Category Archives: Alien Series

Alien Resurrection: Hybrid Theory

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“It was important to me to restore the Aliens’ superiority, their elegance and ability to sense what people are going to do even before they did. I really wanted to bring back what the Aliens were about in the first movie.”
~ Sigourney Weaver, Starlog #247, 1997.

One complaint regarding the third movie’s Alien was the abandonment of its modus operandi. The creature, fans complained, made no effort to secure hosts for its Queen, nor were there scenes to parallel the Alien’s mysterious appearances in the first movie. Originally, the creature was to cocoon its victims just as its forebearers did, but, according to Tom Woodruff, “the plug was pulled because Fincher’s idea was that the creature simply kills to eat.” And so instead, it gored and chewed on its victims, tugging at their carcasses like a rabid dog. “What I loved about the first one,” said Sigourney Weaver, “was that there was just one Alien and it was so incredibly smart. And we’ve tried with the Alien Resurrection script to get it back to the idea of that the Aliens are not just eating machines, which they never were. Why would they want to eat us? They would use us for purposes much more horrible. If you’re just afraid of them eating you, then they’re like tigers.”

Alien Resurrection screenwriter Joss Whedon had the same concerns and criticisms. “I think the fans were robbed in the third one,” he stated. “They actually had a scene where people we didn’t know were killed by the Alien. That’s Jason, that’s bullshit, because nothing is more boring than people you don’t know being killed.” His script, from its earliest incarnations, always stressed the inevitability of the Aliens breaking from the confines imposed upon them by the Auriga’s scientists. No amount of behavioural conditioning can break their will; no amount of steel and glass can keep them from eventually finding escape — but there was more to their ‘character’ than mere rampage and slaughter. The inclusion of a Queen, around which the Aliens can construct their society, would allow audiences some insight into the Aliens’ motivation (even if, technically, said motivation was nothing new.) “They’re breeding,” Ripley 8 states in the first draft. “They’ve got new bodies to work on.”

Since Resurrection was the first movie to show the Aliens in captivity, there are some attempts in the various scripts to elaborate on their abilities. Brad Dourif’s Dr. Gediman explains (in one of Ripley’s dream sequences) that the Aliens communicate “through ultrasonic soundwaves. Sort of like bats.” Though this information is imparted through one of Ripley’s nightmares, she later tells Call that she can feel the Alien presence “In my head. Behind my eyes” much in the same way. We learn more about the Aliens’ sensory abilities throughout the drafts, such as their ability to “smell fear” and to adapt situationally to threats. In one scene, we find that some caged Aliens have been observing Dr. Gedimen as much as he has been observing them: once his attention slips they launch an attack on one of their own, spilling its intestines upon the steel flooring, melting it and providing an escape. The Aliens swiftly incapacitate the scientists and elimate the military personel so effectively that commanding officer General Perez can only liken it to a “military strike”.

“I don’t quite know how to express it. The Alien, to me, is a symbol of evil.”
~ Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Starlog magazine, 1997.

The various Aliens in the film were conceptualised by a dearth of artists including Sylvain Despretz, Jordu Schell, and Chris Cunningham. The costumes and props were again built by Amalgamated Dynamics, with Tom Woodruff returning to portray the Alien as he had in the third movie. The creatures would be more angular and spindlier in design, rendered in ochre and blacks, stripped of their metal piping and bones, with the animal design elements magnified. “What we were trying to do was give a little more character to these Aliens, and also do something that was more threatening,” Alec Gillis told Fangoria in 1997. “We were given a little more leeway to do some redesigning than perhaps we had been able to do on the last film.”

alien warrior sketch by Sylvain Despretz

“The biggest change that we did to the Alien was to make him seem more cunning or more vicious,” Woodruff explained on the Quadrilogy’s special features. “In terms of the way to do that, design-wise, was to look for more directional lines, sharper angles, and a lot of art elements that went into it. We had the dome, for example, [which] is more pointed this time around; the chin is more pointed and brought forward. We’ve exaggerated the shoulders; elements of the ribcage appear to stand out more and help reduce the forms around it. It’s like a process of honing, refining something each time you go through it.”

A multitude of animals were studied for the Alien’s various movements and actions, including sea iguanas and sharks for the underwater scenes which showcased the Aliens’ maneuverability, and design elements from some animals were incorporated into the design. A fin was added to the tail to aid with swimming, and the elongated head of the Alien even resembles a cockroach shell. For rendering the CG Aliens VFX co-ordinator Kerry Shea told VFX HQ that Blue Sky Studios were contracted due to their rendering of cockroaches for 1996’s Joe’s Apartment. “We were looking for Alien effects that were sort of insect-like,” she said, “and they had done such a terrific job on the cockroaches.” Tom Woodruff told Strange Shapes that, “It was never a pointed intention to duplicate a cockroach, but yes, the design element of the insect world is always prevalent in each design iteration.”

The most notable design change was the fleshier aspect of the Aliens’ bodies, a result of the imperfect human-Alien DNA mixing process. In one undated draft, it is noted that there is “some genetic mix” between the Aliens and Ripley that may lead to “further mutation” (an early hint at the Newborn creature) but other drafts and the film focus more on Ripley’s altered mental and physical state than that of the Aliens, with the Newborn appearing rather unnanounced at the end. “The cloning process would naturally be contaminated,” Gillis explained, “so the Aliens would have slightly messed-up DNA and be somewhat different. We thought this was the perfect opportunity for us to do something like give them longer arms and other subtle things. Our belief was that the design from the first movie was very successful, and you don’t want to fix something that ain’t broke. So all our effort went into improving it and making it look more organic, having more of a bio-mechanical exoskeleton feel, instead of going for the easier route of combining car parts into the clay before we cast it.”

The slime was also revised to look heavier and more viscous: “Rather than just putting a glazing coat of slime on the Alien, we mixed up a viscous slime that made the creature look like it was under half an inch of mucus — much wetter and sleeker than in the past.” Compounding this new look was cinematographer Darius Khondji’s careful lighting. “He at times built almost a ‘cage of fluorescence’ around the Alien,” explained Alec Gillis, “so that you get a million of little [reflections on] the slime. He kept going back to us, asking for thicker slime, because the stuff we had used in the other movies was too runny for him — he wanted a quarter of an inch build up, so we started going for a slime that was almost like gel; and it really had a different look.”

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By the end of the film we discover that the genetic gambling that the Auriga’s scientists partake in results in an entirely new creature altogether, an amalgamation of human and Alien DNA that takes the form of a spindle-limbed albinoid called the ‘Newborn’. Born in the murky bowels of Waste Tank No. 5 and ripping itself from the Alien Queen’s egg sac, the Newborn quickly rejects and murders the Queen before seemingly imprinting itself on Ripley, whose scent it recognises as being neither entirely Alien nor human, much like itself.

In the first draft the Newborn is described as being almost as big as the Queen itself, with four forelegs and two thick haunches, pincers on its head and a webwork of red veins that cover its long eyeless head, like hair. In this draft, the Newborn drains the blood from its victims through its tongue, tries to attack Ripley, and is staunchly defended by the hive. Aided by ‘drones’, the Newborn chases Ripley throughout the ship, rides the Betty down to Earth, is bombarded with rocket-fire from Call, immolated in the Betty’s thrusters, and goes on the run across Earth’s landscape where, after being fought by Ripley, it unfurls a pair of “batlike, leathern” wings that drip with slime. After another battle between the Newborn and a futuristic combine harvester (piloted by Call), the creature is shoved into the propelling blades by Ripley herself.

The second draft also features a battle on Earth between the Newborn and the Betty crew, and though it is less bombastic and outrageous than the first draft, it does come with further embellishments to the Newborn as a character: it now laughs after using DiStephano as a human shield, it “sighs in quiet ecstasy” as it surveys the Earthly city before it (Paris), it licks its lips as it hones in a band of children, and expresses outrage when it mistakenly devours some of Call’s android blood, which is revealed to be, somehow, magnetic. The Newborn, with Call’s blood in its belly, finds itself stuck to an electromagnetic crane, dropped into a compactor, and finally crushed and impaled.

The Newborn’s death in the film resembles one planned demise for Lambert in the original Alien, but there was another hull breach in the Resurrection screenplays that has one of General Perez’s soldiers being “sucked through a hole no bigger than his fist” after he ill-advisedly shoots an Alien onboard the Auriga. This simple but gruesome gag replaced the high-octane chases and battles that Whedon had originally planned, and the finale is probably the better for it: as ill-received as the Newborn was, its death throes were horrifying and touching: it is hard to not pity it, as revolting as it is.

Ultimately, the creature was not well received. “The Newborn, I think, is an interesting idea,” said conceptual artist Sylvain Despretz.”Chris Cunningham […] was asked to draw the Newborn that appears at the end of Alien Resurrection and did some gorgeously spooky paintings of semi baby-like Aliens with human skin, bones and ribcages, that bizarre black head, you know. And it’s very subtle stuff that works if interpreted as on the painting […] Unfortunately by the time you saw the final Alien, you just kinda got a Creature from the black lagoon with a terrifying skull, and you have to have a skull in there otherwise people won’t be scared. You sort of go, what did go wrong, you know, you’ve got these beautiful paintings. How hard can it be to just make a model of that?”

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Before the film’s release producer Bill Badalato opined that “The Aliens are truly characters in the story and not just background. The characters interact with the Aliens in a way that we haven’t seen before in an Alien film. It’s extremely effective.” But Weaver, whose mission statement had been to portray the Aliens in a more eldritch and frightening manner, expressed some disappointment at the results. “I was surprised by how much monster movie there was in Resurrection,” she admitted to Starlog. She was, however, happy with ADI’s animatronic Newborn. “For me, playing opposite the Newborn was like playing opposite Lon Chaney Sr.,” she said. “This creature could do everything. It was immensely moving and all of my interaction with it came out of improvisation, not from the script. The Newborn was a creature operated by 14 puppeteers. They gave it energy. It was very eerie.” Conversely, many fans disliked the new creature, and complained that the Aliens themselves largey vanish in the third act.

Controversy about the film’s Alien designs arose when HR Giger discovered that he was not credited at all for the fourth film’s design elements. A campaign called ‘Alien Insurrection‘ lobbied Fox to restore Giger’s credit, with Giger himself writing in his first campaign letter that “The creatures in Alien: Resurrection are even closer to my original Alien designs than the ones which appear in Aliens and Alien 3.” This was a sentiment that he also expressed to journalist Javier Martinez de Pisón in an 1999 interview where he saw fit to add, “The Aliens themselves were not well sculpted or sharply defined. It seemed as if no molds had been made and as if the creatures were roughly shaped with mud.” In his second letter he further asserted his rights over the Alien and that the Newborn had been pilfered from one of his own designs. “In regards to the new Alien development called the Newborn,” he wrote, “it is just another Giger design, which you will realize when you look beneath the shell of the adult Alien head, as seen in the photos on page 60 of my book. The human skull under the face has been exposed and the creature’s sinewy body has been contaminated by deformed features. Fox, however, tries to deny HR Giger’s influence.” 

Giger continued that “Woodruff, an excellent effect specialist, said about his ‘Alien Viper’s Nest’: ‘It is like an HR Giger’s painting come to life.’ Yes, it is. It has been newly stolen from my book Necronomicon. As photographed from above, you will see that it is a section of my painting Passagen-Tempel/Eingangspartie (Passage Temple/entrance section) Work #262. This painting existed three years before the first Alien movie had even started to be filmed.” Fox, in the end, restored Giger’s credit for Resurrection‘s home release, but this did not spare them from the artist’s pointed thoughts on what the studio had done with his Alien after taking it out of his hands.

“I always wanted my Alien to be a very beautiful thing, not just something disgusting, not just a monster, but something aesthetic. Throughout the creature’s evolution what they’ve done is change it from something aesthetic to something that looks like shit – I mean literally, it looks like a turd.”
~ HR Giger, Alien Evolution, 2001.

 

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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 😛

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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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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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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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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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Thank You for the Nightmares: Hans Rudolf Giger, 1940 – 2014

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“I still see the H stage, the studios at Shepperton, filled with smoke and oil burning. Outside, the sun was shining and we entered the studio and were suddenly in the mist…”
~ HR Giger, Cinephage magazine, 1992.

In 2012 the Swiss tabloid Blick asked HR Giger if he ever regretted not having children. “No,” he answered, “my pictures are my children.”

And what a progeny.

That Giger was one of the twentieth century’s foremost talents is no hyperbole. That he fathered a radically different and disturbing aesthetic is no exaggeration. That he influenced and will continue to influence generations of future artists needs not be prophesied. Biomechanics is HR Giger.

Of his art and interests, Giger explained that his fascination with the morbid came early, during his childhood in his hometown of Chur. “When I was about 5 years old my father got a human skull,” he explained. “That was something special. I was very young, and it was a little frightening. But I was proud to have a skull. My interest in skulls and bones came very early.” New friends brought new interests: “An old friend of mine, Sergius Golowin, a specialist in myths and fables and magic, gave me a book by Lovecraft in the late 60′s and introduced me to Necronomicon: The Book of the Dead. He said the entire corpus of my work could easily be pages out of the Necronomicon. I very much admire Lovecraft.” Additionally, Giger name-checked the “Ancient Egyptians” as being among his influences, telling Tatuaz magazine in 2008: “When I was about 6 years old, every Sunday I went to the museum in Chur, where in the basement they kept a beautiful mummy. She had an old odour, and it fascinated me. Later, when I started to draw and use an airbrush, that for me was a memory of great inspiration … The Egyptian art is a lot of death.”

Giger’s involvement with Alien owed itself to the tenacity of its writer, Dan O’Bannon, who had met Giger in France when Alejandro Jodorowsky was attempting to make Dune in the mid 1970’s. The two Lovecraft aficionados clicked, so much so that O’Bannon went home to the United States with a head full of biomechanic creatures writhing in his grey matter that were eventually expelled onto the page as Alien. “I love geniuses, and have been privileged to work with several,” O’Bannon wrote in his essay Something Perfectly Disgusting. “One was HR Giger; I met him in Paris and he gave me a book of his artwork. I pored over it through one long night in my room on the Left Bank. His visionary paintings and sculptures stunned me with their originality, and aroused in me deep, disturbing thoughts, deep feelings of terror. They started an idea turning over in my head. This guy should design a monster movie. Nobody had ever seen anything like this on the screen.”

O’Bannon had not only set out to write Alien with a “Giger monster” specifically in mind, but also fought the film’s producers to get Giger personally involved in the production of the film. The producers themselves, unimpressed by the notion of some “whing-ding” from Zurich working on their movie, preferred to hire someone from Hollywood; someone with other movies under their belt and reputable contacts in their phone book. Hiring an unknown European artist seemed laughable. Enter Ridley Scott, who found Giger’s Necronomicon thrust upon him by an eager O’Bannon. Scott looked through the book and was astounded. He threatened to walk if Giger was not hired. The producers acquiesced. Ridley explained that “My enthusiasm with regard to the film increased significantly as I realized we had the ability to create a monster that would be superior to most of those from the past.” Giger’s signature mesh of bone and machines, interlaced with decay and sexuality, would give Alien the unique ingredient it needed to distance itself from other standard sci-fi fare.

Alien’s production was a difficult experience for Giger. He struggled with changing scripts, excised concepts, the film’s designs and the producers’ demands, routine conflict with other artists and artisans and even irritation with dishonest taxi drivers – but there were internal difficulties as well as external ones: sleeplessness, fatigue, frustration, boredom, persistent nightmares and more. In May of 1978 Giger enthusiastically wrote in his diary that “I am on the Alien trip!” But subsequent journal entries revealed how fraught he was with the film’s demands: “I’m so worried about not finishing the monster on time that it’s making me sick.”

Mia Bonzanigo, described then as Giger’s “secretary-girlfriend-muse-model” by Cinefantastique, revealed Giger’s state of mind during those scorching summer and autumn months in England: “He used to have nightmares and would even talk in his sleep because of the terrible pressure imposed on him by the production,” (Giger and Mia, who can be seen in some of Alien’s behind the scenes footage, would marry after the film’s production. They later separated.) There were other problems. In July ’78 he wrote that “I like the H stage less and less. It all looks pretty shitty.” By August, before shooting had even fully commenced, he was writing that “All I want is to be back in my garden in Zurich with Mia … The work bores me.” There seemed to be more disasters in September: “The costume of [the] Alien was ruined … The four wings or tubes were broken and had to be attached with wires.”

Hard work had always been an ethic for Giger; he readily acknowledged that the life of an artist was likely to be busy and possibly largely thankless. But fame was not his aim, merely personal satisfaction with his own work and creativity. “I have worked hard,” he summarised in the 2012 interview with Blick newspaper. “Especially between 1972-1992 when I painted my large-scale airbrush paintings. Sometimes when I am a little depressed, I flip through my work catalogs and see what I’ve done. It gives me enormous satisfaction.” As for those troublesome days on the set of Alien, where “Everything is wet and full of slime and oil,” gratification was not far beyond the toil: “At least,” he assented in his journal, “there’s one satisfaction. It will be a good film.”

Death did not trouble Giger. “I’ll never count the friends who come to my grave,” he told Blick. “I myself never go to funerals, because they just depress me … I think that everything ends with death. I think, unlike Carmen, not even in rebirth. The idea that anything goes on or that I even want to come back to this world is terrible.” Above all, family and friends aside, it was the legacy of his work that concerned him. “I do not want to live again. Once is enough. It’s also all so terribly exhausting. But, even if I’m gone, my art lives on. I’m glad, and I hope that it finds recognition in future generations.”

The Giger circle has been kind to Strange Shapes and myself. No consolation can truly dull the pain of their loss, but we offer them anyway. Our condolences go to Carmen, his wife of eight years, his friend and agent Les Barany, and the many close associates and assistants that gathered around, helped and contributed to the last years of Mr. Giger’s extraordinary life.

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Did You Know…

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Full-length articles haven’t been forthcoming lately, but my excuse is, I hope, solid enough. It’s my last semester of university and I’m aiming to cinch my first-class honours [Update June ’14: cinched!] In addition to that, I’ve been slowly stewing over an article that I’ve been researching for almost two years now. I promise that once it’s finished you will learn something new and exclusive to Strange Shapes. I’m very excited about it… but these lips are sealed for the moment.

But I don’t want to leave my visitors hanging, so as a form of compensation I thought I would write a list of ‘did you know?’ facts and trivia about the series that hopefully even the long-term and well-read fan will find illuminating.

I will update this article with more tidbits whenever they come to mind, since at this moment my brain is being occupied by Arthurian knights and gumshoe Marlowe types. In the meantime if you’re interested in Anglo-Saxon literature or 19th century Romantic poets or even articles on Rainer Maria Rilke then you could always drop by my sporadically updated blog Conversazione. No? Then let’s proceed with Alien

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

Whet your appetite and I’ll catch you all when I can.

~ Valaquen

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Develop’s An Audience with – Alien Isolation

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On February 12 at the Ray Dolby Theatre in Soho (London), part of the team behind Alien: Isolation stood up before an assembly of fans to give them a behind the scenes look at Creative Assembly’s upcoming game. Our very own Valaquen was part of the public attending this lecture event organized by Develop Online.

And so just over a week ago I took the long, exhausting overnight journey from Scotland to London to have a peek at Creative Assembly’s Alien: Isolation – all courtesy of AVPGalaxy. Here’s my report at AVPG. Have a read and let us know what you think: fears, hopes, concern, relief or even your nonchalance!

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Strange Shapes/Monster Legacy interviews Tom Woodruff Jnr

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Tom Woodruff Jnr. is a former member of Stan Winston Studios who collaborated in the making of Aliens and The Terminator. In 1989 he co-founded his own special effects company with Alec Gillis – Amalgamated Dynamics. His special effects work includes Tremors, Starship Troopers, Evolution, as well as Alien 3, Alien: Resurrection, and the two Alien vs. Predator films.

Tom has also portrayed a multitude of movie monsters, most famously the Alien creatures from the third, fourth and AvP movies.

Tom kindly agreed to an e-mail interview, and my friend Omega of Monster Legacy and I put our heads together to come up with some career-spanning questions for him.

Q: There’s a great photograph of you wearing the Alien suit from the second movie. Could you talk about how that came about and how (or if) your time in that suit factored into later decision making processes with Alien 3?

A: That was an after-hours thing that happened when the warrior suits were completed before filming started. Things get chaotic on set and long before digital cameras and cell phones, there wasn’t always a set photographer on hand to get beauty shots of the creatures before they get trashed during shooting. I suited up one night and we fired off a bunch of shots, without even the benefit of covering the suit in slime as intended for the film.

I was more interested in seeing how different body posing could disguise the shape of a man inside the suit than the intended on-screen finished look. But I wanted to be the man in the monster suit ever since I could remember watching monster movies on TV and after seeing some of the performances and physiques of some of the guys who ended up wearing the alien suits in Aliens, it motivated me to have a talk with Stan Winston that led to playing the Gill Man in Monster Squad in our very next film.

Q: The Alien in the third movie traded in many biomechanical details for a different aesthetic; you once said that you aimed for “an organic, sculptural feel.” Can you talk about what you tried to do to make this Alien look different from those that came before? (I believe you mentioned looking at Giger’s original paintings and drawings?)

A: I think people throw around the term “biomechanical” without really understanding what it means. It was a term manufactured to describe Giger’s amazing and fresh style of art. It was his theme in a lot of his work. What changed was the method in which it was achieved. During the build on Aliens, Fox provided us with many pieces of the original Alien creature suit and head. Within those pieces, you could actually see castings of mechanical bits; valves and plumbing pieces, some with catalogue numbers visible that had been etched into the pieces that were molded.

On Aliens, those pieces of the new suits evolved to be more organic and not just castings of off-the-shelf hardware. But the suits were still very broad in that they were sections glued to a spandex leotard with nothing more than slime-covered spandex to span the space between built-up sections.

On Alien 3, we took that to the next step and sculpted an entire body suit –not in an effort to make it look different– but to make it look more complete since the shooting style was going to be completely different and lighting would be revealing more of our single Alien than the hordes of the Cameron film. We relied heavily on images of Giger’s work from his own Necronomicon as the guide, seeking to replicate the organic life of that creature in more specific “Giger” detail than what was represented in the work of both Alien and Aliens.

Detail of the Alien's feet being painted by Gino Acevedo.

Detail of the Alien’s feet being painted by Yuri Everson.

Q: Michael Biehn relayed the story that during Alien 3’s production someone had spotted a bust of Hicks with the chest burst open. Was this ever planned to happen? (I assume the character’s head was pulverised due to Biehn’s objections to the scene.)

A: There was never a Hicks body with a chest burst open and it was never a story point in any of the material distributed to our crew. In the opening of Alien 3, we see the remains of Hicks with his head destroyed in the crash of the escape vehicle. That was done because we weren’t able to use Hicks’ likeness in the film.

Q: The corpses of Newt and Hicks were harrowingly realistic. Did pieces like these ever cause any sort of discomfort, or were you able to disassociate them from the actors and characters and see them purely as props?

A: Work like that becomes very clinical – artistic but clinical. It’s all about duplicating and creating recognizable features that sell the likeness. There is an element however in researching forensic photos in order to create a realism that was shocking although, over time, even that reaction becomes tempered.

Q: Everyone from Ridley Scott to Dan O’Bannon and James Cameron have said they were inspired by insects to create the life-cycles of their Aliens. In Alien Resurrection the ridged head of the Alien even resembles a cockroach shell – was this intentional? What did you look at when devising the Alien’s shape in the fourth movie?

A: It was never a pointed intention to duplicate a cockroach, but yes, the design element of the insect world is always prevalent in each design iteration. Changes brought about to the Alien from one film to the next have been at the design of the director, wanting to bring some new visual aspect to the creature. Part of our task had been to maintain what we could and make work for each new audience rather than reinvent the wheel.

Q: There was a rumour that ADI had pitched their own Alien 5 to Fox. If true, can you elaborate on your ideas?

A: If true, I would not elaborate.

Tom putting some touches on an Alien from James Cameron's sequel.

Tom putting some touches on an Alien from James Cameron’s sequel.

Q: ADI has made an enormous array of creatures, from Graboids, to Aliens, to man-eating plants in Jumanji. Is there a kind of creature you always wanted to bring to the screen, but never had the chance to?

A: Every 6-8 months there is a new rumour that a remake of The Creature From the Black Lagoon is starting up. That’s what my radar is tracking although I think today it would be a huge battle to get anyone to consider a practical animatronic and costume approach, which is ironic because that’s exactly what made the originals so satisfying. The problem is that movies like that succeeded because they were “B Movies” and not meant to change your emotional center but just be a great way to spend two hours in a theatre. Today the choice would be made to turn it into a $140 million epic that relied on showing too much of the creature who would be a CGI element.

Q: Could you talk about the design of the Shriekers from Tremors 2: Aftershocks? What were they inspired by?

A: Very much inspired by the Graboid itself. The idea was to reverse-engineer the original creatures to establish the Shriekers as an earlier developmental stage, hence the translucent beak for example, as if it was still cartilage in development like a baby’s skull. The growth pattern would eventually have them begin to pack on pounds and become so huge and lethargic that their legs (which were only intended to carry them to a new location where food and protection would be more plentiful) would atrophy and fall off. They would then create a growth of spines that would propel them underground.

Q: What were the design inputs when conceiving the alien mutations in The Thing, especially in relation to Rob Bottin’s original work? (Was there a ‘Bottin style’ you adhered to?)

A: We designed the Thing creatures and effects, working with the director and producers. We had a lot of latitude in envisioning the look of the new creatures with variations as directed from above during the design and build. The goal was never to try to copy any particular Bottin creature but definitely to speak “in the same language”. That might be a pretty narrow line to imagine but a lot of that language was created in how the creatures were performed – live on set with the actors and sharing that environment. When you read about the creative freedom that Bottin held the biggest obstruction was not “what” the creatures were but “how” they would be articulated. Luckily, no one else knew how to do it and there wasn’t a big digital paintbrush waiting in post to taint his vision.

Q: The Pilot creature deleted from The Thing was undoubtedly a very unique monster. Could you talk about the design itself? What inspired it?

A: No one thing inspired the Pilot Creature, only that we wanted to be sure it looked like its own, stand-alone lifeform and not something that was already infected by The Thing – that was a crucial story point. So to that end, [it was] designed with a very biological symmetry, very specific eyes, and hands and feet that looked like they were nimble and with enough dexterity to pilot the ship.

Q: In 2014, ADI celebrates 25 years of effects making. What are your fondest memories from your experiences?

A: Looking back at the early years from this point in time is very nostalgic. For the most part, the artists and techs we’ve worked with from the very beginning are still around. But it’s harder and harder to find the work and the budgets that support the art so those early days were filled with more achievements. Even though we’re technically more savvy and have a lot better materials to work with, there is more work in convincing someone it can be done practically and not just as a digital post effect. And it’s been great to be able to meet the masters whose work inspired me to do what I do; John Chambers, Ray Harryhausen, Stan Winston, Rick Baker – It’s been a great 25 years.

Suited up for Alien 3.

Suited up for Alien 3.

Many thanks to Mr. Woodruff and the kind staff at Amalgamated Dynamics Inc.
Additional thanks to the salubrious Space Sweeper and a tip of the hat to Omega.

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