think he’s sincere that he’ll take her wherever she wants to go.”

As for Ridley’s thoughts on the sequel, “You’ll probably have to go with Shaw and David – without his head,” he told Yahoo in 2014. “Find out how he gets his head back on!”

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Ridley Scott and James Cameron’s Alien 5

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“Ridley Scott and I have talked about doing one more where we go back to the original planet and see what these creatures came out of…”
~ Sigourney Weaver, IGN, 2005.

Alien Resurrection had barely started screening when talk of a fifth movie began circulating. “We firmly expect to do another one,” Tom Rothman, Fox’s president of production at the time, told Entertainment Weekly. “Joss Whedon will write it, and we expect to have Sigourney and Winona if they’re up for it.”

“There’s a big story to tell in another sequel,” Whedon said. “The fourth film is really a prologue to a movie set on Earth. Imagine all the things that can happen.” That same year he set out his manifesto for the fifth film: “If I write this movie, and it has my writing credits on it, then it’s going to be on Earth … And it’s going to be very different from the last one.”

“The studio talked about Alien Resurrection as a kind of placeholder,” he continued. “They said, ‘We want to do Earth or the big Alien planet, but we’re not convinced yet that this franchise has legs. So we want to do a smaller story.’ I don’t think you can do that with Alien 5. I think the time of people running around in a tin can has passed. You have to work on a broader canvas otherwise it becomes an episode and not a new movie. The way Cameron exploded from the first to the second, you have to do that again, and that means going somewhere new … With Alien Resurrection, I used the first two movies as models, but with this one I can promise you something new, something completely different from what’s been seen before.”

However, a frustrated Whedon lost interest in doing any work for another sequel after Resurrection’s release, and the fifth movie, which was rumoured to be titled ‘Alien Revelation’, ended up on Fox’s backburner. “I’ll tell you there was a time when I would have been interested in that,” explained Whedon, “but I am not interested in making somebody else’s franchise anymore. Any movie I make will be created by me.”

Still, rumours abounded throughout the late nineties and early noughties  about a fifth entry. Cinescape magazine for one reported that Alien 5 was to feature Ripley 8 travelling to the Alien homeworld to settle scores. There were intermittent rumours of the film being greenlit and release dates and inflated salaries for Weaver were reported and denied on an almost yearly basis. In 1999 Sigourney spoke to Sci-Fi Wire magazine about another film and her participation in it. “I don’t know if there are any plans to do another one,” she said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if some time in the next twenty years or so, you see a white-haired Ripley hobbling around out there. But I haven’t heard of anything.”

Eventually, in 2002, there seemed to be some mobilisation for Alien 5, as Ridley Scott was asked about his potential involvement and responded positively, saying, “You know I thought it’d be nice. I’d do it. It really is entirely dependent on the take on the material. It’s all about material. I’ve been asked about Alien 5, and I said of course. We’ve started a script meeting. I mean, I’ve started it off so I may as well close the door – if in fact this is meant to be the last one.”

“I will decide in the next 5 weeks. I’m looking at Alien 5 [for] sure. Why not? Maybe.”
~ Ridley Scott, The Latino Review, 2002.

In 2003 Ian Nathan interviewed Scott for The Times to celebrate the release of the Alien Quardilogy, and Nathan noted that he didn’t “even seem to want to recognise that two more films were made” after the second movie, which may have been a cause of consternation for Scott and Fox. This is conjecture, of course, but Scott’s unwillingness to heed the latter films (“One was set on a prison, wasn’t it?” he asked Empire in 2012) may have been a stumbling block for cracking the fifth film’s story. Ridley always spoke about exploring the Space Jockey and the concept of biological warfare, and he may not have been ready to weld it to Ripley’s clone and a film that he never held in much regard.

But Nathan dropped a more enticing tidbit: that there “has been talk of a heavenly partnership with Cameron to work out an idea” for a fifth Alien movie. Back in 1995 Starbust magazine had claimed that “James Cameron [was] behind the camera” for Alien Resurrection. This may have been wishful thinking, since he has never commented on being asked to direct the fourth movie (though he did say if Fox had gotten Ridley to direct one half of the proposed two-part third movie, he may have directed the second half.) Now, Cameron was mostly definitely back in the fold. “What came up was the idea of doing Alien 5,” he said, “and at one point I pitched that I would write it and produce it, and Ridley would direct it, and we had lunch talking about this.”

In 2003 Zap2it.com claimed that the plots to Alien 5 and 6 had surfaced. “Number five is set on Earth,” they claimed, “with the planet under attack from alien warrior drop ships, which made their debut in the original Alien movie. In the process they make Earth look like an incubator while attacking, leaving Alien eggs around the humans. When Ripley realizes her dreams have played a role in what’s happening she evacuates and confines herself to a cell, but inevitably she will meet her nemesis face to face again.”

The summary of the sixth movie was brief. “Number six takes place on the home turf of the navigator of the ship. Aliens are taking over other planets and Ripley finds herself forced to turn to the dark side in order to save civilization.”

Meanwhile, Cameron was stressing the need to be uncompromising when dabbling in this universe. “The original Alien holds a special classic niche as one of the great terrifying experiences,” he told The Edmonton Sun. “And the trick is you don’t go crazy and make a $150-million movie because you don’t want to have to compromise, you don’t want to try to do a PG-13 Alien that is all things to everyone. It’s got to still maintain its roots in this kind of cinematic Id. Ridley did it really beautifully. He just kind of put you into this Freudian nightmare space.”

“We’re looking at doing another one. Something similar to what we did with Aliens. A bunch of great characters, and of course Sigourney. I’ve even discussed the possibility of putting [Arnold Schwarzenegger] into the Alien movie.”
~ James Cameron, BBC One interview, 2003.

However, Ridley announced his departure from any Alien project in an issue of Total Film, explaining that it was now in Cameron’s court. “We were in violent agreement,” Cameron said of his meetings with Ridley, “then nothing happened.” It seems that Cameron continued working on the film in some capacity, but Fox intervened. “I started working on a story,” Cameron said, “I was working with another writer and Fox came back to me and said, ‘We’ve got this really good script for Alien vs Predator.’ So I stopped working.”

In 2004, Ridley spoke with Japanese publication Famitsu Wave about Alien 5. and indicated that it was still in everyone’s minds, but would not be greenlit until Fox saw how succesful the spin-off movie would be. He spoke cryptically about the plot and whether or not he would direct it.

Famitsu Wave: And what of the rumor of another Alien movie?
Ridley Scott: We have been talking about doing another one for years. It’s been a complex situation. At the end of the day, a studio has to be pleased, a core audience has to be pleased, and a director has to agree to all that. I am glad to say things are progressing…
FW: With you as director?
RS: I don’t think I’ll be directing, but I will have some involvement. It’ll probably be based on an idea I have, so I hope I’m asked to be involved.
FW: Can you talk about the idea?
RS: In broad terms, it’s something for those folks that want to see Ripley’s journey come full circle.
FW: Does that take her to the home planet of the Aliens?
RS: She won’t necessarily see the home planet, but you might…

Scott also told them that, regarding his work with Nicolas Cage on Matchstick Men and other projects, “If there’s room for him in the new Alien movie, we’d love to get him.”

After the release of AvP director Paul W. Anderson was briefly rumoured to be helming the fifth Alien installment: hearsay that he quickly shot down. “That’s not a reality,” he said. “I’ve heard that. I’ve been doing press lately for AvP and a lot of people said that. I don’t know where that came from. It’s not something I’ve been approached about.” His choice for Alien 5‘s director? Ironically, James Cameron.

AvP may have caused him to lose interest in making a new movie in the series, but Cameron still got around to seeing it.”I think of the five Alien films, I’d rate it third,” he diplomatically said of Anderson’s film, which is no real feat considering his opinion of the third and fourth movie. Ridley however couldn’t bring himself to see it or its 2007 sequel.

Empire: I’ve always wondered, did you see the Alien vs. Predator movies?
Ridley Scott: No.
Empire: (laughs) They don’t exist.
Ridley: I couldn’t do that (laughs) I couldn’t quite take that step.
~ Empire Online, Prometheus: The Interviews, 2012.

Of Ridley’s eventually return to the series, Prometheus, Cameron said in 2014: “I thought it was an interesting film. I thought it was thought-provoking and beautifully, visually mounted, but at the end of the day it didn’t add up logically. But I enjoyed it, and I’m glad it was made. I liked it better than the previous two Alien sequels.”

As for any involvement in the new strand of Alien stories that the prequel has opened up, Cameron was straightforward. “I don’t think I have anything to offer on the Prometheus sequels, that’s Ridley’s.”

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Alien Funnies

A regular feature of magazines like Starlog were the one-shot ‘funnies’ that adorned the letters pages. Some were a little clever and delightful, others were typically nothing more than zingers. Both served a similar sort of purpose: to relieve any tensions in irate fan mail and, really, to have fun with some iconic creatures and characters, from Star Wars to a lot of Star Trek (perhaps understandably – Starlog, as its name attests, was originally intended to be a Trek-centric magazine.)

December 1986’s issue 113 featured an Aliens cartoon in its Fan Network section, a page dedicated to reader contributions like photos, cartoons, and convention reports and fan club activities. This one had Ripley entering the Alien hive and encountering something unexpected:

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There was also a blurb in this issue quoting Sigourney Weaver: “I won’t do any more Ripley-type roles,” she said. Of course.

January 1987’s issue 114 had a gloomier sort of letters page, with readers expressing opinions on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, or popularly known as, really, ‘Star Wars’) and also the realities of nuclear war with the Soviets. “It has been suggested,” reads one letter, “that orbiting lasers and/or laser reflecting mirrors could be used to start massive fires in fixed targets like cities – a holocaust without the aid of atomic bombs.” A lot of tension indeed.

The comic for this issue was drawn by veteran illustrator Mike Fisher. It pitted Rocky Balboa against the Alien, which wasn’t really inspired by anything in the letters pages but played around with an old joke that said Stallone would have to start fighting aliens since his Rocky character had already defeated every challenger on Earth.

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Gags like these actually contributed to that year’s Predator – writers Jim and John Thomas both heard the joke sometime in 1985 and wrote the ‘The Hunter’, a proto-Predator that was “Rocky meets Alien, I guess,” according to its writers.

Issue 116 saw readers writing in to express awe and delight at Aliens and also had them throwing around theories about the Alien homeworld and the origin of the Aliens themselves. Others wrote in to question what they saw as incongruities in the story – questions which would be addressed by James Cameron in a following issue (see James Cameron Responds to Aliens Critics.)

The gag for this issue depicts Carter Burke stowing the Alien Queen aboard the ride home. It’s zinger-ladden and quite fun:

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Issue 121, released in August 1987, included another Alien gag in the Fan Network section:

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There was a dearth of Aliens articles and interviews at the time, including talks with Jenette Goldstein, Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen. I cannot pinpoint the exact issue that this following panel appeared (bad record keeping) but it’s a nice little ode to Believe It or Not, after which Ellen Ripley was named.

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September 1987’s issue was a little prophetic with its cartoon:

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The same issue had a special feature with James Cameron addressing the queries and criticisms of fans. His responses came with a couple of illustrations by Phil Foglio, the best being a good natured little gag at the critics’ expense:

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December 1988’s issue 137 had the Alien infiltrate the Enterprise crew:

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February 1989’s Starlog 139 played around with earlier concerns about SDI and replaced it with a deadlier payload:

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Another Alien panel with a couple of happy-go-lucky creatures appeared in issue 148 from November 1989:

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July 1992’s issue 180 had readers writing in to debate Star Trek and Space 1999, and also to express views on the expiring Cold War. George H.W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin had declared that the decades long standoff was over on February 1st of that year, but, obviously, a lot of gloomy feeling persisted. One reader wrote that: “Schwarzenegger’s endorsement of George Bush … makes one seriously doubt that T2‘s ultimate point is in favour of global disarmament” and “our very freedom has been guaranteed by these weapons for 50 years”, along with terms like “Soviet Empire” and “Communist soil” sprinkled throughout.

Veering away from such loaded topics, illustrator Mike Fisher again put the Alien up against one of geekdom’s champions. This time, the ever resourceful MacGyver.

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James Kester also had Weaver’s idea of copulating with the Alien come true. The romance quickly petered out:

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Issue 182 featured another Alien gag as part of its Cosmic Improbabilities line.

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The Fan Network page also toyed around with the upcoming Alien 3 and The Three Stooges:

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This issue also featured the first of many letters criticising Alien 3, most especially the killing of Newt, Hicks and Bishop during the opening credits.

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Issue 183, released in October 1992, saw the fan pages flooded with complaints about the third film. The grievances in question are nothing new by this point: the contrivances of Newt and Hicks’ deaths, the sad denouement of Bishop and Ripley’s sacrifice didn’t sit well with fans. “I could not believe my eyes!” opened one letter. “After watching the first two minutes, I was so mad I almost stood up and left the theater.” Other gripes included Newt’s autopsy, inconsistencies with the Alien’s gestation time, the likeness of Ripley’s descent into the flames to the end of Terminator 2, the over the top gore, and the behaviour of the Alien itself. Even fans who wrote in to express love for the film were confused by plot points (such as the infamous ‘magic egg’.)

There were predictions (“There will be no Alien 4″) and plaudits and condemnations alike for director David Fincher. Still, the magazine kept a sense of humour, pitting the Alien against Spielberg’s E.T., having it admire Ripley’s dome and joining the Enterprise crew once again.

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There was also a joke at the expense of the Alien’s ability to take the shape of its host:

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There was no Alien art in issue 184, but fans were still writing in to express disappointment and disgust at the third film. “Alien 3 is one of the worst pieces of trash I have ever seen,” read one. “The screenplay is a garbled mess,” and “the movie’s plot is simply a weak repeat of the first movie” were following complaints. More ire was directed at how the film was marketed (“The previews made it look a lot like Aliens. They even used the music from Aliens in the trailer”) and, again, the gore, the Alien creature’s propensity to slaughter everyone and also discrepancies in the design of the Sulaco and its cryotubes between the second and third films (“Fincher must think we’re idiots.”)

The nineties were the primetime of Alien merchandise, specifcially comics, games and toys. Issue 229, released in August 1996, poked fun at this by throwing the Alien into a Toy Story scenario.

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It’s a nice little toon, especially when you consider that Toy Story had Joss Whedon as one of its writers, and Joss had written Alien Resurrection, which was less than a year from release at the time.

The following cartoons were graciously given to me by artist Mike Fisher, and they appeared in various Starlog issues during 2004-08.

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eileenvp2Starlog itself sadly petered out. It celebrated its 30th birthday in 2006, but was bankrupted and eventually sold in 2008. The year before a warehouse containing back issues of both Starlog and Fangoria magazine burned to the ground. The magazine still persists online, and can be visited at Starlog.com.

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Alien and its Antecedents

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“Existing is plagiarism.”
~ E.M. Cioran, Drawn and Quartered, 1983.

“When I saw Alien for the first time,” writer Mark Ellis told Starlog magazine in 1992, “about thirty minutes into it I turned to my soon-to-be wife Melissa and grumbled, ‘Aw, hell this is just an uncredited remake of It! [the Terror from Beyond Space.]’ I still look at Alien as just a remake, and I groaned at the end when they dispatched the monster. They couldn’t even think of a better way to get rid of this damn thing than to have to borrow from It! again. The picture just didn’t do much for me.”

Ellis is in rare company these days, but he was correct about one thing—Alien’s resemblance to It! was no accident. “If somebody is responsible for stealing the idea,” David Giler said to Cinefantastique magazine in 1979, “it’s [O’Bannon and Shusett]. They signed a paper saying it was an original idea. If it isn’t, they lied to us. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that O’Bannon stole the idea, I must tell you.”

If Giler was incensed and accusatory at the charge, Dan O’Bannon was positively jubilant and unashamed of his pulp roots. “I didn’t steal from anybody,” he explained, “I stole from everybody!”

O’Bannon’s space comedy Dark Star was the largest template for Alien, since disaffected crew-mates, a dingy ship with a used universe aesthetic, an alien intruder, an airduct stalking sequence and third act self-destruct devices all feature in his first cinematic effort. “Alien was very similar,” he said in 1979. “It was just, ‘Well, I can’t make them laugh, maybe I can make them scream.’” Of course, that doesn’t preclude the other films in this article from influencing Alien; they certainly did, but were expressed through Dark Star first.

The works most commonly cited and acknowledged by O’Bannon as key influences on Alien include 1956’s Forbidden Planet and the aforementioned It! The Terror From Beyond Space, released in 1958. Literary influences include a wealth of Weird Science and Weird Fantasy comic strips as well as the collective works of HP Lovecraft. Other possible sources include Planet of the Vampires (Dan and Ridley claimed not to have seen it) and A.E. van Vogt’s novel The Voyage of the Space Beagle (Dan never read it.)

First, a minor but related digression…

Originality is a modern concern. Literature and film, like man, is no island. They thrive by adaptation and appropriation. Appropriating other stories for frameworks, themes and motifs goes back to the dawn of storytelling: it is why we find an abundance of Flood myths in comparative mythologies; it’s how the Arthurian canon managed to evolve from British comitatus poesies into the French romances of Lancelot and Guinevere and the exploits of the Round Table; it’s why we find Tolkien’s Smaug in the climax of Beowulf; it is how Shakespeare’s Capulets and Montagues became the Sharks and Jets of West Side Story – in fact, the bulk of the Shakespearean canon are adaptations of older works: Romeo & Juliet for one has a multitude of predecessors. What makes ‘new’ pieces of fiction relevant is the ability to recontextualise older works for newer generations, hopefully with the addition of new meanings, applications and resonance. King Arthur hopped from the tongues of anonymous British bards to the quills of Giraldus Cambrensis and Layamon, then over to Normandy to Wace, who invented the Round Table, and to Chretien de Troyes, who invented Lancelot. After a dalliance in German romances the canon returned to England and was further exemplified by Sir Thomas Malory and later Alfred Tennyson. And there were texts between these texts, each swapping or inventing new devices (like the sword in the stone) that over the centuries became the Arthurian canon we know today. A new work that aims to be successful should master repetition without replication; its effect must be enrichment rather than robbery. It should encourage rivals, not wannabes. That is the thin and delicate line between appropriation and outright theft.

Thanks to the embarrassment of riches that Alien was blessed with –Ridley Scott’s directorial eye, the artistry of Ron Cobb, HR Giger, Chris Foss, Jean Giraud and innumerable others– it succeeded in becoming more than its constituent parts, redefining well-worn tropes and becoming a milestone as a result. It is not a monster-on-a-ship movie (and what is that particular genre if not the Minotaur and the Maze?), it is the monster-on-a-ship movie. In film, this is not unique, Star Wars being the most famous example – a blend of Flash Gordon and Campbellian monomyth and Kurosawa; a fantasy interspersed with science fiction and the Western.

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In It! The Terror from Beyond Space a rescue crew is sent to Mars to investigate the fate of a previous expedition. They find one survivor, but suspect him of murdering his comrades. The survivor, Col. Carruthers, insists than an alien entity is responsible. The rescue crew take the Colonel and depart for Earth. Unfortunately, the alien has stowed aboard the ship and starts picking them off. With their weapons ineffective, the survivors retreat to the ship’s control room and, cornered, they don spacesuits and expose the creature to the vacuum of space, quickly suffocating it. The similarities to Alien should not need pointing out.

In 2012 Cinema Dope asked the writer of the It! screenplay, Jerome Bixby, to weigh in. “Frankly,” he answered, “I feel like the grandfather of Alien.”

“There’s a whole roster of similarities between what I wrote and [Alien],” he continued. “They’re both about a small group of people trapped aboard a spacecraft with an inimical creature out to get them and which, in fact, knocks them off one by one. No problem there; that’s a pretty general plot outline. In both stories the creatures use the ship’s air ducts. In both stories they are held off with gas and electricity. And at the end of both stories, they’re dispatched by suffocation, by evacuating the creatures from the ship and depriving them of air.”

Bixby, far from feeling outraged or shortchanged, was honest about the fact that though Alien was an offspring of his film, It! was also the sum total of science-fiction films that had come before. “In all honesty, my story was also derivative,” he told Cinema Dope. “Essentially what I did was take Howard Hawks’ The Thing and play it aboard a spaceship. But I didn’t copy the storyline; I used the film ‒a masterpiece in the genre‒ as inspiration for my story. The Hawks film has long been a model for SF writers.”

In a more level-headed discussion with Cinefantastique magazine David Giler admitted these realities and was unfazed by the similarities between Alien and any of its predecessors. “We only began to hear about It! The Terror towards the end of production,” he said. “I haven’t seen it, but I know of it. We were convinced we were doing something new stylistically, even if the basic outlines were the same. I gather the Alien-hiding-on-a-space-ship idea is pretty much a classic premise with science fiction writers, like the gunfight in a western. So the similarities you refer to didn’t bother us.”

In Forbidden Planet a spaceship is sent to a distant world to investigate the fate of a previous expedition. Near the planet’s orbit they receive a signal warning them to stay away, which they ignore. When they arrive they find that only two people (Dr. Morbius and his daughter) have survived the assault of a mysterious alien being. It is revealed that eons ago a technological civilization was mysteriously wiped out. A remnant device called the Great Machine has the power to manifest thoughts into reality – and it is revealed that the mysterious psychic force running amok is a manifestation of Dr. Morbius’ Id. In the end, Dr. Morbius and his psychic offspring are annihilated when Morbius sets the planet to explode, and the investigatory crew escape with his daughter.

The influence on Alien may not be entirely clear here, but we should look to Dan’s original screenplay. There, he wrote of a spaceship crew who decide to investigate an apparent SOS (later revealed to be a warning) on a mysterious planet. In the screenplay, the planet contained the ruins of a long destructed alien (or Alien) race. The crew find evidence of another alien species (later nicknamed the Space Jockey in future drafts) on the planet: they were prior explorers who had been decimated by an unknown force, which later turns out to be the long dormant spore of the indigenous Alien. This set-up was entirely excised from the film, but the influence of Forbidden Planet should be clearer. O’Bannon, when first writing the screenplay in 1972, even considered depicting his Alien as “a non-physical, kind of spiritual alien that would possess people,” not too unlike Dr. Morbius’ murderous projection. There is also another similarity in that both Dr. Morbius and Ash share an immeasurable thirst for knowledge that is ultimately destructive. Ash’s obsession with the Alien, clearly, goes beyond protocol and detached fascination.

“I always felt that the author of the Alien script had probably seen my film and gotten some inspiration from it. Ridley’s film is like a greatly enhanced, expensive and elaborated version of Queen of Blood.”
~ Curtis Harrington, terrortrap.com, 2005.

There is also Mario Bava’s 1965 movie Planet of the Vampires. In Bava’s film a spaceship picks up a mysterious beacon emanating from an unexplored planet. Whilst exploring the hellish landscape they find a derelict spacecraft containing the long dead corpses of another exploratory alien race, who have been killed by some malignant force on the planet. This force possesses the human crewmen, incites them to murder, and reanimates their corpses.

A.E. van Vogt’s The Voyage of the Space Beagle has also been touted as an influence, but this has been categorically denied by O’Bannon. Still, van Vogt litigated Twentieth Century Fox over the similarities, and Fox settled out of court. Given Dan’s willingness to attribute ideas to their original sources (he has likewise singled out the individual contributions of Shusett, Cobb, and Ridley on many occasions) it seems odd that he would celebrate every other influence, but then not give van Vogt due credit.

“There were comic books [that inspired Alien] too: EC’s Weird Science and its companion publication, Weird Fantasy. I recall one fondly, about seeds from outer space which fell onto the deck of a Navy destroyer, and an incautious sailor ate one. A horrible, tentacled monster hatched out of him.”
~ Dan O’Bannon, Something Perfectly Disgusting.

Another comic tale featuring a creature erupting from a man’s body was Weird Science’s ‘Seeds of Jupiter’, featured in the July/August edition in 1951.

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Alien is not only a successful amalgam of various science fiction influences but also contains obvious consonances with the horror genre. The story of the Nostromo could easily be that of the Demeter, the ship that Dracula stowed upon on his way to London. And if its behaviour or function was similar to monsters in many other films, the Alien itself was not — a triumph of design and presentation, it put a cap on the age of amorphous blobs and pod people and inflated reptilemen and any other rubber exaggeration. Such creatures would continue to appear in B-movie schlock (as would a number of biomechanic imitations), but they could never aspire to be anything more than knock-offs or throwbacks. Despite the simple and familiar trappings (monster seeks and spills blood) Giger’s creature would be the measuring stick by which all future alien monsters would be judged.

What else gave the film an edge over its forebearers and competitors? Interestingly, the characters are not the ideologically aligned adventurers and scientists of prior genre movies. They resemble far more closely the disaffected and ennui-ridden cast of O’Bannon’s own Dark Star, but with a corporate twist supplied by David Giler and Walter Hill. There are three distinct tiers in the hierarchy aboard the Nostromo: on the bottom rung are the engineers, Parker and Brett, who are physically separated from the rest of the crew by being consigned below deck. They are also, to their chagrin, paid less than the other crewmembers. Then there is the officer class, consisting of Ripley, Kane and Dallas. Above them is the unseen Company, whose protocol not only allows for divisions between its crew but also allow the conditions on which a hostile organism like the Alien can be allowed on board. Ash exists as an outlier, an anomaly — he represents the Company and is either distrusted or wearily tolerated by both officer and engineer alike.

Ash himself was nothing new, his closest analogues being the mad scientist trope and also what Dan O’Bannon would term ‘the Russian Spy.’ “It annoyed me when they did it,” he said of Ash’s inclusion, “It was a tendency in certain types of thrillers, when people are on an interesting mission, to stick in a Russian spy. One of them is a spy and they don’t know which one, he’s trying to screw up the mission. Fantastic Voyage had that. When I saw Fantastic Voyage, I thought it annoying … instead of it adding any genuine suspense all it did was annoy me … It’s a tension device which is commonly resorted to and doesn’t work because it doesn’t provide any real suspense.”

Most if not all of the film’s fans will agree that Ash was another element, tried and almost tired, that was pulled off with the same finesse as the Alien itself. Ridley himself disagreed with Dan, saying years later: “This is a great turnabout in the story because just when you think your main and only aggressor is this thing loose on the ship, you’ve now got a much bigger problem – you’ve got two aggressors, which raises the paranoia and that of the audience twofold.” Critical and fan reception would prove that Ash’s inclusion was ultimately beneficial to the film – not an original one per se, but employed in an innovative and shocking manner.

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Comic Jockey: Warfaring & Terraforming

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No one asked one very big simple question … Who was the guy in the seat, who was the popular character that got the name The Space Jockey? … Who was that? Why was he there?  I always figured what I had was a battlewagon … It didn’t crash, it parked, and why did it park there, no, no one brought up those questions.”
~ Ridley Scott, 2012.

But Prometheus was not unique in its attempt to explain or elaborate on the nature, origin or motivation of the Space Jockeys, having in fact been long beaten to the punch by the comic books. While the film envisioned the Space Jockey as nothing more than a protective shell for a more human, arguably less frightening being known as an Engineer, the comics kept the Jockey unrelated to humanity but still largely involved with its destiny, intentionally or otherwise. And while the Engineer concept was an interesting design experiment that combined Classical ideas of the heroic figure, Renaissance-era ideas about Heavenly and Hellish beings, and Giger’s signature biomechanics, the comic books depicted a sometimes familiar elephantine creature albeit in unfamiliar contexts: most notably, out of his famous cockpit and walking amongst us, either physically or through psychic means.

The Space Jockey of the comics and the Engineer of Prometheus turn out, on the whole, to share very similar characteristics and motivations, despite being drastically different in terms of actual design. To be very simplistic and brief: the Engineers are bioweapon developers, have an implied (but undefined) relationship with the Alien, and harbour inexplicable designs for humanity and Earth. In the comic books, the Space Jockeys have a strongly implied history with the Aliens stretching back millennia, and one Space Jockey in particular also has designs for the Earth and humanity.

These similarities are not coincidental, but that’s also not to say that Prometheus borrowed anything from the comics books preceding it. In fact, both the comics and the film owe their dues not to Alien itself, from which almost nothing about the Jockey can be ascertained, but from comments made by Ridley Scott after the release of the film.

For his part, Scott first spoke about the possibly of the Alien being utilised as a weapon back in 1979. The Book of Alien quotes him as saying:

“The derelict ship was a battlewagon or a freighter, that was carrying, either its own kind or a weapon from A to B and something went wrong.”

He elaborated on the idea that the Alien eggs were weapons the same year in a discussion with Cinefantastique magazine:

“It may have waited thousands of years for some other lifeform to come near. Its only trigger, you see, is another lifeform. Another biological presence enables it to move on and develop. It truly does have an abstract kind of purity. And almost like a weapon, a product of biological, rather than bacteriological warfare. We never went into any of this but perhaps it was developed as a weapon and got out of control. Imagine a few thousand of those things.”

This idea took root and stuck with him throughout the years. He later spoke of it on the 2003 DVD commentary and also at the Hero Complex Show in 2012 where he gave more details about the circumstances surrounding the derelict’s “forced landing” and the death of its pilot:

“Something had got loose in the cargo, had evolved, and had actually taken him out … In any technology, whether it’s millions of years in the past or millions of years in the future, they’ll always have a distress signal, so he had set up a distress signal that we, with our twenty first century electronics, had caught up [with] … [with] technology [that] was a million years old.”

If the Alien were a bioweapon, and the Space Jockeys were transporting them, then it’s fairly obvious to reach the conclusion that the Jockey race is, if not malevolent, then certainly dubious in its intentions. An oft-repeated piece of Alien lore is that during production the film’s crew felt that the Space Jockey was somehow a benign creature. This I would probably put down to Dan O’Bannon’s influence; in his script, which many had read, the Jockey was an unfortunate explorer who is exposed to the Alien, much like the film’s protagonists. Ridley’s conception of the Jockey as a military pilot likely sprouted and bloomed when production realities forced him to merge the derelict ship and the egg silo into one location, whereas in the original script and many of the initial rewrites these were two distinct and separate areas.

Ridley was not the only director musing over the Jockey, or, as James Cameron dubbed him, ‘the Big Dental Patient’. “Perhaps he was a military pilot,” he mused in the pages of Starlog magazine after the release of Aliens, “delivering the Alien eggs as a bio-weapon in some ancient interstellar war humans know nothing of.”

Two sets of the comics in particular elaborated on these broad strokes of the Space Jockeys motivations and behaviour. The first was the initial run of Dark Horse’s Aliens comics (which form a trilogy: Book OneBook Two, and Earth War) which were written by Mark Verheiden and ran from 1988 to 1990. Another notable comic entry which bears notable similarities to Prometheus, and which we will touch on after Verheiden’s work, is 1999’s Aliens Apocalypse: the Destroying Angels

I. The Space Jockey in Dark Horse’s ALIENS

Book One (May 1988 – July 1989) takes place several years after the second movie, with Ripley AWOL, Newt in psychiatric care, and Hicks back in the military following a spell in quarantine.  The overall story concerns Earthly interest in obtaining an Alien as a bio-weapon. Hicks is recruited to train a squad of Marines to travel to the Alien homeworld, though this is really a ruse to obtain samples for weapons development. Learning that Newt is due to be lobotomised, Hicks snatches her from the psychiatric hospital and takes her along on his mission. Once they arrive at the Alien homeworld, the team is quickly decimated.

But at the climatic moment a spacesuited Space Jockey comes to Newt and Hicks’ aid and eliminates an attacking mass of Aliens. This Jockey -variously referred to as ‘the Other’ or sometimes ‘the Pilot; for the rest of this article he will be referred to exclusively as the latter- then delves into Newt’s mind. The telepathic link between them turns out to be a two way avenue, and she is quickly disquieted by the very familiar contents of its mind:

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Verheiden hints at an ancient antagonism between the Alien and Space Jockey species which has had negligible effects on countless civilisations throughout the universe: this time, it is humanity who is caught in the crossfire. The association between the Alien and Space Jockey in the comics is usually portrayed as one of attempted master and slave, a relationship often paralleled by humanity’s attempts to domesticate the Alien, and that concept seems to have its origin here.

At the end of Book One the Earth is overrun by Aliens and is steadily abandoned by humanity. As Newt watches the emptying globe from her ship the Pilot she encountered back on the Alien homeworld re-establishes a psychic link, allowing her more insight into its motivations: it had followed Newt and co. back to Earth, knowing that the planet was endangered. With humanity gone, the Pilot would assume mastery over the planet, and should humanity ever return, they will find it waiting.

No Space Jockey or Pilot appears in Book Two (March 1990 – May 1990), which focuses on the battle between Man and Alien on Earth.

Earth War (July 1990 – October 1990) the third and final part of Verheiden’s opus, deals with Ripley and Newt’s quest to seek and destroy the ‘Alien Mother Queen’, who haunts their dreams through psychic interference. With that done, they discover that in their absence the Pilot has subjected Earth to terraforming, which will one day render it uninhabitable for humans. Newt also learns that the Pilot is not only the architect of this new Earth but is also responsible for directing them into their encounter with the Alien Mother Queen – for his own selfish reasons, of course.

The Pilot has no dialogue throughout the series, but Newt describes him in some chilling soliloquies after being given access to his mind. The Pilot is powerful yet restrained, ancient yet savage. He is an opportunistic planet-snatcher, a powerful psychic and manipulator.

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At the end of Earth War the protagonists conclude that “It was time to move on” from any attachment to Earth, and that “Perhaps its new inhabitants would learn from our mistakes. Perhaps not.”

That was the end of Verheiden’s trilogy, so to speak, and the end of his story. Dark Horse were to move on with a new series, and in November 1991 they published a story written by John Arcudi, simply titled The Alien, which served as an epilogue to the Book OneTwoEarth War triptych, and also as a prologue to the then-upcoming Aliens: Genocide, the sequel to Verheiden’s trilogy. The one-off is notable because it resolves the Pilot subplot and also sets the stage for the re-inhabitation of Earth for the new series.

The Alien takes place some time after the conclusion of Earth War and sees the remaining vestiges of humanity’s military and government bodies returning to Gateway Station in Earth’s orbit. Once there they find that the Pilot is slowly terraforming the planet. The President of the United States is briefed on the Pilot’s intentions, and a plan is formulated to assassinate him so humanity can reclaim the Earth. The President boards the Pilot’s ship with a contingent of undercover androids, ostensibly to enter “face-to-face negotiations for the re-population of the Earth.” The Pilot, however, attacks the group and mangles the androids. The President, before he can be killed, ingests a hidden fluid (a cyanide capsule substitute) that stimulates an Alien embryo growing within him – the subsequent chestburster erupts from the President’s chest and lunges for the Pilot. One of the maimed androids initiates a nuclear strike on the ship, and the strip ends with its destruction, allowing humanity to return home.

There are some minor similarities to Prometheus here, notably the Pilot reacting violently to some introductory politesse and bludgeoning androids atop a dais, but I would not doubt that these are largely circumstantial similarities. The Alien is really a bridge between two series’, with some colourful panels but some hilarious Space Jockey designs (more on those, later…)

II. The Space Jockey in Aliens Apocalypse: The Destroying Angels

But the similarities between Prometheus and Aliens Apocalypse: The Destroying Angels seem less circumstantial, though, of course, they very well may be.

The comic, written by Mark Schultz, revolves around a rescue organisation, Throop Rescue and Recovery, who are hired by a scientific organisation called the Geholgod Institute to track down one of their founding members, Dr. Lucien Keitel. Some years before the events of the story Keitel discovered a derelict ship in a distant star system. The Institute stripped many advanced technologies from this derelict via information sent back by Keitel, but one day all communications cease, and the derelict, along with Keitel and his crew, disappear in deep space.

A small, possibly inconsequential note, but as a student of Medieval literature and Old English texts, the name of the Geholgod Institute really struck me, as the word ‘geholgod’ closely resembles the Old English ‘gehalgod’, which roughly translates to ‘hallowed’ in modern English. Think, the Lord’s Prayer (or the Iron Maiden song): “si þin nama gehalgod”.

You could infer that there is some relevance or connection between a phrase from the Lord’s Prayer and an institute whose members are entangled with alien beings they refer to as angels, not to mention the eschatological tones throughout The Destroying Angels… but I’m not aware of writer Mark Schultz’s thought processes in this instance. It was interesting enough to note down, however.

The Throop R&R eventually find Keitel on a distant planet, where he has sequestered himself underground in an ancient city built by the Space Jockey race. An Alien infestation has already broken out in the underground city, with Keitel’s men having offered themselves as hosts. Keitel still lives, and takes Throop under his protection and explains to them his motivations and the greater history between the Aliens and Space Jockeys.

Keitel posits that a systematic wave of annihilation had passed through the cosmos billions of years ago, uprooting and destroying civilisations along the way, including the Jockey race (whose are always referred to as “the Giants”). This wave of destruction was, of course, the Aliens. “They were a universal wave of extinction, Ms. Throop,” he proselytises. “The wrath of God!”

It is revealed that Keitel’s incentive for his original expedition had its origin in a paleontological dig in Australia that unearthed evidence of lifeforms that predated the oldest previously known formations by a billion years – these mysterious lifeforms had been exterminated in one swoop 3.2 billion years ago, and Keitel resolved to find out why. He explains that further archaeological work throughout the galaxies and alien redoubts had uncovered ancient messages left by the Space Jockeys – co-ordinates for distant civilisations and pathways and waypoints that were now all abandoned or dead. His conclusion that the Aliens are a divinely co-ordinated wave of annihilation stem from these discoveries. The apocalypse had happened before, he affirms, and it would come again.

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These revelations and the religious significance that Keitel has attached to them have driven him into an evangelising madness. The souls of his crew, who sacrificed their lives to be Alien hosts, were now  “granted eternal life in the celestial corpora of the destroying angels.”

Keitel takes Throop deeper into the subterrenean city, and presents to her the last living Space Jockey which has sealed itself in cryo-sleep in the hopes that it could outlast the Alien threat. The other Giants who joined him in his aeonic slumber all succumbed to time and died, leaving this sole, sleeping survivor. “A science that has kept a being alive for over three billion years,” muses Keitel. “Imagine that.”

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Keitel then charges Throop with returning to Earth with his research so that humanity can be convinced the apocalypse is imminent. At the end of Jon Spaihts’ Aliens: Engineers script Watts (who would become Shaw under Lindelof’s pen) must contend with a Space Jockey Alien, as do the characters in Aliens Apocalypse.

There are some obvious parallels to Prometheus already that shouldn’t need pointed out. Though the circumstances are not duplicates of one another per se, they utilise the same setpieces or tropes in a largely familiar manner.

Another similarity concerns the android characters in both works. In Jon Spaihts’ Alien: Engineers script and Aliens Apocalypse the android characters, David and Baal respectively, allow their fellow crewmembers to be exposed to Alien spore. Baal’s greatest act of malfeasance comes when he places an Alien egg before the lone Space Jockey and allows it to become infected with the Alien larva. David employs the same sort of subterfuge, and at one point in the script he directly infects Watts  with an Alien. Both are also decapitated in the Jockey chamber (check both David and Baal).

These similarities  have been noted by many fans, but a direct link between the two cannot be ascertained. If Spaihts had read Aliens Apocalypse then he borrowed not the backstory of the Space Jockeys and Aliens but rather some imagery and setpieces, whilst also dialing down the eschatological overtones (though the cycle of creation and destruction and recreation that figures into Prometheus’ mythos is very apparent in The Destroying Angels, with its allegedly recurring extinction events.)

The Space Jockey Design as Seen in Various Comics

For this endnote I thought it would be beneficial and of interest to show how the various comics actually depicted the Space Jockey, dead or alive. There is a rough chronological order at work, though this list is by no means complete – there may be many more Jockeys drawn out there that I have not seen.

Metal Hurlant’s Alien: The Illustrated Story (1979)

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The first appearance of the Jockey in the comics is, of course, Metal Hurlant’s 1979 adaptation Alien: the Illustrated Story. Though this comic features some scenes from the first movie that weren’t filmed (see: Dallas confronting Ash) and what might be some embellishments or misinterpretations (see: the box Alien) it didn’t take any liberties with the Jockey itself, which appears in one lone panel and serves the same aesthetic treat function as it does in the movie.

The design is faithful to Giger’s paintings and prop, as most of the dead Jockeys are throughout the various comics – obviously, there is little room for variation when depicting such a fixed, uniquely shaped creature. The LV-426 Jockey does not appear in the Aliens adaptation Newt’s Tale (which is true to the film, despite the comic wielding significant artistic licience with its presentation of the outbreak at Hadley’s Hope) but it appears in a flashback in Book One.

Dark Horse’s Aliens, issues #5 & #6 (June & July 1989)

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Above is the first Jockey to have clambered out of his cockpit – designwise, this creature resembles Watto more than it does the Space Jockey, and the spacesuit and bubble (not to mention his boots) come across as silly details, and completely unlike the ethereal carcass dreamed up and committed to film and canvas by Giger. But to be fair, living up to Giger might have been an impossible task – celebrated artists and designers like Ron Cobb, Moebius, and Chris Foss all tried their hand at designing the Space Jockey, and none were as strange and unique as what Giger eventually came up with.

Dark Horse’s Aliens: Earth War #1 & #4 (July & 1990)

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Like Alien: the Illustrated Story, the only Jockey to appear is a dead one, (or rather, the dead one.)

An expeditionary team lands on LV-426 to investigate the fate of the derelict after the conclusion of Aliens and find that it has been buckled rather than destroyed by the explosion at Hadley’s Hope. The ceilings have caved in and in one panel (above) the Jockey himself lies exposed, draped by wiring and dripping with moss.

The LV-426 Jockey cameos again when Newt tells Ripley about her encounter with the Pilot on the Alien homeworld. It’s one of the best pieces that artist Sam Keith (who was absolutely maligned in the letters pages, having had to follow the great Denis Beauvais) has drawn for the entirety of Earth War:

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Throughout Earth War are allusions to the Pilot who seized Earth after the Alien infestation in Book One and who later manipulated Newt and Ripley into destroying the ‘Alien Mother Queen’ at Earth War’s conclusion, but he is not seen again until…

Dark Horse’s The Alien (November 1991)

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This is ostensibly the Pilot from Verheiden’s stories, who has ‘conquered’ the Earth so to speak, and he has ditched the spacesuit from his first appearance and donned more imperial robes. He no longer resembles Watto, instead appearing dessicated and wrinkled. It’s remarked that his eyes are cold and dead.

“Surely this is a brilliant creature, capable of single-handedly altering the climates of the entire Earth. But the eyes convey no intellect at all. They are a void of expression and feeling cold. Empty. Like the eyes of a dead animal.”

It is also hinted throughout the series that he is the last of his kind, or certainly one of them. It’s complete conjecture (but it’s fun to speculate) that he probably considers himself to be his species’ Last of the Romans, hence his colourful gown and regal pose (and as the panel above attests, he also insists that his guests undress themselves, maybe to partake in other notorious Roman pastimes… that’s a bad joke: he in fact only wants to eradicate the germs from your body.)

This Space Jockey, who made intermittent appearances throughout the Dark Horse series and played a sinister background role, is finally dispatched by a suicidal President  of the United States and a nuclear barrage, clearing the way for some return to normality.

Dark Horse’s Aliens: Wraith (July 1996)

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When it comes to portraying the dead Space Jockey and figuring it into a story it’s usually more of the same: either we see it through a one-panel flashback, or an expeditionary team seek or stumble across a derelict (often the derelict), inspect the Jockey corpse therein for a panel or two, and then become entangled with some Aliens. These seem like they are meant to be tantalising little appearances but they are in fact the least satisfying of the Jockey’s comic book appearances. The Jockey in these instances is still a prop, a dogwhistle meant to invoke the first film’s mysteries.

In Wraith‘s case the dead Jockeys appearance is meant to serve as a brutal sort of punchline to the entire strip. When colonists at the “Agri-Colony at Tirgu-Mires” are attacked by Aliens and the survivors are then shot down by Colonial Marines, it is revealed that the Marines executed the story’s protagonists to secure a derelict ship which lies underneath the nearby site – along with its cargo…

Aliens Apocalypse: the Destroying Angels (September 1999)

It seems that more than one Jockey ship is having containment issues with its cargo… in fact, entire planetfuls are having trouble.

There is a wealth of Space Jockeys in here, the majority of them long dead. The first to appear is the Jockey Dr. Keitel finds in deep space. Design-wise, it’s no different from the LV-426 Jockey.

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The rest of the dead Jockeys that appear -bar one- are likewise long dead and their designs are no different from the one above. Again, set dressing.

Far more interesting, of course, is the (temporarily) surviving Space Jockey:

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Would you like to see Strange Shapes cover other elements of the comic books? Perhaps a look at the various Alien hybrids (Space Jockey Alien, King Alien… crocodile Alien)? Let me know!

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Interview with Walter Hill, 2004

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From Film International #12

Film International: Can you clarify your contribution to the Alien series?
Walter Hill:
I generally duck answering questions on Alien in interviews – so much of it ended up acrimoniously, and when you give your side it usually sounds self-serving.

FI: Alien was the first time you functioned as a producer.
WH:
Yes. This is complicated – mainly I’ll try not to talk as a producer, but as a writer – however in this case it’s difficult to separate…

David and I had formed a production company with Gordon Carroll. This was about 1975. About six months after we started, I was given a script called Alien by a fellow I know (Mark Haggard, interesting guy, real John Ford expert) who was fronting the script for the two writers (Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Schusett). I read it, didn’t think much of it, but it did have this one sensational scene, which later we all called “the chestburster.” I should also probably say The Thing (1951) was a favourite from when I was a kid; and this script reminded me of it, but in an extremely crude form.

I gave it to David with one of those ‘I may be crazy but a good version of this might work’ speeches. The next night, I remember I was watching Jimmy Carter give his acceptance speech to the Democratic Convention [July 15th 1976], and was quite happy to answer when the phone rang. It was David – he told me I was crazy, but he had just got as far as the big scene (the chest burster) and it was really something. So basically off the strength of that, we acquired the rights and kicked it around for a few weeks, trying to figure out what to do with it. Remember, neither of us was a real sci-fi writer or a horror writer, but we were arrogant enough to think we understood how the genres worked.

First, we gave the original screenplay to the studio (Fox); they read it and passed (actually it had been previously submitted to them, so technically they passed twice), but we just didn’t want to let it go. We believed if you got rid of a lot of the junk -they had pyramids and hieroglyphics on the planetoid, a lot of von Daniken crap, and a lot of bad dialogue- that what you would have left might be a very good, very primal space story.

Finally I said I’d give the fucker a run-through (it was now around Christmas holidays). David was going off to Hong Kong with his girlfriend, but before he left we thrashed it out pretty good.

FI: How did the rewrite differ from the original script?
WH: For starters, in the original material, it was an all-man crew, and the creature was some kind of space octopus – the main idea David and I had was to do a slicked up, high class ‘B’ movie that as best we could avoided the usual cheesball characters and dialogue. This doesn’t seem like much now, but the notion that you’d write a ‘B’ movie idea -make it to be played with the same intentions and style as high drama- that was out of the box, then. And, pretty obviously we were thinking like producers before we began to deal with it as screen writers.

One other thing – I resist science fiction that suggests the universe is something other than dark, cold, harsh, dangerous. I said before how much I like Hawks’ The Thing, and one of the ideas in the finished script I liked best was the way it dramatised and valourised instinctive wariness and practicality when dealing with the unknown, over the needs of science. And I think that quality is what made that movie so American, even though it was shot in England, had an English director, English technicians, and several English cast members.

David had suggested making the captain a woman. I tried that, but I thought the money was on making the ultimate survivor a woman – I named her Ripley (after Believe It or Not); later, when she had to have a first name for ID cards, I added Ellen (my mother’s middle name). I called the ship Nostromo (from Conrad, no particular metaphoric idea, I just thought it sounded good.) Some of the characters are named after athletes. Brett was for George Brett, Parker was Dave Parker of The Pirates, and Lambert was Jack Lambert of The Steelers.

[David has] a marvellous capacity for coming up with the unexpected – a u-turn that’s novel but at the same time underlines what you’re trying to do. A lot of the time he’ll present it as a joke, and it’ll turn out to be a great idea. Like when the Ian Holm character was revealed to be a droid – that was David.

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In a sense, what was different from the O’Bannon/Shusett script is difficult to answer. There were certainly a lot of finite things: the protagonist as a woman, mixed gender crew, the Weyland-Yutani company, the conspiracy theory undertones to the Weyland-Yutani conspiracy, the possibility of using the Alien as a biological weapon, Ash as a droid, the idea of class lines based on job descriptions – what we called ‘truckers in space’ (this became an instant cliche; you couldn’t make a sci-fi movie after this without baseball hats); but the significant difference in the two scripts was setting the mood, the environment, and what became the stance of the film.

That said, we added a rough contemporary quality to the characters that broke it out of the genre mold – the ‘kiss my rosy red ass’ and ‘kill the motherfucker’ kind of dialogue that you historically didn’t find in science fiction movies. Remember, we were at the same studio that had made Star Wars. The on-lot joke at the time was that we were doing The Rolling Stones to their Beatles.

FI: The film is often criticised for having weakly defined characters.
WH: That’s bullshit. You clearly know who each of them are, and what their attitudes are – they have immediacy. And of course, our best character was the Alien.

FI: Can you elaborate?
WH: For example, David and I joked about calling him/her Nietzsche, you know, Beyond Good and Evil. Seriously, that was one of the things in making the thing fly – we articulated that notion in a way that got to the audience.

FI: I love the Ash death speech, ‘A perfect organism. Its structual perfection matched only by its hostility. I admire its purity. An organism unclouded by remorse, conscience, or delusions of morality…’
WH: Ian Holm. Wonderful actor. I remember I met Tommy Lee Jones in New York; we were interested in him playing Dallas – he told me he had read the script twice, and the only character that really grabbed him was the monster, and he’d sign up tomorrow if he could play it.

FI: It sounds like you and David Giler had a good time writing the script.
WH: Too much probably. And to tell the truth, we were kind of lefthanding the whole thing. I don’t mean we thought we were above the material; that’s the worst sin, and sends you straight to the inner circle of hell. But, we were busy on a lot of other projects and, again, neither of us felt sci-fi was our natural métier. Although I had been a big sci-fi reader when I was a kid, David not at all. Oddly enough, in the long run, I think that distance helped the script – the feeling we had standing somewhere outside the genre helped get it off center and made it different in tone. And it gave us the courage to be irreverent. I mean, when it’s 2 A.M. and you’re writing about a monster with acid for blood, some irreverence is called for; we were always taking an impossible situation and trying to make it sound real, and most of the time we pulled it off.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that we may have lefthanded the script, but we did work very hard: the Ash death speech we probably wrote about twenty times before we got it right. Anyway, David went off to Hong Kong, and I sat down and did a spec rewrite of the O’Bannon/Shusett script. It took maybe a week. After the holidays, David got back, and then he and I rewrote it several times. We gave it to the studio, and they got on board. Gareth Wigan was the executive on the piece; he’s one of the very few executives I’ve ever worked with who’s actually very good with script.

David and I then did what seemed like an endless series of polishes. The last couple we did in New York in my room at the Navarro (now the Ritz Carlton) while I was prepping The Warriors.

FI: But in the end, you two weren’t credited.
WH: Correct. The [Writers] Guild decided we didn’t deserve any writing credit for our efforts.

FI: It sounds like you’re still unhappy about this.
WH: It’s a long time ago, and there are a lot more important things in the world; however, I certainly believe it was an injustice in the sense that it doesn’t reflect the truth. Partially as a result of all that, after the first Alien, I have to admit I never felt as involvedor committed to those that followed, though obviously I was quite happy at their success.

FI: Is it true you sued Fox over the profits?
WH: Yes. Twice. Both times settled in our favour.

FI: Any backlash to this?
WH: I am told that David and I are currently blackballed at Fox. So be it.

FI: Why was Alien so successful?
WH: First, but not necessarily foremost, it was a good script – suggestive of deeper issues, deeper terrors, nightmares. It’s not quite a sci-fi movie, not quite an action movie, not quite a horror movie, but some odd kind of synthesis that came together via agood, old fashioned story move. The objective problem in the first half becomes subjective in the second half by getting into Ripley’s head and experiencing the terror through her. The final draft was very tight, only about eighty pages, lean and mean.

But whatever the quality of the script, films have to be realised. And in this case, it just all worked. Ridley Scott did a wonderful job, the best gilm he’s done, I think. Sigourney Weaver was iconographically perfect, and had the chops to pull it off. She was a very young womanthen: inexperienced, but it made the movie so much better that she wasn’t a known actress. Needless to say, that was a tough one for the studio to swallow. I mean, we were insisting on a female lead in a sci-fi action film, and then on top of that, an unknown female lead. With a director whose previous film had a worldwide gross of, I think, less than half a million dollars. That’s why maybe the ultimate good guy was Laddie – and he said yes.

The conventional wisdom in Hollywood is that warm films are commerical, and cold ones are not. As usual, the conventional wisdom isn’t true, and it isn’t true by the bagsful with Alien. It’s a very cold film. Hospital cold. I’m-here-to-die-ion-this-sterile-room-and-nobody-gives-a-shit-cold. But at the same time, that’s only a half-truth; it’s also fun – a good example of the old show biz rouser.

FI: What about Aliens?
WH: This was a few years later. David and I sat down and had a discussion about what the sequel should be. We figured the next one should be a straight action thriller -the military takes over- a patrol movie. David wrote it down on a couple of pages. Jim Cameron wrote a treatment. David and I rewrote it a bit (this must be about fall of ’83); we gave it to the studio and they said ‘Go to script.’ Jim went off and directed The Terminator then came back and wrote the first draft. It never changed much.

FI: Did you like the film?
WH: Obviously, Jim has a big talent for connecting with big audiences. I thought he shot the shit out of it. Tremendous physicality. I wasn’t too crazy about the stuff with the kid.

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FI: What about Alien 3?
WH: Another complete fucking mess. The studio wanted to crank out another one. There were a number of false starts. David and I were a bit sick of it, and wanted to end the whole thing. But we wanted to do it with some class and thematic cohesion. We thought that killing Ripley -or to be precise, having her sacrifice herself while ridding the universe of the Alien- would be a bold move and round out the trilogy. That was our only stipulation: beyond that we tried to stay out of it as writers. As usual, David and I were busy on other films.

There were a number of writers and directors, then David Fincher was hired. There was a start date, the script was announced to be a mess (it was) – it had been run through about five writers up to then; sets were being built, actors being hired – the usual circus of expensive incompetence. The studio and Sigourney asked us to put on our firemen suits, so David and I went to London and started writing. Fifteen years later, and we’re still in hotel rooms rewriting Alien.

We felt we were working in handcuffs – writing to sets that were already built, plot moves that had been committed to that we didn’t agree with. Then there were differences of opinion with Fincher, Sigourney, and the studio. We did our best and went home.

FI: On this one, you and David got the credit.
WH: Or the blame. I think a lot of the ideas in the third one are actually the most interesting in the series, but the whole thing didn’t quite come off. And certainly some of that is our fault. Speaking for myself, I don’t think our script was nearly as good as the one we did for the first Alien.

FI: What about the fourth, Alien Resurrection?
WH: We had nothing to do with that one -didn’t even think it was a good idea for starters- we thought we had ended the series. And our relationship with the studio had deteriorated even more, probably due to the lawsuits. Our only real function was telling them that the script they developed without our input wasn’t any good and wouldn’t work. We then suffered the traditional fate of the messenger – personally, I think it’s a lousy movie. And they just wasted Winona Ryder. That’s inexcusable.

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The Drone Distinction

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One common misconception among fans is that the creatures in the first and second movies are from different classes of the Alien social hierarchy, ‘drones’ and ‘warriors’ respectively. This in fact has no bearing in the sequel nor in its script or design intentions. Instead, it is largely a legacy of the expanded universe that arose from the comic books and games as well as fan speculation.

James Cameron explained in an 1987 issue of Starlog magazine that the expression ‘warrior’ was simply “my term for the single adult seen in Alien.” He goes on to explain that his creatures possess “the same physical powers and capabilities” as Kane’s Son. This statement came in response to the claim that the Aliens at Hadley’s Hope were weaker than their forebearer, and Cameron’s retort is to say that they are in fact the same and any behavioural differences were due to the creatures merely being trapped in different circumstances.

As for why his Aliens looked different from Giger’s he detailed in The Winston Effect how the major alteration, the heads, came to be. “We planned to [have a domed head] with ours,” he said, “and to that end Stan Winston had Tom Woodruff sculpt up a ribbed, bone-like understructure that would fit underneath and be slightly visible through the cowl. When it was finished, they gave it a real nice paint job, and then I took a look at it and I said, ‘Hey, this looks much more interesting the way it is.’”

The difference then was purely aesthetic, and was not even planned in advance. John Rosengrant explained to JamesCameronOnline that “the Warriors were basically similar to the Alien from the first movie,” with the only real difference being not in capabilities or function, but merely in physical appearance: heads, hands, and other minute differences.

As for the in-universe explanation for the differences in design The Winston Effect quotes Cameron saying, “We ditched the cowl and decided that this was just another generation of Aliens – slightly mutated.” Years earlier he had told Starlog magazine that “Yes, the design of the ‘warrior’ adult was altered slightly,” again conflating the two different Alien strains with one another (ie. Kane’s Son is of the same caste as the colony Aliens). Cameron added that one reader’s theory for the ridged and domed heads (“that the individual in Alien never reached maturity”) is essentially “as good as mine.”

Dan O’Bannon himself referred to his Alien as being “a juvenile”, so the ‘aging theory’ does not disrupt any cohesion between the two films in any major way. Anyone watching the first film can conclude that the Alien is relatively young compared to the sequel’s creatures, considering it only lives for several days at most compared to the weeks allotted to the colony Aliens.

Cameron wasn’t relegating Giger’s Alien to a lower position in the social hierarchy, but elevating them to be the prime hunters and lifeblood of the species, even capable, if necessary, of transforming into Alien Queens should a Matriarch not be present or even destroyed.

But why bother with the ‘warrior’ tag anyway if his Aliens were of the same variety as the original? The answer is that a drone class was originally intended to appear in the sequel. In the 1983 story treatment Ripley is imprisoned in the hive and observes this new breed slinking around the chamber:

INT. EGG CHAMBER

Ripley awakens, struggles to move.

A drone is excreting cocoon material over her, anchoring her body to the wall of death.

The drone is a small albino version of the Alien creature.
Where the warrior has a set of striking teeth within its head, the drone has an excreting probe, like an organic stucco-gun.

The air is thick with steam.
Figures move back and forth, carrying eggs one way, returning empty.
Evacuation.

The taller silhouettes of warriors can be seen, moving with nightmarish grace.

The purpose of the drones is to construct the hive and attend to the cocoons and eggs. In the first draft of the full screenplay dated May 1985, Bishop muses on how the Alien society functions, and speculates that a Queen-like figure is the centre of the hive, “fed and tended by drone workers, defended by the warriors.” The drones are again described as “tiny scuttling albino versions of the ‘warrior’ Aliens we have already seen.”

Remember that at this point in the film’s development process (1983-85) the ribbed cranium was a serendiptious development that was either a matter of years or months away, and yet Cameron still speaks of the Aliens (which he intended to be domed) as being from a warrior caste. The shape of the heads, then, is not an indication of which social class any particular Alien belongs to. Kane’s Son is retroactively a warrior, not a drone.

Of course, the albinoid drones were not included in the film. When JamesCameronOnline asked John Rosengrant if any sketches or designs had been made for them he replied, “Not really, as far as I remember.”

Cameron himself, to my knowledge, has not discussed the drones or why they were cut. I can only speculate that limitations of time and budget did not allow for them to be designed and built. Perhaps he concluded they would have been redundant considering that it is no great leap to imagine that their functions could be easily fulfilled by the ‘warrior’ class Aliens. Extrapolating from Rosengrant’s brief answer, it seems that the drones were barely discussed, or that nobody felt particularly enthused about them.

Dark Horse Presents: Aliens, published in November 1988, with plot and art by Mark. A. Nelson and text from Mark Verheiden, is the earliest source that I can trace that calls the Aliens ‘drones’.

This comic offers speculation on the Alien homeworld and the various trials and tribulations that an Alien hive must face and pass. One early scene depicts small albinoid creatures who are used as hosts for a young hive. In this panel, the Aliens are referred to as drones.

Untitled

The comic’s entire story is speculative, being excerpts from “the confidential paper, ‘Theory of Alien Propagation’ by Dr. Waidslaw Orona, civilian advisor to the Colonial Marine Corps.”

While Dark Horse Presents may have started the trend of designating the domed Aliens as drones and the ridge heads as warriors, later comics and games picked up on and expounded the habit, muddying the waters further and causing many fans to blame Aliens itself for a distinction it never made.

Amendments made 10/11/2014. Thanks and thumbs up to David James Ellison and robbritton.

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Thoughts on Alien: Isolation

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Warning: contains spoilers for the single player game.

By now many if not most of you will have played, completed, and made up your minds about Alien: Isolation. The conclusion that fans have reached, from what I can gather, is that though it’s often unnecessarily taxing and overlong, Creative Assembly’s effort is the first in over thirty years of Alien games to tap into the unbridled anxiety and horror of Ridley Scott’s movie. I can certainly agree.

Why so late with this article? It took some time for me to finish the game thanks to fatherhood, work, and studying for my masters degree. I was also trepiditious at first because I heard it featured sporadic save points and though I enjoy games that present that particular sort of challenge I wasn’t confident that I could give this one my time. If I was effectively taking everything in through nibbles rather than bites then I felt that I might not enjoy the game as the developers intended it to be enjoyed: in a hunched lumbago-inviting pose and entrenched in fear-stricken, absorbed patience. Luckily I was lazier than projected and studied very little and the game was more forgiving with its save points than I had anticipated.

But first, let’s get something out of the way…

Through no fault of its own, Isolation has been married by shotgun to Colonial Marines. Rarely can one be discussed without the other being invoked. I would imagine that Creative Assembly were first amused, and then irritated, by the ceaseless questions and references to Gearbox’s game. Isolation has obviously taken great inspiration from Alien in term of atmosphere and aesthetics, but C. A. never intended to recreate the film and its environments down to the last screw. Instead they used it as a launching pad to create their own environments, characters, and scenarios. They even hired William Hope, Aliens’ very own Lt. Gorman, to voice a central character aboard Sevastopol, and pretty much kept quiet about it. Not, as you might assume, for secrecy’s sake, but because they refrained from the masturbatory self-aggrandisement that Gearbox relished in. ‘Yes’, Creative Assembly might as well be saying, ‘William Hope is in this game, but no, it does not lend credibility or authenticity to the experience – the game shall do that for itself.’

That’s the last time I will refer to Colonial Marines in relation to Isolation, save for the odd apophasis that may cheekily slip in. Now–

The game takes place in November-December 2137, fifteen years after Alien and forty two years before Ellen Ripley finally returns home. In Ellen’s absence her daughter Amanda has grown up to be capable, resourceful, maybe somewhat embittered, and handy with a wrench. Samuels, a representative of Weyland-Yutani, approaches Amanda with an offer to accompany him to Sevastopol, a partially decommisioned station owned by W-Y-wannabes Seegson Corp. The hook? Seegson have in their possession the flight recorder from the Nostromo. Once Amanda and company arrive at Sevastopol they find that the inhabitants have been beseiged by our favourite biomechanoid menace. Trapped and isolated (<– aha!) on the station, Amanda must find a means of surviving and escaping unsavoury humans, errant androids and of course, the Alien itself.

The inclusion of Amanda had many fans up in arms, and not without reason. For one, it neuters two pertinent questions that we as an audience should have when dealing with a character: will they survive their ordeal, and will they find what they are looking for? For anyone who knows these films going in, both questions are answered before we even play (that’s ‘yes’ and ‘no’, respectively.) All we’re doing, you could say, is escorting Amanda through her Sevastapol ordeal to ensure that she finally reaches a care home.

But I found that this hardly mattered in the context of actually playing the game. Yes, if you’re thinking in terms of story then it’s easy to dismiss the whole experience as an exercise in foregone conclusions, but I doubt this will weigh heavily on your mind when you’re actually trying to survive the game’s many enemies and deathtraps. Perhaps at some point, I thought while playing, there will be an opportunity to provide Amanda with some closure, making the whole experience less about following the matter of course and more about exploring how this character deals with loss and the many questions that will never be answered in her lifetime. The game doesn’t quite go there, but more on that later. As it serves, I embraced Amanda quite completely. There is nothing in her that hints of the by-the-bookishness that made up her mother as we met her in the beginning of Alien, and she’s nothing like the tortured gun-toter of Aliens either. Amanda Ripley is not Ellen Ripley, and that’s a damn fine thing. It also helps that it makes sense for Amanda to be embroiled in the catastrophe at Sevastopol. The character motivation is there, and all of the other connective tissue is sound. I’m not sure how the Nostromo flight recorder could possibly be designed to survive the explosion at the end of Alien, but I can buy that it may have been jettisoned prior to the ship’s destruction.

Regarding the other characters, I was quite disappointed, as there was almost no time alloted to them. Samuels (looking remarkably like a cross between Michael Fassbender’s David and… a young John Hurt?) had probably the most potential of all the secondary characters, but he is quickly shunted offscreen. Taylor and Verlaine also barely figure into the plot. This probably won’t bother some people, but I am heavily attracted to story and character development in games. I understand the emphasis on being isolated, but a little more meat around the bones would not have hurt. It’s a shame that there wasn’t much for me to chew over after finishing it. As thinly sketched as many of Alien’s characters appear to be, fans are still picking them apart decades later (for example, look at Strange Shapes reader Adrian’s comments on Parker and Brett here and here.)

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Another thing I have to pat C.A. on the back for is their treatment of Weyland-Yutani. The myriad of video games and comic book spin-offs have gone quite overboard when depicting the Company and its employees, usually portraying them as a collective of oleaginous sociopaths. I’ve shouted enough about the Company not knowing about the Alien throughout the first two films (see The Android for more) and it’s nice to have a game like this not resorting to moustache-twirlers in place of genuinely interesting antagonists. The human enemies in the game all have justifications for their actions; some can even be understood and empathised with (I felt a little bad after sneaking up on one Seegson employee who muttered to himself, “Wonder how the kids are doing…” before I thwacked him across the skull with a wrench.)

Scattered around the station are audio logs featuring everything from mundane co-worker sniping to last testaments. One particularly effective log near the end of the game states, “My wife is dead, my children have been taken…” It reminded me of the scenes at Hadley’s Hope in the Aliens Special Edition, specifically the shot with the children tricycling down the halls. Thanks to some grim foreknowledge I don’t need to see their fates to feel revulsion and sorrow. It’s a neat trick that adds subtler layers of horror.

When it comes to the game’s environments I can do nothing but prostrate myself before Creative Assembly for not only their fidelity to the original film but also their ability to study its aesthetic and create their own environments. I’m not entirely sure why Sevastopol Station is modelled after the Nostromo’s refinery; maybe the gothic towers and spires of the tug were too irresistible. The recurring graffiti daubing the station’s corridors is a small letdown, having long been an easy shorthand for societal breakdown. It seems that whenever the chips are down people scramble for the spraycan. But that is a mere nitpick, and barely intrudes on immersion. I would love to see Ron Cobb exploring this environment. I think he would be quite proud. There are also some nice knick-knacks peppered around the game: see if you can find Blade Runner’s origami unicorn and the sketches of the Alien drawn by the Seegson employees.

The Alien planetoid and the derelict spaceship also make an appearance, and they have been expertly reproduced here. A nice touch is the inclusion of the derelict’s signal beacon. It was originally set to feature in the first film but was never built or filmed. James Cameron explained that seismic activity in the intervening years between Alien and Aliens had uprooted the derelict and destroyed the beacon, explaining why the Company or the colonists never found the derelict until they were directed to it by Burke. In Isolation we get to shut it off ourselves, and the design deserves some applause, at least from myself, as I’m happy to see that they snuck in some Prometheus-style technology but kept it overwhelmingly biomechancial and dark.

In typical Alien tradition, Isolation also has a couple of Joseph Conrad references: there is a character named Marlow, after a character in Heart of Darkness, and Verlaine’s ship is called the Torrens, after a passenger clipper where Conrad himself once served as first mate.

The sound design is another element that I think C. A. pulled off perfectly. It is engineered to keep you constantly alert. Ripley’s senses seem constantly sharpened: she can hear distant servos whine, the hiss of air rushing through open doorways, the crackle of ruptured computer banks… the effect is cacophanous sound and the need for a discriminating ear to separate the clunking of the station from the thundering steps of the Alien.

As for the enemies, the Alien is a masterstroke. The design is pretty much Giger’s save for the  legs, which seem to be modelled after those in Alien Resurrection. Luckily, the legs barely matter in gameplay, so my purist concerns didn’t amount to a jot. I had spoken to lead game designer Gary Napper earlier this year at the ‘An Audience With…’ event in London and he assured me that C.A. had tried Giger’s original legs but the results were rather poor in motion. The production team on Alien had the same problem, forcing them to limit the Alien’s appearance on screen. Obviously, for a film such a restriction can be a blessing, but a game is another thing entirely. The legs they went with, ultimately, aren’t a problem at all, and the Alien is the last thing I can complain about. They pulled it off wonderfully.

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When it comes to being hunted by the Alien, well, Creative Assembly did not make this game for the quick-save, regenerating health crowd, and so the beast presents a considerable challenge. It is rare to ever feel truly safe, and I love how they inverted some tropes of the stealth genre. In games like Metal Gear Solid 2 the cabinet locker was the player’s sanctuary: if you picked wisely you could even get some lascivious company to tide you over until the area was clear. In Isolation the Alien will inspect and open lockers to find you if you’ve taken to stuffing yourself into them. A clever little trick that does magnitudes for the atmosphere and tension.

As for the other enemies, I’ve already briefly touched on the humans, but there are also androids aboard Sevastopol. Now, there’s no shortage of robots in the various Alien games, but the Working Joes seem the most authentic to the films and are, in my opinion, the best that any of the games or comics have to offer (sorry, Jeri the Alien impersonator). The sequence where the AI Apollo unleashes the Working Joes (“It’s like they’re hunting”) feels outright apocalyptic – rubble burns, klaxxons blare, the music thrums, and an assortment of humans struggle against both you and the homicidal androids, compacting the feelings of helplessness and abandonment. Opening Apollo’s core is another choice moment: the chamber rumbles, the Alien scores swells, and the core -reminiscient of the gravity drive in Event Horizon– heaves out of the chamber pit, allowing you access.

So what didn’t I like? Well…

Excuse the apparent tangent, but one of my abiding problems with Dead Space was that the player’s role was largely janitorial. You begin by boarding the Ishimura space station, find that it has gone to hell, and work to escape by repairing electronics and circuits and gathering card keys – not problematic in itself, but fatigue quickly set in after a long cascade of ‘Fix this then we can escape–No, fix this and then we can es–No, fix this–‘. It seemed designed to hide a lack of imaginative objectives or a compelling narrative (the survival horror genre, admittedly, is famed more for its atmosphere than its storylines.) That’s not to rubbish Dead Space, a deeply affecting game in its own right, but the few problems it had threw me off replaying.

Isolation has this same problem, where simply going off for a first-aid kit becomes detour piled upon detour and the occasional treasurehunt, with Amanda’s journey becoming outright Odyssean at times. The most egregious example of this comes near the end of the game, where I actually started to lose my patience and subsequently my immersion.

After a couple of excellent set pieces that would have served brilliantly as climaxes, the game deigns to keep us treasure-hunting and switch-flipping. Then, literally as soon as you’re about to leave Sevastapol for the Torrens to end the game, it throws you back into the hive. Your immediate objective? Retrace your steps. It’s maddening, and seems contrived to eke out more gameplay. Conciseness would have helped the latter stages of the game massively. The ending cinematic itself is so abrupt I thought I had mistakenly pressed a key that skipped it for the credits. As for that final image? There’s no real suspense seeing Amanda floating helplessly through space. I’ve seen Aliens. As a result it’s impossible for the ending to stand alone. I have an inkling that Creative Assembly were assured to some degree that Isolation would not be the last Alien game under the Sega and C.A. umbrella. I cannot explain that ending otherwise.

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So what’s next for this series, gaming-wise? If Creative Assembly follow Isolation with a sequel then I’d like them to continue to be innovative and not repeat what they have done here. Therein lies overexposure, dilution and diminishing returns. If they manage to escalate and expand on what they have already built then a sequel could be even greater, and though it may not be a popular idea I would love to see them create a game themed around the second film, which has been so heavily misconstrued and misrepresented by its various arcade games and comic book adaptations that it’s no surprise that a backlash has reared up, with fans, largely tired of cliched machismo and lame duck Aliens, laying the blame squarely on Cameron’s movie rather than its imitators, knock-offs and bastard children.

A Creative Assembly Aliens game, where the characters are constantly being hemmed in, where ammo is absolutely finite (forcing you to strategise when and when not to shoot), where the Aliens are crafty and can work together to circumnavigate barriers set up by the player, where every squeeze of the trigger must be considered thoroughly, where every Alien battle can feel pyrrhic… I’d love to play that game, and I have full confidence that Creative Assembly could not only make it, but make it better than any of my expectations or hopes. I would be surprised if they didn’t opt for escalation with the next game, considering the incredible hive environment they recreated here (the howling Aliens are haunting and brilliant all in one) and a near-final image that scared and excited me in equal measure.

But what more is there to mine from Alien? Well, the emblem and badge designs from the film suggest a broader but undefined political and cultural landscape that would been fascinating to explore. Unfortunatley, none of the films really bothered with any of that and I’d love to see it opened up more in a sequel, perhaps with a Blade Runner-esque city, citizenry and mystery? Apologies if my imagination gets ahead of me here, but after being thoroughly disappointed with much of Prometheus and outright beleagured by Colonial Marines, this game has certainly reinvigorated my hope for future Alien projects.

And that, for me, is the bottomline concerning Alien: Isolation. It has done what many thought impossible or folly and made the Alien a viable threat again. It has shown that there is an appetite for this sort of game, set in this low-fi world, populated by space truckers and grease monkeys and patrolled by Colonial Marines and Sheriffs and stalked by biomechanical terrors from the deep unknown…

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Redesigning the Facehugger & Chestburster

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In some respects a lot of Aliens’ hard work had already been done for it. The various stages of the creature’s life-cycle had been worked 0ut, designed, and immortalised in the first film. All that remained for James Cameron and Stan Winston to do was, first, design the Alien Queen, and second, adapt Giger’s Alien to the rough n’ tumble approach of their high-octane action movie. With the Queen’s towering, spindly-limbed form committed to canvas by Cameron, and with Winston’s team piecing together the numerous Alien suits in their workshop,  the duo then turned to refitting the other stages of the Alien’s life-cycle: the facehugger and chestburster.

Stan Winston’s team acquired the original facehugger prop around which they modelled their own. They lengthed the tail and made some small adjustments to the fingers, adding nails to make them more akin to strange, spidery hands. The changes made to the designs wouldn’t too dramatic but, just like the Alien’s ribbed carapace, the revisions would reflect the artistic sensibilities of the original film’s artists. “We tried to be as true to the original film as we could,” Stan Winston said in The Official Aliens Movie Book, “without disallowing ourselves a little bit of artistic freedom to do things that we considered -if not improvements- something to keep your head above water so you’re not just doing what was done before.”

For example, when it came to redesigning the facehugger’s ‘belly’ and proboscis, Cameron elected to to do as Giger would do and aim for a sexual aesthetic, and so the facehugger’s underside was molded into the shape of a vagina. In the first film, the creature’s belly was an open segment of innards and muscle tissue and the proboscis only appeared in several frames.

“The bits of oysters and stuff inside [the original facehugger] looked great,” Cameron said on the 2003 commentary track, “but I did wanna see the disgusting thing that had been down the inside of Kane’s throat … You never see it in the movie, so I figured we’d gross everybody out.”

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“All of Giger’s designs have a really sexual undercurrent to them,” he continued, “and that’s what horrified people about the Alien as much as anything; it worked on a kind of Freudian subconscious level, and Ridley and Giger knew that and went for that. This film was never intended to be as much of a horror film as the first one, it was working on a different thematic level, but I still wanted to be true to some of those ideas, some of those design concepts.”

There were other aesthetic changes, like the skin tone – a sickly yellow in the first film, a flushed pink the second. A mechanical facehugger was constructed by Rick Lazzarini for the scenes within the MedBay. Here, two facehuggers attack Newt and Ripley, scurrying across the floor and springing through the air to attack their victims. The scurrying facehugger was, essentially, a wind-up toy with a mechanism designed by Cameron and further refined by Winston and his team. “It was a very clever mechanism,” said Alec Gillis in 2003, “it was like a pull-toy.” Other tricks, like shooting the facehugger and then playing the footage backwards, created the illusion of a leaping creature.

“In order to create the illusion of these two facehuggers that are now loose in this room,” said Winston, “we created a half-dozen forms of this particular creature so it could have a performance and become a character. We didn’t change the design, we extended the design [and] changed what it could do as an actor … it could crawl and it could reach and try to get at Newt, try to get at Ripley… it was running at you, running across the room, and it was virtually a pull-toy.”

Another facehugger was created for the dissection scene, which sees Bishop poring over the creature in a darkly studious manner. Shane Mahon built the facehugger prop, taking a leaf from the original film’s book and dressing it with chicken skins and other meats.

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“The chestburster in the original Alien was one of the most shocking and wonderful effects in film history,” Winston says in the 2003 making of documentary supplementing the Alien Quadrilogy. “We had to repeat it, but we had to do something a little different.”

The creature in the first movie was essentially a puppet fixed to the end of a rod, and was thrust from the body of John Hurt by Roger Dicken. That chestburster had been initially designed with arms attached, but they were cut out before the design was finalised. Still, you can see two little nubs protruding from its body, signifying where the arms would be.

“We had a copy of the original chestburster from the first film,” explained Tom Woodruff, “and the thing we were noticing  in the original sculpture was there was an indication there were to be little arms on the thing, and I wasn’t really aware of them in the film.”

Cameron asked that Winston’s team restore the arms to create the impression that once the creature had penetrated the chest cavity it could swiftly tear and drag itself out of the host’s body – as it memorably does in the first hive sequence, pulling itself from the “Cocooned Woman” portrayed by Barbara Coles.

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Two puppets were created for the scene. One was required to pop through the colonist’s foam latex chest and was given three mechanisms in its body which allowed it to twist and turn. The other was to flail and schreech and was given a greater range of limb, body and mouth movement. For its final shot the creature was loaded into a model of Coles before both were incinerated by the Marines, destroying the chestburster prop on camera.

Cameron also intended for his chestbursting sequence to be less gory than the first. “I figured, ‘Okay, the first film told you what could happen, we don’t have to revel in it.'” Since the original film had made history with its chestbuursting scene, Cameron felt no need to try and top it by being bloodier or by lingering on the host’s agony. “You don’t create fear with gore,” he explained, “you create disgust, a whole different emotion.” As such, the film rolls on from the chestbursting sequence directly into the awakening of the hive…

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