Tag Archives: Alien

Loving Lambert

“This is a movie about alien interspecies rape, that’s it. That’s scary. That’s scary because it hits all of our buttons, all of our unresolved feelings about sexuality, all of them.”
~ Dan O’Bannon, Alien Evolution, 2001.

Lambert’s final scene is probably Alien‘s greatest source of horror and shock, bar Kane’s last supper. It is also one of the film’s most speculative scenes: what sort of experience did the Alien subject her to, exactly? Was it sexual as well as violent? Was it literally sexual, or merely figuratively? Alien fan boards have seen the topic being raised and fought over for years – did the Alien rape Lambert?

The answer is not something we can turn to the scripts for. The scene was completely improvised in post-production. Veronica Cartwright, who plays Lambert, knew nothing of the Alien’s suggestive actions until she saw the movie upon release. “[Lambert’s death] was supposed to be done different,” she told Fantastic Films magazine in 1979, “but they ran out of time so they changed it. Ridley wanted to do a thing where I freak out and crowded back into one of those lockers that the cat came out of. I sort of crawl up into it and die of fright. But that got changed.”

She also told Starlog that she “was supposed to sneak along the wall and get into the locker – the same one the cat was in earlier. The Alien is supposed to track me down with his sensory things and I die of fright. Well, that’s what they told me, but the next thing is I’m hanging from a meat hook.”

Gathering from Cartwright’s quote, we can deduce that the shots of Lambert crawling into the storage locker and seizing up was not filmed due to time concerns, and Ridley worked his way around it in post (Cartwright herself said in 2013 that they never shot her final scenes, only the footage of her being suspended so the viewer can see her dangling legs). Scott took her dying screams and distorted them , then took an excised clip from Brett’s death and spliced it into Lambert’s. The rest is for the imagination to squirm over.

The Many Deaths of a Navigator: Lambert suffered a myriad of alternating deaths throughout Alien‘s scripting phase. In O’Bannon’s script, Melkonis, the character who most resembles Lambert, has his head twisted and wrenched off by the Alien. In an early Giler and Hill draft, the cocooned Dallas tells Ripley that the Alien has eaten Lambert. In later scripts, Lambert is at one point set alight by Parker, who is aiming for the Alien with his flamethrower, and in another version is sucked through a hole in the ship’s hull.

“Because of budget reasons and time we just couldn’t shoot it,” said Scott, “but I wanted Lambert to get sucked out of the ship through an opening about the size of a keyhole. Not a very heroic ending – but dramatic.” Scott added, in an interview with Cinefantastique Online, that economics also played a part in excising the death sequence: “We couldn’t afford it, besides, I couldn’t work out in those days [without CGI] how to squeeze a body through a hole that big.”

For the immolation sequence, Scott said in 1979, “as the script was reworked, and as we shot the film, other scenes that were equally powerful [as the chestburster], such as the air-lock depressurisation, the flamethrower death of Parker and Lambert, and the cocoon scene with Dallas were cut altogether or changed.”

“When I saw the final cut it was a lot different than I had anticipated,” said Cartwright. “For example, the scene where the tail creeps up between my legs, those were Harry Dean Stanton’s legs. He was the first one to go, so the Alien’s tail came up and pulled him closer to inspect him. Then –whack– it drags him up into the rafters. And so when I was watching the movie I realized, ‘those aren’t my legs!’ It was really weird. Who knows what will end up being changed in the editing room.” One giveaway that the legs are not Lambert’s is that the feet wear sneakers – Lambert wears cowboy boots throughout the entirety of the film.

“She was the one who first expressed the fears that most people might have. And when Lambert saw the Alien, she freaked out. I mean most people in that situation would – it’s not the nicest thing in the world to stand next to. Plus, I figured when I was working on her, that this was her last trip and she was on her way home. And I worked to the effect that she had an experience before that wasn’t too pleasant. I mean getting hit in the face with the blood wasn’t too pleasant either. It sort of sent her over the end a little.”
~ Veronica Cartwright, Fantastic Films, 1979.

Lambert still ultimately dying of fright however is still suggested by Ridley Scott in his 2003 commentary, where he notes: “Veronica was always great at barely controlled terror. Catatonic terror. She’s always like, two steps from a heart attack, which I think she finally does at the end – have a heart attack.”

In a separate interview with Danny Peary in 1984, Scott said: “You’d probably die before the thing touched you anyway. I mean, you’d have a heart attack, right? You’d turn and see it and last about four seconds before you had a coronary, okay … run-ins with the Alien [were] always done with the ultimate feeling of a heart attack. The rush of a heart attack, even if the thing didn’t ever touch them.”

Let’s note that Cartwright herself told Starlog that “All I can assume is: I got raped by the Alien.” She explained that “There were many things that were shot which aren’t in the final movie. I thought events would take a different direction than they actually did in Alien. And that surprised me.”


“Well, originally my death was meant to take place in one of the lockers. I was supposed to crawl into the lockers like the cat … We shot for five days … Well, somebody asked me once, ‘how did it feel for that tail to go up between your legs’, but those were Harry Dean Stanton’s legs. If you notice I wear cowboy boots throughout the movie. But that was the end result – we never did shoot my death, so, what I thought was going to happen -getting caught up inside that locker- was never shot. I asked them what was going to happen, they said they had enough footage. And the next thing I’m in a week later and I was hanging from a jockstrap contraption for a couple of hours, just so they could see my foot dangling and then they decided that was what my death would be.”
~ Veronica Cartwright, Texas Frightmare Convention, 2013.

It seems absurd to suggest that the Alien physically rapes or sexually penetrates Lambert, considering that, one: the kill sequence lasts mere moments, with the Alien gone once Ripley arrives at the scene, and two: the Alien has no penis, and in fact sports a vulva-like protrusion on its groin, (the creature is hermaphroditic). So we are left, arguably, with a form of symbolic rape, or the creature penetrating Lambert’s body with its tail, and/or Lambert’s heart succumbing to her terror during the ordeal. Perhaps Lambert suffered a massive heart attack just as the Alien reaches out for her, or as it grooms her body. Of course, one point to muse over is the state of Lambert’s corpse, as found by Ripley, in a suggestive state of undress…

Extract from one of the earliest Giler/Hill drafts. When Ripley rushes to Lambert’s screams, the navigator is nowhere to be found. Upon stumbling inside the nest, a near catatonic Dallas reveals her fate.


Filed under Alien

Debate: Aliens, Fear of Fire?


“One tough little son of a bitch.”
~ Ash

With the Alien running loose on their ship, the crew of the Nostromo convene to talk tactics. “Most animals retreat from fire,” muses Ash. Later, in Alien 3, Ripley sighs that the creature is afraid of “fire, not much else.” Arguably, there is no indication within the films that this is true.

James Cameron noted in Starlog magazine that “we never see [flamethrowers] actually used against the creature” in the original film. Ash, always keen to throw off his crewmates and preserve the creature, may have simply been throwing them a red herring. When Dallas is in the vents, the Alien is not shy about snatching him, even though he is armed with fire.

At the end of Aliens, Ripley turns her flamethrower on the Alien Queen’s nest, who in return shows no fear, but only concern for her brood and contempt for Ripley’s daring. The burning hive does not deter any lingering Aliens from attacking Ripley, who cuts them down with her pulse rifle. When the Queen lunges for Ripley and Newt within the elevator, Ripley lets loose with a spray from her flamethrower. The Queen (again, arguably) does not recoil in fear, but screeches in anger. When the prisoners attempt to trap the Alien in the third movie, they set fire to the underground network of corridors. Their plan is to use the flames to beat the Alien into a vault. When the creature emerges it leers at Ripley and the prisoners, and is only locked away when prisoner Junior uses himself as living bait. Again, no real indication that the fire fazes the Alien.

The Alien drops Lambert.
Parker lands a blow with the flamethrower.
No effect.
The Alien strikes him once.
Killing him instantly.
~ Alien script, final/revised, June 1978.

A point of contention may be one scene Alien 3, where Ripley, having trapped the Alien in a nook, waves a flare at the creature and attempts to grab its tail.  The Alien, not willing to outright harm her (she is carrying its Queen, after all), screeches and claws at the flame. But is the Alien afraid of the fire, or angry at being closed in upon? Ripley’s aim is to bait the creature into the open, so why force it further away with fire? The Alien only moves out of its corner when Dillon takes hold of Ripley and drags her away.

The hear of the furnace does not deter the Alien. In the previous movies we are reminded that the Alien hive is a humid environment.

The hear of the furnace does not deter the Alien. In the previous movies we are reminded that the Alien hive is a humid environment.

Could fire even harm the Alien? Here is how Ash describes the physical make-up of the facehugger to Ripley: “He has an outer layer of protein polysaccharides. He has a funny habit of shedding his cells and replacing them with polarised silicon, which gives him a prolonged resistance to adverse environmental conditions. It’s an interesting combination of elements, making him a … tough little son of a bitch.”

The polysaccharide comment may be a nod to bacteria, which secretes protective layers of slime, usually composed of polysaccharides and protein, to help the bacteria protect itself from antibiotics and even chemical sterilisation. Such layers also serve as an aid in attaching bacteria to other cells, and also as food, or rather, energy stores. The facehugger could well be using such a protective coating, which not only serves to protect the organism, but to keep it energised (they do face a potentially long hibernation) and to help any regenerative healing properties … Either that, or the scriptwriters thought it sounded like an intelligent thing for Ash to say.

Either way, the facehugger is set up to be, as Ash says, a tough little son of a bitch. The adult Alien, by no stretch of the imagination, is even more resilient. The facehugger’s cells are also said to be made up of silicon. HG Wells, in an article written for the Saturday Review in 1894, turned his imagination to silicon-based lifeforms, and he gives a clear idea of how resistant such a being would be: “visions of silicon-aluminium organisms … wandering through an atmosphere of gaseous sulphur … by the shores of a sea of liquid iron, some thousand degrees or so above the temperature of a blast furnace.” As we seen at the climax of Alien 3, the Alien leaps from the molten steel – intact and furious. But afraid?

Pain and Fear: In Alien Resurrection, the Aliens are imprisoned and subjected to barrages of pressurised liquid nitrogen(?) by Dr. Gediman. They feign obedience and later escape, and though the punishment inflicted on them is clearly physically distressing (they shriek in pain and display anger) they seem to fake fear and obedience to trick Gediman into thinking they can be domesticated.

Of course, there are or seem to be inconsistencies in the Alien’s resilience. The original Alien is harmed by a speartip, and the monster in the third film bounces back after being crushed and submerged under molten lead. A jarring inconsistency? Harry Houdini was allegedly killed with a gut-punch, but Phineas Gage survived the trauma of an iron rod impaling his head. “The iron entered on the side of his face … passing back of the left eye, and out at the top of the head.” Almost immediately after his accident, “a teacupful of the brain” poured out when Gage vomited. He lived for another twelve years.

Of course, the point here is not that the Alien is invulnerable (it isn’t), but if it fears bodily harm. Looking at the first three movies, there seems to be no real (or at least, overpowering) evidence within the films that the Aliens are afraid of fire, other than from the characters’ unconvincing testimony.

Extract from one of Walter Hill and David Giler’s drafts. The Alien rushes through the flamethrower jets unimpeded to snatch Dallas.

The last word here goes to Ridley Scott, from an 1984 interview in Omni’s Screen Flights: “In relation to humans, the Alien does seem indestructible. It does not fear anything,” (emphasis in original.)


Filed under Alien Series

The Eighth Passenger


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

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

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

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

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

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

“Jodorowsky found these very good and fantastically original sci-fi artists to design all of the sets and costumes and spaceships and everything,” O’Bannon said of the Dune conceptual period. “It was an amazing achievement. It was like being in an art museum.” But it was Giger’s work that stunned O’Bannon the most. “His visionary paintings and sculptures stunned me with their originality,” he said. “They started an idea turning over in my head – this guy should design a monster movie. Nobody had ever seen anything like this on the screen.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Alien design by Ron Cobb

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

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

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

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

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

An Alien sketch by Dan O’Bannon

Giger’s sketches of the Alien shape.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mia Bonzanigo, described as Giger’s “secretary-girlfriend-muse-model” by Cinefantastique, described Giger’s state of mind during production: “He used to have nightmares and would even talk in his sleep because of the terrible pressure imposed on him by the production,” (Giger and Mia, who can be seen in some of Alien‘s behind the scenes footage, would marry after the film’s production. They later separated.)

“Sometimes,” Giger said to FamousMonsters, “I couldn’t sleep because I was afraid I wouldn’t be ready with the design by the deadline. I mean, the Alien had to be the star of the film, and if the star is no good the film is lost.” Giger told Cinephage in 1992: “I still see the H stage, the studios at Shepperton, filled with smoke and oil burning. Outside, the sun was shining and we entered the studio and were suddenly in the mist. It was crazy! I had to be there every day. It was completely stressful … I wanted things to be done well.”

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

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

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

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

“I wanted a very feminine creature,” Scott elaborated further. “The idea of associating danger and sexual desire, to have a creature that was at once desirable and lethal, and that was exciting. It was the eroticism in Giger’s work that had struck me immediately.”

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

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

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

Bolaji Badejo, photographed by Eve Arnold.

Bolaji Badejo, photographed by Eve Arnold.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The translucent suit today.

The translucent suit today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bolaji as the Alien.

Bolaji as the Alien.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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“Mortal, after all”

“I wanted the thing to be, in every respect, a natural animal, which means yes, if you shoot it, it’ll die.”
~ Dan O’Bannon

There is an idea among Alien fans –some, not all- that the creature as originally conceived in the original movie is indestructible. Ridley Scott described the Alien as a “supreme being,” but that this is only the case “in relation to humans, [to whom] the Alien does seem indestructible.”

Dan O’Bannon, who conceived and wrote the movie, explained that the question of the monster’s mortality vexed him for some time whilst in the scripting process: “I was stuck on one point; once they got the thing on the spaceship, I wanted to avoid the cliché of bullets bouncing off of it: the indestructible monster, I mean, that’s the ancient cliché, right? ‘You can’t stop it, bullets won’t stop it.’ Not at all. I wanted the thing to be, in every respect, a natural animal, which means, yes, if you shoot it, it’ll die.”

O’Bannon reiterated that the idea of a creature that was impervious to harm wasn’t something he was interested in regarding his Alien: “I encountered a narrative problem, namely, why didn’t they just kill the thing? … Generations of writers before me had resorted to, ‘Bullets won’t stop it!’ which is, of course, the big gest groaner of all time. Bullets will stop anything … Though deadly, the critter was as vulnerable as any other animal to having holes drilled in it.”

Relief came in the form of Ron Cobb, who suggested that the Alien’s veins carry acidic blood: “[Cobb] gave us one of the major plot elements: the monster has an incredibly corrosive bloodstream; one of the reasons the monster can’t be cut up or fired at is because its blood would eat right through the ship. That was Ron’s idea and I want everyone to know it.”

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

In one scripted exchange the crew discuss killing the creature, but come to the conclusion that doing so would compromise the Nostromo’s hull, and kill them in the process.

RIPLEY: We can’t go into hypersleep with that thing running loose. We’d be sitting ducks in the freezers. We have to kill it first.
LAMBERT: We can’t kill it. If we do, it will spill its body acids right through the hull…
BRETT: Son-of-a-bitch.
RIPLEY: We have to catch it and eject it from the ship.

In a later (scripted, unfilmed) conversation, after the death of Brett, the crew discuss killing the Alien again:

PARKER: Blast the rotten bastard with a laser and take our chances.
RIPLEY: No. At its present size it’s holding enough acid to tear a hole in this ship as big as this room.

In the film, these points are summed up by Parker in one succinct line, delivered after the crew observe the facehugger’s acidic properties: “It’s got a wonderful defense mechanism. You don’t dare kill it.”

Ridley also imagined that the Alien would have a clipped life span. Not only was it susceptible to injury, but it was born with an accelerated ticking clock counting down to its demise; one reason why the Alien is lethargic inside the Narcissus is that it is in the stages of dying. In Aliens the creatures have extended lifespans, and we may retcon the original Alien’s dying and chalk up its fatigue to entering a state of hibernation.

“Like a butterfly or an insect, it [the Alien] has a very limited lifespan in which to reproduce itself … [it] only has a limited life cycle of, maybe, four days like an insect … the Alien lifeform lived to reproduce … [Ripley] killed it, but it would have died soon anyway.”
~ Ridley Scott.

In one famous scene, again scripted but unfilmed (though its bookending scenes were filmed, though excised) the Alien stands outside the ship’s airlock, and the crew turn on a green swivelling light to distract and lure it within the chamber. “Creature looks curiously at it,” the script reads. “Moves into the threshold.” Ash, listening to these proceedings in his ‘blister’ compartment, fires off a klaxon that frightens the Alien, who leaps out of the airlock – the creature “screams as the inner hatch closes on an appendage. Acid boiling out. The appendage crushed.” One of the Alien’s limbs, whether its arm, leg, or tail, is crushed in the door, seriously wounding it, and the creature struggles free, knocking over Parker in its escape.

‘Ridleygram’ of the airlock sequence. The Alien’s injury causes decompression aboard the ship. In one early version, the hole in the hull caused by the Alien’s blood results in Lambert being sucked through the small rent. At the time, such an effect was ultimately impractical. “They did it in the fourth one,” quipped Ridley years later. The after-effects of the unfilmed decompressive episode lingers in the final film – Ripley’s nose bleeds during her encounter with Ash, which was to take place immediately afterwards.

The decapitated Ash’s famous, masturbatory speech about the Alien’s supremacy is often taken at face value to make the point that the Alien is indeed invincible, despite the fact that Ash constantly works to not only to keep the creature on-board, but to keep it alive (in the final film at least, there is a sense that he constantly undermines the crew’s efforts to harm or expel the beast). In one scripted but unfilmed moment (you can find it in the comic adaptation as well as the script) after Kane’s death, Dallas confronts Ash over his motivations and actions regarding the monster:

DALLAS: Mother was monitoring his body. You were monitoring Mother. You must have had some idea of what was going on.
ASH: What are you trying to say?
DALLAS:  You want the Alien to stay alive… I figure you have a reason.

Ash’s final speech, as it is in the movie, was rewritten from the shooting script on the day of shooting by David Giler. The original shooting version has Ash barter for his life by offering to help kill the Alien:

RIPLEY: How do we kill it?
ASH: I don’t think you can. Not in this ship, given its life support systems [note: air and food supplies are minimal, and killing the creature will potentially compromise the reserves and hasten the crew’s demise]. But I might be able to.
ASH: I don’t know quite yet. I’m not exactly at my best at the moment. If you would reconnect-
RIPLEY: No way.
ASH: Don’t be so hasty. You’ll never kill it without my help […] I will kill it because I am programmed to protect human life as you know.

Ripley dismisses this ridiculous claim, and unplugs the android. The scene was likely rewritten to tighten the noose around the crew’s neck and to harden Ash, who bleats and insults Ripley for taking his life.

The Alien comes into more harm in the movie’s finale. In the script and film, Ripley wounds the Alien with the speargun. The script reads:

The Creature rises.
Faces the locker.
Catches the steel shaft through its midriff.
The Alien clutches the spear.
Yellow acid begins to flow from the wound.

There is an addition in the movie that doesn’t feature in the screenplay: the Alien, embedded within the walls of the Narcissus, is drawn out of its hole by Ripley, who blasts the creature with steam. In response, the Alien flails and screeches in pain, before dragging itself out of the jets and shrugging off its lethargy by honing in on Ripley. In the screenplay, the Alien does not hide from Ripley at all, and attacks her immediately after the Nostromo’s detonation.

With the Alien leering over her, Ripley opens the shuttle door: space sucks at the Alien and she blasts it with the speargun – the Alien screams, clutches its wound, and flies out into the void. There, it climbs into the thrusters and Ripley hits the engines, blasting the creature with ionized plasma. In the script and storyboards, the Alien is pushed out into space by the force and vapourised.

The burned mass of the Alien drifts slowly away.
Writhing, smoking.
Tumbling into the distance.
Pieces dropping off.
The shape bloats, then bursts.
Spray of particles in all directions.
Then smouldering fragments dwindle into infinity.
~ Alien shooting script.

For obvious reasons, incinerating stuntman Roy Scammell was not an option for the production – and wouldn’t have been an option even had they wished to. The film’s finale was shot in one day, and every shot was a first-take, due to time and budget concerns. See ‘Filming the Fourth Act’ article for more.

Some fans were later perturbed when the creatures in James Cameron’s Aliens were felled by the Colonial Marines’ weaponry. Cameron explained to Starlog magazine:  “A careful analysis of both films would show that the adult warrior (my term for the single adult seen in Alien) has the same physical powers and capabilities in Aliens as it did previously. Since the Nostromo crew were unarmed, with the exception of flamethrowers (which we never see actually used against the creature), the relative threat was much greater than it would be to an armed squad of state-of-the-art Marines. One, crazed man with a knife can be the most terrifying thing you can imagine, if you happen to be unarmed and locked in a house alone with him. If you’re with 10 armed police officers, it’s a different story.

We set out to make a different type of film, not just retell the same story in a different way. The Aliens are terrifying in their overwhelming force of numbers. The dramatic situations emerging from characters under stress can work just as well in an Alamo or Zulu Dawn as they can in a Friday the 13th, with its antagonist.”

It helps to consider that this state-of-the-art Marine weaponry consists of armour-piercing, explosive-tipped caseless rounds that are fired at a rate of around 1200 rounds per minute, as per the film’s dialogue.



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Jon Sorensen: Alien Miniatures Experience

In November 2010 I contacted Jon Sorensen, who had helped build the Nostromo for the original Alien, to ask if he could clarify some questions of mine regarding the film. At the time, Jon was dealing with a personal loss, and said he would get to it at some point, no promises on an ETA, but that he would certainly get back to me. To my surprise and joy, I found this document in my email folder hours later. I would like to send all of my thanks to Jon for taking the time to share his experiences crafting one of the most iconic horror/science fiction movies ever. My regards and best wishes,
~ Valaquen.

I had spent some time studying photography in Glasgow, Scotland, and during that period had been inspired by the astonishing model work on a television series called SPACE: 1999 to the extent that I built my own miniature spaceships and shipped them over to my College to photograph them and strip into star and nebulae art done by myself. These I submitted as assignments to my bemused tutors whom I suspect thought I’d taken leave of my senses.

About this time STAR WARS and CLOSE ENCOUNTERS emerged which fired me up to make contact with luminaries in the film industry. One of these was the visual effects boss on SPACE: 1999, Brian Johnson. People were very kind and I travelled to many film studios and shoots to introduce myself carrying with me my large folio of work. On one of these trips I met Brian Johnson at Shepperton. Brian had written on letter-headed notepaper marked ALIEN, which I took to be the name of his company. Brian was sufficiently impressed by my selection of photographs, spaceships, landscapes, abstract composites and aerial photographs to say he might be able to use me on a film he was doing. He wanted photographic plates for the composites and said he was building some spacecraft miniatures which he felt I could probably help with. The film was ALIEN. Brian mentioned I would be on the film 10 weeks. I was on ALIEN for a year. It was the seminal miniature building and photography experience of my professional film life, despite doing much work on many other mainstream studio films subsequently. This was the background to my joining the miniatures and VFX crew on ALIEN at Bray and Shepperton Studios. What follows is a personal and subjective stream of artistic recollections which led to the final Academy Award winning result on Ridley Scott’s best film to date, ALIEN (1979).

I arrived at Bray Studios near Windsor around mid-day on 24 June 1978 carrying a small suitcase and £60.00, all the money I had in the world. (I had turned down a place at Harrow Art College on a film degree course to take up this job on ALIEN, which I felt then and have since to be the absolutely correct choice. The next year was to prove this. When the ALIEN crew finished work and disbanded a year later I cried for two days knowing something very special had passed). When I entered the workshop I was greeted amicably by what would turn out to be an extraordinary group of artists from all walks of life’s spectrum. Moreover, my eye was caught by the hulking shell of something being constructed in its early stages, the NOSTROMO tug. I was transfixed. One drawing by Ron Cobb, whom I later met on a few occasions, showing a yellow spacecraft also caught my eye and this turned out to be the basis of the model under construction. This had been built by Ron Hone and Brian Eke. It transpired that they and we were to be given a pretty wide latitude of creative decisions over the models since they had had to interpret this Cobb drawing as they saw fit. (There were never any blueprints for any of the miniatures). The Cobb drawing became our mantra and inspiration.

Ron Cobb’s ‘Nostromo A’.

I was put straight to work. The first section I was given was the whole detachable back section of the large NOSTROMO model, the part containing the rocket motors and engines. We were subsequently all given responsibility for sections and out of this the whole grew organically. I found myself working alongside Simon Deering, John Pakenham, Ron Hone and Bill Pearson on these tasks. Eventually the large NOSTROMO was completed, artworked and sprayed the required and agreed yellow and moved to the shooting stage, whereupon we then started constructing the large refinery in the workshop. While tests were being shot on the tug, I was sent to take large plate photographs of it plus a collection of 35mm reference shots from which I was then to spend an additional 6 weeks painstakingly recreating all the detail on a smaller version, about 5 feet long, (the large version was easily 10 feet long, the given supposed real life size of NOSTROMO being 800 feet from nose to rear engine).

The actual refinery we were directed to make look “Victorian Gothic” by Ridley Scott. The miniature was around 14 feet square with the four towers, taken from a Ridley sketch, standing around 5 feet tall. The supposed length of this refinery was one and a half miles. Again we took responsibility for sections. Using a natural sense of design we were supposedly hired for, each of these sections was micro-managed by the person doing it to suggest a balance and precision almost in a real graphic sense. Point and counterpoint and balanced “visual weight”. Again it grew organically amongst the many hands, using plexiglass scored to suggest detail and sections, EMA tubing for running pipes, storage tanks, some hobby kits for fine detail. There was a lot of detail on that miniature. We spent about three months doing the bulk of it and it looked stunning, otherworldly, “retrospective futuristic” and entirely credible. It had to definitely suggest an Earth origin so as to underpin the surprise when the audience saw the “alien derelict” and space jockey later in the film’s visuals and story.

The Nostromo, seen here in an early test shot, was originally painted yellow. When Ridley arrived at Bray Studios after shooting the bulk of the film’s interior footage at Pinewood, he decided that the ship should be repainted a gun-metal gray. All of the previously shot spaceship footage had to be scrapped as a consequence.

My abiding memories of this construction period are camaraderie, humour, creative freedom and a certain innocence, co-operation, support, two wonderful bosses, Brian Johnson and Nick Allder, coupled with our oxygen at the time; the wonderful and heady smells of plastics, adhesives, paint, wood, fibre-glass, the sight of sections of pure sci-fi being put together everywhere you looked and an overall feeling of working on something worthwhile which we all felt. One even took a personal emotive view of the models. Being a film fan, I was aware, for example that Jon Finch at that time had been cast as Kane in the movie, our movie, and I remember thinking “Cool, Jon Finch is going to be flying in this spaceship”. This is how one humanised the models and really felt that they and we were part of this very special feeling project and that we were all telling a story together and had a personal investment in it. It was a small movie, hand-made, no computers. Every piece of detail on those models felt important. The Associate Producer, Ivor Powell, visited us and once said, tongue firmly in cheek, “You guys are having way too much fun”.  The feeling at Bray, bathed as the whole enterprise was, in one of the sunniest, warmest summers any of us could remember, was notable and infectious. The sunshine was just as well at that period for I then requested to move to the model shooting stage for the next 6 months where I not only fulfilled my own stills work but assisted in the shooting of the 33 storyboarded spacecraft shots required for the movie.

We had completed all of using the Yellow/Green NOSTROMO. Fitted out with hundreds of feet of fibre optics to suggest windows and practicals, she was beautiful. Utilising a grid plotting system devised by Brian Johnson and Nicky Allder for SPACE: 1999, we shot original negative in the camera, simply rewinding the film as much as 18 times to produce the beautiful composites in-camera. Ridley Scott then arrived from Shepperton to take an interest in the models and everything changed radically in terms of tone, colour and look. The yellow was sprayed over a uniform grey. Sections were rebuilt. We started over, discarding all previous footage. There was no anger at this. Surprise maybe. But it was Ridley Scott’s film. We liked him. So we entered the ALIEN model shoot Part Deux. I recall Bill Pearson and I talking once on what we thought was an empty, lunch-time model stage when a voice spoke from the shadows. Ridley, asking what we were discussing. We answered that maybe that part might look better moved over to there, (we were discussing the refinery). He smiled back and I guess that signalled what was true; we’d go all the way to help him. That night he bought both Bill and I a beer, a move which astonished the Assistant Director, Ray Beckett who complained that in 10 years of working with Ridley, he’d never been bought a beer. So we bought Ray one instead.

The remainder of the shoot was fluid, adaptive, ever-changing and involved very long days. It was, even so, a pleasure. Ridley constructed all his shots through the viewfinder,  experimenting and learning, often involving models being pulled to pieces on the spot and dressed to camera. We got there. But it was and remains a great pity that the original yellow NOSTROMO was obliterated, the footage discarded. Beautiful composites and a spacecraft which hadn’t been seen up to that time set against original negative deep space nebulae,  unseen planets and twin suns, all of which made you feel light years away in “alien” territory where anything could and was scripted to happen in the Lovecraftian nightmare Dan O’Bannon had created on the page. (I was given a script to read when I arrived on ALIEN, and have never since been so excited and taken with the possibilities).

“Victorian Gothic” – the Nostromo’s refinery drifting through space.

The dark sense of impending chaos where mankind counted as nothing that Dan penned has been largely discarded in all the sequels. The dark forces hinted at dispelled by “smart” machine gun fire and nuclear weapons. The genius of ALIEN was to suggest through Dan’s script, Ridley’s vision as conductor of everyone’s input and Giger’s occultish designs a universe totally ALIEN. Threatening, unreasoning, “dark forces” ,which once made aware of man, would simply sweep him away or see him in a truly predatory sense, something simply to be harvested.

It would be a blessing to get back to that “sense of wonder”. Still and all, it was a life event to have been a small part of the genesis in 1978-79, working with a unique crew at a unique time on this hand-made ribbon of dreams. A true labour of love and a seminal professional experience for all who were lucky enough to have been there on this most human of projects. A movie landmark where all the creative and cosmic tumblers actually came into perfect alignment.

Jon Sorensen

3 November 2010.

Jon with the Nostromo refinery's underside, 1978.

Jon with the Nostromo refinery’s underside, 1978.

Visit Jon at http://www.jonsorensen.co.uk/

This essay, and an album of very rare photographs, have been added to Jon’s Alien-orientated site. Visit Recollections of Alien!


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Interview with Bolaji Badejo, 1979

Alien actor, Bolaji Badejo.

Originally published in the Autumn 1979 issue of Cinefantastique magazine, this is Alien actor Bolaji Badejo’s only interview. So far as I know, it’s not been available online anywhere else until now, and is reproduced here courtesy of Cinefantastique. 

The Alien you don’t get to see in ALIEN was played by 6″10, 26-year-old Nigerian Bolaji Badejo. Bolaji is a student of graphic arts in London, and has travelled extensively with his parents: to Ethiopia where he studied fine arts; and to the United States, including a three year stay in San Francisco. He landed the role of “The Alien” purely by accident, a turn of events that reads like a publicity agent’s tall tale. The production had apparently put out a casting call for a very tall, very thin actor. Bolaji bumped into agent Peter Archer while having a drink in a London West End pub. Archer thought of ALIEN as soon as he spotted Bolaji, and offered him the chance to try out for the part.

“As soon as I walked in,” said Bolaji, “Ridley Scott knew he’d found the right person.” Scott had been looking at basketball players, and had tested Peter Mayhew [Star Wars‘ Chewbacca] for the Alien, but it was Badejo’s combination of height, slimness and an erect posture that cinched him the part. Bolaji was signed for the part in May, manufacture of the suit began, and the filming of the Alien scenes started in August at Shepperton.

Ridley Scott originally intended Bolaji to be part of a team of three artists needed to play the Alien, including a mime specialist and a karate expert. When other experts of Bolaji’s unique proportions could not be found, a stuntman was substituted for the dangerous and physically grueling action and Bolaji began to take miming lessons. Most of the footage shot of the Alien didn’t work, but there is one brief cut of Bolaji going through one of his miming routines in the suit, in the sequence where he attacks Veronica Cartwright. “The idea,” says Bolaji, “was that the creature was supposed to be graceful as well as vicious, requiring slow, deliberate movements. But there was some action I had to do pretty quick. I remember having to kick Yaphet Kotto, throw him against the wall, and rush up to him. Veronica Cartwright was really terrified. After I fling Yaphet Kotto back with my tail, I turn to go after her, there’s blood in my mouth, and she was incredible. It wasn’t acting. She was scared.”

At rest on set.

Bolaji worked approximately four months on the film, through final shooting at Shepperton in November. He usually worked only three or four days in the week, sometimes on weekends, and kept getting called back to redo shots when the action didn’t work. “They’d say, ‘Come back and do this shot again,’ but when you get there they’d want you to do something else. New ideas were always coming into their heads.”

Only Bolaji and HR Giger were allowed to watch the rushes of the Alien footage with Ridley Scott, so they could work out problems together on how best to show the Alien and represent the movements and actions required. Most of the footage Bolaji filmed never made it into the movie, due to problems.

“Ridley had a lot more ideas than what you see on the screen, but some things were impossible. There was one part where I was hanging from a wire about ten or fifteen feet above the ground, and I curled up. I was like a coccoon of my own, and I come out very slowly and stretch out. But I couldn’t do it. I was held up by a harness around my stomach, and I was suffocating trying to make these movements.”

Scott filmed several variations of his concept of the monster descending from above onto Harry Dean Stanton, but none of them worked. In one set-up, Badejo was strapped onto a large see-saw like boom arm that could be raised from the ground to tilt straight up some 20 feet in the air. When it came down full circle, Bolaji was upside down, with blood just rushing to his head, feeling very dizzy. Enough was enough! Bolaji declined to repeat the stunt, so Scott got the stuntman to try it, but he fainted! Eventually, Scott rigged the boom arm with a dummy suit and tried to film the same action, but it wouldn’t work without a host to animate the Alien’s movements. Scott filmed some footage of the stuntman being lowered head-first on wires, picking up another stuntman doubling for Harry Dean Stanton, and whisking him back up to the ceiling of the ship, out of frame. In the end, Scott was forced to resort to closeups and quick cuts to suggest the action of the sequence.

HR Giger made the Alien suits worn by Bolaji and the stuntman out of latex, at a cost of more than $250,000. The suit consisted of some ten to fifteen separate pieces, worn over a one-piece black body suit, needed underneath to disguise the fact that the Alien fitted together in sections, and because you could see through parts of it, like the ribcage. The ribcage was put on like a sweater, over the head. The legs and hips were put on separately as sleeves, fitted over with gloves for the hands. The tail was attached separately and operated by a series of wires. Feet were worn like shoes. The head was placed on last. Bolaji likened wearing it to having your head stuck up the middle of a huge banana.

“The Nostromo set itself was only about 6’6 high. I’m 6’10, 7′ with the suit on. I had to be very careful how I spun around or did anything. It was terribly hot, especially the head. I could only have it on for about fifteen or twenty minutes at a time. When I took it off, my head would be soaked.”

In addition to the non-mechanical head for actions scenes, Bolaji wore Carlo Rambaldi’s articulated head for special effects shots. “It was all manual, remote controlled,” said Bolaji. “There’s still a space in it for my head. I had it on just to make sure nothing goes wrong with the posture of the head or how tall it is in comparison to the other sequences. They must have had about 2000 tubes of K-Y Jelly,” he laughed, “just to get the effect of that slime coming out of his mouth. A lot of it was spread around on the face. I could barely see what was going on around me, except when I was in a stationary position, while they were filming. Then there were a few holes I could look through.”

Crawling out of the Narcissus’ compartments was particularly difficult for Badejo.

Bolaji only wore the suit for sequences in which the Alien’s full body would be on view. For sequences where just an arm or part of the body was needed, anyone could double as the Alien by donning part of the suit. Bolaji, for instance, did not play the scene with Tom Skerritt inside the Nostromo’s cramped ventilation shaft, where only part of the creature’s crouched body is visible. For some sequences a dummy in the suit was used, such as the climax where the Alien is sucked out of the shuttlecraft and fried by the ship’s jet exhaust.

The shuttlecraft sequences at the end of the film were some of the most interesting and difficult for Bolaji, and provided most of the useable Alien footage. Climbing into the cramped shuttlecraft bulkhead and then out again for each take put a lot of strain on the suit, which kept splitting.

“Bursting out of that compartment wasn’t easy,” exclaims Bolaji. “I must’ve ripped the suit two or three times coming out, and each time I’d climb down, the tail would rip off! But it wasn’t much of a problem for them, because they had more suits. I remember I had to repeat that action for about fifteen takes. Finally, I said, ‘No more!’ There was a lot of smoke, it was hard to breathe, and it was terribly hot.”

Bolaji regrets that no one can recognise him as the Alien in the film, but thinking back on Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, or other successful actors who began their careers by playing grotesque monsters, he adds, “The fact that I played the part of the Alien, for me, that’s good enough. Legally, I’ll be given the opportunity of doing a follow-up, if there is one.” Although he is training for a career on graphic design and commercial art, he exclaims, “Not if a film comes along!”

by Frederick S. Clarke and Alan Jones

Originally published in Cinefantastique, Volume 9, Number 1. Autumn 1979.

Thanks to Cinefantastique for allowing me to host this rare interview. Of course, you can still visit Cinefantastique online.


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