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What’s What at Strange Shapes?

Hello, all. Has it been almost two years since my last post? I didn’t intend for that, and I assure you all that I haven’t been sitting back and relaxing all this time. So, what’s what at Strange Shapes? Are we defunct, on hiatus, etc?

No–in fact, I might be busier than ever with all things Alien. For the last two years my research and findings have gone exclusively into a document that, I hope, will finally manifest itself as Strange Shapes: The Making of Alien, a book exploring everything Alien (1979). There’s not a great deal I can say about it right now, except this: I have conducted interviews with the film’s crew wherever I could (that is, with whoever would talk to me), scoured libraries for books and the internet for articles and magazines, haggled with collectors and spent many a morning, noon and night typing and editing away. If I had to say anything about it now, it’s that the book, even in its current incomplete shape, blows the blog out of the water. No contest. So far, I have written 253 pages, 115,000+ words, and counting.

So on to the next issue here: when can you all read it? Alien’s 40th birthday would have been a great occasion to release it to you all, but I simply couldn’t finish it in time due to personal circumstances. For one, since 2016 I have been my daughter’s full-time carer, taking time away from my own extra-curricular activities (no real complaint from me, here). And then, some months ago, her disability allowance and my carer’s payments were erroneously stopped, forcing us to survive on my paltry savings and, with them now exhausted, I am somewhat on the wire. As I type, I have no internet at home, and may very well lose my house within the next couple of months if the situation does not improve. Which makes it very difficult to write!

And some will ask, how will I bring it to you? I had some discussions last year with publishers, but the dearth of new content from far more experienced writers than myself has thrown any chance at being published for a loop. So, for now, I cannot truly answer the question of how Strange Shapes will make its way to a bookshop.

Still, the work continues, and Strange Shapes (the book) continues to gain weight and heft. Some selected people have already read an extract containing some 75,000 words, and feedback is making its way back to me, all to make the book something better than it already is. Now, I know there is already a dearth of tomes out there promising to be the final, definitive or absolute word on Alien. So this needs to be something special to be worth your time. Something with all the elbow grease I can muster. Something that will make the best of nine years(!) of this blog. Or else, what’s the point? Well, without coming across as egotistical, I do think Strange Shapes will offer readers something unique, including information about Alien that has not been explored or touched upon anywhere else. Of course, that’s no good to anyone s’long as it sits here on my computer. So I will continue to work whenever (and however) I can to bring it closer to being in your hands.

In the meantime, please hold on a little longer. There is more coming, despite the silence on my end. Hopefully, this post will leave everyone a little more clued in to what’s happening. I’m not dead (though somewhat starved) and I’m certainly not done. Maybe in a year or two from this point I’ll be laughing at my former troubles and you will all be sitting down with a good tome to read.

And of course, this year will see the release of all sorts of Alien media: books, documentaries and retrospectives will be flooding the stores and internet this year, so the fanbase will not go hungry!

Until then…

~ Val.

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The Life of Bolaji Badejo

Bolaji

Bolaji Badejo was born in Lagos, Nigeria, on August 23rd, 1953, the second child to parents Victor and Elizabeth Badejo (née Bamidale). The family included, in order of birth: Akin, Bolaji, a sister Debo, Posi, Boyega, and Deji. Their mother, according to Boyega, was a “welfare administrator, one-time business owner, housewife and a hostess.”

Their father, born Erasmus Victor Badejo on 21st May 1921, was the son of farmer Gabriel Akingbade Badejo and Phebe Aderibigbe Badejo, a housewife. Victor was educated at the boys-only Government College in Ibadan, which had been founded by British expatriates and modeled in the vein of British boarding schools with the purpose of grooming Nigeria’s future leaders and trailblazers. For a time Colonial Nigeria had been ruled by the British as a series of adjuncts governed by telephone with local leaders serving as proxies (a system of governance called indirect rule) but later administrators argued that it was their imperial duty to introduce as quickly as possible the benefits of Western experience to the local population. Hence, schools like the Government College were founded.

Victor graduated from the University College, lbadan, in 1952, and thereafter joined the Nigerian Broadcasting Service as a Senior Broadcasting Officer. Radio broadcasting had been brought to Nigeria in 1933 by the British colonial administration, and at first was used primarily to blast BBC broadcasts through loudspeakers placed in designated public areas. When the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation was formed in April 1957 it was with a Briton as its head, but Nigerians quickly began to assume managerial positions and in October 1963, three years after his country’s independence from Britain, Victor Badejo became the first indigenous Director-General of the station.

As a consequence of his position the Badejo family lived comfortably, even affluently, in Africa. One guest at a party thrown for the benefit of the new Director-General was the Oba (“King”) of Lagos, Adeniji Adele. Other frequent visitors and drop-ins included several Britons of esteem. “Sir Hugh Greene, the Director General of the BBC, younger brother to the famous writer Graham Greene, visited Nigeria in the late sixties and actually stayed with us in the guest chalet,” explains Boyega. “My parents lived a much more glamorous life in Nigeria, so we were privileged as a family, and known as well.”

Victor’s eldest sons, Bolaji and older brother Akin, lived the untroubled lives typical of the children of a well known and prosperous father. “Bolaji had a hippy lifestyle,” says Boyega. “Carefree, cruising around in Dad’s sports car from the age of sixteen. Very hip.” But Victor gave his children more than material gifts, and entrenched in them deep wells of confidence. “My father was always charming and influential,” says Boyega. “We grew up like that. We all felt secure at any point in time to be individuals and believe in ourselves.”

Boyega and BolajI as children.

Boyega and Bolaji as children.

In 1967 Nigeria was plunged into a bloody three-year civil war, during which time the political apparatus lunged from coup to counter-coup and alternated between various democratically-elected governments and military dictatorships. Meanwhile, the breadth of the country continuously lapsed into large-scale riots and massacres with Eastern Nigerians being targeted in particular. “I was a boy then,” explained Boyega, “but I remember my father was attending civil defence classes, so when we heard sirens we all gathered together in the storage room, and at another occasion because of the sensitive position of our dad as the head [of the NBC], we heard rumours that the federal soldiers were coming to occupy our compound, and we were evacuated to our relatives the whole day until very late that night.”

In 2008 Chinua Achebe, author of the classic Things Fall Apart, revealed that during the turmoil Victor Badejo had given him some life-saving advice when Achebe (whose cousin had been an Eastern Nigerian army officer killed in the chaos) became a target of the warring military factions. “I was then director of broadcasting,” Achebe told observer.gm, revealing that his staff “Called me and they said, ‘Soldiers are looking for you. They said they want to see which is stronger, your pen or their gun.’ So I picked up the phone and dialled Victor Badejo, who was the Director-General. I said, ‘Victor, what is this story?’ He said, ‘Where are you?’ I said, ‘I’m at home.’ He said, ‘Take Christie and your children and leave.'”

“I found it difficult to come to terms with the fact that Nigeria was disintegrating, that I had to leave my house, leave Lagos, leave my job. So I decided to sneak back into our Turnbull residence and return to work … Victor Badejo, the director general of Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, saw me on the premises, stopped me, and said, ‘What are you doing here?’ And then he said, ‘Life has no duplicate’ and provided further clarification of the situation …At this point the killings had reached the peak figure of hundreds a week.”
~ Chinua Achebe, There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra,  2012.

Achebe noted that Badejo’s advice saved his life and that of his family. “He was quite anxious on my behalf and advised me to leave my Turnbull Road residence immediately,” he wrote. Indeed, Nigerian poet and scholar Ezenwa-Ohaeto’s biography of Achebe understatingly notes that “that advice from Victor Badejo, whose high rank placed him in a position where he could receive authentic information, made it clear to Achebe that the armed soldiers looking for him were not interested in inviting him to a picnic.”

In 1972, after working at the NBC for twenty years, Victor Badejo resigned from his position, packed up his family, and relocated to Ethiopia. His tenure as the first indigenous Director-General of Radio Nigeria left an indelible impression on his fellow West Africans. Diamonds are Forever: Ten Years of DAME (Diamond Awards for Media Excellence) asks us to recall “the very few multi-talented Nigerians who have made outstanding contributions to broadcasting, but who did not have to depend on broadcasting for a living as evident from their equally outstanding career outside of broadcasting.” The site then adds that, “Such achievers include: Archdeacon Victor Badejo”, a position he had received before his passing.

Bolaji, nineteen years old, spent his time in Ethiopia studying fine arts. “We are artists by nature from my mother’s side,” Boyega revealed, “my uncle was the Picasso of Nigeria, Omotayo Aiyegbusi … He attended St Martin’s school of art in the 50’s, and did some very crucial assignments for the BBC.” And then, after three years, Victor took the family on the move again, this time to England, “and there he was in charge of a church as the vicar for the next eight years.” Boyega further explains that “As a man that was mentored by the British, I think he wanted that experience of living with his family in Britain as a priest.” For the Badejo children uprooting and travelling was not particularly disruptive and instead left them “excited”, according to Boyega. “We were like an adventurous migrating family, very un-African.”

Bolaji in London, sometime in the early 1970's.

Bolaji in London, mid-1970’s.

In England the young Bolaji decided to further pursue an education in graphic design, and it was whilst living around London that he met Yinka, who became his girlfriend and the mother to his two children, Bibi and Yinka. “They had mutual friends and were in a similar social class, middle upper elites,” explains Boyega. As Yinka herself explains, “I was introduced to Bolaji by a mutual friend in the summer of 1976 in London.” The budding artist made an immediate impression: “My first impression of Bolaji,” she says, “was of a very tall, dark, striking and handsome man, who had a captivating voice.” With Yinka by his side, Bolaji immersed himself in his studies and his new life in England. “He embraced and thoroughly enjoyed living in London.”

In early 1978 Bolaji was approached in a bar by casting director Peter Archer, who was scouting for someone suitably tall and thin to play the titular creature in a space-bound horror movie directed by Ridley Scott – Alien. The film’s associate producer Ivor Powell explained that “The person that put the suit on had to be impossibly tall. We wanted them to be incredibly long-limbed, especially from the waist to the knee.”

But the production had reached an impasse casting their Alien. They tried various female models, a family of contortionists and even Chewbacca actor Peter Mayhew. Powell, in Dennis Lowe’s Alien Makers II documentary, recalls Archer (referred to as a “choreographer friend of mine”) telling him that “I was at a bar the other night, and it was a sort of students bar, lots of students there and I saw this guy and I don’t know what he was, whether he was Somalian… he was some African and he was impossibly tall and skinny, you want to see him?” Ivor agreed to see the tall student, “And so he sent him in and this quite timid kind of guy, never been in front of a camera before, he ended up being our Alien.”

“We started with a stunt man who was quite thin, but in the rubber suit he looked like the Michelin Man. So my casting director [Peter Archer] said, ‘I’ve seen a guy in a pub in Soho who is about seven feet tall, has a tiny head and a tiny skinny body.’ So he brought Bolaji Badejo to the office.”
~ Ridley Scott, Cinefantastique Online, 2008.

Bolaji, at 6’10 and rod-thin, must have seemed like a godsend to the production. He had always been “a thin long boy,” according to Boyega, and eventually “grew taller than his peers and was still growing until the age of twenty three.” Bolaji himself told Cinefantastique magazine in 1979 that “As soon as I walked in, Ridley Scott knew he’d found the right person.” Sure enough Scott, who later commented that Bolaji “had a figure like a Giacometti sculpture,” offered him the part there and then. “I said, ‘Do you want to be in movies?’” Ridley reminisced with Cinefantastique, “and he said, ‘Sure’. And he became the Alien.” For Bolaji the entire process might have seemed not only completely random but, in the end, perplexingly straightforward. “It is not every day that one gets approached in a West End bar to become part of a cast of the film,” says Yinka. “He was surprised, but pleased.”

Boyega remembers that he and his family were informed of his brother’s film work only “when he decided to tell us,” but, Boyega also noted, this was not unexpected behaviour: “Nothing was a big issue for us,” he explained, “as you might imagine – father meeting the Pope, Queen, Sir Hugh Greene, Haile Sallasse.” Bolaji, it seemed, didn’t think of his movie work as something exemplary and special. “He was quiet like my dad,” said Boyega, (Alien VFX crewmember Jon Sorensen also warmly referred to Bolaji as “the quiet man.”)

Once he was hired a body cast of Bolaji was created, although the mould was manufactured rather inexpertly. HR Giger, who had yet to personally meet Bolaji, inspected the cast and noted in his diary that “Unfortunately, the man has knock knees and an impossible build profile.” Giger, unimpressed, started thinking of alternatives. “I suggested asking Veruschka, who is just as tall, whether she would play the Alien. They liked the idea.”

Giger was interrupted several days later whilst painting some plaster models of the Alien landscape. “At 2pm,” he noted, “I was called to R. Scott’s office to inspect the man, black, approx. 2.10 meters, who is supposed to play [the] Alien.” Bolaji made a very different impression on Giger in person. “His stature did not conform to the impression I had gotten from the bad plaster cast [which] seemed too fat and built somewhat strangely around the hips. This impression arose because it took so long to make the mould and he has to stand the whole time.” After seeing him in person, Giger decided that Bolaji was perfect for his creature. “I will have a new cast made from the chest down.” he wrote. “I think he’s our man.”

To prepare for the film Bolaji took tai chi classes, spoke with Scott regarding his performance, and vigorously rehearsed the Alien’s gliding movement and mantis-like posture on the Nostromo set. “Bolaji worked hard and immersed himself into the choreography lessons and performing in the film,” says Yinka. “Even though some days were long and gruelling and he had to make an early morning start, Bolaji never complained.” Despite rehearsing and filming for long days over the summer and autumn months, he did not allow himself to lapse in his studies. “Bolaji coped well with filming and studying,” says Yinka. “He was a hard working and dedicated student, who excelled in all he did.”

BB

Behind the scenes with Giger.

“The idea,” Bolaji told Cinefantastique magazine, “was that the creature was supposed to be graceful as well as vicious, requiring slow, deliberate movements. But there was some action I had to do pretty quick. I remember having to kick Yaphet Kotto, throw him against the wall, and rush up to him. Veronica Cartwright was really terrified. After I fling Yaphet Kotto back with my tail, I turn to go after her, there’s blood in my mouth, and she was incredible. It wasn’t acting. She was scared.”

“Believe me,” Cartwright said in 2013, “when he comes after me in that scene I didn’t have to do anything. I just looked at him and, the thing was, once he uncoiled he just stood there. And I just had to look at him, and you go, ‘oh shit’. And instinctively what he did was just amazing. He had this incredible presence. And you know people say, ‘how did you make yourself scared?’ I didn’t do anything; I just had to look at him.”

“He was amazing,” she continued. “He was Masai. His limbs, his arms, his hands, went below his kneecaps. I mean he was this long, gorgeous person. He had huge feet which they always stuffed white sneakers on him. But Tom [Skerritt] is the one who said, ‘This poor man cannot sit down, because of this tail,’ and they built a sort of swing for him, so he could sit down on his swing. But if Tom hadn’t spoke up the poor guy would’ve been wandering around, god only knows.”

Skerritt also spoke of Bolaji at the same convention, telling the crowd that: “Just to thrown in a little bit about the Alien, with whom I spent a lot of time. Great instinct, very bright guy… In any case, I came in after they broke for lunch one afternoon and these huge stage doors would open, and [Bolaji] came out with everything on except for the head. He’s seven feet, and he was talking to a five-foot wardrobe mistress, and they were really having a conversation. Obviously, they were talking about something very profound. He’s got this outfit on and talking to her as they’re moving along, and he’s wearing very bright blue Adidas tennis shoes. And his tail’s being carried by a very flamboyant wardrobe assistant who had a white scarf on. And the wind was blowing so -I wish I had a photo of this- this scarf is flying out behind this guy who’s holding the tail… It was… if I had that photograph you’d all be paying a lot of money for that.”

“He did put his foot down though when they wanted to put the maggots in the top of the head,” Cartwright chipped in. “You know there’s that shot… it looks like his brain is moving, they were maggots. They were red and yellow and blue maggots, and he said, ‘Nuh uh, I’m not doing that!’”

Ridley Scott also recalled on the 1999 DVD commentary that Yaphet Kotto’s energy and riotous demeanour often led to some braggadocious and surreal scenes on the set, one in particular concerning Bolaji. “Yaphet was always great as the troublemaker on board the ship,” Ridley said, “and the day that Yaphet had to die, he said, ‘I’m not going to die.’ He said, ‘This thing can’t kill me!’ So I had to have this long discussion, persuading him to die that day.” Jon Sorensen remembers that when “the day came for Parker to fight the Alien and Yaphet comes out with it: ‘No f****** Alien is going to beat me. No f****** Alien is going to hold me down!’ Well, Bolaji pinned Kotto to the ground, sitting on him. Could Yaphet shift him? No. Not with all his considerable strength could he get the Alien off. He was ABSOLUTELY furious. Bolaji, the quiet man, won the day.”

Starburst journalist Phil Edwards recalls another incident involving Bolaji and Yaphet that had been relayed to him by Dan O’Bannon. “I had gotten into the production office of Alien almost by accident,” he shares. “The UK distributor had offered me an interview with Dan O’Bannon for Starburst magazine for the recently released Dark Star. The Alien production was a closed set, but the entrée to Dan got me through the door, and stopped me getting thrown out. He shared an office with Ron Cobb. Dan and I hit it off and I spent several evenings at his hotel in Portobello Road, hearing about the events of the day’s shooting. Of several memorable episodes, one involved Bolaji. With the Alien costume being so difficult to work in, and with restricted viewing through the suit, it was extremely difficult for Bolaji to hit his marks with precision, especially as his movements needed to be quite precise. The Alien set was a tense atmosphere, with its several producers uptight about the money, the schedule and Ridley Scott, who had proved himself no push-over to producer demands.”

“During a particularly tough scene for Bolaji,” Phil continues, “where he consistently missed his marks thanks to the suit and the clock on the money running up, one of the producers started to get unpleasant with him. Yaphet Kotto was looking on and became increasingly incensed at Herr Producer’s expletive-laden tirade. Enough was enough. According to Dan, Kotto ‘physically intervened’ and let the producer have it… ‘Leave the brother alone!’… things went very quiet after that.”

“Bolaji was about seven feet tall and looked like he came from a different universe anyway, and they made up this Alien suit for him. Ridley was very careful not to have him standing around, drinking tea with us during breaks and because he was kept apart from us and we never chatted, when it came to seeing him as this creature during a scene, it was electrifying. It didn’t feel that we were acting scared at all.”
~ Sigourney Weaver, The Daily Mail, 2010.

In his diary HR Giger wrote that Bolaji once “greeted [Mia and myself] with a fine surprise”, though he did not elaborate on Bolaji’s gift. At other times he joined Giger “for lunch at the King’s Head” where he unfortunately “complained about the treatment by the [Twentieth] Cent Fox people” who were routinely frustrating the production and, as Phil Edwards relates, even denigrating the performers. But despite his complaints Bolaji spent the next week shooting scenes for the film and making an impression. “Bolaji is still in action,” Giger wrote. “The scenes are awfully brutal and have a strong impact.” When Ridley decided that the Alien would smuggle itself aboard the Narcissus Giger empathised with Bolaji, who had been unable to fit inside the vents for Dallas’ death scene but would now be required to be sequestered within the shuttle walls for a day and a half. “Poor Bolaji,” he wrote, “[he will] not be happy about this beautiful, but for him very uncomfortable, scene.”

Bolaji in full costume as the Alien.

Bolaji in full costume as the Alien.

Then, on Friday, October 6th 1978, Bolaji filmed his last scene for the film – the Alien slithers from its hole and drops to the ground before rising, slowly, in a shroud of smoke. “Bursting out of that compartment wasn’t easy,” he told Cinefantastique. “I must’ve ripped the suit two or three times coming out, and each time I’d climb down, the tail would rip off!” Since the Alien being blown through the hatch would require an actor to be dropped and suspended by wires from a considerable height, the creature was portrayed in its final scenes by stuntman Roy Scammell.

During the film’s publicity phase Bolaji spoke to various publications including Cinefantastique and Starburst. Leone Edwards, who was at the time the wife of Starburst writer Phil Edwards, remembers that “[Bolaji] came to our London flat, and as I followed him up the stairs I thought I’d never see where he finished, he was so tall.” Phil, recalling the episode with Bolaji, Yaphet and a producer that he had heard about only weeks earlier, deigned not to ask him about it. “When Bolaji came to visit our London flat for an interview for Starburst, I thought about asking him about the incident, but decided against it. It just didn’t seem right.”

“The echo of an impression I am now left with regarding Bolaji,” says Leone, “was that he seemed quiet, a little conservative and reserved -polite and well spoken of course- and dare I say, trusting. What other potential star would turn up at a slightly questionable upstairs, furnished West Kensington flat (with a shared bathroom and toilet!) for an interview? He could have been walking to his doom for all he knew. What celebrity would do that now? Maybe they were more relaxed and innocent times. I also feel that perhaps he was a little shellshocked – suddenly changing direction and helping to create what was to become one of the most iconic cinematic images of the 20th century.” Leone also remembers that, “I once said to an acquaintance sometime during the 1980’s – ‘The Alien came to my house once.’ He replied, ‘What were you on?'”

Months after its release in the United States, Alien premiered in London’s Leicester Square Odeon on September 6th, 1979. Boyega says that he “cannot recollect the family watching the film together” since all of the various family members “all had our [own] accommodations because of the locations of our colleges, etc., but some of us went with him to the premier and ended up in the club Monkberry’s in Jerymyn Street, West End, where membership was for stars including Rod Stewart, Bob Marley, so he became a member and we started going there with him and with many other close friends of his.” Of his work in the film Yinka explains that “Bolaji was proud of his performance and so were his family, friends and I. We did see the film together and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a night to remember.” All in all it was, Boyega says, “Very cool times.”

Bolaji later “took a course in photography”, his mood remained “always relaxed and entertaining”, and, despite appearing enthusiastic about playing the Alien again in a hypothetical sequel, he ultimately favoured practicality over fantasies of a film career and decided to return to Nigeria in 1980. “Bolaji had relocated back to Nigeria to join our uncle, the well known sculptor, artist, designer and publisher Omotayo Aiyegbusi,” Boyega says, “but he started doing his own thing after two years, and by 1983 he had his own art gallery.” Yinka explains that she and Bolaji moved after he had completed his studies as a graphic designer, and that Bolaji immediately set out “to work with his uncle who had a successful graphic design company.” Bolaji, according to Yinka, “was a humble man, who was glad to have played his part in the success of the film,” and his ultimate goal, she says, was “to make a difference in the graphic designing field with his skills, as he was a gifted designer, full of original ideas.” As Bolaji himself summarised to Cinefantastique magazine, “The fact that I played the part of the Alien, for me, that’s good enough.”

During the 1980’s their children, Bibi and Yinka, would be born, and Bolaji continued to curate his gallery. “Bolaji was jovial, full of life and pleasant,” remembers Yinka. “He was easy to get on with. He set high goals for himself and worked hard to achieve them.” Victor Badejo also relocated to Nigeria and was installed as Archdeacon of St. Lukes Church Uro, Ikere-Ekiti on December 1, 1984.

In 1983 the youngest Badejo sibling, Deji, passed away due to sickle cell anaemia and as the decade wore on Bolaji, who had been diagnosed with the disease as a child, began to succumb to its effects. A 1994 report, Mortality in Sickle Cell Disease – Life Expectancy and Risk Factors for Early Death, analysed patients living in the United States and found that “In contrast to the widely held assumption that patients with sickle cell anaemia rarely survive to adulthood, the median age at death among such patients was 42 years for males and 48 years for females.”

Yinka relates that Bolaji had “never let having sickle cell anaemia affect his life. He coped with it as best he could.” Several months after his thirty-ninth birthday, Bolaji fell ill and was taken to St. Stephen Hospital in Ebute Metta, Lagos, where he died on the 22nd December, 1992.

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“Of course he was the Alien because of his physical attributes,” says Boyega, “but he was not an actor. My late brother was very, very strong mentally, charming, funny, and easy to be with and get on with others … Bolaji did not have enemies; he was humble, generous and entertaining. He was not just my brother, he was my friend … We cultivated friendship as I grew older, which I did not have with my other siblings except the last born, Deji, who was the first member of the family to pass on. He also was a victim of sickle cell anaemia. We are only two brothers left and one sister, but I do communicate with Posi, my elder brother, about our father. Two weeks ago, he had found a picture of our dad with the Saudana of Sokoto…”

“As my father passed away so early in my life I only have fleeting memories of him,” says Bibi Badejo. “I know he was very creative and worked as a graphic designer in his gallery. I remember him playing with me and lifting me up so high. I remember he drove a green VW Gold which had a golf ball shaped gear stick and the smell of his tobacco. I will never forget he was 6 foot 10 and that’s where my brother and I get our tall frames from. The rest comes from stories from my mother and crinkled photos my brother and I have kept close to our hearts over the years.”

“What I have come to learn as I have gotten older is the impact he had on other people and how they remember him despite meeting him decades ago. A perfect example is when I met a fellow lawyer on a case I was working on. We had never met before but she told me she had only ever met someone with the Badejo surname once before. She then described a very tall lean man from Nigeria who would sometimes help her around the house (including painting her ceiling!) It didn’t take long before it dawned on me that she had met my father when she was studying law in the late seventies and they had become friends. They had since lost touch but she never forgot him.”

“There was another time when I had used one of my father’s iconic photos as a profile picture on a social media website. My friend’s mother, again who I had never met, immediately recognised him as the ‘cool guy she met once at a party who said he was going to play the Alien.’ I am not sure if she believed him at the time but of course we all know it’s true.”

Bibi closes: “It’s a huge shame not to be able to speak to him about Alien and a great many other things as I have grown up and am now an adult. That said, it is incredible to discover the legacy he has left and also the fact that even now people are willing to find out about him, give him respect and also give me the gift of allowing me to learn more about him.”

Special thanks to Bibi and Boyega Badejo and Yinka Richardson for their time, memories, and photographs. Additonal thanks and salutations to Leone Edwards and Phil Edwards.

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Ridley Scott’s Alien II (or ‘What He Wanted to Happen’)

 

Snapshot-2016-07-13 at 06_51_00 PM-25088

During Alien’s post-production Ridley Scott had already set an eye on another science fiction movie: an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. But Scott left the project after the death of his older brother, and was only later roped back into filmmaking with Blade Runner. He explained in interviews at the time that he was hoping to work on a fantasy film next -an offshoot from his eternally stalled Tristan and Isolde movie- but in 1984, the year his long gestating “fairly tale”  Legend was being produced, he spoke at length with journalist Danny Peary about Alien – and his ideas about a sequel.

“It certainly should explain what the Alien is and where it comes from,” he told Omni’s Screen Flights/Screen Fantasies in 1984. “That will be tough because it will require dealing with other planets, worlds, civilisations. Because obviously the Alien did come from some sort of civilisation. The Alien was presented, really, as one of the last survivors of Mars – a planet named after the god of war. The Alien may be one of the last descendants of some long-lost self-destructed group of beings.”

Ridley also explained to Cinefantastique that “’in many respects it’ll be more interesting [than the first movie], from a pure science-fiction stand point. We’d get into speculative areas, deal with two civilisations.”

Ridley apparently thought that the first movie had unexplored territory worth looking into. He had been enticed enough by Dan O’Bannon’s ideas regarding the Alien’s civilisation that he demanded that the producers Walter Hill and David Giler rewrite his pyramid -which they deleted in favour of their own device– back into the script. Unfortunately limitations on both time and money saw the pyramid being cut and merged with the derelict spacecraft, and Ridley was certainly affected by its omission: “I would love to have shot [the pyramid],” he said at the time, “but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it would have been wonderful in a three-hour version.” Or perhaps a sequel.

He also seemed to regret not expanding on some issues regarding the Alien in the first movie: “There were no speculative scenes or discussions about what the Alien was and all that sort of thing either. I believe that audiences love those, especially if they’re well done. They give the threat much more weight. If they make Alien II, and if I have anything to do with it, the film will certainly have those elements in it. From a certain point of view, Alien II could be more interesting than Alien I.”

FF: Had you ever debated using actors from other cultures [in Alien]?
Scott: Japan?
FF: Japan or Mars.
Scott: I would have loved it, but that’s not what the story was about. I would have loved to take the opportunity to explore the realms of speculative fiction more, but it would have been a digression from the film we were making.
~ Fantastic Films, 1979.

Of course, Ridley was not asked to return. In 1986 Bobbie Wygant asked Aliens producer Gale Anne Hurd if Scott had turned down the opportunity to direct the sequel. “I’m not really sure,” Hurd answered. “I know that he was in post-production on Legend at the time we were in pre-production [on Aliens], so perhaps it was a result of his availability.”

But it turned out that the producers had never approached Ridley at all. “They didn’t ask me!” he told The Hollywood Interview in 2008. “To this day I have no idea why. It hurt my feelings, really, because I thought we did quite a good job on the first one.”

Despite Ridley’s feelings, there was no jealously or animosity between him and the sequel’s director. The two bumped into one another at Pinewood Studies when the movie was being made and, by Cameron’s account, the meeting was friendly. “I was coming out of dallies and he was going in,” he told Fangoria magazine in ’86, “and we spoke for about 10 minutes. We didn’t really talk about Aliens at all; he didn’t seem particularly curious about it, other than the fact it was being done. We just spoke in general terms about shooting in England – it was very polite, there was no depth to it. Basically, it was like, ‘Hello, pleased to meet you.'”

Scott’s feelings also did not influence his thoughts on the sequel: “It’s always a tough job to follow a successful film with a sequel to it,” he is quoted in Aliens: The Illustrated Screenplay, “so what I think James Cameron did was an excellent action picture. It really was amazing what he accomplished. There’s also no question that Cameron made an excellent film with Aliens. It really is an achievement.” In 2012, he stated: “Jim loved Alien, adored it … I would never, ever critique or criticise [Aliens] because I think it was very successful and what he did was really good.”

Brandywine did turn to Scott to direct the third film, but according to Sigourney “he never seemed to be able to get it together.” The first Alien 3 script was written in 1987 – the film was released in 1992. In that time, Scott had directed and released four other movies.

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Dog-Catchers

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Aaron: The place has gone toxic. You should get out while you can.
Bishop II: Don’t panic. We’re here to micromanage the situation.
Aaron: (re: Commando Team) What’s all this?
Bishop II: A specially trained team to help get  the Xenomorph under control. Now, where is she?
~ Alien III, by Rex Pickett.

Their identities are unknown, and they can only be divined by their collective purpose. The third movie’s commando unit, sometimes nicknamed “the dog catchers”, appear at the film’s climax to collect an Alien specimen. In fact, the last third of the film is a race against time: Ripley must destroy the beast before Weyland-Yutani arrive to either hinder or complicate the situation. Unfortunately for the team, they arrive just as the adult specimen is destroyed, but this may have worked to their favour – despite their hardware, they seem comically unequipped to tackle the Alien: dressed in bleached gambesons and carrying lassos, they look like cumbersome hockey players.

Special Forces and investigatory soldiers were a staple in several Alien III scripts, but most appear at the beginning of the screenplays and are summarily wiped out, and owe their employment to the Colonial Administration rather than the Company. The commandos from the movie probably owe their appearance to William Gibson, whose script featured a specialist crew known as the “Deck Squad”, who are described as thus: “Their spacesuits are white, clinical; over these they wear disposable Biohazard Envelopes of filmy translucent plastic. Some are Colonial Marines, armed with pulse-rifles or flame-throwers. Others are scientists and technicians, carrying recording and sampling gear.”

The wardrobe, armaments and gear all sound like those of the dog-catcher commandos. The “filmy translucent plastic” overcoat is very much like that worn by the Company Man played by Hi Ching.

The combat gear was designed to evoke the dusty, hockey-pad/samurai spacesuits from the original movie.

In one version of the script, Ching’s scientist character is named “Company Man #1” and nothing more. Rex Pickett was later hired to polish the final script by Walter Hill and David Giler, and in his version of the story the Company Man #1 is introduced as Dr. Matshuita, “one of the finest transplant surgeons in the world,” according to Bishop II. Giler and Hill then fired Pickett and rewrote the script. In the final draft, Dr. Matshuita is once again “Company Man #1”.

There was an earlier draft by Giler and Hill where the Company Man attempts to convince Ripley to dismiss suicide, after the mysterious Bishop II has been killed by a blow to the head by Golic (Aaron “85” in the final movie). In later drafts it was decided to not have Bishop II die so anti-climatically, and he was kept around to the end, albeit sporting a horrific wound, and Company Man was yet again pushed into the background.

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Curiously, in Pickett’s iteration of the story Aaron notices that “aside from pulse rifles some of them are carrying what appear to be sophisticated animal-control devices.” What these devices are isn’t elaborated on, but it’s surely more potent than the lassos from the movie – still, this doesn’t guarantee any success, and it’s a small injury to never see these commandos actually take on the Alien.

The commandos leave without getting what they want, but they are not empty-handed. Saying that, prisoner Morse is a very small consolation prize when you almost had the perfect organism in your grasp.

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Jon Finch Passes Away

Jon Finch

Actor Jon Finch died late December, and the story has broke just today (IMDb still, as of now, notes him as being alive). Finch was originally cast by Ridley Scott to play the hapless Kane in Alien, but famously the actor bowed out after a bad turn on set which is variously attributed to diabetes and a bronchial attack. He was of course replaced by John Hurt. You can read about the various tales surrounding Finch’s departure here.

The Hastings Examiner article covering the death notes that: “Jon Finch, of Croft Road, was found in his flat in the Old Town on December 28 after friends and family became concerned for his welfare. He was 70 … His ex-partner Helen Drake, who lives in Cornwall, said: ‘Jon and I remained very close and we were like a little family and saw each other regularly in the Old Town. He had been quite unwell for a while as he suffered from diabetes and was becoming confused. Jon was quiet and a private person but very warm and generous. He had a fantastic sense of humour. Jon was a wonderful father to his 19-year-old daughter Holly. They got on well and always laughed, having fun together.'”

Finch joins other Alien alumni who have left us in the last few years, including Dan O’Bannon, Carlo Rambaldi, Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, and Simon Deering.

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I Love The Corps!

“They are lean and hardened… tough, capable, jaded. They combine the specialised techno-combat training of the twenty-first century fighting man with those qualities universal to ‘grunts’ through the ages.”
~ Aliens script.

Though Rambo: First Blood Part II bears James Cameron’s name, with Aliens the writer/director deliberately sought to avoid the shoot-‘em-up moral vacuum of both Rambo and other 1980’s actioners. “After Rambo I’m not interested in making a film where people are running around and shooting each other and getting into the moral complications of saying, ‘well, just because they are wearing a different uniform from another country, it’s okay [to kill them]’.”

There would be no human-on-human violence in Aliens (bar some deviousness courtesy of Burke), with the weaponry solely focused on the Alien army. The result is a movie featuring “violence without the guilt” and a high-tech, off-world Vietnam-styled romp.

“There’s a whole list of science fiction going back to the twenties that explores the idea of the military in space,” noted Cameron, “but it hadn’t really been done in film.”

Space warfare and human-alien battles in literature can be traced back to the early twentieth century, from War of the Worlds in 1898, to the first space opera, The Skylark of Space, in the 1920’s, through to more serious sci-fi fare like The Forever War. However, if there was to be one direct ancestor to his movie (other than Alien, of course) it would be Robert Heinlein’s 1959 novel, Starship Troopers. “[Read] Starship Troopers if you want to see where Aliens was inspired,” Cameron said in 2009.

Heinlein’s sci-fi classic tells the story of space marines (the Mobile Infantry) who traverse the galaxy to battle “bugs”, a race of violent, technological creatures described as looking like “a madman’s conception of a giant, intelligent spider.” Though Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 film adaptation presented the bugs as being mindless, primitive rampagers, Heinlein’s novel describes them as being technologically sophisticated—the bugs carry particle beam weapons into battle and can fling asteroids at enemy planets (the bugs in the movie can too, though, being an unsophisticated species, it’s not explained exactly how they can do this.)

Though Verhoeven’s film is satirical and cartoonish, Cameron noted that “the original story by Heinlein is pretty serious. The last line of the book, and he means it absolutely seriously, is, ‘to the everlasting glory of the infantry.’ He was celebrating the ground-pounder, the dogface, but in a futuristic context.” Heinlein himself explained that his novel “glorifies … the mudfoot who places his frail body between his loved home and the war’s desolation.” The book’s arguable championing of the underdog trooper married it, thematically, to Alien’s blue-collar universe, which presented the worker class as protagonists and the unseen Company as an antagonist alongside the Alien itself.

Aliens and Vietnam: “While I was doing research [for Rambo] I’d read every book I could get my hands on about Vietnam,” Cameron explained. “That research was still very much in my head while I was finishing Aliens … the Vietnam analogy in Aliens is absolutely intentional.” For Cameron, the Vietnam war demonstrated “how technology didn’t work … these technologically advanced soldiers succumb to a technologically inferior but much more determined enemy … The film is obviously informed by a lot of the imagery from Vietnam; the idea that they put painted flowers on their helmets and things like that, and there was a real discipline problem. Of course that was amongst a lot of the draftees at that time. So we’re kind of mixing our metaphors a little bit here.”

Cameron and Rambo Part II: “I came rather late to that,” James told The Hollywood Reporter in 1986. “I actually thought the first one was a pretty good film. That’s what attracted me to the second one, the underdog story. I was kind of fascinated by Vietnam at that point and what a weird and surreal kind of war that was. So my approach to it was a lot heavier, a lot more character. I just ran into Sly (Stallone) recently, and he was saying that when he looks back on it -although he doesn’t have any regrets- in a way he wished he could have done the script that I wrote because they did wind up throwing out about the first half of it. They kept a lot of the action. They just kind of made it a ‘Mission Impossible’ thing – for me it took on kind of a superhero-type quality. I thought it was much more interesting to kind of explore this traumatized character. Maybe I’ll get to use that stuff somewhere else. I used a bit of it in Aliens, having them come back from something they were traumatized by. There was a bit of that delayed stress syndrome stuff in Aliens they didn’t use in Rambo II.”

Cameron’s space marines would be an amalgam of influences from Heinlein as well as the original Alien. The concept of brow-beaten, space-warring soldiers meeting their ignominious deaths on the other end of the galaxy segued perfectly with the original Alien’s presentation of brow-beaten, space-faring corporate officers. Less truckers in space, more grunts in space.

Colonial Marine concept by Terry English. Cameron opted for a more real-world look to his Marines, rather than the tight-fitting uniforms of Star Trek or the head-to-toe shock suits of Star Wars. Though Cameron had extensively studied the Vietnam war, he admitted in 2003 that he basically “knew nothing about the US Marine Corps at the time, although curiously, while I was making this film, my youngest brother joined the Marines and was in for six years. I now know a lot more about the Marines and they are much more disciplined than these people … These guys are definitely Vietnam-era regular army, toward-the-end-of-their-tour kind of motif.”

Also derived from Starship Troopers was the term “dropship” and the Marines’ verbal eye-roll term “bug-hunt”, and at one point, Cameron admitted he had been “toying with the idea of having the Marines have battle suits,” much like the Mobile Infantry of Heinlein’s soldiers, who battle their bug enemies whilst encased in power armour. Cameron had toyed with a form of power armour in his amateur filmmaking debut, Xenogenesis, and though he scrapped the idea of suit-encased soldiers for Aliens, the concept still turned up, in a way, in the form of the powerloader.

“Among the troopers dress discipline is lax,” says the script, “fatigues customized and emblazoned with patches. Drake’s tunic is cut off to a vest and has ‘Eat the apple and fuck the Corps’ stencilled on back. ‘Peace Through Superior Firepower,’ ‘Pray for War’ and ‘I’ve Served My Time in Hell: Cetti Epsilon NC-104’ are some others.”

“I encouraged the actors to customise their own costumes and armour,” Cameron explains in the film’s commentary track, “[to] personalise everything, to give the impression that they had been out a lot, that they were seasoned, that they had been away from commanding authority on their own a lot and were good enough at their jobs that they were allowed these kinds of latitudes. And obviously, this is a continuation of the motif from the first film, where they’re wearing Hawaiian shirts and all kinds of strange stuff, all of which was a new idea in science fiction. People always wore uniforms on spaceships. That’s how it worked from Star Trek on[wards] … Alien broke that mould and it just seemed so right to people. They recognised the archetype immediately, ‘Oh, these guys are truck drivers’ … And so the idea here was extrapolated to a military unit that’s worked at the extreme fringes of human civilisation.”

As Cameron said, he encouraged the actors to customise their own costumes and armour to create a lived-in look for the actors and to emulate and continue the used universe from the original Alien. “Jim had a bunch of stuff on the table,” explained Mark Rolston, “and he just said, ‘have at it guys.’ And he left for four or five hours and we had a ball.”

Cameron went on to explain the influences on his future soldiers and the vibe he tried to get across: “The sense of the dramatic relationships from these 1940’s, 1950’s war films, which sort of portrayed the common soldier, was more what I was looking for. The dialogue itself, the idiom, is pretty much Vietnam-era. It’s the most contemporary American combat ‘warspeak’ that I had access to. I studied how soldiers talked in Vietnam, and I took certain specific bits of terminology, and a general sense of how they express themselves, and I used that for the dialogue, to try and make it seem like a realistic sort of military expedition, as opposed to a high-tech, futuristic one. I wanted to create more of a sense of realism rather than that of an interesting future.”

James summarised his Colonial Marines in a court document (concerning litigation over Avatar) as thus: “Aliens contained the idea of a gritty future military that seemed a logical extension of a contemporary military. Prior to Aliens, military characters in science-fiction movies were either the white-armoured drones of Star Wars or they were clad in skin-tight spandex and brandishing laser pistols, as in Star Trek and Forbidden Planet. Aliens created the sub-genre of military sci-fi, the so-called ‘grunts in space’ approach, in which the characters were common Marine corps ‘groundpounders’ (grunts), who talked like war-weary Vietnam or WWII-era fighters, had aged and worn camouflaged battle armour, and carried bullet-firing automatic weapons [rather than lasers.]”

He concluded that, “The look and feel of the military characters in Avatar has its roots in my own work, the film Aliens.”

Casting the Colonial Marines was a rather uneventful affair, save for the hiring and firing of James Remar. “We had shot two weeks of the movie [with Remar] before [Biehn] arrived,” said fellow Colonial Marine Ricco Ross at a cast reunion, “and  James Remar had a different sort of Hicks, and because he was the first one [in the role] the cast had sort of gotten used to each other, we had that camaraderie thing going on, and then all of a sudden [Remar] was out, and here comes this newcomer, and I was like, ‘damn, just like that, huh?’ And then Mike came in there and Mike was playing his thing, and his thing went the other way with it, and I went, ‘okay, okay,’ and then the next thing you know it was on and cracking and I was like, ‘Alright, I’m sold, I’m sold.”

Cpl. Dwayne Hicks -- Michael Biehn (replacing James Remar)

Cpl. Dwayne Hicks — Michael Biehn (replacing James Remar)

In an 1986 issue of Galactic Journal magazine, Cameron cited Remar’s departure as being due to creative differences, and according to the article he “refused to elaborate” further on the issue. As it turned out, Cameron was keeping quiet for the sake of Remar’s privacy. “I was initially cast as Corporal Hicks,” confessed Remar, who continued to appear in film and recently on TV as Harry Morgan in Showtime’s Dexter, “and I was fired after a couple weeks of filming because I got busted for possession of drugs, and Michael Biehn replaced me.”

Dereliction of Duty: In a 2010 interview with player.fm, Remar explained: “I had a bit of a row with the director of Uncommon Valour, and I’d spent a few days, too many days, up partying, and I was fired and replaced by Patrick Swayze. You know, everyone wanted to hire me. And as soon as I got fired from Aliens I landed back in the United States and they gave me a job in Band of the Hand. So I wasn’t paying attention, you know? I wasn’t paying attention to my problem at all … I wasn’t focused and I fucked it up.”

Remar’s drug problem did more than lose him his job and perspective; it made him a pariah in the eyes of the man who kickstarted his career. “Walter Hill put me on the map,” he said, “and getting fired from Aliens alienated me from him for twelve years. Walter didn’t hire me again for twelve years. And I know why: because I made him look bad. Y’know, it was fucked up. I was sober almost eight years and he put me in Wild Bill, and it was such a treat man, to be able to work with him again. It felt like coming home.”

“I had a terrible drug problem, but I got through it,” Remar concluded. “I had a great career and personal life, and messed it up with a terrible drug habit.”

When the production let go of Remar, Gale Anne Hurd called up Biehn with one question: “is your passport in order?” Biehn, who had portrayed the elegiac and feral resistance fighter, Kyle Reese, in Cameron’s previous movie The Terminator, snapped up the opportunity to play Hicks: “I was there, man. There wasn’t a question in the world.”

Funnily enough, when Biehn first read the script months before being cast, he initially 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. [Hudson] was a guy who starts out very, very confident and braggadocious. He was a very funny character and had a lot of funny lines. Then he gets into battle and starts wimping out. Maybe he’s a coward and has to fight that within him – whether he’s a coward or not. Then towards the end of the movie he goes out with a blaze of glory. There was a real up-and-down quality to the character with a lot of conflict.”

The Hudson role went to fellow Terminator actor Bill Paxton and Biehn eventually caught up with the part of Hicks. According to Biehn, at first Hicks’ character was too close to the hotwired state of mind as Kyle Reese (probably the direction that Remar played the character) and so the actor and director modified the character until both were happy. “Hicks is a kind of Rock of Gibraltar,” says Biehn, “and everybody looks up to him.”

“He’s just a steady hand, he’s the calming effect on the group. There are many different personalities that are all sort of clashed, and this is a guy who’s been through it a few times … he has been around a while, and he takes things very slowly, and listens to people, and he’s the one you can always count on in a bad situation. He’ll be the one who doesn’t lose his head; the quintessential hero.”

“I think Hicks is one of the smarter characters,” Biehn continued, “because he’ll take a step backward before he takes a step forward. He realises early on that he’s going to need -they’re all going to need- [Ripley’s] experience and expertise. It’s just a situation where you have a woman who’s very strong and dependable. Hicks realises that and respects her for it.”

Pvt. Hudson — Bill Paxton

“[Aliens] is about being pushed to the limit,” explained Cameron, “and finding the resources to act … Hudson’s a perfect example. He’s the character who seems to be the coward of the group – always whining and complaining, but, in one last burst, he gets it together.”

“[Hudson] was the most relatable to audiences because he was deathly afraid, as most of us would be,” Bill Paxton said of his character. “I mean, for every Ripley or Hicks, there are a million Hudsons.”

“I figured he was a guy who had been raised by his mother for some reason,” Paxton continued. “He wanted to be a pilot, but really cut it, IQ-wise or test-wise. He’s not good under a test situation. So, he ended up joining the Marines, but he wanted to be in it just for a while.”

In the film, Hudson complains that he was only a matter of weeks from being out – the reason, according to Vasquez actor Jenette Goldstein, that he was so overly rattled by the film’s events: “Hudson was supposed to get out of the marines in four weeks,” Goldstein said, “which is what made him flip.” That also explains the joke  stencilled on the back of Hudson’s armour, which is tailored by actor Bill Paxton to read: “Contents under pressure. Do not puncture.”

Paxton was a long-time friend of James Cameron. The two had worked together building movie sets for Roger Corman before Cameron took to directing, and Paxton appeared as a blue-haired punk in the opening of The Terminator, and would later take roles in future Cameron movies such as True Lies and Titanic.

Concerning his audition for the role of Hudson, Paxton explained: “I was renting a little place in Twickenham above a sweet shop, and remember running down the stairs, looking through the window to see the time and going, ‘Shit, shit, shit, I’ve overslept!’ I had to take a train, then a bus, then jog the last mile to Pinewood.”

For the audition, Paxton continues, “Jim had given me a cardboard mailing tube and said, ‘Here’s your plasma pulse rifle.’ Then he stood on chairs, finding angles to film me running around, yelling. I came out feeling pretty bad. I thought I’d been way over the top.”

The feeling that he was playing the character more energetically than required followed Paxton into the first days of shooting: “The first thing I shot was in the cooling towers set, when Ricco [Pvt. Frost] says, ‘It’s hotter than hell in here,’ and I go, ‘Yeah, but it’s dry heat, man!’ And at the time I was thinking, ‘This character’s going to wear out his welcome fast. The audience is going to want to feed him to the monsters.’ But Jim was using me in a brilliant way. He’s like a pressure-release valve – Hudson gives you a breather.”

“Here’s something most people don’t know: I was actually in negotiations to do Police Academy 2. I was offered more money than I had ever seen, and I was ready to take it, but I had auditioned for Aliens in England just before the 4th of July weekend.

When I came back from that trip and then I didn’t hear from Jim, that’s why about a month, five or six weeks after Weird Science came out, I got this offer to do Police Academy 2 and I’d already given up on doing Aliens.

So my agent at the time, Hildy Gottlieb, was trying to negotiate a deal with me for Police Academy 2, but what held up my deal was that they wanted to tie me up for a Police Academy 3, if there was such an animal. So that left my deal kind of hanging in the air, and that’s when I got a call from Hildy at the 11th hour, who says, “You’re gonna be getting a call in about 10 minutes from Jim Cameron, who’s calling you from London, and he wants to offer you the part of Hudson.” And I’m just like, “Oh my God! But what about Police Academy 2?” She said, “Don’t worry. Their own greed has knocked them out.” And I ended up doing Aliens for half of what I would’ve made on Police Academy 2, but one thing I learned very early on is that you take the jobs that you can get with the good directors.”
~ Bill Paxton, AVClub interview, 2012.

Hudson’s gung-ho swagger and paper-thin courage, as well as his quotable and panic-stricken dialogue, endeared him to many viewers, just as Cameron and Paxton had hoped (though some do find the character to be ingratiating, just as some are unable to bare Alien‘s equally tear-stricken Lambert.) Michael Biehn told Empire magazine in 2009: “[Bill] was so great in that movie. That excitable guy. I still hear video games and stuff … I’ll be walking by my son’s room and hear quotes from Bill’s dialogue.”

Pvt. Vasquez — Jenette Goldstein

“Vasquez is younger than the rest,” reads the Aliens screenplay, “and her combat primer was the street in a Los Angeles barrio. She is tough even by the standards of this group. Hard-muscled. Eyes cunning and mean.” Along with Pvt. Drake, she is a juvenile hall recruitee.

“I had seen Alien,” Jenette Goldstein told Starlog magazine, “but I had no idea this was a sequel. It had been so long ago, it didn’t even occur to me. I thought it was about actual aliens, you know, immigrants to a country … I actually came in wearing high heels and lots of makeup, and I had waist-length hair.” Goldstein secured the role after preparing more thoroughly in a second audition. Her alien-immigrants goof was referenced in the film, where Hudson mocks her aboard the Sulaco, “she thought they said illegal aliens and signed up!”

“Vasquez and Hudson are paired together throughout the film as each other’s foil,” Goldstein observes. “He says everything, whether it’s important not to, and she says absolutely nothing unless it’s important. That was Vasquez’s attitude: she had no one or nothing, so she was the logical choice for [taking] point. It made perfect sense to the commander. Who would you put in that suicidal position? Someone who couldn’t care less, and whether it’s a man or a woman doesn’t really matter.”

“Wierzbowski, Drake, and Vasquez are fieldstripping light weapons with precise movements,” the script reads as the Marines prepare to begin their mission. It goes on: “Vasquez likes the feel of the guns, the weight, the authority.” Goldstein explains, “I wanted Vasquez to seem like she only really lived when she was carrying a gun. It became part of her, and everything clicked into being. Then again, that gun was so heavy, there was only a certain way you could walk with it.”

“Vasquez is gun-toting because she’s a soldier,” she continues. “That’s her job. Ripley is forced to carry a gun. It’s not the weapons, but the human spirit. At the end, the weapons are shown to be ineffective. It was showing how ill-prepared the army was, and how all the bluster counted for nothing.”

For her character’s explosive death scene in the colony vents, Goldstein explained: “I had to get all slimed up. I think Vasquez is just so angry that it has finally got to her. Rather than being scared, she’s pissed off she’s about to die.”

Pvt. Drake — Mark Rolston

Drake awakens from his cryo-sleep aboard the Sulaco “looking surly,” according to the script. “He’s young,” it goes on, “but street-tough. Nasty scar curling his lip into a sneer.” With Vasquez, he forms a close platonic duo with a shared history. “[Vasquez] slaps Drake’s open palm and clenches it into a greeting which is part contest. It gets rougher. Painful. Until she cuffs him hard and they break with vicious laughter. Dobermans playing. Conscripted from juvenile prison, the two of them were trained to operate the formidable ‘smart-guns’. That is part of their bond.”

“Every young man’s favourite thing to do is to get up and go play with guns,” said Rolston of the role, “that’s kinda what it was – we just strap on and go on some sort of a sojourn, a journey.”

“Actors have to tell white lies at times,” he told Empire magazine,  jocularly admitting to having blagged his way into the role of Drake: “I had just done Revolution, and I made it sound as if I had the next-best role to Pacino!” In 2012, Rolston again said, “I told the biggest lie about my role in Revolution, which sparked an interest in Gale Anne Hurd because she thought I was some hot shit. But no, really, I had the smallest role in that … and got the part [of Drake.]” He added, “so moral of the story is, whenever you can – lie.”

Rolston remembered walking into Cameron’s office for a meeting about the part and seeing the walls plastered with conceptual images and designs for the movie. “I think all of us knew as soon as we read the script, Cameron’s script, I mean talk about a page-turner, honestly, to read it you would rip right through it. And I remember in my last meeting with Gale and Jim I was in his office and there was artwork, you know, his shot list, in pictures that he drew -he’s an amazing artist- plastered around the room. It was extraordinary. So that gave me the idea that I was in some really quite unique.”

Concerning Cameron, Rolston appraised him, saying, “he’s the most detailed and exacting person. A lot of the [bad] reputation is bogus, I mean look, he does these massive films where there’s a lot at stake and the truth is James Cameron knows every single job on the set, except for mine. He’s not an actor. But he does know everyone’s jobs and if you’re not doing it correctly then he doesn’t suffer fools, so I think all the rumours about him being a megalomaniacal director is sort of unfounded,” (Michael Biehn expressed the same sentiments about Cameron, almost verbatim.)

Drake is one of the last casualties within the colony hive. Pushing back towards the APC, Vasquez unloads her smart-gun into a nearby Alien, “blowing up the thing’s thorax. A spray of bright yellow acid slashes across Drake’s face and chest, eating through him like a hot knife through butter. He drops in boiling smoke, reflexively triggering his flamethrower…”

Drake’s death: a reminder of the lethality of getting too close to an Alien under attack.

 

VASQUEZ: Drake! He’s down!
HICKS: He’s gone! Forget it, he’s gone!
VASQUEZ: (irrational) No… no he’s not, he’s–

According to Rolston, his character’s death scene was one of the first he shot for the film. “It was my introduction to action filmmaking,” he said. “I mean talk about being thrown in the deep end. Four hours in make-up and then having chemicals put all over you that bubbled and fizzed. It was pretty amazing.”

However, neither his death scene nor the attack in the hive was the high point of the shoot: “I think the most amazing thing I saw was when the Queen Alien was introduced. I was on set that day and there were literally eighteen guys with pullys -I mean puppetry, she was a puppet! Massive puppetry!- and to see that be created … that was amazing to me to see simple puppetry transformed into a monster.”

Pvt. Frost -- Ricco Ross

Pvt. Frost — Ricco Ross

Ricco Ross passed on the opportunity to work with Stanley Kubrick on Full Metal Jacket in order to join Aliens. “I’d just gotten cast in Full Metal Jacket, which overlapped Aliens by about a week,” he told Empire magazine. “Jim Cameron said that if Stanley Kubrick released me on time I could start in Aliens a week late, but Kubrick was known for going over schedule and wouldn’t let me go. I had to make a decision. It was hard! Kubrick wouldn’t let anyone read Full Metal Jacket. You just got pages. So being able to read Aliens, I just got a feeling that it was the right choice.” Having been told to customise their armour by Cameron, Ross inscribed the name ‘Heath’ (short for ‘Heather’) on his armour plate, encased in a love heart.

Frost meets his end as collateral damage – torched by Dietrich after she is pulled into the air by an Alien. The immolated Frost runs, tumbles over a catwalk railing, and plummets to his death. “I had a conversation with James when I first read the script,” Ross told onemetal.com, and said: ‘Y’know, I’m taken out pretty fast here.’ He said ‘That is the idea, we’re trying to make this a female vehicle, and we can’t have some big Marine hanging around when the action gets crazy, as you wouldn’t be picking your nose – you’d be out there doing it.’ He wanted to create a situation where there was nobody left, and [Ripley] has to do it, even though she’s afraid. She has to conquer that fear and take on the task.”

“One of the strong points of Aliens,” Ross continued, “was that the action didn’t start for a while, and so it gave the audience a chance to become attached to the different characters. Then, when Frost -or whoever- got taken out, you felt for that guy. You’d think, ‘oh no, not already.’ So I think that as an actor I would have liked to have been in it longer, but in terms of the total project it was a good thing.”

Frost’s death was performed by stunt double Clive Curtis. “I could foresee it would look spectacular,” he said of the stunt. “Plus, the stunt made sense: it was not a stunt for a stunts sake. I thought it emotionally charged … I vaguely remember being set alight then having to find my way (acting all the time) completely blinded by flames (and remembering not to breathe) for about fifteen feet before hitting the railing, which stood about three-four feet in height, before falling approximately eight feet, to be put out by my colleagues.”

Sgt. Apone — Al Matthews.

“Apone is stocky, grizzled, with peregrine eyes,” describes the screenplay. “He runs it loose and fair, but only because he knows his people are the best.” The Apone of the movie is a little more fiery and harried by his troops than he is in the script, and was portrayed by Vietnam veteran, Al Matthews. Apone’s fate is to be abducted within the Atmosphere Processor and cocooned. Likely, he is quickly impregnated but killed by the exploding reactor before the Alien within him can erupt.

Matthews talked to Alien Experience about his casting and time on set: “I was shooting a film called (in Europe) The American Way, in the States it’s called Riders of the Storm with Dennis Hopper. James Cameron asked to see me, he read my CV, and that was that. I asked James how long did it take him to make up his mind, he said ‘thirty seconds.'”

Matthews’ Marine experience proved handy not only for himself but the other actors too: “I was the only person in the movie not pretending to be a Marine, in fact I taught the other actors how to look and act. Mr. Cameron was pleased with my input … I did not have to act, I was just my normal self. Al Matthews and Sgt. Al Apone (bet you didn’t know his first name was Al, we did that as a joke) are the same person.”  Matthews told Empire magazine: “Jim asked me to train them, and the main thing I had to teach those guys was never point a weapon at somebody, and never walk around with your finger on the trigger.” Unfortunately, James Remar, during his stint, didn’t quite pay attention, and blew a hole in Frank Oz’s Little Shop of Horrors set.

Of his overall experience, Matthews said, “James Cameron is one of the finest directors I have ever had the pleasure of working for. A good director casts actors to help them tell their story, a great director does the same thing, but with a slight difference, a great director bothers to ask his actors their opinions. James Cameron is a great director, he let me do my thing, he placed his trust in me. I am very proud of that fact.”

Like Kubrick with R. Lee Ermey on Full Metal Jacket, Cameron gave Matthews some free reign over his material. “I met Al Matthews,” explained Daniel Kash, who played dropship co-pilot, Spunkmeyer, “and he was a really scary guy and he’d been in Vietnam … He was living in England because he hated America. All that stuff he did was all improvised.”

“I liked Alien,” Matthews continued, “it was a great film, but I loved Aliens, not just because I was in it, but because of the action. That movie scares the shit out of me, and I was in it! God! I could not wait to touch the little creep that popped out of that girl’s chest. I first saw it undressed, but when Stan and his boys had dressed that damn thing, I was really ready to kick ass, film or not! Sorry, it still gives me the creeps to think about it. I think the Aliens ticket has been overworked, no more, it’s downhill from here.”

“My fondest memory on Aliens was this: We were trying to get my whole squad into the APC as quickly as possible. Man, we must have done ten takes, on the very last take, we got it right. Once we were all in, in a military manner, we had the take in the can. Suddenly the door opened and I shouted, ‘What the fuck is going on?’ I was tired and I knew the opening of the door would screw the sound and we would have to go again. I turned towards the door with smoke coming from my nostrils. There was Miss Weaver holding the biggest birthday cake I had ever seen in my life, and wearing the warmest smile ever! The whole cast and crew knew it was my birthday, and they were all in on it. I was so embarrassed, I broke down and cried. There was Sgt. Apone, bawling like a baby.”
~ Al Matthews, Alien Experience interview, 2006.

William Hope played newbie Lt. Gorman, whose incompetence nigh-on costs the Marines their lives inside the Atmosphere Processor, but who sacrifices himself in a failed attempt to save Vasquez within the colony ducts. Though subject to a heroic end, he still dies with “asshole” ringing in his ears.

Other Marines in smaller roles include Cpl. Ferro, the dropship pilot played by Colette Hiller; Pvt. Spunkmeyer, the co-pilot played by Daniel Kash; Cpl. Dietrich, a medic Marine played by Cynthia Scott; Pvt. Crowe, who is killed by explosives within the Alien nest and was played by Tip Tipping; and Wierzbowski, possibly abducted or mangled off-screen and played by Trevor Steedman. Wierzbowski also has the honour of being the subject of his own fan-site.

Ferro (Fly the Friendly Skies) and Spunkmeyer. “I went in,” said Daniel Kash, “for Hudson’s role, and I said to these two assistants, ‘Guys, tell whoever wrote this to re-write it – I think it’s silly.’ And then I got a re-call and went back, and realised that the two assistants I was pushing around were James Cameron and Gale Ann Hurd! And 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.” The trade seemed to have been worth it: “Aliens is an amazing thing in my pocket, a landmark thing. On my gravestone it’ll say, ‘Well, his career wasn’t that great, but he did Aliens.'”

When it came to portraying the Marines, Cameron put his actors through a boot camp experience. Captain Dale Dye, a decorated military vet and go-to man for the military in movies, was yet to found Warriors, Inc., a boot camp organisation tooled to train actors for military roles. This trend began with Dye’s work on Oliver Stone’s Platoon, which began filming almost six months after full production began on Aliens. With no dedicated service for roughing his actors into shape, Cameron relied on “special forces guys” according to actor Mark Rolston, who portrayed Drake. Cameron elaborated: “we had them out humping out the woods behind Pinewood studios yelling cadences and carrying rifles and that sort of thing.”

The boot camp regime helped the actors, according to Jenette Goldstein: “We began to feel like we were together in a unit.” The only actors not participating in the military workouts were Michael Biehn (since he replaced James Remar further into the shoot), Sigourney Weaver, and Paul Reiser (Burke). “It’s good, I think,” said Weaver of her non-participation in the drills, “[because] Ripley isn’t one of them and there’s a sort of distrust on both sides.”

Cameron went beyond drilling the Marines, and appealed to their bellies as well. “Cameron would rent a whole restaurant,” revealed Kash, “and spend a lot of money making us have a great time. I guess that was his way of making the atmosphere like he thought it should be. Maybe part of it was making us bond as a unit.”

Ferro’s off-screen encounter with a saboteur Alien, about to put the ‘drop’ into ‘dropship’. “I’ve met some incredible people through Aliens,” Colete Hiller told Empire magazine. I just wonder, ‘Who are these people who know my lines better than I do?’ Her strongest memory of the shoot is a diva moment in protest at having to shave her head: “They told me, ‘It’s okay, look at Jenette!’ and I just bawled… I was going to get married shortly afterwards so I made them buy me a long, blonde wig! I don’t know what came over me! I never actually wore it.”

What set Cameron’s Marines apart from the other military movies of the time was his portrayal of female soldiers. Though female pilots like Ferro were not entirely uncommon, co-ed deployment and women taking point -the most dangerous position in the patrol- were anomalous, if they occurred within the US Army at all. “In a science fictional sense, there’s something in this film that I haven’t seen done,” Cameron said. “It’s an amalgam of SF with another tried-and -true movie genre, the war film about the small, close-knit group of men under pressure. In our case, it’s men and women, which is an opportunity you can only do in science fiction because the co-ed combat force hasn’t happened yet.”

Male and female soldiers had, at the time, only recently been trained together, an ‘experiment’ that began in 1976/7 but came to an end by 1982. The website army.mil notes that: “women in the Army had opportunities equal to men to receive defensive weapons training, but could not be assigned to direct combat positions.” In 2010, women in the US military were granted the opportunity to work aboard submarines. In 2012, the US military eased restrictions on the roles that women can fulfill, opening up around 2,000 positions, or 3% more jobs for female officers.

Taking the complete equality ethos further, Cameron had even scripted a scene where the men and women of the Colonial Marines shower together. This went unfilmed, but a scene paralleling it appeared, curiously enough, in Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers.

The shower scene was scripted thusly:

High pressure water jets and a blast of hot air when you step out… a drive-through car wash for people. Through the swirling steam Hudson, Vasquez and Ferro are watching Ripley dry off.
VASQUEZ: Who’s the fresh meat again?
FERRO: She’s supposed to be some kind of consultant. She saw an alien once.
HUDSON: Whoah, no shit? I’m impressed.
APONE: Let’s go, let’s go! Cycle through!

The scene was not filmed apparently due to the actresses being unwilling to pose nude for the film; another reason may be that building a shower room set was economically unfeasible for the carefully budgeted film, which could not even extend to afford a series of cryo-tubes (mirrors created the illusion.) The dialogue was simply shuffled into the briefing scene prior to the beginning of their drop to LV-426.

Cameron’s rag-tag Colonial Marines came under scrutiny in some corners,  despite the fact that they were not meant to be representative of real-life Marines, but late Vietnam-era draftees of the sort later seen in Platoon. Still, the criticism stuck with Cameron, who later said, “My youngest brother John David Cameron fought in Desert Storm as a U.S. Marine. Thankfully he returned in one piece, but my anxiety over his wellbeing during the US liberation of Kuwait, in which he saw active combat (his unit re-took the airport in Kuwait City), left an indelible impression. I wanted to tell the story of a Marine. The values of the Marine Corps, as I had learned them from my younger brother, greatly impressed me, especially their motto of ‘adapt, improvise and overcome.’ While I had used Marines in Aliens, I had not captured the spirit of Marines, and I wanted to do it better.” This led Cameron to make the protagonist of Avatar a well-meaning Marine who defies the genocidal company and P.M.C. enemy of the film.

When signing a petition to push Gearbox into including female multiplayer characters in their Aliens: Colonial Marines game, Cynthia Scott said “At that time [of filming] James Cameron stated that it was essential to his vision to include a ‘unisex’ fighting force of the future, and this was emphasized by the crucial plot points women contributed in Aliens and subsequent films.”

Ricco Ross, in his support for multiplayer females, explained that, “Aliens was a ground-breaking movie largely because of the females in it … another reason for the film’s success was its multi-racial casting, that went beyond tokenism … There was a scene Jim had in the original script that was never shot because of budget constraints, where the Marines (nude men & women) showered together in the same shower room. Black, white, brown, male, female. That was a subtle yet very strong theme that will be lost with the absence of a multi-racial, sex, class united front.”

“We were Marines,” Ross concluded, “united, fighting against creatures from another planet.”

“Bug Stompers — We Endanger Species.”

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The Eighth Passenger

aliens_005

“[The Alien] is elegant, fast and terrible. It exists to destroy—and destroys to exist. Once seen it will never be forgotten. It will remain with people who have seen it, perhaps in their dreams or nightmares, for a long, long time. Perhaps for all time.”
~ HR Giger, Mediascene, 1979.

Disappointed by the performance of his debut feature film, 1974’s Dark Star, writer Dan O’Bannon decided to make another attempt at the stuck-in-space-story, but this time with a major difference. He would, essentially, make the “same movie”, replete with a used universe aesthetic and weary, bickering crewmembers, but he would present it “in a completely different light.” This new story, tentatively titled Star Beast before becoming known as Alien, would not be a comedy, but a horror, and the beach ball alien nuisance featured in Dark Star would be replaced by a biomechanoid terror created by Swiss artist HR Giger.

At first O’Bannon imagined that the film’s creature would be an unseen, malevolent psychic force, much like the antagonist of Forbidden Planet. “There was my itch to do an alien in a movie that looked real,” said O’Bannon. “I think I went through and exhausted every possible type of science-fiction threat there is. I considered them picking up an alien disease, I considered a non-physical, kind of spiritual alien that would possess people…”

Ultimately, the developing Alien project was resigned to the desk drawer. For now. In the meantime O’Bannon left the United States for Europe to join the pre-production team on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune, a team which included English artist Chris Foss, French comic book maestro Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, and burgeoning Swiss artist HR Giger.

“The whole thing really started in Salvadore Dali’s house,” Giger revealed to Starlog magazine in ’79. “I have a friend in Spain [American painter Bob Venosa, who lived in Cadaqués] who is often in Dali’s house, and he brought some of my work to him… Jodorowsky came to Spain to ask Dali to play the Emperor in his film of Dune. So Dali showed him my work and Jodorowsky was impressed enough and thought I could do something for his film.” Giger travelled to Dali’s to meet the director, but missed him. “[But] I was able to meet Salvadore Dali,” Giger said. “He was very nice.” Giger later caught up with Jodorowsky in Paris, where the artist was formally asked to join Dune’s concept team, and was tasked with creating the desolate world of Harkonnen.

Giger had turned his hand at film design before for Swiss Made 2069 (1968), by F.M. Murer, a film about an alien that comes to Earth and records its experiences. “The story,” Giger explained, “somewhat in the vein of Orwell’s 1984, is very complex. It is in fact the combination of seven different stories, none of which are told entirely!”

“Jodorowsky found these very good and fantastically original sci-fi artists to design all of the sets and costumes and spaceships and everything,” O’Bannon said of the Dune conceptual period. “It was an amazing achievement. It was like being in an art museum.” But it was Giger’s work that stunned O’Bannon the most. “His visionary paintings and sculptures stunned me with their originality,” he said. “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.”

Why did Jodorowsky’s Dune fall apart? Jodorowsky himself blamed American companies: “[Dune] had to be an international release, nothing less than 2,000 theatres in the US. American managers refused because Hollywood did not want to see a French production on the same level as theirs.” Dune and Alien conceptual artist Chris Foss elaborated: “The company financing the Dune project was called Camera One. The producer and, I think, Jodorowsky went to Los Angeles shortly before Christmas of 1975 with the hope of getting American interest in the film and setting up a co-production deal. I believe there was a disagreement in Los Angeles about how the film should be made. Bearing in mind how large the budget had by then become, the French company was unable -or perhaps unwilling- to finance it totally on its own.” With the film adaptation of Dune scuppered (for now), O’Bannon, Foss, Moebius, and Giger went their separate ways (… for now.)

O’Bannon had stopped over in America when he heard that Dune fell apart back in Europe, and he ended up staying with friend and eventual Alien executive producer, Ron Shusett. “There I was on his sofa,” O’Bannon told Fantastic Films, “and I didn’t have any prospects at all. It was a terrible situation. I couldn’t stay on his sofa indefinitely so I hauled myself up out of my black depression and was going to do something – I’m going to write a script.”

With Giger’s imagery fresh in his mind, O’Bannon “ended up writing a script about a Giger monster … when I got back to America I was still haunted by his work. It was on my mind and when we sat down to do Alien I ended up visualising the thing as I was writing it … I found myself visualizing it as a Giger painting.”

When it came to designing Alien, O’Bannon used Jodorowsky’s gathering-of-artists technique as a template: “[Fox] put me on a salary to go in and design the whole movie. So I hired Ron Cobb and I asked for Chris Foss who was in England and they actually hired him and flew him over.” Recruiting Giger was, initially, relatively simple. “In August of ’77, I got a call from O’Bannon,” Giger told Starlog. “He asked if I would like to do some work for a film called Alien. I said, ‘yes, why not.'”

Dan’s unique race: In the original screenplay the Alien is not an implied bioweapon but rather a member of a long extinct race who copulate within pyramid structures. Since the planetoid’s extinct alien inhabitants were capable of architecture and religion, the Alien, as initially conceived, was not to be an entirely hostile creature. As it ages, O’Bannon explained, the Alien “becomes more and more harmless. Finally, its blood-lust gone, the Alien becomes a mild, intelligent creature, capable of art and architecture, which lives a full, scholarly life of 200 years.” To add to the concept of the Alien becoming more intelligent and emotionally content as it matures, O’Bannon excused the Alien’s blood-thirst aboard the Nostromo as a sort of juvenile panic that, given the right environment, may have passed: “It’s never been subject to its own culture, it’s never been subject to anything except a few hours in the hold of the ship. Quite literally, it doesn’t have an education. The Alien is not only savage, it is also ignorant.”

The adult Alien was described to Giger, in a pre-production letter from O’Bannon, as being “very mobile, strong, and capable of tearing a man to pieces. It feeds on human flesh. This creature should be a profane abomination. Our producers have suggested that something resembling an over-sized, deformed baby might be sufficiently loathsome. In any event, we wish you to feel free to create your own design.” Giger began his first concepts for the creature in August/September, 1977, but he wasn’t the only artist to try his hand at designing the Alien. Ron Cobb, who had designed Dark Star‘s vessel and who had drawn the sketches provided in O’Bannon’s script (as well as some of Star Wars‘ Cantina aliens), also made a stab at the creature.

An Alien design by Ron Cobb

Though O’Bannon loved Cobb’s drawings, they were lacking what only Giger was able to provide: a tangible nightmarish quality. “I’m afraid Ron Cobb’s ego was sorely wounded when he didn’t get to do the monster,” O’Bannon told Cinefex in ’79. “He was endlessly frustrated because he could design aliens without number and they were all convincing and all unique and all startling to look at. The only problem was, he’s a rationalist. I noticed this when we first started designing the picture. All these different things were coming out so well that I decided to have him take a crack at the derelict spaceship. But when I asked him to come up with an irrational shape he got very disturbed. He couldn’t handle that. He kept coming up with convincing technology for a flying saucer or some other kind of UFO. And when it came to the Alien, he had the same problem. His designs just weren’t as bizarre, or as bubbling up from the subconscious as the stuff Giger was doing. Cobb’s monsters all looked like they could come out of a zoo—Giger’s looked like something out of a bad dream.”

Cobb however, in addition to designing the Nostromo exterior and interior, did contribute to the Alien in one fundamental way. Stumped at why the crew of his ship couldn’t simply shoot the Alien to death, and considering the idea of a bulletproof creature to be “the biggest gest-groaner of all time,” O’Bannon was stuck until Cobb made a key suggestion: “Ron Cobb gave continual input to the film right from the very start,” said O’Bannon. “He gave us one of the major plot elements: the monster has an incredibly corrosive bloodstream; one of the reasons the monster can’t be cut up or fired at is because its blood would eat right through the ship. That was Ron’s idea and I want everyone to know it … I wanted the thing to be, in every respect, a natural animal, which means yes, if you shoot it, it’ll die.”

Dan O’Bannon on Ron Cobb’s essential input: “What really bothered me about the whole idea of this thing running around on the ship was, why they didn’t just kill it? Why didn’t they spear the goddamn thing, or shoot it with some kind of gun that wouldn’t go right through it and penetrate the hull? Or why couldn’t they get a bunch of long pointed shafts and drive it out the airlock? I mentioned that to Ron Cobb, and he said, ‘Why not give it extremely corrosive blood that would eat through the hull?’ And I said, ‘Well, that doesn’t make much sense; but it would certainly make it very, very difficult for them to deal with it on board the ship’ – so I put it in.”

The inclusion of acid blood that could destroy the ship’s hull would lend the creature a whole new lethal dimension. Not only could the crew not kill it, but they would have to avoid injuring it also, (in one unfilmed scene, the Alien loses an appendage in a closing airlock door, which compromises the hull. Decompression is averted, but still affects the crew, which is why Ripley suffers an apparently spontaneous nosebleed as she confronts Ash.)

Even Cobb wasn’t the only one to tackle the creature’s design. “The first [Alien] concept was done by Dan O’Bannon,” Giger revealed. However, O’Bannon’s drawings were not meant to be a legitimate attempt at nailing the look of the creature, but simply to provide Giger with some creative input. “[O’Bannon] made some sketches and he also sent me some sketches by Ron Cobb. At that moment Ridley wasn’t involved. Later on, when Ridley became the director, we worked very closely together.”

An Alien sketch by Dan O’Bannon

Giger’s sketches of the Alien shape.

Getting Giger to agree to design the Alien was simple enough, but getting the film’s producers and the production company to hire him was the hurdle. “The first guy I started pushing at them to do the monster was Giger,” said O’Bannon. “I had a heck of a time trying to get the producers to hire Giger. They really didn’t want to get involved because he’s not a movie professional, he was some ‘whing-ding’ in Zurich.”

The key to officially hiring Giger was director Ridley Scott. “Ridley saw Giger’s stuff and he was snowed,” explained O’Bannon. Scott threatened to walk from the project if Giger wasn’t brought on, and the producers acquiesced, though it would be a decision that they later praised, with David Giler telling Cinefantastique, “it’s a richly textured film, thanks to HR Giger’s work.”

“My first movie is pretty good actually, called The Duellists. And that was criticized for being too beautiful, and you know, I took that to heart. So the next one was Alien, and that was less beautiful but more impressive and more grungy. I was criticized for a lack of character development. I said, ‘What fucking character development do you need when you’ve got that son of a bitch on board?'”
~ Ridley Scott, Wired interview, 2007.

“I was first introduced to HR Giger’s artwork while in the very early stages of pre-production for Alien,” explained Ridley. “Dan O’Bannon showed me a copy of Giger’s Necronomicon book, and I immediately saw the potential his work had to offer the project. The producers were a bit hesitant in initially committing to his art until they had a director locked up. In this case that wound up being me. 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. Initially, Giger wanted to design the creature from scratch. However, I was so impressed with his Necronom IV and V paintings from the Necronomicon book that I insisted he follow their form. I had never been so sure of anything in my life. They were quite specific to what I envisioned for the film, particularly in the unique manner in which they conveyed both horror and beauty.”

“I’d seen drawings that other people had tried [of the Alien],” Scott said to Fantastic Films magazine in 1979. “They always seemed to be of scaly bodies with claws or huge blobs that would move across the floor. There was no elegance to them, no lethalness. What emerged was a HR Giger-designed humanoid with distinctively biomechanoid tendencies … I mean, really, how many creatures in horror films have actually worked for you? People only accept them because that’s what they’re seeing … When we finally had something acceptable we stood back and looked at him. For better or worse, we were committed to that thing as the beast. He was great on paper, and when Giger put the model together, he looked terrific.”

“When we started,” Giger explained to FamousMonsters magazine, “Ridley said, ‘I haven’t seen any good monsters lately in films.’ I mean, to do a horror or monster movie nowadays we didn’t have many good examples … we decided to choose something from my Necronomicon book.”

Mia Bonzanigo, described as Giger’s “secretary-girlfriend-muse-model” by Cinefantastique, described Giger’s state of mind during production: “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.)

“Sometimes,” Giger said to FamousMonsters, “I couldn’t sleep because I was afraid I wouldn’t be ready with the design by the deadline. I mean, the Alien had to be the star of the film, and if the star is no good the film is lost.” Giger told Cinephage in 1992: “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. It was crazy! I had to be there every day. It was completely stressful … I wanted things to be done well.”

“In the first design for the Alien, he had big black eyes,” Giger told Starlog. “But somebody said he looked too much like a … what do you call it? A Hell’s Angel; all in black with the black goggles…”

“… And then I thought it would be even more frightening if there are no eyes! … Then when the camera comes close, you can only see the holes of the skull. Now that’s really frightening. Because, you see, even without eyes he always knows exactly where his victims are, and he attacks directly, suddenly, unerringly. Like a striking snake.”
Image copyright HR Giger.

At first, Giger was hired only to design the creature, but not to build it. That responsibility would be Roger Dicken’s, who was also to build the facehugger and chestburster. Before the Alien could be built however, they needed to cast somebody in the role of the creature so that the suit could be built to their specifications. At first Ridley considered that the Alien was a female creature, as he “wanted to not only have a strong heroine, but I also wanted to make the creature female as well: two women battling one another would have had a great sexual connotation.”

Ivor Powell explained how the (apparently embarrassing) search for a woman performer was thrust on to him: “The person that put the suit on had to be impossibly tall. We wanted them to be incredibly long-limbed, especially from the waist to the knee, so we started looking at women, and it fell to my job to try and bring in women. 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 and we asked her to crouch down -Ridley had this idea that it would be like a sort of praying mantis, and the way when you crouch down, the knees are impossibly high like a grasshopper- and so we went through all these pre-ambulations of trying to cast women [and] I had to photograph and take Polaroids of all these women in various states of undress, you know, for the Alien.”

“I wanted a very feminine creature,” Scott elaborated further. “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 the eroticism in Giger’s work that had struck me immediately.”

Casting a woman however proved to be painstakingly difficult. “We couldn’t find a female tall enough,” said Scott. They turned to other, more eclectic measures. “I had a guy come into my office who ran around on his hands with his head tucked in and his feet stuck out,” Scott told Cinefex. “He looked like some strange sort of crab. He ran all over the top of my desk, and then hopped off on his hands and scuttled across the floor. It was amazing, but he was limited in what he could do. I even brought in a whole family of contortionists with the idea of taking an adult contortionist and then somehow strapping two very small children, who were also contortionists, on to him in various ways. You can imagine if you did that, and then covered them all with some sort of suit, you’d get a very strange-looking object. It could really scare the shit out of you coming down a corridor.”

While Ridley was trying to find his Alien performer, Roger Dicken was skeptical that one could be found, telling Cinefex, “I went to about three meetings in London and watched these characters rolling around on the floor and quite frankly, I thought it was a bit Mickey Mouse. I mean, it was obvious to me that none of this was going to work, but I had to just sit around wasting time while everybody else figured it out. I sat through a few more meetings while they ran through football players and wrestlers and tall men. Then, for a while, they thought they’d use an ordinary-sized guy so there wouldn’t be any problems with stunts and all. At that point, I even offered to be the monster myself. I figured if I was going to make the suit, I might as well be in it.”

The saving grace was a trip to the pub. “We started with a stunt man who was quite thin,” said Scott, “but in the rubber suit he looked like the Michelin Man. So my casting director [Peter Archer] said, ‘I’ve seen a guy in a pub in Soho who is about seven feet tall, has a tiny head and a tiny skinny body.’ So he brought Bolaji Badejo to the office … I said, ‘Do you want to be in movies?’ and he said, ‘Sure’. And he became the Alien.”

Bolaji Badejo, photographed by Eve Arnold.

Bolaji Badejo, photographed by Eve Arnold.

“As soon as I walked in,” Bolaji told Cinefantastique, “Ridley Scott knew he’d found the right person.” Prior to filming, Badejo was placed on the Nostromo set with a mock-up Alien head and roamed the corridors on film, slithering, pausing, turning, kneeling, and prowling through the corridors to nail an appropriate system of movement for the beast.

“It’s very difficult for an actor to relate to what is, essentially, a beast. They know what it is, and they know there’s a man inside the suit, and they know the odds are they’ll never have to experience anything like it in their real lives … I think you’d probably die before the thing touched you anyway. I mean, you’d have a heart attack, right? You’d turn and see it and last about four seconds before you had a coronary, okay? So with Brett’s death, and subsequent run-ins with the Alien, it was always done with the ultimate feeling of a heart attack. The rush of a heart attack, even if the thing didn’t ever touch them.”
~ Ridley Scott, Fantastic Films, 1979.

“The idea,” says Bolaji, “was that the creature was supposed to be graceful as well as vicious, requiring slow, deliberate movements. But there was some action I had to do pretty quick. I remember having to kick Yaphet Kotto, throw him against the wall, and rush up to him. Veronica Cartwright was really terrified. After I fling Yaphet Kotto back with my tail, I turn to go after her, there’s blood in my mouth, and she was incredible. It wasn’t acting. She was scared.”

Casting a man in the role of the Alien “transformed” the creature, according to Scott, “into a man with a feminine shape – a hermaphrodite,” which suited him fine, since Scott was extrapolating from the natural world and, in the natural world, “there are insects like that.”

Giger told Cinefantastique that the Alien was, to him, “a hybrid [of male and female.]” Giger adds: “But Timothy Leary, in the preface he has written for Giger’s Alien, assumes that the creature is a woman.” The imagery of a female battling a female would later be explored by James Cameron in Aliens.

“In those days, it boiled down to a guy in a rubber suit. The thing that I had always worried about was that the monster wouldn’t be good, because they rarely are. Probably the last great monster was the little girl in the bed in The Exorcist. But all you had to put on her was the voice of Mercedes McCambridge – that one trick was chilling.”
~ Ridley Scott, Cinefantastique, 2008.

Given Giger’s artwork and with Badejo cast, Dicken and Ridley holed up in a flat near the studios and pieced together the Alien from the drawings and designs provided.

The production took a cast of Alien actor Bolaji Badejo and crafted the design around this model. Images courtesy of mauvais-genres.com.

At first they modelled it on Giger’s Necronom IV image, replete with eyes …

… and an elongated, penile head. This slavish obedience to the artwork caused logistical problems. Dicken told Cinefex: “In order to maintain the scale from Giger’s painting, the head had to be almost six feet long. It was just much, much too big to mount on a human form.”

“I was originally engaged to make a big creature,” said Dicken, “but I soon found that Alien was a ‘boardroom’ picture. One man wants a foot that way, another man wants a legs this way or a tail that way, and I can’t work like that.” When Giger saw Dicken’s rendition of his creature, he was aghast: “When I got to England I saw the large version of my large Alien and it looked terrible, like a dinosaur from Disneyland.”

“Dicken didn’t see himself as a slave to Giger’s design,” O’Bannon told Cinefex, “so he made a very free interpretation of it. He had no intention of literally changing this flat piece of artwork into a three-dimensional thing. It was just a design, and he was going to incorporate his own creative input and own unique texture. However, when Giger came over and looked at the way Dicken had sculpted his stuff, he said, ‘No, he doesn’t understand. It’s supposed to be exactly like I painted – this is different.'”

Dicken, exasperated by his lack of creative freedom, sent a letter to the production office, telling them that he couldn’t build the Alien. Giger’s diary revealed his thoughts at the time: “I sit in the garden at the King’s Head with Mia, thinking over what I said when I went to see Dicken. After the disappointing results we got from Dicken, and from a videotape we’ve received from America (where they made an Alien that looked much more like a dinosaur than my sketches) I was sure that it would not be possible to leave the Alien as I saw it to anyone else.”

“Giger fixes himself up to look like Dracula: he wears black leather, he has black hair, black eyes, and pale complexion, he never takes off his coat, his black leather jacket, and he had them set him up, built him a little sculpting studio in the corner of one of the sound stages with a padlock on it where he could work.”
~ Dan O’Bannon, Fantastic Films, 1979.

Giger had already found Dickens attitude to be troubling. During their first meeting, “[Dicken] confesses to me that he finds my creatures repulsive abortions and would much rather make something beautiful.” With this in mind, Giger then took it upon himself to make a sculpt of the Alien. Gordon Carroll expressed surprise: did the artist have the technical skills? “I gulp, and repeat for the umpteenth time that I studied industrial design at the Zurich Art School for four years, and that I’m in no way ashamed to get my hands dirty at work.”

“Sculpting something is much more difficult than painting,” he told Cinefex, “because it has to look good from every angle. It’s even more difficult if the object has to move. My style of painting is a combination of art and technical stuff. I call it biomechanics -kind of a surrealist mixture of biology and technology  and I wanted the Alien to have those same qualities. So I started with a kind of statue of Bolaji, and directly over that I modelled the shape of the Alien in plasticene, with bones and tubes and lots of mechanical things. The head I built up from a real human skull using plasticine and flexible piping … Then I started thinking. That long skull ought to have a function. I thought: I can make a long tongue come out. The end of the tongue even looks like the head of the chestburster. See the muscles and tendons of the jaw? We made them out of stretched and shredded latex contraceptives.”

“Giger then came in,” O’Bannon told Fantastic Films, “and Giger has a feel for grace … So Giger started building up around this graceful figure, his pipes and tubes and running rotting sores and joints and pustules and strange shapes and building it up, and came up with something most bizarre. The plaster shop took a full cast of the actor, full body cast and mounted it standing up on its toes on a wooden base and Giger put it into his studio and he began to build up on it with clay and bones, an air conditioning duct, screws, and human skulls – the face of the thing is a real human skull. He took the skull and jammed it right on the front, riveted it in place, and then started modifying it …”

Despite the Alien taking definite shape, Dicken was still skeptical of the results, saying after the film was released: “Personally I think what they got in the end was disappointing. I think they blew it. I feel that if they left me to it they would have got what they wanted.”

One of the most interesting experiments was the attempt to make the Alien suit translucent. “Ridley also wanted the Alien’s body to be translucent,” Giger told TotalMovie magazine in 2001, “so you could see the black actor, Bolaji Badejo, moving like a spider-thing inside of this half transparent suit.” In his diary, Giger noted that: “One should be able to see the skeleton, the blood circulatory system, the organs etc.”

“[Ridley] said it might be good to use their physical look covered with sort of ‘transparent clothes’ so you could see the skin. But then we had trouble with transferring that concept into reality. It turned out to be a … how you say … a night dream … uh, a nightmare.”
HR Giger, FamousMonsters interview.

A prototype suit was made, but the material was not durable and would tear more easily than the rubber they eventually wound up using.

“They built special ovens for this plastic material,” said Giger, “like hot-melt vinyl, but it was not transparent enough to see through to the person behind it and it didn’t work.” Notably, the creatures in Prometheus are described as having translucent skin, so Giger and Scott’s wishes were fulfilled eventually. Click here for a  separate article on the translucent suit.

The production had also planned to line the inside of the clear carapace with maggots, so that when the Alien leered at the camera the inside of its skull could be seen to crawl with life. Unfortunately, this experiment also failed when the maggots fell asleep under the hot studio lights and became inert.

The translucent suit today.

The translucent suit today.

“At one stage,” Ridley told Cinefex, “I wanted to have a kind of subtle movement in the creature’s brain, so I thought maybe we could fill a pocket in the cranium with white maggots and let them crawl around in there. Even Giger went ‘Eeyuk!’ at that one. But I decided to try it, so I had these huge tins of maggots brought in. We couldn’t make it work, though, because the heat from the lights would put the bloody things to sleep and they’d just lie there like spaghetti. We tried using Spanish fish, which look kind of like wireworms, but they went to sleep too. So finally I had to give up.”

Later, Scott had another thought: “Afterwards, I thought we should have tried sprinkling LSD on sugar, because maggots love sugar. Then maybe we’d have gotten some reaction out of them.”

Building the Alien’s mechanical head was a job given to Italian special-effects guru Carlo Rambaldi. “After Star Wars,” Giger explained to Cinefantastique, “everybody was busy and working on different films, and they just could not find a monster-maker for Alien. Finally, producer Gordon Carroll came up with Carlo Rambaldi, who worked on King Kong, and who brilliantly devised the mechanical apparatus to animate the mouth I had designed for this monster.”

“He did most of his work from Los Angeles,” continues Giger, “but flew over to Shepperton for a week, during which time we worked together in close collaboration. We devised the muscles for the mouth of the monster … Carlo DeMarchis was one of Carlo Rambaldi’s assistants. When I modelled the Alien’s head, he made about six copies in polyester, which he sent to Rambaldi in Los Angeles, so that he could work out the inside mechanism. And when Rambaldi came over to Shepperton for a week, DeMarchis helped him put the parts of the mechanism together.”

Giger also decided, whilst crafting the head, to give the Alien metallic teeth. “I imagined them that way because for me the monster is both human and mechanical – more human than mechanical, though. So giving him steel teeth was a way to convey this two-fold nature.”

Another mechanical head was built by David Watling, who also built the Alien’s tail, but was never used in the film despite being ready to use before Rambaldi’s. According to Ivor Powell, this was because most shots of the Alien were filmed in close-up, and Rambaldi’s cable-operated Alien was far more practical to use than Watling’s radio-controlled head. “If we’d wanted a lot of long-shots,” Powell said, “with freedom from the cables, the Watling head would have been very useful.”

The completed Alien suit was ultimately very restrictive when it came to movement, and several planned scenes showcasing the Alien’s agility were scrapped. For example, Dallas’ death scene was slightly more elaborate, with the Alien vaulting down the ventilation shafts and bouncing off the walls as it lunged to snatch the Nostromo captain. Because the suit was so restrictive, this was cancelled in favour of the more claustrophobic shock of the Alien suddenly appearing before Dallas’ flashlight.

Ridley told Cinefex: “What I wanted was to have really huge air ducts – taller, in fact, than the corridors in the ship, so that when Dallas first sees it there, it’s standing on the roof of this giant wind tunnel, suspended upside down. Then I was going to have it roar down the tunnel toward him, running and jumping full-circle around the walls.”

“That thing [the Alien] was very supple looking,” O’Bannon said to Fantastic Films. “Unfortunately, the real grace was lost because the suit proved to be very awkward to move in. The actor wasn’t able to make many moves in a graceful manner. Ridley was forced to stage around the physical awkwardness of it. But the visual appearance of power and grace was retained, quite striking.”

Brian Johnson concurred: “The first costume was so cumbersome that the actor couldn’t do a great deal of movement in it … [Ridley] did want it to be fairly flexible. He wanted the creature to be able to roll up in a ball and that sort of thing. Well, they couldn’t do any of that in the beginning – the costume was just too rigid.”

Michael Seymour told Cinefex: "We had to be very careful about how we shot it. And we had countless discussions about that, because in the end if you held on it for more than a few seconds it became just another man in a rubber monster suit – and of course, that was unacceptable."

Michael Seymour told Cinefex: “We had to be very careful about how we shot it. And we had countless discussions about that, because in the end if you held on it for more than a few seconds it became just another man in a rubber monster suit – and of course, that was unacceptable.”

Nick Allder also agreed, telling Cinefex: “We were really quite limited with what we could do with the Alien. At one point, the script called for it to run up and down the corridors like a human being; but when we finally got the finished costume, we stayed late one night -at the end of a day’s shooting- just to see what it looked like in the sets and to shoot a few tests. And of course, we found it would look ridiculous to see this thing running around – it would give the whole thing away immediately.”

“For both of them [Bolaji Badejo & stuntman Eddie Powell] getting dressed was a terrible ordeal. It took them at least an hour to get ready. The stuntman, especially, didn’t have a good time in the scene where he is hanging from the ceiling. He couldn’t see a thing, and he had to move by following instructions shouted up to him! These sufferings the stuntman and an actor standing in for Harry Dean Stanton had to endure for the two weeks it took to film the scene.”
~ HR Giger, Cinefantastique, 1979.

To help his performance, as well as his comfort within the restricting rubber suit, Bolaji undertook mime classes to perfect his alien gait. The Alien, apparently blind, was intended to be graceful and precise in its movement. At times it would strike “like a snake”, and at other times it would almost float towards its victims. A “beautiful, biomechanoid insect,” according to Scott, the Alien could be both a warrior and a dancer.

Bolaji as the Alien.

Bolaji as the Alien.

Ridley found his way around the cumbersome logistics of the suit in the editing room, where hours of footage of the Alien was cut away, until in the final movie the creature, even at the finale -and save for one infamous shot- is hardly revealed, only seen through stroboscopic lights. Since Ridley had also planned to keep the Alien hidden and mysterious for the majority of its screen time, sacrificing its mobility and stunts were not as crippling as he might have feared.

Thank **** for the Brits: Alien crew member Dennis Lowe shared this production story at Alien Experience: “Although designed by HR Giger, the Alien costume [or rather, the mechanical head ~ Val] was constructed by Carlo Rambaldi and, because Ridley wanted the jaws to drip with saliva, Rambaldi had plumbed a tube into the outfit for this purpose through which liquid could be pumped. When all was ready Ridley came over to Shepperton one evening to test this creation and immediately spotted a problem since the tube trailed behind the actor like a second tail.

‘Why the blazes is that pipe coming out of his backside?’ said Ridley in words a little less polite, ‘I can’t shoot it like that,’ whereupon Nick Allder stepped in to promise, ‘We’ll fix that tomorrow. Leave it to us.’ Roger went home, dived into the shed and plundered some stuff from his aero modelling days. The next day he fitted a battery pack and radio controlled receiver, wired them to an RC switch and attached a windscreen wiper pump. This was hooked up to a fuel tank, liberated from a model airplane, which has the advantage of continuous flow whatever the angle of operation. The whole contraption was installed inside the horns on the back of the Alien costume and the tank filled with a mixture of glycerin and water.

That evening when Ridley came to review the situation the stuntman, Eddie Powell, was in the costume and suspended on wires from the undercarriage leg of the spaceship. He was lowered, the jaws opened and, with just the right amount of sinister viscosity, the radio controlled alien drool oozed forth exactly on cue. A delighted Ridley was heard to mutter, ‘Thank **** for the Brits.'”

Bolaji wasn’t the only performer portraying the Alien. English animal impersonator, Percy Edwards, provided the Alien’s cries. For the scenes where the Alien descends on Brett and attacks Dallas in the ducts, it was played by veteran stuntman, Eddie Powell, since Badejo was too large to fit inside the ducts set and fell ill when strung up in the harnesses required for the leg room scene. Finally, stuntman Roy Scammell played the creature as it was ejected from the Narcissus.

“One of the most enthralling interviews was with the stunt man Eddie Powell. Name a SF film, indeed any film, made in England between 1946 and 1985 and it is almost certain that Eddie was involved in the stunt work. In fact Eddie was the original Alien in Alien, and not as cited in the credits: that stuntman apparently found the Alien costume too constraining and left the set. Eddie was called to take his place but even Eddie asked for modifications to be made to Giger’s original design so as to ensure better stability and mobility.”
~ Locus Magazine, Autumn 1999.

Powell would return to play an Alien in James Cameron’s first sequel, alongside a troupe of dancers, gymnasts and movie stuntmen.

There was some contention concerning the credit for the Alien’s portrayal, however. Powell, in 1995’s Dalekmania, is quoted as saying: “The other sci-fi film I’m known for is a film that Ridley Scott did – Alien, and I was brought in to play the Alien. The original person pulled out right at the very beginning -didn’t want to know about it- so I took over. I said to the producer three-quarters of the way through the film, ‘I hope I’m going to get the main credit for this.’ I just got it for the action for the Alien, which really upset me.”

An interview with Powell (conducted by Paul Parla) appeared in Movie Collector’s Magazine, issue 508, in 1996. The interview blurb reads: “Finally, Eddie Powell receives his due credit for having played the title role monster in the first Alien film which he, for years, felt cheated out of.” Powell died in August 2000.

“Never before was there a monster with such a long head, no?” said Giger. “I always liked that the Alien was not just a horrible, ugly monstrosity. I liked that it has an elegant, nice, beautiful head. For me, it’s not ugly.”

O’Bannon: “[Giger] wanted clay and basic sculpting materials and he also wanted bones; as many bones as they could lay their hands on. They ended up buying all this stuff, veterinary supplies, medical supplies, and the little sculpting studio turned into a bone yard. He had snake skeletons in perfect preservation, they looked like lace. And junk too, just old smelly bones out of a slaughterhouse and he just started sculpting.”

Giger: “We built up details with plasticene and even some real bones—for the rib cage. And we used tubes and piping and other technical stuff. This is my way, you see: he is half organic and half technical. The Alien’s biomechanical.”

Metallic pipes,grilles and cords make up the Alien’s torso, thighs, legs, arms, etc. Ridley suggested that they add a tail to give some movement to the creature; this added appendage was built by David Watling, with mechanical vertebrae to mimic a real creature’s tail. “The tail of the monster never worked,” Giger later said. “Ridley wanted it to beat the air.” Dan O’Bannon suggested that the Alien have an extra thumb. The creature also sports a suggestive, hermaphroditic vulva-like opening on its groin that reappeared in Aliens but was lost in subsequent sequels.

From Dark Star‘s beach ball to Alien‘s star beast, O’Bannon’s vision of a cinematic Giger monster was finally realised. The creature’s nightmarish quality was so pervasive that it even gave star Sigourney Weaver nightmares. “I dreamt I was visiting some people up in Vermont in a farm house and all of a sudden the Alien came out of the chimney.” Even Aliens star Lance Henriksen was afflicted: “The only [creature] that’s appeared in my dreams is the one from Alien,” he said in 2011. “It’s very, very much attacking our core, a reptilian core. That creature is something like a baby and a tic combined, it’s very frightening. And so, it scares the unconscious core. And that [nightmare] I had scared the hell out of me. I mean it really did.”

“It’s easy to feel that [the Alien is evil] because [it] kills almost the entire crew … I love my creatures. Maybe they do terribly evil things, but they are still nice to look at. They are elegant, sleek—nice in a strange way, I suppose.”
~ HR Giger, Questar Magazine.

For Giger, the film’s success was double-edged. It brought him great acclaim, but, to his dismay, he found his artistic reputation being held in scrutiny. “You know what I’m afraid of?” he asked FamousMonsters. “As an artist, if you do too much work for film they say, ‘Aw, he’s a film architect,’ or something like that. Suddenly they don’t take you seriously. If you work for the opera, that’s something else. But film, that’s always, ‘eh,’ you know? So I have to be careful, otherwise … Maybe it’s a good thing to work in films, but it can turn against you.”

He opined to Total Film magazine in 2003: “The first time I saw the film, I was depressed. I wasn’t happy with the things I created. All I could see were the imperfections. The first time you see the Space Jockey, for instance, he’s not painted. It wasn’t finished. And I wasn’t happy with the Alien. It helped that the creature was so bad because Ridley could only show it in glimpses. However, you are always the winner if you have created something that is enjoyed and, although my reputation as an artist has suffered, that’s how I feel about Alien.”

Dan O’Bannon on the other hand was relentlessly ecstatic about Giger’s creation: “I truly believe that that monster in Alien is absolutely unique looking,” he said to Fantastic Films. “I think that it is two strides beyond any monster costume in any movie ever before. And some of them are goodies, like the creature from The Black Lagoon, or This Island Earth, the bug with the exposed brain, some of those were terrific. I really think this is a step beyond. I don’t think that anybody’s seen anything like this.”

“Alien is a C film elevated to an A film, honestly, by it being well done and a great monster. If it hadn’t had that great monster, even with a wonderful cast, it wouldn’t have been as good, I don’t think.”
~ Ridley Scott, Wired, 2007

Alien also became a thorn of sorts for Giger when the abandoned Dune project came back around. Ridley Scott was initially hired to helm the film, and he brought Giger into the fray to resume his work, previously abandoned in the Jodorowsky days. Unfortunately, the death of Scott’s brother, Frank, saw Ridley withdraw from the project, and Dune stalled yet again. When David Lynch took up directorial duties, Giger, a Lynch fan, sought involvement, but was rebuffed by the new director. “Through friends I asked Lynch if he was interested in my cooperation,” said Giger. “I never heard from him. Later I came to know that he was upset because he thought we copied the chestburster in Alien from his monster baby in Eraserhead, which was not so. Ridley Scott and I hadn’t even seen that film at the time. If one film influenced Alien it was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I would have loved to collaborate with Lynch on Dune but apparently he wanted to do all the designs by himself.”

Ever gracious, Giger finished by saying: “I think he did a great job. I admire Lynch tremendously. I think he’s one of the greatest filmmakers and I would very much like to work for him some time.”

“I have worked on enough films now to realize that nothing may quite satisfy me the way the original Alien film collaboration did. There, I was given the freedom to do everything myself, from the design to the actual physical sculpting. I made myself a prisoner on that film and, in fact, that is what is necessary to allow for the fulfillment of the successful evolutionary process known as creature development and design. I must have my hand on the creature from the beginning to the end or have a top sculptor or fabricator to work with me in the atelier in Zurich. Although film-making is, ultimately, a compromise between many creative sensibilities, it is advisable to start with a strong hand. It is the nature of dreams that they are never to be fully realised.”
~ HR Giger.

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The Insect Influence

“What makes things baffling is their degree of complexity, not their sheer size; a star is simpler than an insect.”
~ Martin Rees, Scientific American, 1999.

“The Alien franchise bases its Xenomorph life cycle on parasitic wasps on Earth,” Terry Johnson, a bio-engineering researcher at the University of California, told Popular Mechanics. “It’s a pleasure to see a film that acknowledges just how weird life can be.” But despite the blatant insectile nature of the Alien (specifically its four-staged life cycle and cocooning) and despite O’Bannon, Ron Cobb, Ron Shusett, HR Giger, and Ridley Scott being clear on the issue, fans have been reluctant to admit the insect influence on the original creature, instead brushing it off as an addition made by James Cameron in the 1986 sequel. However, in light of the evidence pointing to the original Alien makers being heavily and happily influenced by insects, attributing this to Cameron is akin to blaming wet streets for rain.

“Works of fiction weren’t my only sources,” explained Alien writer Dan O’Bannon in his reflective essay, Something Perfectly Disgusting. “I also patterned the Alien’s life cycle on real-life parasites … parasitic wasps treat caterpillars in an altogether revolting manner, the study of which I recommend to anyone tired of having good dreams…” The connection between the Alien and insect reproductive cycles was so crucial that O’Bannon identified it as of “core psychological significance” before quoting biology and science journalist Carl Zimmer: “when an alien bursts out of a movie actor’s chest … it is nature itself that is bursting through, and it terrifies us.”

“I modelled [the Alien] after microscopic parasites that moved from one animal to the next and have complex life-cycles,” Dan explained. “I just enlarged the parasite. I was interested in the biology of aliens, so I wasn’t interested in streamlining the thing below interest level just for the sake of economy.” Ron Shusett, Alien‘s executive producer and friend to O’Bannon, told Cinefantastique: “It was our idea that it would be the life cycle of an insect. The way a wasp will sting a spider, paralyse it, and lay its eggs in the spider … that we did want it to be …. We thought people might pick up on it and say, ‘yeah, an alien life cycle can be an insect life cycle.'”

Alien and Aliens conceptual artist Ron Cobb further explained the origins of the chestburster scene: “He got that from the paralysing wasp … it paralyses the spider and lays its eggs on the spider, then buries it in the ground so that the living spider serves as food for the wasp larva and you know, he always was so horrified at that idea.” Dan’s widow Diane O’Bannon reiterated this with scpr.com in 2014: “It’s the chest-burster scene — that’s what we call it. That was his concept. Basically from an insect that he read about that laid its eggs in other creatures and burst out, so that’s where the inspiration came for that one, and it sure was horrifying.”

In the 1999 DVD commentary, Ridley Scott explains: “The whole notion of this [creature] was taken off a certain kind of insect that will find a host, lay its eggs, and then in that host it will bury its eggs, and then of course the eggs will grow and consume the host. So that’s the logic of it all. Probably what makes a lot of nature go around.”

“I wanted him [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.”
Ridley Scott, The Alien Saga, 2002 (archival interview from 1991)

“We decided to make a very elegant creature: quick, and like an insect.”
HR Giger, Cinefex, 1979.

Many fans find the comparison to insects to be demeaning, probably because the words “bug” and “insect” are often used as pejorative terms (interestingly, nineteenth century writer Lafcadio Hearn documented that in China and Japan ants were considered to be Man’s superior in terms of social structure, longevity, ethics, etc.) But the insect world is one of complete brutality and wondrous, if not terrible, feats of strength and will and ingenuity. Murder, theft, displacement, and slavery is routine. Regicide is often simply a matter of succession. Like Mankind, ants are known to mobilise armies in order to annihilate rivals, a behaviour not even in the realm of our ape cousins, who in comparison engage in turf war rather than full-scale organised and destructive aggression.

It’s not that the insect world is a disordered one -creatures such as ants live in incredibly complex social systems- but that it is an amoral one, where even acts of reproduction require the painful death of a mate or parent insect. Praying Mantis’ devour their mates from the head down mid-coitus; pseudacteon flies lay larva which feed on a host’s brain before they decapitate and erupt from their heads; and botflies turn living bodies (animal and human) into colonies of larvae.

“A rather beautiful, humanoid, biomechanoid insect,” said Ridley Scott of Giger’s Alien designs. The artist’s Necronom images featured an Alien with bug-like eyes, as did his initial design for the movie, seen above. These were removed when Giger was told that they were reminiscent of a Hell’s Angel. Removing the eyes and attaining the eyeless dome did not stop insect comparisons, with Scott commenting: “whether [the Alien] could see, or simply sense like an insect, I didn’t need ever have to answer that question.”

Sex and insects weren’t new to fiction when represented in Alien, with the topic matter going as far back as the English metaphysical poet John Donne’s The Flea, published in 1633. Donne’s poem is narrated by a young man who watches as a fly suckles at his flesh, then moves to feed on a woman he desires. The poet’s language is very sexual throughout, and he notes: “Me it suck’d first, and now sucks thee, and in this flea our two bloods mingled be.” The insect has brought the two together, and the two are now also part of the insect, the creature’s innards now their “marriage bed … cloysterd in these living walls of jet.”

Where Donne’s poem was somewhat comical as well as sexual, O’Bannon’s Alien would focus not on sexual love, but rape, and not on bonding via the transmission of fluids, but on parasitism, all derived from the horrors of the insect world.

“[The Alien’s acid blood] reminded [Dan] of these ants that spray jets of acid to combat enemy ants … At the time of Alien, he had to consult books, watch documentaries, and it took time, but today you just have to explore the web for videos or amazing photographs that make you exclaim, ‘but who designed this?’ before you remember that it is the work of Nature.”
~ Ridley Scott, L’Ecran Fantastique, 2012.

And, as O’Bannon attests, horror abounds in insect circles. At roughly 1700x bigger, it’s easy for a human being to miss the potency and lethality of an ant. Relative to their size, ant muscles are bigger than those of humans, which enables the creatures to lift objects up to fifty times their own weight.

Driver ants, also known as army ants, live on the move, only stopping to establish temporary colonies formed entirely out of their own bodies, much like the nest structures seen in Aliens as well as in Alien’s deleted material. The ants link together using their mandibles, as well as spines and hooks attached to their limbs. These living nests are called bivouacs, can shelter a queen, and come complete with walls and tunnels. When it’s time to move on, the nomadic army ants dissemble and become marching columns that swallow anything in their path, often killing literally thousands of other creatures in a single day, from other insects and spiders, to birds and other large mammals. The ants’ mandibles are solely for killing, crushing, cutting, maiming, and dismembering, as the creatures are only capable of swallowing liquids.

“Gordon Carrol and I talked about this many times,” Ridley Scott explained, “You know, should we indicate the Alien has intelligence? Or great intelligence? Or is it just a time bomb, is it just a war machine? Are those eggs simply war machines? … Ants have, I think, no sense of beginning or end. They just are born, run around doing this thing like everybody else in the community, and die. And I think that may have been the Alien. So, maybe the Alien had no intelligence except pure intuition about survival. Right?”

Egg silo by HR Giger, embedded into the underbelly of the derelict spacecraft like, in Giger’s words, a termite nest. Originally, the eggs were to be housed inside a pyramid structure, but budget and time forced the filmmakers to economise. “[W]e had to combine the derelict ship and the hatchery silo,” said Giger. “I thought we could place the egg silo under the ship, a bit like termites do.” He concluded, “we decided it would be a good idea to have these eggs inside the derelict like termites inside the walls of a house.” Image copyright HR Giger.

To sum up the insectile traits of the Alien:

  • The parasitic life cycle: The Alien is a parasitoid, needing a host in order to reproduce, like parasitic wasps. Ron Cobb identified the paralysing wasp as influencing O’Bannon. These wasps paralyse potential hosts and implant their seed along with a virus that suppresses the immune system which allows the larvae to grow undetected by the host. The large, formidable looking ovipositor of the Ichneumon wasp is not used to sting and wound, but to sting and impregnate.
    The Alien can be more accurately described as a protolean being, defined by Wikipedia as creatures “that begin the growing phase of their lives as parasites, and in particular, typically as internal parasites. As a rule they end that phase of their lives parasitoidally by killing or consuming the host, and then they emerge as free-living adults.”
  • Larval, pupal, and adult life-stages: From the egg comes the facehugger, the first stage of the Alien life-cycle. The facehugger’s function is to locate, subdue, and impregnate a host via its proboscis. The impregnated host is the pupae stage. Once the Alien violently emerges from the host it must shed its skin and grow in order to become an adult. Butterflies go through a growing process known as Complete Metamorphosis – meaning its adult stage is completely different to its larval stage, as is the adult Alien from its infanthood as a chestburster. Once the chestburster has shed its skin (as most insects do, usually shedding exoskeletons numerously into adulthood) it leaves behind the instar stage of its life and becomes an adult.
  • Cocooning: The Cicada Killer Wasp cocoons its prey near the eggs of its young so that the newly hatched wasps have a food source. In Alien, the Alien cocoons Dallas and Brett not to feed on them, but for reproduction (though in early scripts, the Alien did eat parts of its cocooned hosts – it even ate Lambert whole in one version.) In Aliens, the colonists are abducted, subdued, and embedded into the walls of the hive to await death. In scripted, but unfilmed, portions of Alien 3, the prisoners were to come across the Alien’s nest, where they discover a cocooned Superintendent Andrews along with other half-eaten bodies. The characters identify the nest as a “meat locker”, presumably where the Alien stores hosts and food for its inbound Queen.

All of these elements bar the cocooning were present in the theatrical release of Alien. We see the Alien progress through the various stages of its life, getting a glimpse of some shedded skin along the way and even hints of the creature’s limited lifespan – “I wanted a sense of a timeless, slightly decaying creature that, maybe, only has a limited life cycle of, maybe, four days like an insect,” said Ridley Scott, adding: “the Alien lifeform lived to reproduce … [Ripley] killed it, but it would have died soon anyway. It’s like a butterfly.”

The Alien’s apparently impending demise was telegraphed through its lethargy aboard the Narcissus shuttle, in addition to a (hardly apparent) disintegrating paint job on the creature suit. In Aliens, the creatures at Hadley’s Hope are weeks old, scuppering the idea of a severely limited lifespan – with this in mind, we can easily chalk up the original Alien’s lethargy to it entering hibernation, much like the Aliens within the Atmosphere Processor before they are disturbed by the Colonial Marines.

The Alien and bacteria: Ash describes the facehugger as having “an outer layer of protein polysaccharides.” The polysaccharide comment may be a nod to bacteria, which are known to secrete protective slime layers usually composed of polysaccharides and protein, which helps the bacteria protect itself from antibiotics and even chemical sterilisation. Such layers also aid in attaching bacteria to other cells, and also as food, or rather, energy stores. The facehugger’s protective coating not only serves to protect the organism, but also helps any regenerative healing properties and keeps the creature energised (they do face a potentially long hibernation)… Either that, or the scriptwriters thought it merely sounded like an intelligent thing for Ash to say.

Insectile additions to the Alien life-cycle in the sequel:

  • The hive: like ants and most wasps (not all are eusocial), the Aliens adopt a functionalist, hierarchical social system. Contrary to popular belief, this does not consist of drones and warriors. Cameron scripted Alien drones in his 1983 treatment but cut them in the next draft. When JamesCameronOnline asked John Rosengrant if the drones even reached any preliminary design stages, he answered: “Not really, as far as I remember.” Cameron himself explained that the term ‘Alien Warrior’ was not to denote two different kinds of Alien (as is often mistaken) but was merely “my term for the single adult seen in Alien.” The expanded universe and fanon generated the idea that domed and ribbed head Aliens represent two different castes, but this has no basis in the release version of Aliens and perhaps belongs and owes its popularisation more to the comic books and games.
  • The Alien Queen: The Alien society within the hive consists of adult Aliens and their mother, the Queen. Unlike ants or termites, the Alien Queen does not have a need for a male counterpart (ants employ drones, and termites have kings to impregnate the queen). Like the creature in Alien, the Queen is ambi-sextrous, a hermaphrodite, capable of reproducing without the seed of a male. “There are insects like that [androgynous, asexual]” Ridley Scott said of his Alien, “so we based that on a little bit of good old Mother Nature.” The original creature was at first envisioned as a female, before becoming thought of as a  hermaphrodite by Scott once Bolaji Badejo was cast (initial efforts to cast a tall, thin woman failed). The Queen likely carries a feminine title (just as the first Alien was dubbed “Kane’s Son”) for clarity and because we tend to struggle without gender-specific labels (though it should be noted that Cameron referred to the Aliens in a male/female capacity – though he also noted that they can change gender if a Queen is present or absent).

It’s usually thought that the insect elements began and ended with Cameron, but in fact not only did they begin with Dan O’Bannon, but they were continued and pursued even by David Fincher for Alien 3. The parasitism and Queen (or an embryo, at least) returned from previous installments, but the third film’s Alien seemed to have picked up new abilities – firstly, we see it spit a wad of acid into a prisoner’s face, very much like some warrior ants who can even ‘self-destruct’ upon injury, drenching their enemies in toxins in the process. Furthermore, climbing, crawling Aliens in Aliens tended to need support, especially when crawling upside down, as the invading Aliens do during the Operations attack in Aliens. Fincher’s Alien, however, didn’t need any support at all:

Aliens hold on to piping for support…

…but not the “Runner”, who sticks to the ceilings like-

-an insect. Director David Fincher told Cinefex, “We wanted the creature to walk on the ceilings and really sell the idea that this thing is a bug from outer space.”

Alien 3 also carries the dubious honour of being the first film in the series where a character outright calls the creature a bug, seen when Morse mocks the lead-drenched Alien, calling out, “I hate bugs!”

Ridley returned to bugs to help with Prometheus’ creature concepts. Writer Jon Spaihts told Empire magazine: “Ridley is a great and ghoulish collector of horrible natural oddities, real parasites and predators from the natural world. He had a tremendous file of photography of real, ghastly creatures from around the world – they’re chilling, some of them! He would tell these tales with relish, of wasps that would drill into the backs of beetles and plant larvae, or become mind-control creatures. Terrible things happen, especially the smaller you get. As you get into the insect world or the microbial world, savage atrocities are perpetrated by one creature on another. And Ridley was thrilled with all of them. They inspired a lot of the designs and a lot of the ideas we tried.”

From the fears and morbid interests of Dan O’Bannon, through Ridley Scott’s research into insects, and Ron Shusset’s declaration that an insect life-cycle was the intention, it cannot be denied that the Alien is an amalgamation of horrific insectoid sexual aesthetics and traits, which contributed not only to the nightmare inducing nature of the creature, be its abilities, its visage, its growth cycle, but to its integrity as a space dwelling avatar of death as well. Strip the monster of all insectile traits and nothing reminiscent of the series’ Alien is left. Alien, Aliens, and Alien 3 managed to equilibrate the sexual and insectile overtones to create a startling, original beast, an equilibrium upset in the expanded universe and spin-offs, which saw a dilution of the creature’s sexual elements and subsequent diminishing returns.

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