At one point in the film’s production the decision was made to remove the Space Jockey from his pilot chamber and deposit his body in the rubble surrounding his ship. This was done to ensure the Jockey’s appearance, since there was talk of removing the pilot room to spare the budget. In this version, Dallas, Lambert and Kane would wander past the skeleton without ever having noticing it, since it has ossified to resemble the indigenous twisted rocks.
“They said, ‘This [pilot chamber] is not your main set. You’re just gonna have to walk by and see a skeletal imprint in the mud of this 15-foot creature, and then you’ll walk into this strange-looking building. It’ll be a bunker or something…”
~ Ron Shusett, making of Alien, Alien Anthology.
On May 14th 1978 HR Giger, sitting at home only a week after having sent his slides and sketches to Twentieth Century Fox, received a phone call from London. He’d already been contacted two days earlier by producer Gordon Carroll, who had complimented his work so far. Now Carroll was calling again to notify Giger that one of his pieces, the cockpit of the derelict craft, would not be needed. Ridley Scott reiterated this message.
“They have a new idea for the script that I should visualise,” Giger wrote. “The skeleton of the astronaut, which used to be in the spacecraft, should now be placed in the landscape, blending in so that it can’t be distinguished, and the crew wouldn’t notice it until they see it on the recorder, back in the [Nostromo]. Like the film Blow-up, where the figure hidden in the bushes is only discovered once the negatives are developed.”
On July 4th 1978 Giger, now firmly entrenched in the film’s production, received another call from the producer’s office. “Another change,” he wrote in his diary, “They want the skeleton of the alien Space Jockey to lie in the cockpit again.” It wasn’t the only backtrack that occurred during the film’s production. By this time Giger was well-acquainted with ideas coming, going, and coming back again, either exactly as they were before or as some odd permutation of the original.
Though the idea of the Jockey’s outdoor appearance was on the cards for several months its design never amounted to more than some sketches and doodles (though one can be spied in Giger’s ‘Alien Landscape’ painting – if you look for it).
For many years fans theorised that an actual prop was built and photographed. The rumour emerged in 1979 after a Topps trading card depicting a ‘grotesque rock formation’ was released, and many peregrine-eyed fans thought they could spy the shape of the Jockey in there somewhere.
Unfortunately for them, the rock formation was simply that, and nothing more – but the trade-off was ultimately worth it, considering that the rock Jockey’s excision meant that he could make a far more memorable appearance within his cockpit.