Alien Funnies

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

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

starlog 113

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

starlog 1980

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

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


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


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


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

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

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starlog 183

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

starlog 183 3

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

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


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

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




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


Filed under Alien Series

Alien and its Antecedents

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

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

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

If Giler was incensed and accusatory at the charge, Dan O’Bannon was positively jubilant and unashamed of his pulp roots. “I didn’t steal from anybody,” he explained, “I stole from everybody!” The works most commonly cited and acknowledged by O’Bannon as key influences on Alien include 1956’s Forbidden Planet and the aforementioned It! The Terror From Beyond Space, released in 1958. Literary influences include a wealth of Weird Science and Weird Fantasy comic strips as well as the collective works of HP Lovecraft. Other possible sources include Planet of the Vampires (Dan and Ridley claimed not to have seen it) and A.E. van Vogt’s novel The Voyage of the Space Beagle (Dan never read it.)

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

First, a minor but related digression…

Originality is a modern concern. Literature and film, like man, is no island. They thrive by adaptation and appropriation. Appropriating other stories for frameworks, themes and motifs goes back to the dawn of storytelling: it is why we find an abundance of Flood myths in comparative mythologies; it’s how the Arthurian canon managed to evolve from British comitatus poesies into the French romances of Lancelot and Guinevere and the exploits of the Round Table; it’s why we find Tolkien’s Smaug first appearing in the climax of Beowulf; it is how Shakespeare’s Capulets and Montagues became the Sharks and Jets of West Side Story – in fact, the bulk of the Shakespearean canon are retellings of older works: Romeo & Juliet for one has a multitude of predecessors. What makes ‘new’ pieces of fiction relevant is the ability to recontextualise older works for newer generations, hopefully with the addition of new meanings, applications and resonances; they should master repetition without replication; its effect must be enrichment rather than robbery. It should encourage rivals, not rip-offs.

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


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

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

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

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

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

… I think that there were two versions of Alien completed, a scary one and a silly one. The day before the premiere, the theater managers watched them both and decided to show the silly one. It is actually an updated remake of the 1958 film, It! The Terror from Beyond Space, using a squid, a catfish with teeth and inflatable dolls of Heckle and Jeckle, the cartoon magpies. In the future Mr. O’Bannon should refrain from boasting until he sees what kind of film he actually made.
Thomas Brayman
Omaha, NE
~ Letters page, Starlog #26, January 1979.

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

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

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

There is also Mario Bava’s 1965 movie Planet of the Vampires. In Bava’s film a spaceship picks up a mysterious beacon emanating from an unexplored planet. Whilst exploring the hellish landscape they find a derelict spacecraft containing the long dead corpses of another exploratory alien race, who have been killed by some malignant force on the planet. This force possesses the human crewmen, incites them to murder, and reanimates their corpses. “I was aware of Planet of the Vampires,” said O’Bannon, “[But] I don’t think I had seen it all the way through. I had seen clips from it and it struck me as evocative. It had the curious mixture that you get in these Italian films of spectacularly good production design with an aggressively low budget mentality.”

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

“As soon as anybody finds a single source that they recognize, they immediately assume that the picture is a variant of that source,” O’Bannon stated. “I thought about Forbidden Planet a lot more than I thought about It! The Terror From Beyond Space. My mind was a big basket full of every science fiction story and movie that had been written in the last forty years, so the imagery was simply there for selecting, I didn’t have to limit myself to plagiarizing a single source.”


Filed under Alien

Comic Jockey: Warfaring & Terraforming


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I. The Space Jockey in Dark Horse’s ALIENS

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

The Space Jockey Design as Seen in Various Comics

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

Dark Horse’s The Alien (November 1991)


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

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

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

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

Dark Horse’s Aliens: Wraith (July 1996)


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

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

Aliens Apocalypse: the Destroying Angels (September 1999)

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

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


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

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


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


Filed under Alien Series

Interview with Walter Hill, 2004


From Film International #12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


Filed under Alien, Alien 3, Aliens

The Drone Distinction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Ripley awakens, struggles to move.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


Filed under Alien, Aliens

Thoughts on Alien: Isolation


Warning: contains spoilers for the single player game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

So what didn’t I like? Well…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Filed under Alien Series

Redesigning the Facehugger & Chestburster


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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Interview with Sigourney Weaver


Transcribed from Omni’s Screen Flights/Screen Fantasies, 1984. Originally published in Films and Filming magazine. Interview by Danny Peary.

Danny Peary: Did you go to movie casting calls before Alien?
Sigourney Weaver: Not many. I’m sure I’d turned down a couple of films. One of the reasons I wasn’t crazy about getting Alien was I felt responses had been so encouraging at past auditions that I’d soon get another role if I didn’t get picked for Alien. That’s not to say I didn’t want the job. I did. I had no money for one thing. I was delighted to be considered. But I had high hopes. The fact that I didn’t slobber at the mouth when I was told I’d get a screen test helped me get the part.

DP: How were you even selected to audition for a lead part in a major film when you had never been in a film before?
SW: I had been out on the West Coast the year before, visiting my parents, and had met a few people out there. And I’d done enough work in New York already so that I wasn’t completely unknown. I was highly recommended to everyone involed with Alien. They had been trying to sell Fox on having a newcomer play Ripley. Fox had mixed feelings at first and casting took a long time. They saw a lot of actresses. I was asked to meet everyone here in New York, soon after I’d opened in the play The Conquering Event.

I remember going to the wrong place for my appointment and having to rush around in confusion. I met Ridley Scott right away, and the producers Gordon Carroll and David Giler. And then I met Walter Hill, who co-produced Alien. And they all liked me. Walter Hill and David Giler wrote the script I read, although Dan O’Bannon had written the original script and got the screen credit. You can tell Walter’s influence. He writes so sparely because he expects you to improvise. When I read it, I found that his characters, especially the males, seemed identical. That’s why when they cast Alien they chose distinct types who could make the characters interesting in ways other than just by saying the dialogue. It was a very skeletal script and that’s one of the reasons I liked it.

DW: At that stage of your acting career, were you secure enough to argue over problems you found in the script?
Sure. That’s what it’s all about. On Alien, I immediately commented, ‘It’s a very bleak picture where people don’t relate to each other at all,’ and the casting director was there signaling me not to blow it by making such strong objections. But I figure if you put all your cards on the table, they can use that. After all, they’re hiring you. They can disagree with you but you must air your feelings so you can arrive at a resolution. You have to be careful and specific about what you disagree with. And you also have to express what you find positive about the project. I happen to have worked on many new plays with new playwrights so I have been encouraged to speak up – I didn’t know if people in movies were used to that. I thought they should be. You shouldn’t work with a bad director, one you can’t have a dialogue with. I just think it takes too much out of you if you don’t absolutely love the project. If you love it you can put up with a jerk director – which Ridley Scott definitely was not.

I think when you’re not fully committed to something, you shouldn’t do it. I have only done things I’ve felt strongly about. Even Alien, I sat down and thought about Ripley a long time before deciding I really wanted to play her.


DP: When were you told you had the part?
SW: I flew out to Hollywood to meet Alan Ladd Jr., and Gareth Wiggin at Twentieth. I lost my bags on the plane and went in my rotten clothes. We had a typical chatty Hollywood meeting where you’re all supposed to pretend you’re there for social reasons and no one mentions the film. Ladd agreed to screentest me, so the next week I flew to London where Ridley had built a whole set for me. I hadn’t yet been hired but I was the only actress they were screentesting. They hoped I would do well. And we did a run-through of the entire script. I wore old army surplus stuff for the screentest. We didn’t want it to look like Jackie Onassis in Space; we wanted to look more like pirates.

On the day I left for home, Ladd came to look at the tests. He asked all the women in the studio who worked as secretaries to watch my tests, too, and tell him their opinions. And the women just said, ‘Well, we like her.’ So they got me the part. On the day I got back to New York, they called and said I got it. I had sort of written it off every step of the way.

DP: Is there anything you tried to bring to Ripley when you were trying for the part?
SW: A no-nonsenseness to her. She’s a very matter-of-fact person. I think she grew up believing there is a certain order to things that could not be broken or changed. She had very rational training. And her beliefs are exploded in the film when she suddenly has to work on instinct and emotion rather than intellect. Looking back, in some ways she was the most unimaginative character I ever played – which isn’t to say I don’t like her. Actually the part I wanted to play was Lambert, Veronica Cartwright’s part. In the first script I read, she just cracked jokes the whole time. What was wonderful about it was that here was a woman who was wise-assing, telling stupid jokes just when everyone was getting hysterical. And she didn’t crack up until the end. That’s a character I could identify with because that’s how I assume I would act. If the elevator gets stuck that’s what I do.The character changed however when Ridley and Veronica decided to giver viewers a sympathetic character.

DP: It’s obviously great getting a starring role in your first film.
SW: It’s also dangerous in the sense there are so many good supporting roles that I’ll never be considered for. I really developed in the theatre by taking character parts and in a way that’s what I’d like to do in the movies. I think I’m considered for parts that are nothing like those I’m drawn to. That’s the “actor’s dilemma”. It’s not unique to me. When you are the lead in a film that costs a few million dollars, you do get the best hair and make-up people, and you dont have to worry about things in rehearsal you might not get if you were making an independent film or if you had a supporting role. On Alien there was some resentment towards me because I came from New York and got such a good part, the one character alive at the end. That was very difficult for me to deal with. There is a segregation between leading and supporting people in films that I find stupid and distasteful.

DP: So could you enjoy working on Alien?
SW: Alien was fun. I was excited about being in a movie and since it was my first time out, I was very easy-going. I didn’t realise until the four months were over that I’d been experiencing such tension. Every day Ridley would let me get behind the camera to look at each scene and I could tell Alien was an incredible film to be a part of. It was always fascinating seeing Riley work and how he put it together. And I loved working with Tom Skerritt, who played Dallas, the captain of the Nostromo. He’s great, a truly interesting person. Also I learned a lot working with actors who had so many varied acting backgrounds. For instance, the scenes I did with Ian Holm, who played Ash, the science officer who turns out to be a robot, were done word-for-word perfect, like I was used to doing on stage. However, the scenes I did with Yaphet Kotto, who played Parker, were probably nothing like the scenes that were written. However an actor worked, I was willing to work with him that way, I would have liked to have done more improvisation because we might have made ourselves into the ensemble we should have been.


DP: What did you think of the sets?
SW: They were great. In fact, I think the main reason I wanted to do Alien was because they had shown me HR Giger’s incredible designs for the Alien and the planet. I had never seen anything like it. I wish you could have seen the filming on the planet set because it was so fascinating to watch. They had Ridley’s two boys and Tom Skerritt’s son walking around in space suits being doubles so everything arouind them would look bigger. The amount of incense used was not to be believed – it was also used to diffuse light on the bridge and mess-room sets, where the ceilings were very low. It was like the incense burned at a Catholic funeral I once attended – people wore masks.

I remember taking my parents around this set. It was like wandering though some Playboy orgy room. There was this huge spaceship with vaginal doors and there were beautiful female bones. They were gulping, ‘Very interesting, very interesting.’ It was funny having never done another film [before], except for a week on something that was never released. I thought every actor got up, had breakfast, and went ot another planet. It seemed so natural to me.

DP: Did you like working with Ridley Scott?
SW: We got along very well. He’s an amazing man, a genius, and I think Alien is beautifully directed. He is one of those directors who will come up to you after you’ve done a scene who will say, ‘Well, I don’t fucking believe that.’ At first I’d be taken aback and wonder, ‘Where’s the stroking, where’s the diplomancy?’ And there just wasn’t any. And that’s why I liked him so much. In an industry where there’s so much bullshit I really appreciated his just getting to the point. We didn’t have to waste time. We rarely rehearsed and if we did it was only a day in advance of shooting. It was a high-pressured set. Ridley operated the camera. He hadn’t worked that much with actors and I think one of his priorities today is to become not an “actor’s director” but to be better with them.

I remember one time I asked for his help on a problem I was having with Ripley. And he thought about it for a long time and then he came over to me and said, ‘What if you are the lens on… (and he named a sophisticated camera)… and you’re opening and shutting…’ And there was a long pause. Finally I said, ‘Ridley, I’ll have to think about it,’ And he looked crestfallen because he hadn’t helped me and he added, ‘Well, let me think too.’ He really wanted to be part of the process. But having me be the iris of a lens? I said, ‘That’s okay, Ridley. I’ll figure it out myself.’ And I did. But I loved him.

DP: Had you seen many science fiction films before being in Alien?
SW: Only a handful, if that. Being in Alien made me want to see Dark Star, because Dan O’Bannon wrote that, too. I didn’t really remember 2001, but Ridley kept saying it was a masterpiece.

DP: In Alien there are two women who are integral members of the crew.
SW: At one point, Ripley was supposed to be a man. They changed the charater to a woman just before casting was started. There’s also slight sexual innuendo. There was supposed to be a love scene right in the middle of the picture. It was one of Ridley’s favourite scenes but it was never filmed. Ripley sees Dallas and starts to take off her clothes, saying, ‘I need some relief.’ And they built a special chair for us to make love in. It was a ludicrous idea – with that Alien running around loose in the ship, who would have wanted to take one’s clothes off to make love?


DP: Was there discussion over your famous strip toward the end of the film?
SW: Originally there was going to be a lot of nudity in the film. Of the matter-of-fact variety. There were going to be lots of shots of naked people walking around because it was such a harsh environment. It would have been a nice contrast. As for my strip… people have said, ‘Aw, how could you demean yourself by doing a striptease?’ And I say, ‘Are you kidding? After five days of blood and guts, and fear, and sweat and urine, do you think Ripley wouldn’t take off her clothes?’ It never occured to me for a second that people would think my strip exploitive. I think it’s kind of provocative – you’re almost seeing me through the Alien’s eyes. Suddenly I go from dark green animal to a pink and white animal.

Ridley and I had so much fun working out the ending. There were so many different endings. One of them was that the Alien would surprise me and I would run into the closet where I’d take my suit off and put on another. So there would have been a moment when the Alien would see me between suits and be fascinated. Because the Alien isn’t evil. It’s just following its natural instincts to reproduce through whatever living things are around it. Every now and then a reporter would ask, ‘How could you have been part of a film about such evil?’ And I’d go, ‘Good Lord! You take this very seriously, don’t you?’

So I liked all this stuff. You see the Alien in its birthday suit the entire film, so I thought it was a cop out having me wear the underwear, and not stripping entirely. Fox is always concerned about losing Spain, Italy, etc. But I must say, having received the mail I have, I would now think twice about taking off all my clothes in a movie and scampering around for an hour.

DP: Was there talk of Alien II?
SW: It was a great joke among us after the movie came out. Everyone at Twentieth wanted one because Alien made so much money, but none of us ever talked seriously about a sequel.

DP: You took a long time before doing another film.
SW: I was astonished to discover after finishing Alien how traditional scripts are in regard to women. For one thing, there’s rarely a script in which the woman can keep on her clothes.

DP: Would you like to do more science fiction films?
SW: Having made Alien with Ridley Scott – yes, I’d like to.


Filed under Alien

God’s Lonely Men


“Then the friendless man wakes up once more, sees before him fallow waves,
sea-birds bathing, spreading their feathers, frost and snow falling mingled
with hail. Then the heart’s wounds are harder to bear, sore in the wake of loved ones. Sorrow is renewed.”
~ The Wanderer, author unknown, circa 8-10th century C.E.

This post does not delve into the making of Alien 3 in any particular way, but instead focuses on an element in the film that I personally find interesting – the concept of an apocalyptic ecclesiastical order suddenly imperiled by an eldritch terror in some backwater of space. Mixing a Medieval aesthetic with Alien might not seem immediately congruous, but they do manage to neatly intersect. The Dark Age influences in Alien 3 are an inheritance from Vincent Ward, who wrote and was slated to direct one iteration of the script. In his story the hell of Fiorina 161 is instead a heaven called Arceon; a jerry-built orbital colony with a population of 350 political prisoners who, in their exile from Earth, have all converted to a Ludditic monasticism. When David Fincher came aboard he pushed for a grimier, more traditional environment, and so the script was rewritten, setting the action on a prison planet inhabited by a skeleton crew of convicts and custodians. Though Vincent Ward’s vision of a Medieval-themed Alien film was not realised his tenure on the project left residual elements that inform the film as it was finally made and are certainly worthy of examination…

It was once commonplace to believe that as the world neared the first millennium it would begin to display signs of decline or decay – clear evidence of the impending Doomsday. Fiorina itself is a wasteland of creaking cranes, black waves, grey cliffs, flinty beachheads, abandoned tractor cabs and shacks and a creaking webwork of chains and pulleys. In this universe corporations have long usurped government institutions as world powers, the wonder of space exploration has become the monotony of long-haul truck driving, and the discovery of extraterrestrial life is not revelatory, but destructive. To the outcasts stranded there, a Fiorina sunset must look like the dying heat at the end of time.

The implied but undefined backstory to the Alien series suggests a human civilisation that has reached out into the depths of the universe yet cannot tame its most selfish and destructive qualities. A final note on the stagnant state of the Alien universe: when asked to explain how Ripley could adapt to the technology of 2179 after nearly six decades in cryosleep, James Cameron offered several possibilities, including the fact that “there have been 57-year periods in history where little or no social or technological change took place, due to religious repression, war, plague or other factors”.

The prisoners, with their stubbled domes, prickly demeanors and thrawn appearances, seem as far as you could get from the meek political dissidents of Ward’s script, but his monastic touches were not dropped completely. “This script has retained the look of a religious community,” explained Charles Dance, who played Clemens. “The men have embraced a sort of strange religious cult in this prison … All the costumes are very monk-like, colored in grays and browns. We have these wonderful hooded coats which reach right to the floor, and which are made out of government surplus tents. The look is both monk-like and menacing.”

In Giler and Hill’s October 1990 draft the prison complex retains much of the Wooden Planet’s architectural make-up including wooden beams, windmills and extensive candelight, used to “augment minimal electric light” in the facility. Candles feature heavily in the film’s foraging sequence where the Alien kills Rain and Boggs, and Rex Pickett’s script even features a Candle Room where boxes are stored and the Assembly Hall is known as the Library – as it was in Ward’s script.

Some famous poems from the Early Middle Ages, like The Wanderer and The Seafarer, focus on lonely figures in blasted landscapes, bereft of companionship or warmth, their minds despondent with the knowledge of bodily and earthly decay, their spirits only upheld by a belief in an imminent and glorious posthumous existence. Of all the prisoner characters, Clemens, despite his irreligiosity, fits this Old English melancholic temperament the best. “[Clemens is] very much a loner,” explained Charles Dance, “and not at all popular with the other members of the staff.” His introductory scene, featuring him wandering the bleak landscape alone with his thoughts, could have been lifted from any number of Old English poetry. “Often, at every dawn, I alone must lament my sorrows,” reads The Wanderer. “There is now no one living to whom I might dare reveal my heart.”


Michael Swanton, in his book English Literature before Chaucer, writes that: “Voluntary exile was a familiar ethic in secular life … for many it would seem sufficient to withdraw from the world into one or other burgeoning eremetic communities.” In the same way, Clemens, in shame, shuns any notion of returning to Earth or any other populated colony after his sentence has been served, and elects to bunker down with the close-knit outcasts on Fury. And yet, by his own testimony, he remains an outsider.

A note on Clemens’ backstory: in the film he reveals that his crime was manslaughter via severe negligence. Both pre-shoot scripts by Giler and Hill, from October and December 1990, tell the same story, but Rex Pickett’s January 1991 draft tells us that Clemens euthanised his pregnant wife after an accident put her into a coma. “The authorities gave me a choice,” he says. “The reason I came here is I wanted to go some place far enough away in order to forget.”

Regarding the prisoners and their religion, though their exact tenets are lacking any real exploration in the film, one aspect of their belief system was present in one early draft. When Ripley asks that Hicks and Newt be cremated, Aaron and Superintendent Andrews are wary:

Aaron staring at Newt’s body.
Aaron: The prisoners believe defiling a body is a sin…
Clemens: Yes. When one of our prisoners dies, they want the body whole, so he can be resurrected during the coming apocalypse.

A funeral and cremation for Newt and Hicks is arranged when Clemens warns Superintendent Andrews that the bodies may carry a contagion.

Meanwhile Dillon, the leader, pastor and prophet of the inmates, shares with two other prisoners that the scheduled cremation is completely fine by him so “long as it isn’t one of us,” (prisoner Murphy being shredded in a duct fan must have been particularly troubling for the others to stomach, since it likely quashed any chance of a bodily resurrection.) Dillon tells the other inmates to attend the funeral to collectively “show our respect,” and he even goes so far as to officiate the service. Later in the canteen Ripley learns more about the prisoners’ beliefs:


Dillon is the quintessential fiery proselytiser; a Malcolm X type (as you can see, he was even originally named Malcolm in early scripts) his voice is naturally stentorian and his language also heavily apocalyptic. Ine one draft he beats the prisoners for their attempted rape of Ripley and exclaims as he swings, “You will not fornicate! You will not rape! You will live up to your vow! You are too close to heaven to turn around!” In a later script the death of one prisoner makes him comment that “Deep shame fills my soul”; not far removed from the “frozen heart” and shamed melancholy of the Old English exile.

Later, as the Alien closes in, Dillon exhorts his fellow prisoners that “This is what we have been waiting for. This is the sign. This means the last days are near. This is The Beast from the book.” When he peptalks the others into trapping the creature he exclaims that “Those who die first go straight to the promise!” The prisoners then “Roar in approval of Jihad” and await the Alien, the dragon, “The One Who Will Come” from their prayers. “For I will be safe on The Day of the Beast. My body will be taken, but never my spirit. I am ready to be judged!”

Even Ripley cannot talk of the Alien and its implications on the wider universe without invoking religious metaphors. “I get to be the mother of the apocalypse,” she tells everyone when discussing the Queen embryo inside her.


Golic, the Judas of the story if there is one, shares an interesting relationship with ‘The Beast’ (or ‘the dragon’ as he calls it) that owes more to the relationship between Dracula and Renfield than anything particularly Medieval or theologic, though early scripts did feature a religious angle. After the Alien has killed Rain and Boggs he tells Dillon, “You pious assholes are all gonna die … The beast has risen … Nobody can stop it.” He later tells Morse that “I got to see it again. It’s the dragon of God. It’s in the book.”

Of course, I am not claiming that Walter Hill and David Giler or any of the other intermittent writers read any Old English or Medieval works and instilled them into Alien, with the exception of Vincent Ward. What is more likely is the inspirations behind Ward’s story trickled through into the final film through a long process of being trimmed, dressed over, and distilled. Though some of it shines through (most obviously, the religious nature of the prisoners along with some costuming and imagery) most of their deeper implications can only be inferred upon. Alien 3 is a film that is not greater than the sum of its parts. But some of its many constituent pieces, when inspected, can sometimes reveal an embarrassment of riches as well as missed opportunities.

In you are, by any slim chance, interested in Early Medieval/Old English attitudes towards millenarian apocalypticism, I have written about it here.


Filed under Alien 3

Newt’s Chestburster


“By the way, it’s not in the goddamed cat and it’s not in Newt, either. I would never be that cruel.”
~ James Cameron, Starlog magazine, 1987.

Alien 3′s hypnagogic opening leaves the viewer with many questions, the foremost being the well-worn ‘how did the Alien egg get aboard the Sulaco?’ Another question, answered later in the film, is ‘who did it impregnate?’ For a time Ripley, and thus the audience, suspects that the creature is coiled within Newt; and at one point in the film’s production that theory was temporarily true.

One early draft by producers Walter Hill and David Giler, dated October 1990, definitively states that the stowaway facehugger seeks out Newt as its host:

As she sleeps.
From below her crypt a strange sucking sound.
Like a surgeon removing a rubber glove.
A shadow falls over Newt’s eyes.
Something is crawling onto her faceplate.

As their EEV sinks into Fiorina 161’s turbulent ocean Ripley awakens and glimpses Newt slowly drowning within her cryotube. Suddenly, a spew of slime erupts from the girl’s mouth and from her throat crawls:

Slithers out of Newt’s mouth
Tiny forearms pushing at the sides of her stretched lips…
It struggles to free itself from Newt’s jerking and twisting carcass.
Tiny razor sharp teeth glint in the firelight.
As Newt’s face returns to normal, she smiles and…
Ripley can only scream.

Ripley falls unconscious, and dreams that the Alien has disarmed and trapped her. Sliding its tail between her legs, it spins her around and pushes her “down and across the sleep tube…” She wakes up to later discover that the Alien embryo invaded her body after abandoning its former host, and now the seed is maturing inside her.

The next draft, dated December 1990, includes an elliptical flash of the Sulaco’s med-scanners, which displays an image of a facehugger encasing Newt’s head. The next shot describes “marks on her face” and a look that “seems to say: Help me, Ripley.” Rex Pickett’s January 1991 draft also features this image, though both drafts omit the infant chestburster later crawling out of Newt’s mouth.

HR Giger drew some preliminary designs for the body-hopping Alien, envisioning it in his sketches as an ‘aquatic facehugger’ with webbed appendages (or ‘swim skin’) ostensibly purposed for gliding through the water – an aesthetic detail apparently carried on to the ‘super’ facehugger seen in the assembly cut.


The aquatic facehugger and escapee embryo, though both designed or conceptualised to an extent, were ultimately nixed after director David Fincher concluded that the overall effect had potential for unintended silliness.

“The original montage onboard the Sulaco was planned with a facehugger that was going to crawl out of Newt’s mouth,” Fincher explained. “I’d seen that effect in The Company of Wolves and it just always looks like a rubber casting of someone’s head with somebody else’s fist being forced through it. I just never thought it would work.”

The scene was eventually included in Dark Horse’s comic book adaptation of the film, depicting an oily black chestburster crawling from Newt’s mouth and slipping into the rising water…


Filed under Alien 3