Tag Archives: Alien

Alien Resurrection: Hybrid Theory

alienressideoo

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

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

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

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

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

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

alien warrior sketch by Sylvain Despretz

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

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

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

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

11866409_10153477346171605_664521494611648354_n

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

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

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

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

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

mumlove

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

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

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

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

 

Advertisements

25 Comments

Filed under Alien Series

Crew Logs: Ron Cobb

12596113_1046711018700467_164459340_n

Though Burbank, California, lies only a few miles from the epicentre of the Western film world, it seemed all too far away for the adolescent Ron Cobb. His parents had moved there from Los Angeles in 1940, when Cobb was three years old, in search of a better life promised by the area’s mid-30’s property boom – when the Cobbs relocated in 1940 the city’s population stood at 34,337; by 1950 it would rocket to 78,577. But a middle-class life in a burgeoning Burbank appeared to Cobb to be “bleak and unexciting.”

He saw worse ahead of him, remarking that, “The future held even less promise,” but fortunately he had an escape in his nascent imagination: “I began to notice out of the corner of my eye distant vistas of fantasy, of a world out there glimpsed through the wonderful window of television and E.C. comics. I daydreamed and nurtured my fantasies, and to make them more real I drew. At the same time I became introverted, a terrible student, and waited for something to happen.”

It was science fiction that provided inspiration and spurred Cobb’s enthusiasm for the wondrous. “When I was a little kid I would sit out in the back yard,” Cobb said in 2015, “and I swear I could see people signalling me from the moon. And I knew it was important somehow, but you know, you might say I had a science-fictional childhood, because I always thought about science as adventure, nothing more than adventure, and when it started to appear in movie pictures I was transfixed. I said, ‘I want to do that somehow.'”

Cobb found like-minded friends at Burbank High School with whom he formed C.D. Inc. (the C standing for Cobb, and the D for co-founder Tad Duke), a small club whose members held common interests in pranksterism, atheism and sci-fi — their first official club act was a trip to see War of the Worlds (1953). The group also busied themselves creatively by drawing and conceptualising a fictional history of fictional European country Donovania, along with its fictional prince, Chesley Donavan (apparently named after Cobb’s early influence Chesley Bonestell, whose 1949 speculative sci-fi book The Conquest of Space can be seen  in C.D.’s hangout.) Chesley Donavan retroactively became the namesake of the group, with C.D. reconfigured into the ‘Chesley Donovan Science Fantasy Foundation’, which was, according to Cobb, “a deliberately pompous and satirical name for a group of introverted and eccentric students.”

“Our mutual fascinations with science, astronomy, philosophy and theology kept us together until we were in our early twenties,” he explained. “Our involvement in C.D. drew each of us out of our introversions, while we nurtured and entertained each other.”

Ron Cobb, far right, in 1954.

Ron Cobb, far right, with C.D. in 1954. The group crafted their own uniforms and insignias.

After graduating from Burbank High School in 1955 Cobb, having been a poor student with an aptitude for art and imagination, sought work at Disney, who had opened their lot in Burbank in 1940 on the proceeds from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937). “I had always been fascinated by Disney and deeply influenced by Fantasia. The studio was clearly advancing the art of film animation, in those days, and I was very excited about being a part of it.” After spending two years working as an in-betweener and breakdown artist (notably on Sleeping Beauty, released 1959) Cobb realised that many of the animation giants and geniuses that had attracted him to the field had “retired or died off” and, after being let go by Disney, he decided to seek out opportunities in live action film. “I just didn’t feel like waiting 30 years to become an animator,” he told Starlog magazine. But first was a series of odd jobs and a stint in the US Army and a brief posting in Vietnam.

“I was a prime target for the draft,” said Cobb. “I had to decide whether to evade it as most of my friends had done, or become a member of the military, one of the truly evil institutions of the state, according to the tenets of C.D. This became my great confrontation/escape. I allowed myself to be drafted. It confirmed that my basic anti-militarism was correct, but let me recognize some of my prejudices were unfounded. I gained confidence in the army, but I hadn’t reckoned on spending a year in Vietnam.”

It was during the turbulent Sixties and specifically within the American counterculture that Cobb first found himself attracting artistic acclaim. His political cartoons, at first rejected by Playboy but disseminated through the underground newspaper The Los Angeles Free Press, presented future visions of the ultimate law and order state, the destruction of the American landscape and dark lampoons of Cold War-era doctrines like M.A.D.

6719441994

One early fan was a USC film student from Missouri named Dan O’Bannon, who reached out to Cobb after appreciating his work in the underground presses. “[Dan] had been following them and had wanted to meet me,” explained Cobb. “We shared an enthusiasm for film, science fiction and filmmaking.” O’Bannon and Cobb’s lives would not intersect again for several years, and in the meantime the artist kept penning celebrated political cartoons that were widely redistributed.

Ron also dabbled in science-fiction and fantasy illustration, drawing covers for Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine including images of Lon Chaney Jnr. and Bela Lugosi’s Frankenstein and Wolfman, two-headed golems, the hunchback of Notre Dame and bulb-headed alien beings. He also provided the cover art for San Franciscan rock band Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 album After Bathing at Baxter’s, (Cobb’s involvement with musical endeavours continued throughout the following decades; he won an MTV music video award in 1986 for his art direction on ZZ Top’s Rough Boy.)

His political work continued to attract acclaim and was showcased in an issue of Cavalier magazine that called him ‘The Toughest Pen in the West’, though Cobb denied being a political cartoonist (“because politics is too superficial”) preferring instead to be called a ‘social commentator’. “But whatever he calls himself,” Cavalier read, “he’s the only artist we’ve seen recently who has the force of conviction, the draughtsmanship, the intelligence and the necessary harsh insight into these harsh times to be a cartoonist in the great tradition.”

Cobb profiled in an 1969 issue of Playboy.

But Cobb was becoming disillusioned. He began to notice clichés and recycled content in his peers, and then recognised it creeping into his own work. An artistic block came over him. “I couldn’t paint or draw or think straight. I couldn’t snap out of it. I couldn’t finish anything. I was taking amphetamines. It was really an awful time. And I didn’t know what it was.” Cobb would later reflect that, “I had truly become sloppy with the content of the cartoons while conversely, growing in my attraction to the film medium. It wasn’t an interest in animation that pulled me. My two years at Disney taught me that animation lacked spontaneity. It was the writing, and possible directing, of live action short films or maybe features that intrigued me now.”

A break came when he received a phone call from Robin Love of the Australian Aquarius Foundation, the ‘cultural wing of the 170,000 strong Australian Union of Students’ that primarily helped organise university festivals and counter-culture events. Cobb recounted that Robin had told him that his “cartoons [were] very well-known here” among the Australian counter-culture, and “would [he] be interested in coming to Australia?” Still in a slump in the States, his answer was enthusiastic: “I said, ‘Yes, I’ll come! I’ll come!'”

Cobb’s political cartooning however earned him the scorn of Australia’s Liberal government, who made attempts to ban him from visiting and touring universities, but thanks to Love and the AUS his Visa was not revoked and the tour commenced with protest singer Phil Ochs in tow (and occasionally supported by The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band). “I discovered a country on a human scale: unpretentious, hardy and social,” Cobb said of his tour. “I began to come out of a non-productive, post-sixties slump which had lasted two years. The exuberant and colourful political scene intrigued me, the air of anticipation of a change in government after over twenty years of conservatism was infectious.” He certainly was not missing the American counterculture. “It should be said,” he clarified in 2005, “I never identified that much with the counter-culture, the new left or ‘The Sixties’. I fully expected flower power to wilt and teach-ins to teach out. Some of what happened was partially effective like the women’s movement, but most of it was too faddish, emotional and self-indulgent (read, American) to really fit the complex mix of world events and thus, change things in all the intended directions.”

At the end of his stay in Australia, Ron and Robin moved in together, married, and moved to Los Angeles in ’73, living on Robin’s dime while Cobb sought involvement in the film industry. “I never expected Ron to make any money,” Love told the LA Times in 1988. “Ron could have been doing everything he wanted to do a lot sooner if he had hustled. But he is not an ambitious person.”

Ron’s first foot into film came way of old acquaintance Dan O’Bannon, who was toiling to assemble his student film Dark Star with director John Carpenter. “I met Dan some years back because of his interest in fantastic films, then didn’t see him again for a number of years,” said Cobb. “He contacted me next when he was in the middle of Dark Star, and wanted to know if I’d be interested in giving him some of my comments on it. When I got there, he had an exterior design for the spaceship, and I started suggesting things.”

“I tried to reach Cobb to get him to design the whole film, but he was unreachable,” said O’Bannon. “For weeks his phone rang without an answer, and then it was disconnected, and then I got his new unlisted number but it was invariably answered by one of the girls who were living with him, who always told me he was out. It was impossible. It took another year and a half to track him down and get him to agree to design us a nice, simple little spaceship for our simple little movie. Finally, one night about ten pm, Carpenter and I drove over to Westwood and roused him out of a sound sleep. He was hung over from an LSD trip and I felt kind of guilty, but I had to have those designs. We took him over to an all-night coffee shop and fed him and got him half-way awake, and then he brought out this pad of yellow graph paper on which he had sketched a 3-view plan of our spaceship. It was wonderful! A little surfboard-shaped starcruiser with a flat bottom for atmospheric landings. Very technological looking. Very high class stuff.”

cobbpic41

The brief collaboration was encouraging enough for O’Bannon that he kept Cobb vigorously in mind for future projects. When he was hired by Alejandro Jodorowsky to oversee the special effects for Dune, he recommended that Jodorowsky add Cobb to his artistic stable, which already included eminent artists like Chris Foss, Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud, and HR Giger. “I tried to get Cobb on to Dune,” O’Bannon told Fantastic Films in 1979, “but it never worked out.”

“Transatlantic phone calls [to Cobb were] made,” O’Bannon said of the arrangements to get Cobb on board, “and a date is set for Cobb’s transfer to Paris. Cobb and his wife pack their bags, the date arrives, but no plane ticket.” While waiting to officially join the project, Cobb managed to submit designs for the film, but Jodorowsky apparently thought they were too Earth-bound, too realistic, “too NASA.” Still, efforts were being made to fly him out to. “A new date is set,” O’Bannon goes on, “it arrives, and passes. More phone calls. Altogether, Cobb and his wife were packed and ready to get on a plane for about three months. They had terminated the lease on their apartment. This was the position I had gotten Cobb and Robin into when Dune collapsed completely, like a pile of rotten sticks.”

For his part, O’Bannon felt incredible guilt for leaving Cobb in the lurch. When he too ended up back in LA, broke and despondent, he managed to bounce back with a position on George Lucas’ Star Wars and, while there, he put in a word about Cobb. Allegedly, Lucas, visiting his friend John Milius, saw one of Cobb’s paintings on the wall called ‘Man on Lizard Crossing Over‘, depicting a proto-dewback carrying a mysterious traveller over a desert landscape. “Lucas said that he had the idea [for the dewback design] before he saw the painting,” Cobb said in 2015, “and Milius said, ‘No you didn’t. I remember the night you came here and pointed at the wall.'” Cobb laughed, “But that’s Star Wars for you!”

Either way, the image must have tapped into Lucas’ own imaginative ideas for his space opera, and he agreed to a meeting with Cobb on O’Bannon’s recommendation. “It was Dan who was working on this crazy space opera that we had all heard about,” said Ron. “It was costing so much money and George [Lucas] was convinced it was going to be a flop because the budget had blown out so much.”

Ron's designs for Star Wars' Cantina aliens. “George had been unhappy with what they had shot, which was mostly people with bits of foam stuck to their face as the aliens. So he called me in and I sat down across from him with these pages of designs where the aliens were more biological. He looked at each one and went ‘Okay, okay, okay. These are good.’ When I left the meeting all the production staff were waiting at the door. They asked me what he said, I told them, and they were all flabbergasted. One of them said ‘That’s the most excited he has been about anything!’”

Some of Ron’s designs for Star Wars‘ Cantina aliens.

“George had been unhappy with what they had shot, which was mostly people with bits of foam stuck to their face as the aliens. So he called me in and I sat down across from him with these pages of designs where the aliens were more biological. He looked at each one and went, ‘Okay, okay, okay. These are good.’ When I left the meeting all the production staff were waiting at the door. They asked me what he said, I told them, and they were all flabbergasted. One of them said, ‘That’s the most excited he has been about anything!’”
~ Ron Cobb, ninemsn.com, 2014.

Dan rushed to Cobb again when his long-gestating screenplay for Alien was picked up by Brandywine Productions and then greenlit by Twentieth Century Fox. “The first person I hired on Alien,” said O’Bannon, “the first person to draw money, was Cobb. He started turning out renderings, large full-colour paintings, while Shusett and I were still struggling with the script – the corrosive blood of the Alien was Cobb’s idea. It was an intensely creative period – the economic desperation, the all-night sessions, the rushing over to Cobb’s apartment to see the latest painting-in-progress and give him the latest pages.”

“So basically, it’s all been Dan,” said Ron. “He went to work on Star Wars and Dune, and each time he tried to get me on those projects. But since I didn’t have a great deal of film experience, producers were quite reluctant to hire me—except for George Lucas, who’d been familiar with my cartoons … Then Dan finally sold his script, and Alien was underway. He suggested that they use me, and the same problem arose, but I was taken on sort of a trial basis for about seven months in California, before the entire production moved to London.”

“We were put through shed after shed after shed,” said Chris Foss, whom O’Bannon had hired for Alien after having previously met in Paris while working on Dune, “and they were going through director after director after director.” Cobb himself told Den of Geek that “I soon found myself hidden away at Fox Studios in an old rehearsal hall above an even older sound stage with Chris Foss and O’Bannon, trying to visualize Alien. For up to five months Chris and I (with Dan supervising) turned out a large amount of artwork, while the producers, Gordon Carroll, Walter Hill and David Giler, looked for a director.”

“And he was doing some incredible stuff,”O’Bannon continued. “Wow! I was really happy during this period, seeing the movie appear under Cobb’s fingers. Of course, we usually had to go over and sit on his back to get him to do any work -otherwise he would just party on with his friends- but how beautiful were the results.” Cobb accompanied O’Bannon to England when Alien’s production went into full swing, having been personally recommended to director Ridley Scott by O’Bannon. “O’Bannon introduced me to Ron Cobb,” Scott told Fantastic Films in 1979, “a brilliant visualiser of the genre, with whom he’d worked on Dark Star. Cobb seemed to have very realistic visions of both the far and near future, so I quickly decided that he would take a very important part in the making of the film.”

“I made the two-hour round trip [to the studio] with [Cobb] every day in a miniscule red Volkswagen Golf,” said O’Bannon. “I hate to drive, so the first time I got behind the wheel I took off for London at about 70 mph and made it back in record time, through the most horrendous commuter crush and with all the traffic going the wrong way as well. Toward the end there, Cobb actually screamed, and cried out something about how I was going too fast. The next morning when he picked me up in the Golf, he told me firmly that he would be doing all the driving from here on out, so that took care of that.”

Cobb with Giger at the King's Head Pub, Shepperton, England, 1978.

Cobb with Giger at the King’s Head Pub, Shepperton, England, 1978.

Cobb, along with Foss, was tasked with realising the human elements of the film, but he also took a crack at the Space Jockey, Alien, and the Alien temple from O’Bannon’s version of the screenplay. In Cobb’s conception of the Alien temple, a hieroglyph depicts, in a Mayan-esque fashion, an insect-like creature prone on its back as another being erupts -depicted in glorious fashion- from its midcentre. Above the new lifeform’s head is an image of an Alien egg, deified and ensconced within an aureola. The pyramid was ultimately cut due to budgetary and time constraints, and Giger was tasked with its design when the silo was incorporated with his derelict craft (which Ron also took a shot at). Ron’s concepts for the planetoid, which hewed close to O’Bannon’s Mars-esque description in his screenplay, were also ‘ignored’ by the production when the planetoid was given a grey colour scheme (Dennis Lowe’s early effects work for the planet depicted it as a turbulent orange and red swirl, akin to the surface of Jupiter.)

Though O’Bannon loved Cobb’s other designs for the Alien and derelict ship, they were lacking what only Giger was able to provide: a tangible nightmarish quality. Cobb’s Alien was rejected in favour of Giger’s almost from the get-go. “I’m afraid Ron Cobb’s ego was sorely wounded when he didn’t get to do the monster,” O’Bannon told Cinefex in ’79. “He was endlessly frustrated because he could design aliens without number and they were all convincing and all unique and all startling to look at … His designs just weren’t as bizarre, or as bubbling up from the subconscious as the stuff Giger was doing. Cobb’s monsters all looked like they could come out of a zoo—Giger’s looked like something out of a bad dream.”

But Dan did love his concept for the Space Jockey, which he described as “Just perfect! Very small jawbone – no teeth to speak of. Of course, I expected it to look horrible when you first see it in the film; but if you looked at it a bit closer you’d discover that it didn’t have the large teeth or mandibles or any of the other things that are characteristic of a carnivore – and then maybe you’d begin to imagine it as some totally nonviolent herbivorous creature sailing around in space.”

Ridley however was enamoured with Giger’s Space Jockey, and elected that the other conceptual artists focus on other areas of the film, namely the Nostromo, which had to have all the appearance of a functional and plausible 22nd century ship, but also had to convey the idea of being a haunted house, or castle; its comm towers and satellites would have to evoke a conglomeration of cathedral spires and other Gothic shapes. “I wanted the ship to look like a gothic castle,” Cobb explained, “but resisted that approach—it might have been a bit too much … I grew up with a deep fascination for astronomy, astrophysics, and most of all, aerospace flight. My design approach has always been that of a frustrated engineer (as well as a frustrated writer when it came to cinema design). I tend to subscribe to the idea that form follows function.”

Cobb, who was later quoted in the Book of Alien explaining that he preferred to “design a spaceship as though it was absolutely real, right down to the fuel tolerances, the centers of gravity, the way the engines function, radiation shielding, whatever,” found himself struggling to maintain a balance between his aesthetic preferences and Ridley’s more fantastical ideas. “They pressured us a lot to bend the technology to have a somewhat similar look to Star Wars,” said Cobb. “Sort of half-believable, but rather highly stylized—or perhaps a better word would be romanticized. The interior of the ship finally looked like a deco dance hall, or a World War II bomber, and a genuine projection of what a space ship of the future might really look like—or a combination of all of them. The theory was to give Alien more of a horror look, but I never personally agreed with that, and I didn’t have as much influence as I’d like to have had.”

Cobb’s strident rationalism impeded his attempts at the alien technology. “The only problem was that he was a rationalist,” O’Bannon explained. “I noticed this when we first started designing the picture. All these different things he as doing were coming out so well that I decided to have him take a crack at the derelict spaceship. But when I asked him to come up with an irrational shape he got very disturbed. He couldn’t handle that. He kept coming up with convincing technology for a flying saucer or some other kind of UFO.” 

For his part, Ridley also found that his flashes of artistic license caused consternation with Cobb’s more realistic design philosophy. For one, Cobb insisted that every detail on the ship be accounted for: how doors opened, where the screws went and how the pistons pumped, etc. Scott however tended to find himself fighting to retain ‘illogical’ images like the ‘rain’ during Brett’s death in the Nostromo’s leg room, reconciling it to dissenting voices as condensation from within the ship. He found similar resistances when it came to getting across his ideas of the Nostromo’s outer shell. “The concept was to have the hull covered with space barnacles or something,” said Scott. “I was unable to communicate that idea, and I finally had to go down there and fiddle with the experts. We gradually arrived at a solution.” It seemed that removing any ‘space barnacles’ was a concession Scott made to the artists. “I would have liked to see it covered with space barnacles or space seaweed,” he told Fantastic Films, “All clogged and choked up, but that was illogical as well.”

Cobb meanwhile figured that the resistance to exploring the stark reality of space travel came from disinterest or inexperience on the part of the production. “There’s a certain awkwardness in the naturalistic portrayal of the space flight,” he said, “Partly because most of the people involved in this film had never made one before. They didn’t understand what they were getting into, and were put off by concepts like no sound in space, and all the gravitational effects.”

“When I met Ron, he was very adamant that they were very realistic. He wanted a heat shield on the underside of the Nostromo lander. He wanted a contrast between the smooth underside of the heat shield and the detailed upper surface. However this was not to be. Our instruction was to encrust the whole craft. When it came down, we weren’t seeing a craft come through an atmosphere; there was no re-entry. Ron was concerned that it should be there if that type of action was present. Ron is very much into the believability of things. He created wonderful background histories about his designs.”
~ Bill Pearson, Sci-Fi & Fantasy FX magazine, Aliens Collector’s Issue (#48)

“I’ve always done future designs as though they’re real,” Cobb said, “and I’ve found the more realism you put into it, the more original they look, and most of the time you don’t do that you’re just recycling a lot of silly props from every idiotic movie that’s ever been made. We just covered the walls with drawings and, slowly but surely, Alien emerged.” The amalgamation of all these various aesthetics allowed for Alien to present a very believable environment with little bearing on issues like faster than light travel or time dilation: instead, the Company’s armada of commercial ships flit from one side of the galaxy to another in short spans (the film tells us the return journey to Earth from the planetoid would take “Ten months”) and the crew do little to expositise on the ship’s technology.

In the end, the Nostromo’s design was not coalesced from various concepts by its artists, but by frustrated technicians tired of waiting for something to build. Cobb explained that “Brian Johnson, the special effects supervisor under pressure to build the large Nostromo model, went into the deserted art department and, out of frustration, grabbed all the Chris Foss designs off the wall and took them to Bray Studios. There he would choose the design himself in order to have enough time to build the damn thing … Well I soon found out that Brian found and took all of my exterior design sketches as well. About a month later I was told that Brian had used my sketch, ‘Nostromo A’, as the basis for the model, even to the extent that it was painted yellow. Ridley found the colour a bit garish and had it repainted grey.”

Some of Cobb’s interiors were replicated from the page directly onto the screen, so his sketches for a passage on the Nostromo’s A deck–
cobbpic82

–was rendered faithfully as below:

cobbpic83

Cobb’s creative contributions extended beyond the look of the film: he also inspired O’Bannon to give the Alien acidic blood, coined ‘Weylan-Yutani’, and crafted with costume designer John Mollo all manner of fictional corporate insignias and emblems intended to give the film additional depth, even though the majority of their work would not be seen or even referenced on screen.

“One of the things I enjoyed most about Alien was its subtle satirical content,” explained Cobb. “Science Fiction films offer golden opportunities to throw in little scraps of information that suggest enormous changes in the world. There’s a certain potency in those kinds of remarks. Weylan-Yutani for instance is almost a joke, but not quite. I wanted to imply that poor old England is back on its feet and has united with the Japanese, who have taken over the building of spaceships the same way they have now with cars and supertankers. In coming up with a strange company name I thought of British Leyland and Toyota, but we obviously couldn’t use Leyland-Toyota in the film. Changing one letter gave me Weylan, and Yutani was a Japanese neighbor of mine.” The Company would be called Weyland-Yutani in the following movies, with the ‘d’ added sometime during Aliens’ production by Cobb for an unspecified reason – perhaps it was an error, or he was no longer shy about the ‘Weyland/Leyland’ allusion.

For the Company’s logo Ron figured that “It would be fun to develop a logo using the W and Y interlocking. We tried a lot of variations and came up with some very industrial looking symbols, which were to be stenciled all over the ship. By that time though Ridley was already set on using the Egyptian wing motif. We tried some combinations, but they didn’t really work. Weylan-Yutani now only appears on the beer can, underwear and some stationary, so the joke sort of got lost.” Though it’s not obvious at a glance, Cobb’s Egyptian motif logo appears on virtually every piece of equipment on the Nostromo, including dinner bowls and coffee cups. The crew wear blue Weylan-Yutani wing emblems on their chests, except for Kane, who wears a silver patch, and Dallas, whose gold patch is possibly coloured to denote his captaincy.

Cobb and Mollo also conceived a pseudo-historical backdrop over which Alien takes place, creating space corporations like Farside Lunar Mining and Red Star Lines that went virtually unseen and absolutely unmentioned in the film, but which, for its creators, helped flesh out the unseen universe permeating the movie frame. Cobb also designed a flag for the United Americas -the union of South, Central and North America which took place in 2104, at least in the Alien universe- which is essentially the stars and stripes with one unitary star rather than fifty.

G44KhbF

“I think Dan will be pleased. You know, for a while they strayed pretty far from his original concept, but eventually they found their way back into the primary science-fiction/horror framework. By the time the principal photography was finished, everybody was looking forward to seeing how all the pieces fit together. At the very least, Dan won’t have to sleep on anyone’s sofa for a while—I hope.”
~ Ron Cobb, MediaScene, 1979.

“On the whole, I’m pretty happy with the way my ideas were eventually realized,” Cobb told MediaScene on the film’s release. “It was fascinating to watch the process all the way through, even some of the set dressings. I was pleased with things I had a fair amount of control over, but those I didn’t oversee were a little disappointing … Then there was always surprising contributions from draftsmen and other people who would occasionally design a set that would turn out very, very well. It was a mixed bag of many styles and many approaches.”

Alien’s success unlocked doors that had been frustratingly barred to Cobb for more than a decade and the eighties saw a boon for him: he designed Conan the Barbarian’s Hyborian age in John Milius’ film of the same name as well as Conan’s weaponry and armour. He was a production artist on Raiders of the Lost Ark, contributing concepts for the Nazi airplanes, designed the interior of the Mothership in the Close Encounters special edition, and he created the initial concepts for the time-travelling DeLorean in Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future.

Cobb in costume for his cameo appearance in Conan the Barbarian.

Cobb in costume for his cameo appearance in Conan the Barbarian.

While working on Conan the Barbarian in Spain Cobb would visit Steven Spielberg, who was down the hall working on Raiders of the Lost Ark. “I first met Spielberg when I was working on Alien,”  Cobb told bttf.com. “At one point Spielberg was considered as a possible director for the original Alien. It was just a brief thing, he could never work out his schedule to do it, but he was interested.” With Spielberg Cobb would find himself able to express his directorial ambitions. “I would suggest angles, ideas,” he said, “Verbalize the act of directing — ‘Let’s do this and do that, and we could shoot over his shoulder and then a close-up of the shadow.’ Steven used a lot of my suggestions. I was very flattered.” One day, Spielberg told him, “I think you can direct. I want to back a film for you.”

The film, a sequel to Close Encounters of the Third Kind built around a nebulous idea that Spielberg had about the Kelly-Hopkinsville UFO Incident, was quickly nixed when the family at the centre of the event threatened to sue. The desire to make the film remained, but it was in need of a new story and characters around which to frame the tale of a terrifying alien visitation. Cobb then pitched a concept to Spielberg and John Sayles wrote the script, titled Night Skies. However, Spielberg hired screenwriter Melissa Mathison (soon to be Harrison Ford’s wife of nineteen years) to rework the story with a new title: E.T.

“I realized that Steven had changed the script a lot,” said Cobb. “He went back to a story he had told me about years before: An alien is abandoned and protected by a little boy. It wasn’t scary anymore. It was kind of sweet. Finally, [Spielberg producer] Kathleen Kennedy called to say, ‘Steven doesn’t know how to tell you this, but E.T. is very close to his heart, and he wants to make that his picture next year, and he’s decided to direct it himself. So what we would like to do when you get back is work out another picture for you. Because Steven really wants to back your career.'”

In truth, Cobb was relieved: the new script was far too different from his pitch, far more “cutesy”, and the final film itself too saccharine for his tastes. Spielberg did allow him a cameo in the movie as one of E.T.’s doctors (“I got to carry the little tyke out”) as well as a generous take of the resulting profits. The first cheque to drop through the door amounted to $400,000. “Ron spent all those years doing cartoons and not getting paid,” Robin Love told the LA Times, “and then he gets a million for not doing anything. Friends from Australia always ask, ‘What did you do on ‘E.T.‘?’ And Ron says, ‘I didn’t direct it.'”

In 1985 James Cameron enlisted Cobb to design Hadley’s Hope, the Atmosphere Processor, and some of the Colonial Marine gadgetry for Aliens. Though many Alien stalwarts returned for the sequel (including Brian Johnson, Adrian Biddle, and stuntmen like Eddie Powell among others), Cobb was the sole conceptual artist to provide continuity with the first film.

Collating with James Cameron for the dropship in Aliens.

Collating with James Cameron for the dropship in Aliens. Courtesy of Harry Harris.

“Jim always had a strong vision with all his scripts and features,” said Cobb. “However, he was always open to good ideas from just about anyone (but they had to be damn good ideas). If I could submit an idea or design that collaboratively enhanced his vision (something I always endeavored to do on any film project) Cameron was quite receptive.”

Cobb found working with Cameron fruitful and straightforward enough (“his talent spanned smoothly from science to art, a mix I have always aspired to,” he told JamesCameronOnline) that he also drew concepts for The Abyss (1988) and True Lies (1994). He continued to design for film throughout the nineties and the new millenium, with Total Recall, The Rocketeer, Schwarzenegger’s late nineties effort The 6th Day, the animated Titan A.E., Joss Whedon’s Firefly and Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 being added to his already impressive oeuvre.

Ron Cobb’s contributions to science fiction and fantasy films from the 70’s onwards has been profound, though he remains relatively obscure in comparison to celebrated figures like Ralph McQuarrie or Stan Winston, and even his early cartooning career remains an often unknown element to fans of his film work — probably due to the immense success of his reinvention from an underground social commentator to a visualiser of some of the most evocative and memorable science-fiction environments, creatures and contraptions of the last four decades.

Ron Cobb at the Offis eClub Xmas Party, December 2015.

Ron Cobb at the Offis eClub Xmas Party, December 2015.

6 Comments

Filed under Alien

Interview with Sigourney Weaver

10665247_563084160483993_8580243175295731051_n

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?
SW:
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.

521d9056649e80005963f1b3b4b150db

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.

10599137_552191514906591_6816936515550241594_n

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?

080p-alien-narc_zps7d0bfe6a

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.

10 Comments

Filed under Alien

The Life of Bolaji Badejo

Bolaji

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

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

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

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

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

Boyega and BolajI as children.

Boyega and Bolaji as children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bolaji in London, mid-1970’s.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BB

Behind the scenes with Giger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bolaji in full costume as the Alien.

Bolaji in full costume as the Alien.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1454846_706775912668049_653607143_n - Copy

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

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

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

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

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

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

41 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

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

giger_diary_04-36378834

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

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

And what a progeny.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 Comments

Filed under Alien Series

Vintage Interview with Ron Cobb

cobbpic117

This interview, conducted by Dennis Fischer, is reproduced here as printed in Monsterland Magazine’s The Aliens Story (1988) by James Van Hise.

How did you become involved with Alien?

That was a long process. I’m bad at dates and time durations. Sometime after the first attempt to film Dune collapsed in Paris, about 1977 and Dan [O’Bannon] came back, downhearted and starving for a while, he eventually put together a screenplay with Ron Shusett of Alien, and they were making the rounds with it. While they were finishing up, they came to me and asked me to do a series of paintings to help sell it, so I knocked off a bunch of rather small paintings. Dan found some money somewhere and paid for my time and such, and again I was rather grateful to help Dan out because he had always been involved with some projects I could get excited about. So it was mainly the fact that I liked Dan and I liked Ron and I liked the project.

I did this series of paintings based strictly on Dan’s first script, and they went though a variety of adventures, and ended up selling it to Brandywine and Gordon Carroll and eventually 20th Century Fox.  When Brandywine decided to go on a search for a director, and eventually set their sights on a production day, Dan convinced them they should use me to do preliminary design along with Chris Foss from England and hopefully a few other people.

Initially Chris Foss and I worked here at Fox for about seven months in a little office they found for us. We were just cranking out nondescript designs -interiors, exteriors, spaceships, et cetera- carrying some of my early painting ideas into more elaborate versions with input from trial directors along the way, such as Walter Hill. They were elaborate, but they weren’t too practical. It was fine being paid just to sit there and design and design. Finally they settled on Ridley Scott and things began to get underway.

They realised that, yes, indeed, they were going to London. There was talk about it, but we were never sure. Ridley decided he liked the preliminary stuff I’d done. Chris Foss had to go back to London before us, but he was eventually taken on the film again for a while. Ridley Scott liked my work and wanted me to come to London because there was a chance I was going to be kicked off at that point. The producer, who was really calling the shots, wasn’t really sure about my work. He couldn’t always relate to it. He wasn’t sure I had the right approach. I never got the impression they were impressed. Dan always liked what I was doing and he was always puzzled about the producer’s reactions.

It was Ridley Scott who saved the day and got me to London. Naturally they had to stat all over again, design the film over again, only this time with an English production designer and a couple of art directors and a lot f other people. So I was on the periphery again, kind of having to prove myself.

As the additional six months passed in London, they gave me more and more to design. I ended up making more and more of a contribution to the film. So I was really quite satisfied that I had had an opportunity to do a lot of very, very basic designing on the film. I was looking for experience. It was a good team, and the other designer that Dan wanted to get on the film was H.R. Giger from Switzerland who [Dan] tried to get brought out here. But he wasn’t able to. Of course, in London they got him.

Giger ended up being very intellectual in designing the alien culture, the monster itself, and things. Eventually he built the monster. He asked that they build it as he designed it, so he insisted on doing ti himself. It is rather spectacular.

I, along with the production designer, the art director and assorted draftsmen, did the Earth technology. I designed quite a bit of it myself, including almost total design on a number of major sets. It was a great experience. And when all the designing was done, at the time the basic designing of the sets was completed, they were well into about a third of the shooting. I saw about a third of the shooting, then I took off for a little vacation around France, around Europe.

Dan’s original idea was that I would design all of the Earth technology, Chris Foss would design all of the alien technology, and Giger would design the monster, That’s what he wanted. As it turned out, I had a lot of influence in the design of the Earth technology, but I wasn’t the sole designer. There were a lot of people working on it. So it is a patchwork of many, many contributions, and they don’t always fit.

Ridley Scott had very, very strong ideas about all of it, which was sometimes good and sometimes confusing. Not everything fit together as well as it could if it had been designed by one person.

As it turned out, Giger designed, as well as the monster, most of the alien technology, so it all kind of fits together. If there’s one design concept which will dominate the film, it will be Giger’s. He was responsible almost solely for the look of most of the alien technology, the creature and everything.

Cobb and Giger in 1978, likely lunching at, where Giger was staying during the production.

Cobb and Giger lunching in 1978.

Could you relate any of these problems in filming Alien?

I saw that there were a lot of disappointments, a lot of misunderstandings. There was a lack of direction in the design of the film. I expected a lot of this to happen. it was a big production. There was a lot of money involved. There were a lot of people involved, so I knew that it wouldn’t be a hard, tight concept. I knew that they would stray away from Dan’s script, so I wasn’t as disappointed about it as Dan was.

It’s a shame. I think they should have stuck closer to the original concept. They should have given some of the designers a little more freedom. And so there are a lot of things that were very annoying. But it was the first time a lot of these people had made a film of this type. They weren’t aware of the sensitivities that certain people like Dan and I might have about certain inconsistencies. All in all it proceeded well enough in my point of view.

There is no point in getting into specific personalities. There were just misunderstandings and a lack of clarity.

I think that the real problems were in Dan’s sphere, because of what they did with the rewriting. It’s terrible, sloppy revisions, some of them pointless. It was very difficult for Dan to tighten the thing back up to keep it consistent and have it make sense. I was more concerned with certain inconsistent looks and elements of believability being retained. Sometimes I couldn’t make my point and other times I couldn’t because they wouldn’t understand them. I just couldn’t communicate certain ideas. I didn’t have enough power. Dan had more power than I did, so it was frustrating.

The final film is not the film that Dan and I would have made, or Dan, Giger, and I or Ron Shusett. It’s not exactly that film, but it is close enough to Dan and Ron’s. They stayed there and fought for it inch by inch, day by day to keep it from going too far from the original concept.

There is a good look to it and a number of spectacular ideas that survive. A few were innovated by the staff that were really quite good. Perhaps we didn’t recognise how good they were at the time, but there were some good new ideas.

Do you recall any humorous incidents during the filming?

One of the things Dan insisted on was that there be a cat on board. So there’s a mascot. A kitty roams around the ship. Of course, working with animals on a spaceship set creates ridiculous problems.

I had to design a cat box, a pressurised cat box, which eventually they decided was too elaborate. There were elements to get this cat through all the scenes. They had a scene where we wanted to shoot the last surviving crew member desperately looking for the cat to rescue. To take it off the ship because she has to leave because they are going to blow the whole ship up. She’s looking for the cat. So they had to have a scene where the cat was sleeping in a control seat, and she comes in crawling and finally sees it and startles the cat by touching a button. The seat jumps a little and the cat runs off. She has to grab it, put it into this little box, and run out.

The whole thing, of course, was to get this cat to sleep in this little chair. I went out there one day ad saw this ludicrous situation. Here is the entire crew of this huge spaceship set, the control room, the lights, the camera, the dolly, the director, the assistant director, an the make-up people and all the actors, and the assorted little cat cages that they had full of cats for different takes. Once the cat got startled, they had to use a different cat, so they all looked alike. We’re all sitting around very tense, waiting. Everybody is being very quiet while someone is trying to get this cat to go to sleep on this control seat. Finally the assistant director, with this very loud megaphone -the public address system was shot- says, ‘Stand by! The cat’s lying down, the cat’s lying down. Stand by!’

Everybody’s getting ready, and finally he says, ‘What? It’s asleep! It’s asleep!’ and everybody says, ‘Go!’ and everyone comes out and does the scene. They shoot, ‘Here kitty, kitty. Here kitty kitty,’ going along until they startle the cat. Then they have to do it all over again.

They have to get this other cat, and they have to be calm, and wait for this cat to go to sleep. It was amazing, just amazing, because the whole deck of the spaceship was filled.

Ron's cat box.

Ron’s cat box.

The control rooms and aid stations and landing gear were 30 feet high – the immense landing legs on the surface of the planet. They used children in spacesuits, much like they did in Destination Moon, to make the ship look even larger. Those poor little kids were fainting in those spacesuits because it was so hot. They filled this whole stage full of fog, which is just kind of an oil solution on an element and is just ghastly, horribly hot. The kids were walking around in heavy suits, little red faces dying inside. By and large it was kind of desperate and grim.

I’ve always had a very realistic idea of what was involved in making a film, so it didn’t bother me a great deal. It was just a lot of hard work, a lot of disappointments, But it was very exciting to see something you drew the plans for being built – these immense sets and huge set pieces. To be able to stand and walk through them is always something I’ve wanted to do. I must say, I do enjoy learning. I do enjoy making a mistake and realising how to do it right the next time. There was a lot of that.

It was a tremendous accumulation of knowledge. This and that. Now I see how to do it! How to use materials and how to fit lights in.

I actually designed a number of the sets in a very, very complete way. I supervised the dressings of them and everything. I hope that in the future I will have more power and certainly more confidence and ability. There were a lot of things I hadn’t known. It was a great experience for me.

It was not enjoyable for Dan, but I hope to do it again. I hope to work with Dan again, of course, in some future project.

2 Comments

Filed under Alien

Interview with Dan O’Bannon

This interview, conducted by Dennis Fischer, is reproduced here as printed in Monsterland Magazine’s The Aliens Story (1988) by James Van Hise.

How did Dark Star come to be?

As a University of Southern California film project in 1970. John Carpenter and I were at that time both in the film school there at SC. He approached me because he said he was going to do a science fiction film as a student project, and he asked me if I’d like to be involved in it, and I said, ‘Sure, I’d love to.’ And I got very heavily involved in it, so much so that it kind of got out of hand, really. What he originally envisioned as a 20-minute black-and-white film ended up as a 50-minute colour film, and it took just about two years to shoot it and get it done at USC. Just about the time we were finishing up editing on it, with what had been a very long and exciting and difficult road -just when we thought we were finished- we were approached by a friend of ours named Jonathan Kaplan, who subsequently produced most of John Carpenter’s movies. He was also in film school then and had a somewhat wealthy family, and he said that he would put in some additional money if we would expand it to feature length.

So then we all had to butt our heads together, and decided it meant we had to pad it. We feared we had a great student film we might end up making into a mediocre feature film by padding it and putting it onto the marketplace against professional products. But the decision finally came down to a choice between a great student film which would impress all the film schools, or a somewhat mediocre film that would be in theaters. So we opted for the feature.

I think it was the right decision because it did do more for us than it could have as a short. At that pint we launched into what amounted to another year-and-a-half of very hard work, expanding it to feature length. At the end of that time we discovered to our great disappointment that it was not as easy as we expected to sell a film in Hollywood, so we went though another fitful period of trying to find distribution. By the time the feature finally hit the theaters, four-and-a-half years had passed since the film was conceived, and that was in the spring of 1975 when Bryanston Pictures released it.

O'Bannon as his character Pinback on the set of Dark Star.

O’Bannon as his character Pinback on the set of Dark Star.

Was Star Wars the next film you worked on?

The first thing I did was turn down Dykstra’s job. That was back in ’75 when Gary Kurtz called me on the telephone and asked if I wanted to work on special effects. I had never met Kurtz. I didn’t know him or anything about him, but I certainly would have taken the job except he told me one week after I had been offered the opportunity to direct all of the special effects on Dune. I told him about that commitment, I told him about the salary and everything else, and I asked him, ‘Can you meet or better that?’ He said, ‘No, I can’t.’ So I did Dune and worked on it for six months, then it collapsed.

Then a year after the first phone call, Kurtz called me again and said, ‘Well, Star Wars is just about finished, but we still need some people to do special effects work, to do clean-up. Are you interested?’ Since that time I was absolutely flat-broke, I was very interested. So I went to work on Star Wars for a few months doing computer graphics.

Just about anywhere in the film where they cut to a screen and there’s some activity on it, some animation on it which looks computer generated, it was probably done by John Wash and Jay Teitzell under my supervision. Most of it was not done by real computers, it was simulated.

I got to work with a real computer and that was a lot of fun. Now isn’t it funny how fate works? I could have been involved to a very great extent on Star Wars except that I turned it down for another project that never went through. I did a lot of work for Star Wars; I worked pretty hard for several months. We spent a lot of money on computer graphics, and boy, when I saw the finished film, I had to admit that you could cut out everything I did out of that film and it would have still been the same film. It was so full of beautiful things that the computer graphics that we did were just .001 percent.

How did you become involved with 20th Century Fox’s Alien?

When Dune fell through, I ended up back in L.A. flat broke, without an apartment, without a car, with all my belongings in storage. I didn’t know what to do. I moved in on a friend’s sofa. His name is Ronny Shusett, and he had also had a string of very bad breaks. We decided to do something together.

I was more desperate than he was because I had to get off of his sofa, so we wrote a script called Alien. That script, from the moment I typed ‘The End’ proceeded to take on a life of its own. Everybody in town wanted it, We just couldn’t believe it. Everything had fallen through for us. Nothing had ever worked. It had always gone so badly we said, ‘Well, yeah, they’re all yelling about it, and they all want it, but it ain’t gonna work ’cause it never does. It’s just a lot of baloney.’

It just kept going and going and we made a deal with Brandywine Productions, and made a deal with 20th Century Fox, and they started pouring money into it, hiring people, and we kept saying, ‘Nah, it ain’t gonna happen.’ Then we got cheques -they paid us cheques- and we looked at each other and said, ‘It’s happening.’ Step by step we kept saying, ‘Nah, it will fall through by the next step, they always do,’ but it never did. It just kept expanding and expanding and growing.

We sat down on a few occasions, Ronny and I, and we said, ‘Let’s see why this went so well and everything else went so badly when this isn’t even our favourite script.’ We said, ‘Well, we caught this science fiction boom just right… our script was on the market just a month after Star Wars was released,’ and we looked at other reasons like that. But when it came right down to it, we could never explain why that script went out so far so fast by comparison with so many other things we have done. It’s a mystery – one of this things that happen in life.

By accident, by itself, by mysterious forces of God, it happened.

Dan O'Bannon with Ron Shusett.

Dan with Ron Shusett.

Because Alien is a Gothic, which the film industry understands?

You have to understand that after Dark Star, when that film was completed, when I saw the film up there on the screen as compared to what I had intended to make. Then I saw the reactions of the industry and the public to that film. It burned certain lessons into my head like a branding iron. Just right into my brain.

One lesson was not to make an episodic film; have a tight plot. Another lesson was do not make a comedy because nobody laughed. When I sat down to write Alien, Alien was very similar to Dark Star in many ways. It was just, ‘Well, I can’t make them laugh, maybe I can make them scream.’ Obviously, it worked. Applying those lessons did produce something that appealed more directly to people. I mean, there are reasons, right? There are all kinds of individual little reasons. Yeah, it’s a fine script, that’s another reason, right? But then the world is an injustice and we’ve written fine scripts that were better and more commercial and just didn’t go anywhere.

This was a good script. It caught the science fiction market, and it was a combination of science fiction and horror, and nobody else had it out at that time. We figured those were the reasons. But then in that case, why didn’t script X, Y and Z do just as well? It just happened. It was luck.

You also acquired a fine group of actors including Tom Skerritt.

It was fun talking with those guys because the thing I’ve been working towards all these years is being a director. I’ve had practice at all of the things a director does except working with actors. I’ve done all the special effects. I’ve rolled the film through the camera. I’ve edited. I’ve lit sets. You know, everything. You might say my muscle is well-exercised in all aspects of the film except that of directing actors because I haven’t been allowed to get near them for years. There was always someone else directing. To counteract that, I’ve tried to spend all my time talking to actors and watching the directing working with them.

This was a wonderful opportunity to have Tom Skerritt, Yaphet Kotto, Harry Dean Stanton and John Hurt -a lot of excellent people- in there.I hung around as much as possible and talked as much as I could get away with, and watched them being directed.

I’ll never forget one incident. One thing I’ve always been concerned about is the general belief in town -I think that Hitchcock stated it- that actors are idiots. They are impossible to work with. Generally they are the one thing that everyone wishes they could do without on a movie. I remember I was called in just before they were getting ready to shoot because the actors were busy reading through a scene. They called me in because they had objections about the dialogue. I went in, and they said, ‘Aw, I can’t say this line,’ or ‘I can’t say that line.’ I sat down with them with a script and all the different actors pointed out all the different lines they had trouble with and what they thought should be done about it. And I agreed with every last thing they said. I thought these people are not fools, they are right. It was a very good experience to be able to see those guys work.

Did they film your original script without too many changes?

Well, David Giler, who is one of the producers, sat down and just kept rewriting it all. Just kept rewriting and rewriting it, and rewriting it, until there was very little resemblance to the original screenplay. I wasn’t allowed to participate in that because he didn’t want me to. He was producer.

Then two weeks before we started shooting, he left for mysterious reasons. He left the production. The main producer, Gordon Carroll, and the director called me in and there were two week of frantic mutual work between all of us trying to put the script into shape. By the time we got done, it was maybe 80 percent of what the original draft was. What we got on the screen was actually very close to the original draft.

What connection did you have with the design of the film?

Originally, I sat down before they had a director, and they said, ‘Design the film.’ So I hired Ron Cobb immediately and I asked him to bring Chris Foss from London. To my surprise, they did. They brought him over here. And I asked him to get H.R. Giger from Switzerland, and so they had Cobb and Foss over here and they designed a tremendous amount of the picture. Fox didn’t want to hire Giger, which was the hardest fight.

Originally, there were three cultures -the Earth culture and two alien cultures- and along the way one of the two alien cultures had been completely eliminated from the script. It was too much of a committee movie. Everybody was involved in the making of this. Evry last executive in Fox; every last person had two cents in. So we have these two cultures now, just two.

[Ron Cobb] did a lot. He designed practically all of the hardware. They used him the way you would use a dirty old wrench. Whenever they couldn’t figure out how to design something, they said, ‘Here Cobb, you design it.’ Since they could not figure out how to design most of the things in the movie, he ended up designing most of the things. Yet he was never regarded as being in charge of that.

alien_dan_obannon2

3 Comments

Filed under Alien

Ultramorphs, Xenomorphs, and Weapons of War

deacon_alien_prometheus_born

In the closing moments of Prometheus Shaw and David, having struck an uneasy alliance, dart for the Engineer homeworld and leave LV-223 behind them. “There is nothing here but death,” Shaw narrates. But in the wreckage of Vickers’ escape pod the Engineer suddenly shudders to life – his chest cleaves open and a new life-form emerges: a spindly-limbed creature known as the Deacon, or, as the early script by Jon Spaihts call him, the Ultramorph.

“I wrote five different drafts of the script,” explained Spaihts, “working with Ridley very closely over about nine months. And even as we were working, we were constantly toying with the closeness of the monsters in the film to the original Xenomorph. You can see an interesting balance, even looking at the movies in the Alien franchise, between homage and evolution. In every film you’ll see that the design of the Alien shifts -the shape of the carapace, the shape of the body- and some of that is to do with new technology available to realise the monsters, but a lot of is just a director’s desire to do something new.”

“And so he was always pushing for some way in which that Alien biology could have evolved,” he continued. “We tried different paths in that way. We imagined that there might be eight different variations on the Xenomorphs – eight different kinds of Alien eggs you might stumble across, eight kinds of slightly different Xenomorph creatures that could hatch from them. And maybe even a rapid process of evolution, still ongoing, in these Alien laboratories where these Xenomorphs were developed. So Ridley and I were looking for ways to make the Xenomorphs new.”

One of the new Alien variants would be the Engineer-Alien; the creature that presumably erupted from the chest of the Space Jockey in Alien.

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

An Alien born from a Space Jockey is an angle already explored in the series’ expanded universe. One appeared in the comic book Aliens: Apocalypse – The Destroying Angels, and another in the Nintendo DS game Aliens: Infestation – both designs bore no similarity to one another, the Jockey-Alien being an unseen element in the films. Artists were free to render it as they wished. The hypothetical creature has also been the subject of fanart over the last few years. Spaihts’ Alien: Engineers movie would have been the first in the movie canon to depict the monster.

Concept of the Engineer-Alien.

Concept of the Engineer-Alien.

Alien: Engineers, as Spaihts’ script was called, would also expand Ridley’s notion that the Alien was a weapon of war and not a naturally occurring creature in its own right. The Alien had long been theorised to be an unnatural creation. In addition to Ridley’s ideas about the origin and purpose of the Alien, James Cameron also considered the theory that the Jockey may have been on a mission of either peace or war: “Perhaps he was a volunteer or a draftee on the hazardous mission of bio-isolating these organisms,” he said in an issue of Starlog magazine, before also postulating: “Perhaps he was a military pilot, delivering the Alien eggs as a bio-weapon in some ancient interstellar war humans know nothing of, and got infected inadvertently.”

The idea was explored in almost every one of Alien 3′s many scripts, which saw the Company’s weapons division attempting to domesticate an Alien for their own purposes. In David Twohy’s Alien III the antagonist Dr. Lone recognises their lethal potential: “Company assets are, as you know, many and far-reaching,” he says, justifying his use of Aliens as weapons, “There will always be a need for defensive weapons.” In Eric Red’s Alien III, Dr. Rand comes to the same conclusion: “This organism, on a cellular, even a molecular level, is purely and totally predatory. We have never encountered an organism that had its characteristics… or its potential.” Dr. Rand goes on to confidently declare to an audience that she has tamed the Alien for future military applications. She approaches the creature and…

“The Alien’s first set of jaws open, piledriver jaws jackhammering the back of Dr. Rand’s head, exploding it off her shoulders in a shower of meat. Her decapitated, spurting body collapses to the floor.”

… its obedience was feigned. The Aliens likewise pretend to be obedient in an issue of the early Dark Horse comics – when the moment is right, they unerringly strike, to the shock of their would-be masters. The Alien seems to be a fantastic weapon, save for one element: control. Alien Resurrection and many of the expanded universe stories explored not only the Aliens’ tenacity and single-minded will, but also their intelligence and ability to quietly strategise amongst themselves when under duress.

Lack of control is a long running theme of the series (first hinted at in the first movie: the Space Jockey is clearly shown to have fallen victim to his cargo) and even containment is an arduous task. Ash is more content to allow the Alien to run amok; analysing and admiring the creature’s lethality seems to be his kick. Though he sabotages any attempt to expel or harm the Alien, he likewise makes no move to contain or communicate with it – he may have deduced that it may not be possible to do so. In Alien 3 the Company’s intention to capture the Alien is dismissed by Ripley as being futile and self-destructive. “They can’t control it, they don’t understand it, it will kill them all.” She would know. After all, her plan to trap the Alien only briefly succeeded.

In Spaihts’ screenplay the Engineer facility on LV-426 (LV-223 after Lindelof’s rewrite) is a testament to the Alien’s unsuppressible nature. The creatures there, some time ago, managed to infect and annihilate their creators. One Engineer (called the “Sleeper”) manages to stow himself away in cryosleep, and is found eons later by the protagonists of the story, who rouse him from his rest. The Engineer attacks the humans and launches his ship, the Juggernaut, but succumbs to the Alien’s birth pangs:

“In the pilot chair, the Sleeper convulses. An ALIEN erupts from his chest. Big as a wolf even at its birth. Dark grey, armoured, lethal. More hideous than any chestburster we’ve seen. An ULTRAMORPH. It wails hideously. The Sleeper dies. The Alien slithers free.”
Alien: Engineers, by Jon Spaihts.

Janek and Shaw take advantage of the Juggernaut’s loss of control and ram their own ship into it. Both ships subsequently crash and the Ultramorph rises from the wreckage and stalks Shaw, who eventually kills it with a diamond-tipped saw.

But the Ultramorph was not the only Alien to feature in the original script. Different variations cropped up throughout the story, including an alabaster, dolphin-headed Xenomorph that is born from Holloway. The classical Giger Alien is pulled form Shaw’s body during the MedPod scene, and she quickly dispatches it once the creature reaches maturation – “I brought it in,” Shaw tells Captain Janek, hefting her gun, “I took it out.”

The Holloway Alien however is given some time to rampage through the ship, and kills many of the crew.

orig_creatures302

“It is a humanoid demon, spindly limbs and bony back. Boneless and flexible and monstrously strong. A threshing eel’s tail. Its blunt head dolphin-like and elongated … A nightmare image, a translucent white goblin. Backlit, it shows the strange shape of a human face inside its fleshy skull. A mockery of Holloway.
And then it’s gone.”
~ Alien: Engineers, by Jon Spaihts.

This particular Alien is able to sift through vents and small spaces, and its carapace only barely masks a leering human skull – just like the original Alien from the 1979 movie. Spaihts talked to Empire about the Holloway Alien’s appearance: “We toyed with the notion that the Xenomorphs might have a soft carapace like a soft-shelled crab, and be flexible and able to squeeze through cracks; that they might be pale rather than black; that they might retain inside some gelatinous cowl some resemblance of the human being in whom they’d incubated. We played with a lot of ghoulish notions like that.”

When the script was rewritten by Damon Lindelof (as a script titled Paradise) these Alien creatures were cut and replaced by other monsters. The Ultramorph, retooled as the Deacon, was saved for the closing scenes, but it never encounters any of the film’s human characters. Where it goes after its birth is not known, its intelligence and motives can only be guessed at, and some called its inclusion an unnecessary and overly obvious tip of the hat to the Alien series, from which Prometheus had previously seemed desperate to divorce itself.

The design of the Deacon primarily fell to conceptual artist Carlos Huante, who was keen to explore Giger-esque forms and shapes. Many of his initial designs mimic early Alien concept pieces, but Ridley, as he did with other conceptual artist Neville Page, steered Huante away from mimicking Giger’s style, though Huante found the influence irrepressible. “The genesis of that character came after a conversation I had with Ridley about a design progression of the creatures to the Xenomorph of the first film,” he told AVPGalaxy. “I went home and thought about it, but kept on with the Giger-esque Ultramorphs.”

Once I realized that this film’s timeline was taking place before the Giger-esque aesthetic would come into effect, I started homing in on a design aesthetic [that] I felt would complement the beautiful Giger style that saturated the first film. I wanted everything white and embryonic. Ridley and I were right in tune with each other on this. I mean, Ridley was looking at paintings that had white ghost-like creatures, as reference for the Engineers. I loved the idea of pale white and started developing that as an overall concept for all the creatures.”
~ Carlos Huante, Prometheus: The Art of the Film, 2012.

“Then as I worked I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if these Aliens, who are born of humans and haven’t been mixed genetically with the Engineers yet, would look more human and less biomechanical?’ Of course this was for a different version of the script, but that’s where the Deacon (or Bishop, as he was originally named) came from. He later became an Ultramorph and as the script changed slightly after I left the show, it became that thing at the end.”

The original concept of the Deacon looked similar to the Holloway-Alien in that it was tall, pale, and its head headed in a point.

The original concept of the Deacon looked similar to the Holloway-Alien in that it was tall, pale, and its head ended in a point.

The Deacon became a shade of blue in other pieces...

The Deacon became a shade of blue in other pieces. Huante explained that blue tone was used to emphasise its whiteness in varying shades of darkness. Its skin also had a translucent quality…

Other pieces showed the Deacon as smaller, fowl-like and coloured a darkening blue.

In other concepts it was imagined as smaller, fowl-like and coloured a darkening blue.

As the design went through different permutations Ridley decided to move away from the ‘Ultramorph’ name for something else. At first it was referred to as ‘Bishop’, but this became ‘Deacon’ for obvious reasons. “It looks like a bishop’s mitre, the evil deacon’s pointed hat,” explained Arthur Max.

The Deacon in the film is not as magisterial as the concept art, which depicted a fully-grown Alien rising from the caracss of the Engineer. The film opts to show the Deacon as a vulnerable creature that rises but tumbles as it is born: it is connected to its host via an umbilical cord and is sustained by an egg sac for feeding upon.

“Foals are gangly and ungraceful,” explained Neil Scanlan, “but have to grow quickly. A foal or a giraffe, if they’re born in the wild, out in the open, have to get on their own feet and get ambulatory very quickly. They’re ungainly, but they develop fast, and that’s what we wanted, so that was the strategy with the Deacon.”

As for its skin tone, Scanlan said: “The quality of the Deacon’s skin is based on the placenta when a horse gives birth. Steve [Messing] managed to get it — something between horrific and beautiful with the way he rendered the quality of the surface treatment. It had a sort of iridescent quality we really wanted. So it was kind of beautiful-scary.”

But Carlos Huante was not impressed by the Deacon’s dark blue skin and design changes from picture to film. “Why it was blue?” he said to AVPGalaxy. “I don’t know… The illustration was blue so as to emphasize its whiteness in a dark blue setting, and I was following some inspirational paintings that a contemporary Russian painter did of a man’s head that Arthur [Max] had sent me from Ridley. The creatures were all supposed to be albino. They were supposed to look simple, beautiful and ghostly, like a Beluga whale in dark Arctic water.”

1013565_604167139623066_756468154_n

“I wish I could have stayed on to supervise the follow-through with the designs,” he explained further. “My biggest disappointment is that what I did got modified, of course. Any artist would say that. But I really thought they were going to make my Deacon, but for some really strange reason they went with the one from the storyboards which was not my character and not the design.”

Huante reckoned that the production took note from the film’s storyboards rather than his concept art. “The board artist illustrated it for the purposes of storytelling for the storyboards but not as the design,” he said. “The design of the actual Deacon was abandoned … I’m shaking my head as I write this.”

When they met in London in early 2011 Ridley toured Giger around the film’s production offices, showing him the concept art of the various creatures. Giger, sitting at a desk with Scott, sketched some tentative alterations that ultimately were not integrated into the final designs.

deacongigerconcepts

THE ENGINEER lies on the ground, STILL.
Next to it, the TROGLYBYTE. Equally motionless looking very much like a DEAD OCTOPUS. And then…

THE ENGINEER’S BODY STARTS TO TWITCH.

His ABDOMEN slowly rises — SOMETHING IS MOVING — UNDULATING BENEATH HIS SKIN LIKE A MASSIVE PYTHON — PRESSING AGAINST IT. AGAIN. AND AGAIN. AND — BURSTS OUT OF THE ENGINEER’S CHEST. A CRYSTALLINE PLACENTAL SAC FLOPS ONTO THE GROUND WITH A SICKENING SPLASH OF VISCOUS FLUID
— And now —
A RAZOR SHARP POINT PUNCTURES THE SACK FROM WITHIN — SOAKING  THE CARPET WITH GOOP as it TEARS OPEN and in MAGNIFICENT GLORIOUS FASHION —
AN OOZING, ASTONISHING CREATURE — A DEACON — SLITHERS TO THE GROUND LIKE A HORRIFIC TUNA. FIERCE. TERRIFYING.
And it rises to it’s full TERRIFYING HEIGHT. Takes its FIRST STEPS towards the OPENING at the end of the room.

EXT. PLANET, CRASH SITE, VICKERS’ MODULE – DAY

Stands there now — SURVEYING THE PLANET with the cold, detached air of a HUNTER.
~ Paradise, by Damon Lindelof.

The reaction to the Deacon was mixed. It hasn’t gained any of the stature of Aliens from the previous movies, though many fans are optimistic to see the creature as an adult. Its appearance in Prometheus can be compared to that of the newly-born dog Alien in the third movie – both creatures had yet to shed and mature into adults.

Some fans also humorously pointed out that the Deacon bore an unfortunate resemblance to monsters from other films, most notably the alien monster from the comedic Alien vs. Ninja:

The Deacon rod puppet from the film's climax.

The Deacon rod puppet from the film’s climax.

14 Comments

Filed under Prometheus

The Translucent Alien

AlienProtoSuit_BTS2_1.

The Alien as we know it is the colour of oiled machinery or charred bone, perhaps both. It can squeeze itself into tight spaces and blend into a tight knot of piping just as easily as it can vanish into darkness. But, as detailed in the complete article on the creation of the original Alien monster (The Eighth Passenger), it was originally decided that the creature would have translucent rather than dark skin. “One should be able to see the skeleton, the blood circulatory system, the organs etc,” Giger wrote in his diary. He later explained in 2001 that the idea was to see actor Bolaji Badejo writhing like “a spider-thing inside of this half transparent suit”.

“Scott would actually like the whole Alien transparent,” Giger wrote in his diary, “in the way I’ve made my biomechanoids.”

“They built special ovens for this plastic material,” said Giger, “like hot-melt vinyl, but it was not transparent enough to see through to the person behind it and it didn’t work.” Giger explained that had he been given time, then the transparent suit might have been feasible. “Andrew keeps producing more and more transparent costumes,” he wrote. “However the ideal solution has still not been found, because the material is not resistant enough and tears … Unfortunately he still hasn’t produced anything we can use, and time is running short.”

Unfortunately, the process was complex and the results simply unsatisfactory. After almost two weeks of experimenting, Giger wrote again that, “Andrew has still not come up with any satisfactory result. The moulds have been badly damaged by his experiments and the great heat, and have to be patched up by the plasterers in meticulous detail, or even made all over again.” Giger later told Famous Monsters magazine that “It turned out to be a … how you say … a night dream … uh, a nightmare.”

Though their efforts failed in Alien, the creatures in Prometheus would successfully be portrayed as having translucent skin; notably the Hammerpede, though the excised Fifield-mutant was also translucent and gelatinous in appearance.

AlienProtoSuit_BTS3

Stuntman Eddie Powell donning the suit. Powell portrayed the Alien as it killed Brett and lunged for Dallas in the vents. He returned to play the creature (or one of them) in Aliens.

The translucent Alien was packed away and the fact of its existence simply passed into the series’ trivia, with the suit itself only exposed in a few production photographs. There was not much information on its condition in the decades following Alien’s release, but in 2012 special effects technician Dennis Lowe posted images of the now-tattered suit, which had been rescued from the rubbish tip by the film’s associate producer, Ivor Powell.

“Ivor also had some reject Alien costume parts that he rescued from the skip when everything was dumped after the production had wrapped. These are the original latex parts to come out of the plaster moulds. They have been kept in a bag all these years but latex, being organic, breaks down over time and you can see some corrosion setting in, it tends to become brittle and powdery. They look better than I would have thought, all the same.”
Dennis Lowe, Prometheusforum.net, May 2012.

The Alien torso and legs can be seen...

The Alien torso and legs can be seen…

close-up of the ribcage...

close-up of the ribcage…

"The hands still look good," chips in Dennis.

“The hands still look good,” chips in Dennis.

Interestingly, the latex has taken on the appearance of discarded skin, much like the sample found by Brett before his death…

A portion of the skull also survived (bearing a remarkable resemblance to the ridged heads of Aliens in its unfinished state) and the suit, as it survives in full, can be seen in the complete Alien design article, which again is right here.

Alien-PrototypeSuit2_1.

3 Comments

Filed under Alien

Blade Runner/Alien

140hld1 Ever since 1982 science-fiction fans have looked at Ridley Scott’s Alien and Blade Runner and noted similarities between the two. Many concluded that the two movies at least shared connective tissue, if not universes. Though Blade Runner was not constructed to stand in canon with Alien, the two intertwine not only in terms of aesthetics and thematics, but also share visual and audio cues, as well as behind-the-scenes inspirations that reach both before and beyond either Blade Runner or Alien.

“I’m looking for another science-fiction script right now,” Ridley Scott told Fantastic Films in 1979, shortly after completing Alien. “Something that has a little bit of speculation or prediction about it, rather than just a thriller. Purely, as an art director, I find the the whole area of hardware and environment fascinating. One day I’ll do a film just about people, hardware and environment. Actually, that’s what science-fiction is all about, isn’t it?”

The project that Scott next latched himself onto wasn’t Blade Runner, but Dune, a film which, under Alejandro Jodorowsky, helped to introduce many of Alien’s creative team to one another. Dan O’Bannon was introduced to Chris Foss, HR Giger and Jean ‘Moebius’ Giraud during Jodorowsky’s attempt on the film, and all four moved on to craft Alien’s characters, creatures, vehicles and environments – now, in an amusing case of synchronicity, Alien’s director was tackling Dune, and he took Giger along with him.

Unfortunately for fans of Herbert’s novel, Dune collapsed again, this time after Scott pulled out due to the death of his older brother, Frank. However, Scott found that working helped him to grieve, and he took another science-fiction film under his wing; an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, for now titled Dangerous Days, and later known as Blade Runner.

Though Blade Runner existed in a world quite distinct from Ridley’s 1979 effort (that is, they share no continuity) it still found itself being informed by Alien as well as that film’s creative contributors. Firstly, Scott’s vision for the film was drawn directly from a strip penned by Dan O’Bannon and inked by Moebius during their Dune days. “We had [Moebius] working a little bit on Alien, and I tried to get him involved in Blade Runner,” Ridley revealed to Film Comment magazine in 1982. “My concept of Blade Runner linked up to a comic script I’d seen him do a long time ago; it was called The Long Tomorrow, and I think Dan O’Bannon wrote it.” The Long Tomorrow would also influence some imagery in Prometheus.

The most notable and obvious onscreen relationship between Alien and Blade Runner was in the grungy aesthetic employed by Scott. In Alien the Nostromo is cramped, dirty, oily, and battered. In Blade Runner the city is an amalgamation of crumbling stone and retro-fitted tech. “We’re in a city which is in a state of over-kill, of snarled up energy,” explained Scott, “where you can no longer remove a building because it costs far more than constructing one in its place. So the whole economic process is slowed down.” This meant that the towers and apartment blocks of the film were in a state of half-collapse, half-construction; old brick and cement infused with new steel girders and soaked in neon light.

Looking over the smoke and grime of Los Angeles, Scott quipped that, “This [film] kind of followed through on Alien, because there was almost like a connective tissue between all the stuff I went through on Alien, into the environment of the Nostromo, and people who still have Earth-bound connections … this world could easily be the city that ports the crew that go out in Alien. In other words, when the Alien crew come back in, they might go into this place and go into a bar just off the street where Deckard lives. That’s how I thought about that.”

Indeed, it’s not hard to imagine Dallas sulking at Taffey’s, or Parker mending a spinner.

The most famous Alien-Blade Runner are the latter's visual homages.

The most famous of Alien and Blade Runner’s connective tissue are the latter’s visual homages. Screens from the Nostromo’s monitors appear within the spinner vehicles. Top images are from Alien, the bottom from Blade Runner.

Other Alien/Blade Runner parallels include the role of corporations in the future. Scott imagined that companies would become bigger than legitimate political institutions  and would act as de facto governments. These industrial imperialists would hold monopolies over property, robotics, space-travel, off-world colonies, the terrestrial police, paramilitary units and even, in the case of the replicants and the androids of Alien/s, the creation of life. 

In an 1984 interview, Ridley Scott said in regards to the corporate worlds of Alien and Blade Runner: “Here you see a large corporation that does something in one area buying up another corporation that specialises in an entirely different field. Obviously two separate sides of the conglomerate world -perhaps engineering and biochemistry- will eventually merge, just as I think industries will develop their own independent space programs.”

Sound effects from Alien also returned. Alien/Blade Runner editor Terry Rawlings revealed that “There’s this low, monotonous, humming noise you hear every time you’re in Deckard’s apartment. It’s there all the time, but you don’t know where it’s coming from until the end of the picture. Then Harrison discovers Sean Young sleeping under the sheets in his bed, and you realize that that sound has been coming from these two flickering TV monitors besides Deckard’s bed. Well, in that particular case, we reused a sound effect originally created for Alien. It had been done by a terrific sound editor chap named Jimmy Shields; Jimmy had initially cooked up the sound you hear in Deckard’s apartment for Alien’s Autodoc, the automated medical scanner John Hurt’s put under after the facehugger clamps onto his head. The reason we reused this audio bit for Blade Runner was because Ridley just liked the sound of it. It was so dynamic, it really stood up and hit you in the ear. Or tickled it, as the case may be.”

Blade Runner and the Alien series continued to intermingle throughout the 80’s and 90’s. Syd Mead, who had designed Blade Runner’s cityscapes, was recruited by Aliens writer/director James Cameron to design the Sulaco and its interiors. Though it can’t be seen onscreen, Dallas’ profile during the inquest sequence details his prior work and transits for one Tyrell Corporation.

Androids, Replicants, and dangerous days: Neither Alien nor Aliens explored the roles and social statuses of their respective androids, but the plight of Roy Batty and his replicant cohorts informed, in some small way, the performance of Bishop actor, Lance Henriksen.”When I got the part,” he said in 2011, “the first thing I did was look at actors who’d played characters like that, Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner, Ian Holm in the first Alien. They were phenomenal.” Earlier, in 1987, Henriksen had told Starlog, “I read a couple of books [for Aliens].” One book, Mockingbird by Walter Tevis, gave Henriksen an idea of Bishop’s unseen struggle with his artificial nature that reminds one of the elegiac mood hanging about the replicants. “There’s a bit in it where the android knew how to play a piano,” Henriksen explains, “but didn’t know why. He didn’t know what music was, but he kept hearing it. It was part of his builder’s input that hadn’t been completely erased. That image stuck in my mind, and what it translated to me was that there were feelings that Bishop didn’t understand, like a joke.”

Henriksen also alluded to technophobia in the Alien-verse: “For [Bishop], the world is xenophobic. He’s an alien to anything alive. He must be as careful as, say, a black man in South Africa, where you make a mistake and you’re out.” Henriksen concluded by saying, “You’re either replaced or you’re destroyed,”  an allusion to Deckard’s “They’re either a benefit or a hazard” line.

In addition to being a theme of Blade Runner, technophobia, persecution, and Ludditism were points in William Gibson’s Alien III, and similar themes also swiveled around Prometheus’ David.

For Alien 3, David Fincher hired Blade Runner’s director of photography Jordan Cronenweth, solely based on his work on Scott’s movie. Unfortunately, Cronenweth’s struggle with Parkinson’s Disease caused Fincher to release him from the film, only two weeks into shooting. Rumours abounded that Twentieth Century Fox had strong-armed Fincher into firing Jordan, but the director ploughed on with Alien 3 with Alex Thomson serving as cinematographer.

Blade Runner managed to bleed itself into other areas of Alien 3. Though Ridley had envisioned the Nostromo and Company as being one-part Japanese, his film never made this overt. Los Angeles in Blade Runner however capitalised on the idea. The streets are strewn with Asian bicycle riders, lanterns, lingo, graffiti and advertisements. Seeing this, Fincher decided to make Weyland-Yutani’s presence on Fiorina 161 reflect its Japanese heritage; as such, the company’s logos in the film are accompanied by kanji, as do soda machines and other props scattered around the film. They usually translate as “Weyland Yutani kabushiki-g/kaisha”, meaning “Weyland Yutani joint-stock corporation”. Another obvious example is the large red lettering in the prison scrapyard.

The famous 'Hades'' landscape from Blade Runner also influenced-

The famous “Hades” landscape from Blade Runner also influenced-

-this shot of Fiorina's hellish machinery.

-this shot of Fiorina’s hellish machinery. “A pretty nice Blade Runner-esque shot,” according to Richard Edlund of Boss Film.

Alien 3 matte painter Paul Lasaine added a Blade Runner homage in his painting of the Fiorina refineries, where distant towers styled after the stacks from Blade Runner‘s famous opening shot were included in the background –  which you’re unlikely to have a chance of spotting in Alien 3 due to the overlapping effects and the diminutiveness of the painted towers. Allegedly, the Tyrell Pyramid structure is also in there, somewhere.

When Ridley returned to the Alien-verse with Prometheus, he also considered featuring some allusions and outright references to Blade Runner. “There’s one idea that I’m very sad that we didn’t do,” explained Prometheus concept artist, Ben Proctor. “Ridley, one day, came in and said, ‘You know, I’m thinking what if it’s the Weyland-Tyrell Corporation? Is that cool?’ Maybe the bodyguards, you know, that come out with Weyland, maybe one of them says Batty on his uniform. And we’re like ‘Awesome! Do it, do it!’ And it didn’t end up making it but I thought that was a really cool thing that there is such a compatibility between the sort of, you know, dystopian future of Blade Runner and Alien that they may as well be the same universe. And if we’re doing a Weyland versus a Weyland-Yutani, why not have corporate mergers shifting and make some kind of a connection there. I thought that was cool.”

Batty, a proposed Weyland Corp mercenary, obviously modelled on Rutger Hauer.

Batty, a proposed Weyland Corp mercenary, obviously modelled on Rutger Hauer.

But a role as a military man wasn’t the only piece of connective tissue that was planned for Prometheus, as Ridley had toyed with the idea of casting Hauer as Peter Weyland.

Ridley’s sketch of Weyland. “Rutger or Max,” it reads. Rutger Hauer and Max von Sydow were originally considered for the role.

Ridley’s sketch of Weyland. “Rutger or Max,” it reads. Rutger Hauer and Max von Sydow were originally considered for the role.

Ultimately no nod to Blade Runner made it into the film, but an ode of sorts did make it into the home release, courtesy of Alien Anthology/Blade Runner/Prometheus DVD/BD producer Charles de Lauzirika. A memo dictated by Peter Weyland reads:

“A mentor and long-departed competitor once told me that it was time to put away childish things and abandon my ‘toys’. He encouraged me to come work for him and together we would take over the world and become the new Gods. That’s how he ran his corporation, like a God on top of a pyramid overlooking a city of angels. Of course, he chose to replicate the power of creation in an unoriginal way, by simply copying God. And look how that turned out for the poor bastard. Literally blew up in the old man’s face. I always suggested he stick with simple robotics instead of those genetic abominations he enslaved and sold off-world, although his idea to implant them with false memories was, well… ‘amusing’, is how I would put it politely.”

The easter egg attracted much attention online. However, Lauzirika told movies.com that the memo was only a gag, and not intended to be taken seriously:

‘That was me having fun and being cutesy. I wrote all that stuff. I actually said this at the press conference they had in London, which is that if it’s in the film, it’s canon. I would argue that the viral pieces that are included in the Peter Weyland Files are canon just because they originated with Ridley and Damon Lindelof. I would say those, to some degree, are canon. But anything else – especially these which are kind of like little cute, embedded text graphics on the menus – I wouldn’t take those too seriously. It’s just meant to be an in-universe framework for those viral pieces.

As a Blade Runner fan, and because there’s been so much talk before this even occurred with people on the Internet speculating that maybe Alien and Blade Runner and Prometheus could all exist in the same universe, it was just more of a wink at that. Absolutely nothing to be taken seriously. I mean, I sent it to Ridley and he had no comment. [Laughs] So, it’s just icing on top of icing. It’s not the cake. It’s a fun, little side thing that’s very superficial. And, by the way, it in no way officially establishes that it’s Blade Runner because, if a lawyer were to comb through that, there’s no reference to Tyrell or anything in Blade Runner. It’s just a very lightly intentioned joke.”
~ Charles de Lauzirika, movies.com, 2012.

One last thing: in the 1980’s rumours of a Blade Runner sequel surfaced – to be directed by James Cameron. “I have nothing to do with Blade Runner II,” Cameron told Starburst magazine in 1989. “I wouldn’t be interested and I don’t want to go around cleaning up after Ridley Scott for the rest of my life!”

Alien/Blade Runner banner created by Space Sweeper. Many thanks.

14 Comments

Filed under Alien, Alien 3, Prometheus