In Alien’s closing moments Ripley dashes through the Nostromo’s klaxxon-blaring corridors and almost barrels right into the monster’s path. We catch a glimpse of it before Ripley pulls back, denying us (and herself) a closer look. In Heavy Metal’s illustrated comic adaptation the scene plays out differently: Ripley turns the corner to find the Alien in a contorted sessile state. This ‘box’ gracefully unfolds and the creature leers after her.
“[Alien] came out in May of 1979,” said Walter Simonson, the comic’s artist, “and Heavy Metal, who were publishing it, wanted to get the comic, the graphic novel out with the movie … We were flown over to England, we were put up 2 or 3 nights … On Thursday, we saw a rough cut of the film that was about 2 and a half hours long.”
Simonson revealed that not only was the film considerably longer but that some scenes in the preview differed from the final release. Brett’s death scene was different, and there was an extra small scene involving the Alien near the end: “There’s a scene towards the end of the book when Ripley is the last survivor, and she has the cat and is running towards the life boats, she runs around the corner of a corridor, and there’s a box sitting in the center of the corridor, and it’s clearly out of place, and she freezes and comes to a dead halt, looking at it, and after a moment, the box begins to shrug and move, and that great, spectacular Alien head comes up and it’s the Alien all folded up into this kind of organic box, and it’s between her and the lifeboat.”
“At least one of the guys I was with, who was watching this movie with us, thought it looked really cheesy,” he added. “I thought it looked really cool.”
Simonson saw the preview during December 1978 and started illustrating the comic in March the following year. Despite the three month gap, he had a firm picture of the film’s scenes in his head: “I was working on it at March at that point, and I’d seen the movie about 3 months earlier. Now, I don’t have a photographic memory, but I remembered a lot, I’d seen a lot of stuff, but I got to that point and I knew the scene.”
He also revealed the Twentieth Century Fox “was not concerned with what we did in the sense of getting us to include stuff or not include stuff … Going over the three script versions and the stuff I’d seen in the rough cuts, we just really tried to put out the best version of that story in the comic.”
At the time he was drawing the comic panels, Simonson was assured that the Alien box scene would be in the final release: “They were still editing the film at that point, so when I got to the point in the graphic novel where I had to put that page in or not put it in, because it would affect the placement of the left and right pages of the story, I asked and they said, ‘Right now, it’s in.’ I added it back in, pasted everything around it and then, lo and behold, the movie comes out and the scene isn’t there. Go figure.”
Picture proof: This shot of the Alien is believed by some to be proof of the box Alien’s existence; they extrapolate from it that the production had perhaps filmed a prop in conjunction with Bolaji to achieve the desired effect. It’s not an entirely convincing argument, considering that the creature’s hunched and unfurling pose here was a running theme throughout many of Alien’s production and publicity photos (here and here.)
So was the scene filmed? No production photographs of it have emerged since the film’s release, it’s not featured in any of the scripts, Giger fails to mention it throughout his diary, it hasn’t appeared on the laserdisc, DVD or blu-ray extra features, there is no conceptual work, no storyboards, and an Alien box prop -if created- hasn’t been mentioned by anyone involved in the film. The Alien sitting folded like a box may simply be an imaginative interpretation of Bolaji’s performance (for example, this and this.) Bolaji may even have simply been sitting or crouching during the scene.
Some have also said that the box Alien was intended to foreshadow the creature hiding within the walls of the Narcissus, but this latter shot was improvised when the shuttle scenes were filmed at the very end of production:
“Originally, we thought the Alien would be hiding in the closet in the lifeboat [for the surprise ending]. But then Ridley said, ‘Can’t we beat that? Can’t it be somewhere she and the audience can’t see it, and it just emerges?’ So at the end of shooting every day, we changed the set around the monster. He’d lay in there and we’d rebuild the set over and over.”
~ Ron Shusett.
That trick alone caused considerable headaches for the crew: “Every time, it looked like Mad magazine,” said Shusett, “You could see [the Alien] was two feet away from her! The guy who played the monster would lay there for hours and hours and we’d shoot it and look at it the next day and say, ‘This is stupid; we’ll never disguise it.’”
If the production possessed and shot a compact prop of the Alien, then why not use it here? It certainly would have saved Bolaji Badejo (and the costume department) plenty of trouble: “Bursting out of that compartment wasn’t easy,” Bolaji told Cinefantastique. “I must’ve ripped the suit two or three times coming out, and each time I’d climb down, the tail would rip off! … Finally, I said, ‘No more!’ There was a lot of smoke, it was hard to breathe, and it was terribly hot.”
Alien Explorations host wmmvrrvrrmm asked Simonson about the box scene at the comic’s official Facebook page. Simonson replied: “Just to be clear, I have no idea how the scene was actually done. All I can say is that I thought the scene looked pretty neat, whereas a couple of media savvy folks I saw the rough cut with thought it was kind of cheesy. Or at least, that’s how I remember our reactions. I don’t remember thinking I was looking at some sort of inflatable. And given how some folks can fold themselves up in remarkable ways, I would lean towards the idea that either somebody was unfolding himself from within the box, or possibly, it was a mix of person and animatronic operation.”
With the information at hand (which may certainly be expanded on in future) it becomes fairly evident that an Alien box prop didn’t exist. If people recalled seeing it in an unreleased version of the film, we can only chalk it up to creative interpretation of Bolaji’s performance, which they had only seen on a singular occasion months before the memory was revisited. It could be a simple case of unintentional creative license. In fact, a stronger case can be made for there being a scene featuring an Alien cocoon aboard the Narcissus before the credits roll – not only did Giger mention such a scene, there is a storyboard for it as well (see Filming the Fourth Act.) However it’s extremely unlikely that the box and aforementioned cocoon footage exists given the lack of tangible evidence.
One last thing: it is interesting to note that Prometheus features the same sort of unfolding box trick with the mutant Fifield… a callback to an old excised scene from Alien, or coincidence?…