Tag Archives: android

The Prodigal Son: David 8

david8

“If I have a space ship worth god knows how much money and I’ve got to have a Company man onboard and that Company man is going to be a goddamn secret […] He is going to be a perfect looking robot. So that was the Ash thing […] I just wanted to have the same idea that the corporation would have a robot onboard every ship, so that when you are asleep in hyper-sleep for three or four years going at 250,000 knots an hour, you will have a guy wandering around like a housekeeper. He’s a housekeeper and he’s got full access to everything. He can look at all of the films. He can go into the library… he can do whatever he wants, and that’s David.”
~ Ridley Scott, collider, 2012.

Fondly remembered as one of Prometheus’ better parts, if not the best part, the android David inhabits a middle-ground between Ash and Bishop – he is malfeasant, but is not an antagonist; he valets the Prometheus crew, but is ultimately not beholden to them.

In Jon Spaihts’ Alien: Engineers David is first introduced aboard Weyland’s Wheel, where he acts as a concierge. “He’s cunningly built,” it reads, “but no one would mistake him for a real human being.” When Weyland is introduced, he elaborates a little more on his creation. “He’s a prototype,” he tells Watts. “Our 80 series. One of a kind for now, but if he performs, he will be legion.” This is obviously different in the film, where David appears very much human and, in the promotional materials at least, is said to be mass-produced already. Another divergence in the story is that Weyland does not board the Prometheus ship in secret, but instead sends David along as his “eyes and ears”.

There is also a very interesting exchange where David speaks with Watts and Holloway about his design specifications and capabilities:

David: My design’s not intended to convince. Simulating humanity is a complex task that diverts resources. My designers dispensed with that burden to optimize for intelligence.
Watts: Why look like a man at all? Why not be a box on wheels?
David: Being shaped like you, I can use spaces and equipment designed for you. But I’m not so limited. I hear frequencies you can’t hear. I see wavelengths of light invisible to you. I move faster. Exert greater force.

The scientists look at David in wonder.

Watts: You see yourself as a superman.
David: No.

He turns his unearthly eyes on them.

David (cont’d):
 Not a man at all.

David, overall, is very much an antagonist in Spaihts’ script. At first, he still serves the same function he does in the film: he decodes the alien hieroglyphs and quickly grasps the Engineer technology, and he still rescues Shaw after she is swept away in the storm, but by the midpoint he starts to display contempt for the human crew and, in one scene with Watts, he reveals a hidden agenda:

David: I was given two operating protocols for this mission. I was to render you every assistance – until you discovered what Vickers would call a “game-changing technology.” I was given a specific list. Then I was to go to protocol two […] Under protocol two I was to make sure that you and Holloway never spoke to anyone about this place. Various acceptable ways of making sure of that.

When he finally assaults Watts he does so with palpable malice, and when he gives chase he “runs like a demon, his legs steel pistons.” When he captures her it is in a grip akin to “iron manacles”. He then impregnates her with Alien spore. Interestingly, when the facehugger emerges, David strokes it gently – the facehugger ignores his touch and reaches for Watts.

“Subsequently, David, fascinated by these [Engineers], begins delaying the mission and going off the reservation on his own, essentially because he thinks he really belongs with the Engineers. They’re smart enough and sophisticated enough, great enough, to be his peers. He’s harboring a deep-seated contempt for his human makers.”
~ Jon Spaihts, Empire, 2012.

Watts expels the embryo in the Med-Pod, and she, Vickers and the rest of the crew attempt to stop David from re-activing the Juggernaut. He has gone rogue and has prohibited the Magellan ship from leaving the planet. The Juggernaut ship, David hopes, will resume its mission and annihilate mankind. It is revealed that he is fitted with behavioural inhibitors that will bend him to Vickers’ command, should she be able to reach him in time, but unfortunately, David harnesses the Engineer technology to override these countermeasures. “To interface with the Engineers’ computers,” he explains, “I had to learn to think in trinary code. Hardest thing I’ve ever done. And most unexpectedly…it delivered me from slavery. My behavioral limits were circumvented. I’m free.”

He awakens the last surviving Engineer and the encounter goes essentially the same way it does in Prometheus:

The Sleeper turns in astonishment. He looks down at David and answers in the same tongue. He is angry, accusing. He points at David, at the humans. Tones of accusation.

David cajoles, soothes, pleads. The Sleeper descends toward David. David spreads his arms in welcome – undeniable emotion on his face. Joy. The Sleeper lays his hands on David’s head as if blessing him. David is rapturous. The Sleeper speaks a single phrase

– – and tears David’s head off.

In the end, David’s decapitated head solicits Watts for rescue, claiming that he will need her. The script never tells us if she does set off with him, ending on a note similar to John Carpenter’s The Thing. “It was plain that David and Shaw were going to have to work together and deal with one another if they were to survive,” Spaihts told Empire. “That one shot of the ship taking off in the finished film really focuses you on a particular outcome, whereas my ending was much more open as to what was going to happen next. But it was very much about this shattered android and this scarred woman being left with no-one but each other to carry on with.”

Of course, the script underwent some drastic overhauls when Damon Lindelof was given rewriting duties on the project. In addition to removing the Aliens, eggs and facehuggers, he also remolded the role of Spaihts’ android. “I also became obsessed with David as the central character of the piece,” Lindelof told mtv.com in 2012, “and did everything I could to think of the movie through the robot’s point of view. Mostly because robots are awesome, but also because robots are awesome.”

He told The Hollywood Reporter that “I was really interested in and catalyzed by the robot, David — I felt like he was going to become the central figure of the movie. Because in the genealogical chain of things, there are these beings that may or may mot have created us, then there’s us, and then there’s the being that we created in our own image. So we’re on a mission to ask our creators why they made us, and he’s there amongst his creators, and he’s not impressed. Oddly enough, the one nonhuman human on this ship — that’s sort of a prison — exists to question why it is we’re doing this in the first place.”

“The idea that by creating a being in their image, humans can become gods. In the film, it is clearly stated that David, the android played by Michael Fassbender, ‘has no soul.’ I was interested in showing that as the film [progressed] the character is showing more and more feelings. Especially when one of the characters points out that he is not a ‘real boy’. David is upset, even angry, but he keeps his cool. In this, he is more human than the humans…”
~ Ridley Scott, leFigaro, 2012.

David’s role in Prometheus should be familiar to readers, but there is some interesting, if not contentious, background information to be gleaned from the promotional materials for the film regarding David and his android ilk. The Weyland Industries timeline, which again arguably has a tenuous connection to the actual series canon, details the creation and development of various David models beginning 2025 A.D.

The first David is ‘born’ on 7th January of that year (according to the Nostromo Crew Profiles, he shares a birthday with Ripley) and the timeline provides an interesting detail: “He is affectionately called David, a name Sir Peter Weyland had initially reserved for his own human son.” The next year Weyland patents “a chemical composition of classified properties able to almost perfectly replicate the biological features and textures of human skin.” From thereon, the development of David-type androids rolls on: David 2 is ushered into the world in 2028, and David 3 in 2035. The timeline notes: “After android regulations are lifted, the third generation David is deployed internally to test human acceptance of cybernetic individuals. Results are encouraging.” Further models appear in 2042, 2052, 2062, 2068, and model no. 8 follows sometime between 2073 and the opening of the movie.

Also for the promotion of the film, mock commercials were made to advertise the new David 8 line of android:

The Weyland Industries website offered all sorts of specifications and blurbs for the David 8 line. “David 8 is guaranteed to surprise you,” it promises. The model is “fluent in all known languages through a dialectic implant and can infer the linguistic components of entirely new languages if encountered. Communication between humans and David 8 should feel entirely fluid and natural.”

The site also proclaims that “His cadmium endoskeleton is guaranteed for the life of the product”, that he can blend “seamlessly into human environments” and instills a “strong sense of trust in 96% of users.”

Additional feature specs:

  • Multi-degree range of motion greater than human capacity
  • Micro-distributed accelerometers
  • 30x visual magnification with increased depth of field
  • Low-light auto-adapting feature (with assisted low-light focusing)
  • Non-reactive Polyurethane coating
  • 700-lb lifting capacity
  • Polymer-encased brain stem component

Then of course there is his maker’s signature, so prospective customers know he is the genuine, Weyland-approved product:

david_004

In terms of his physical appearance, Fassbender told Time that “the inspiration we used was David Bowie and The Man Who Fell to Earth, and for films there were the replicants in Blade Runner. Greg Louganis, in terms of physicality. Lawrence of Arabia of course, and Peter O’Toole as Lawrence, and Dirk Bogarde. They were the ingredients.”

“I watched Blade Runner and I looked at the replicants. Well, I looked at Sean Young. There was something in her character, a quality there that I kind of liked for David, this longing for something or some sort of a soul at play there, a sort of vacancy also, a sort vacant element. I don’t know exactly what, I just knew there was a quality there that I liked.”
~ Michael Fassbender, collider, 2012.

When it came to dressing David they decked him in a grey Zhongshan suit, also worn by Vickers, and inspired by the spartan Communist uniform popularised by Sun Yat-sen and famously worn by Mao Zedong and also by pop culture dandies like Andy Warhol and David Bowie. David’s green fatigues also square him up with Bowie’s appearance in 1983’s internment camp drama Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.

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David also exhibits peculiarities (for a supposed machine who only simulates human behaviours for their comfort) like vanity and obsession. One thing close to his heart, so to speak, is David Lean’s opus Lawrence of Arabia. “Ridley and I are both Lean fanatics,” said Lindelof. “and it seemed appropriate thematically.”

“David seems to have some fascination with that film and the character Lawrence,” Fassbender adds, “and I always attributed it to the fact that Lawrence has got a very clear vision and he’s very pure in his pursuit of it. There’s not much questioning. He’s a very decisive character, and I think David sees elements of that in Shaw as well. That’s why he finds her so fascinating. He’s also an outsider like David; he’s an Englishman, but he’s not accepted really by the English or the Arab nations, so he’s kind of somewhere in the middle.”

“He’s got a life history of his own,” Fassbender told Time in 2012. “It’s just probably not relationship-affected. A lot of the time doing the biography is interesting because you can think about what was the character’s relationship with other kids in school, with parents, all that sort of stuff, but David was a programmed entity obviously. So it’s more about how his programming has stayed intact. Are his objectives truly programmed objectives, or has he started to develop his own motivations?”

“While the rest of the crew is in suspended animation, David is enjoying himself, tinkering with the ship’s many technical wonders,” Fassbender explained in 2012. “And like a child, David enjoys watching the same movie over and over again. Additionally, David’s views on the human crew are somewhat child-like. He is jealous and arrogant because he realizes that his knowledge is all-encompassing and therefore he is superior to the humans. David wants to be acknowledged and praised for his brilliance, yet nobody gives him the time of day.”

Most of the crew do seem disinterested in David. Vickers seems to begrudgingly tolerate his presence. Despite claiming David as a son, Weyland dismisses him as nothing more than a conglomeration of inorganic pieces and personal ingenuity (Fassbender commented that “It’s all about Weyland. He is the creator, you know? So when he goes ‘The son that I never had,’ it’s not because he has affection for David, it’s that he has such affection for himself and self-affirmation that he created this.”) Similarly, the supercilious Holloway treats him as nothing more than a dandiprat or an object of amusement. “I think synthetic life is inevitable,” Marshall Logan-Green told i09 in 2012, “and along that line bigotry and racism (if you will) will be inevitable as well. Although I can’t approach a role thinking of [my character] as a racist or a bigot. Certainly now I can look back and explain his disdain for Michael in that way.”

There are interesting parallels here between David and Aliens’ Bishop. Aside from the similarity between David’s wandering the Prometheus ship and Bishop’s scripted introduction (where he roams the Sulaco as the Marines lie in hypersleep) Lance Henriksen also frequently referred to Bishop as being “child-like” and how he was often hurt by how others receive him (one version of the script details that Bishop looks “wounded” when Ripley rebuffs his kindness.) “When I did Bishop,” Henriksen explained, “I was using the fact that I was 12-years-old. I was using my 12-year-old emotional life and thought of myself as a black kid in South Africa. That if I made a mistake anything could happen. So, that’s what I was using through that whole role. There was a certain innocence about Bishop that I created that way. And of course when you’re 12 you forgive adults because you know you’re going to outlive them.”

On David’s poisoning of Holloway, Lindelof explained, “That’s his programming. In the scene preceding him doing that, he is talking to Weyland (although we don’t know it at the time) and he’s telling Weyland that this is a bust. That they haven’t found anything on this mission other than the stuff in the vials. And Weyland presumably says to him, ‘Well, what’s in the vials?’ And David would say, ‘I’m not entirely sure, we’ll have to run some experiments.’ And Weyland would say, ‘What would happen if you put it in inside a person?’ And David would say, ‘I don’t know, I’ll go find out.’ He doesn’t know that he’s poisoning Holloway, he asks Holloway, ‘What would you be willing to do to get the answers to your questions?’ Holloway says, ‘Anything and everything.’ And that basically overrides whatever ethical programming David is mandated by, [allowing him] to spike his drink.”

Logan-Green chipped in that, “My definition of a robot, or at least a self-sustained robot, is to put together information. As much information as possible and data. To build on data. The only way they’re going to grow is to build on data. You meet David collecting data instantly. I think he probably hit a wall (so to speak) with this mission. They all hit a wall, at first, with this mission. And going back to his father, Weyland, and he’s told to ‘try harder.’ I think he understands that he will have to sacrifice a human life in order to achieve that collection of data.”

david_8

Prior to the release of the film Ridley teased that it may feature two androids. Speculating fans immediately zeroed in on Vickers, whose costuming and seemingly robotic poise singled her out from the rest of the cast. “Yes, she does look like David,” Lindelof told mtv. “Yes, this was intentional. What better way to piss off your daughter than to build the male equivalent of her?” Vickers’ scorn for David is evident throughout the movie: first, in a brief cut when Weyland describes David as being like the son he never had, and later, and far more obviously, when she slams him against the wall in frustration as David and Weyland plot without her. The Weyland-Vickers-David triangle was an interesting dynamic that is alloted so little time that it appears more as an afterthought than anything even remotely subtextual. It feels incidental rather than integral; but of course others are free to come to their own conclusions.

As for David’s future, Lindlof told Time that by Prometheus’ end he has aligned himself with Shaw. “I think they’re going where she wants to go. His fundamental programming has been scrapped. Weyland [the man who built and programmed him] is dead and so now his programming is coming from God knows where. Is he being programmed by Elizabeth, or is it his own internal curiosity now that Weyland isn’t telling him what to do any more? He’s always been interested in Elizabeth, remember that: He’s watching her dreams when she’s sleeping in much the same way that he watches Lawrence of Arabia. He’s a strange robot that has a curious crush on a human being, and when Weyland is eliminated, I think he is genuinely interested in what she’s interested in. He reaches out partly for survival, but partly out of curiosity, and I think he’s sincere that he’ll take her wherever she wants to go.”

As for Ridley’s thoughts on the sequel, “You’ll probably have to go with Shaw and David – without his head,” he told Yahoo in 2014. “Find out how he gets his head back on!”

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The Android

Inhuman. Immoral. Infiltrator.

Inhuman. Immoral. Infiltrator.

Ash was a late addition to Alien, first coming into the script when producers David Giler and Walter Hill were continuously rewriting Dan O’Bannon’s screenplay. Hill attributed his creation to one of Giler’s jokes. “He’s got a marvellous capacity for coming up with the unexpected,” Hill said, “a u-turn that’s novel but at the same time underlines what you’re trying to do. A lot of the time he’ll present it as a joke, and it’ll turn out to be a great idea. Like in Alien, when the Ian Holm character was revealed to be a droid – that was David.”

From the way the two describe the concept of Ash’s beheading scene, it seems as though the character originally began as a human. “Walter Hill and I were writing the script,” Giler told Fantastic Films, “and we had invented the subplot of this dodging character. And Hill said, ‘I have what I think is a dreadful idea, or a really good one. What do you think of this? Suppose, in this part, whack! his head comes off and he’s a robot?’”

The revelation that Ash was a robot would, the producers hoped, give the movie another story-defining shock in the wake of the chestburster. Giler also came up with one more gag: “And we’ll put [Ash] on a table and then we’ll have the head talk.” Hill agreed, and “We went back and made the subplot work for that. Actually at one time I wanted the first words from the robot on the table to be the Kipling poem, ‘If you could keep your head all about you…’”

Notice here that first, Ash began as a ‘dodging character’; essentially an underhanded nuisance (consider it a proto-Burke, if you can). When it comes to dispatching the character the producers come up with the idea of him being a robot, and so they rewrite the script to accommodate this new idea. Interestingly, Giler attributes the android idea to Walter, and vice versa.

“What I liked was the low-key cadence of the characters, which I always wanted to keep it real, and the people real, with normal behavioural patterns, not a movie character. That’s why Ash is particularly interesting, because you don’t really know if there’s anything special going on about him other than the fact he seems to be a bit of a stickler for process and he might be ruthless. You just don’t know whether he’s evil or not. But obviously he’s got some kind of itinerary going on, with his fascination of everything attached to this new discovery of the Alien…”
~ Ridley Scott, Alien commentary, 2003

In addition to that, Ridley seemed to confirm that Ash’s (in)humanity was in the air from the beginning; at one point, he could have been an alien himself. “We could have had a Martian in the crew,” Ridley explained. “He’s not much different [from the other crew], perhaps just slightly waxy skin and two small holes in his head. Biological changes rather than mechanical ones.” However Ridley found his alien-Ash idea quickly nixed: “I was, to a certain extent, held down by my producers. They didn’t know me from Adam, so they tried to keep things in balance. Alone I would have done more.”

Having said that, Ridley did concede that having a Martian standing out so conspicuously would draw viewers out of the film. “If you have a Martian in there, the audience is going to be staring at him. Not only that, but we could then have been directly compared to Star Wars or Star Trek.”

In the script Dallas was less passive in regards to Ash and confronted him concerning the chestburster within Kane. This scene was not filmed but made its way into the comic book adaptation.

In the script Dallas was less passive in regards to Ash and confronted him concerning the chestburster within Kane. This scene was not filmed but made its way into the comic book adaptation.

The android twist was met with disdain by O’Bannon and alleged skepticism from Twentieth Century Fox, but Ron Shusett stuck up for the idea. “While we were at [Fox], Giler and Hill, who were my co-producers, came up with this idea and wrote it into the script,” Shusett explained. “Everybody hated it but me. The studio was afraid of it. Dan said, ‘I don’t like it.’ Their own partner [Gordon Carroll] said, ‘It’ll be a mish-mosh.’ I said, ‘Let’s film it and preview it.’”

“I thought it was a brilliant concept,” he continues, “and it gave a resonance to everything that came before, because you think back to when Ash opened the door and let the creature on board, you realize he wasn’t human, so of course he could have the lacking of humanity to sacrifice all the humans as long as he saved the Alien. That gave [the movie] an underbelly that helped it last through the years. When we filmed it, we weren’t sure it would work. We tried it on an audience, an invited audience. That was the only way that everybody said, ‘Oh, you need that.’ …  I saw it at a preview in Dallas: when that robot’s head came off, an usher actually fainted!”

“There was no Ash in my original script,” said O’Bannon, “they added that. The idea being here that all scripts must have a subplot, simply to have a single plot by itself is inadequate, all stories must have subplots, so they created a subplot. Ian Holm gives a brilliant performance, it’s brilliantly directed by Ridley, but if you stop and think about it, if it wasn’t in there what difference would it make one way or the other, I mean, who gives a rat’s ass, I mean so somebody is a robot?”

“It annoyed me when they did it,” he continued, “because it was what I called ‘The Russian Spy’. It was a tendency in certain types of thrillers, when people are on an interesting mission, to stick in a Russian spy. One of them is a spy and they don’t know which one, he’s trying to screw up the mission, Fantastic Voyage had that. When I saw Fantastic Voyage, I thought it annoying … instead of it adding any genuine suspense, all it did was annoy me … It’s a tension device which is commonly resorted to and doesn’t work because it doesn’t provide any real suspense. It doesn’t do anything except provide finger exercise for the writer who thinks that all stories must have subplots. So, I think its an inferior idea of inferior minds: well acted, well directed, and fortunately it occupies little enough screen time that it doesn’t disrupt the main plot.”

Ridley himself disagreed, saying years later: “This is a great turnabout in the story because just when you think your main and only aggressor is this thing loose on the ship, you’ve now got a much bigger problem – you’ve got two aggressors, which raises the paranoia and that of the audience twofold.”

Mu-th-r: as for Ash’s ‘accomplice’, the Nostromo’s computer, Ridley explained the naming process as thus: “Kubrick had already found a great name for his computer, which was called HAL. I couldn’t think of anything to say but Mum, or Mother.”

But why would the Company place an android on their ships and keep its identity a secret? According to Ridley, they are insistent “on placing a company man on each vehicle. In this vehicle, he takes the form of a robot, Ash. This would seem to be the normal development of a huge corporation trying to protect its interests. In this particular future, it would be very easy for “pirating” to exist. Corporations will have to find ways to assure that vehicles carrying minerals or vital information will not be hijacked.”

He elaborated on the idea of robots and corporations within the wider, but unseen, Alien universe, saying: “[T]he world has been converted into the property of two or three large conglomerates whose sources of energy are provided by the exploitation of deposits in space. The super cargo spaceships that link Earth and the planets would transport enormous loads of minerals: gas, oil and the like. To dissuade the crews from rebelling and to protect their own interests, these companies might place spies aboard, or at least would make the crews believe in the presence of such spies. Gradually a legend would evolve that these people, whose identities remain unknown, are in fact robots. Furthermore, nobody would ever have proof. This would reinforce legends already currently among the astronauts.”

Ash was placed deliberately on the Nostromo so the Company could successfully investigate a beacon emanating from a mysterious, far-out planetoid. However, Ridley has repeatedly shot down the suggestion that the Company was aware of the Alien payload: “I think any corporation that sends probes into unknown territory is going to think of the possibility of finding something new,” he said. “I’m sure that the crew members on all its ships would have been briefed to bring back anything of interest. It would be part of one’s job to bring it back. An alien, of course, would be of top priority. This particular corporation didn’t have a preconceived notion that an alien would be found on this mission, much less the particular Alien that is brought onto the ship. The idea of bringing it back alive would not have been on the minds of the corporate executives when they first received the alien transmission. They just had high expectations when they ordered the Nostromo to investigate – it was purely out of curiosity.”

This of course also explains Weyland-Yutani’s lack of action regarding the derelict and the eggs following the events of Alien. Ridley added: “I would have thought that Earth would have previously received messages [from space], realised they were coming from an intelligent source but, for economy reasons, perhaps have postponed the preparation of an investigatory spacecraft. Then, one day, Nostromo is in the vicinity and the order is given for the crew to bring back the Alien, good or evil, without any real thought being given to the consequences. The presence of the robot virtually guarantees, in principle, the success of the mission.

Alien/Android Antagonism: The Alien quickly proves to be hostile, but does Ash have any reason to fear it? “We theorised that the Alien would feel or understand that Ash was a construction of robotics, however complex and strange,” Scott told Omni’s Screen Flights in 1984. “Because Ash wasn’t human, he’d have been no use as a host for its eggs.”

The two also share a sort of kinship beyond Ash’s worship of the creature, according to Scott. Ash is also a biomechanoid, albeit of human manufacture. He is an alien with a human face.

Ash succeeds in obtaining a specimen, though it runs amok through the ship, killing the crew one-by-one. Ash’s own death comes due to his inability to maintain his ruse. “If you create a model as perfect as that,” said Ridley, “it will have, almost of necessity, a form of ’emotional life’.”

Ash was programmed with a human ‘back-story’, though he was well aware of his artificial nature: “That was a consideration I had to deal with,” Ridley told fantastic Films. “There are a number of ways of approaching it, but the possibilities come down to either letting him know or programming him so he thinks he’s human. All the space in between was open, but we went with letting him know. If we had decided to keep it from him, there were all kinds of things we could have done, from programming him to know at a certain point, like an emergency, or even putting a complete memory tape in him that would give him a complete background – parents, schooling, brothers, the whole thing.”

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“This scene is peculiar because you wonder how Ash got in behind her … [Ripley’s] not going to get any more information [from him], and she’s dipping into Company records and is not going to get the right answer …  I liked Ash reacting to human emotion … he wasn’t frightened of her, he was backing off, he didn’t understand why she was crying, probably because he had never seen that before, so you got that rather peculiar reaction from Ash as she shrinks away…”

'Now what was interesting here, I liked Ash reacting to human emotion ... he wasn't frightened of her, he was backing off, he didn't understand why she was crying, probably because he had never seen that before, so you got that rather peculiar reaction from Ash as she shrinks away ... Now we have malevolence, which is even stranger by just adding one simple thing which just came out in the day - he's beginning to perspire, and this perspiration is white.' Ridley Scott, Alien commentary, 1999.

‘”Now we have malevolence, which is even stranger by just adding one simple thing which just came out in the day – he’s beginning to perspire, and this perspiration is white … I guess this [attack] is the closest thing to seeing a robot have sex, huh. I needed to have some show of strength which was simple but violent.”
~ Ridley Scott, Alien commentary, 1999.

Ash’s awareness of this duality (among other factors) may have contributed to his ‘breakdown’, as Scott explained that his complexity made him more than an automaton:

“You don’t have only a physical and mental mechanism, but a machine that is capable at any moment of uncontrollable emotional reactions and which will take certain decisions by itself. Like HAL in 2001. Here, no one has considered that in building a robot, it had been given a psychological life, with worries and problems. This perfect machine starts to have feelings when faced with the behaviour of humans. It starts to be interested in the women and to have desires that cannot be expressed. Behind the assault on Ripley is an attempt to solve these tensions, a sort of rape…”

Untitled

Excised dialogue explaining Ash’s ‘motivation’.

Android apartheid? In 1987 Lance Henriksen commented on what he perceived would be an android’s inner turmoil, and they are interesting comments in light of the series’ entire range of androids, Ash included: “I read a couple of books. One was Mockingbird [by Walter Tevis]. There’s a bit in it where the android knew how to play a piano, 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.”

Additionally, Henriksen reckoned Bishop and his ilk were aware of their lowly statuses as ‘un-humans’; this would understandably create friction, possibly like the type of breakdown we see with Ash: “For him, the world is xenophobic,” Lance said, “He’s an alien to anything alive.” The androids are an entire race created to serve. In a sense, they are a slave race: “You’re either replaced or you’re destroyed,” mused Henriksen. Perhaps Bishop’s line that Ash’s model of android was always “twitchy” has more sinister connotations; perhaps each model was systematically ‘junked’ sometime between Alien and Aliens. For the newer, more obedient Bishop-era android, maybe asking to be called an ‘artificial person’ rather than a robot is a plea for respect that is normally not given to these belittled mechanised beings.

One last thought: we know that Prometheus’ David was mass-produced, and Bishop-types have flooded the expanded universe, but would this make sense if machines like Ash are meant to be infiltrators and spies? We can only theoreticise that each Ash-type was uniquely designed in order to fulfill its objective. After such models proved to be undesirably emotional, or “twitchy”, new android lines once again had their individualities taken away from them, from their physical appearances and even down to their programming.

Ash ends his life, like Kane, on a canteen table – ironic considering that it was Ash’s malfeasance that allowed the Alien to grow undetected. In return, he is decapitated by Parker, decommissioned by Lambert, disconnected by Ripley, and then finally immolated.

"A lot of this stuff we had to make up on the day. So we couldn't work out how to kill Ash. So we used one of those cattle prods and also left his interior to really be an organic choice, rather than having steel pipes and things like that [as innards] ... I loved the glass marbles on the strands and the teeny bits of fibre-optics, and of course his blood ... we worked forever trying to find what would be the voice of a dying robot. It's almost a doppler effect. Spooky." ~ Ridley Scott, Alien commentary, 1999.

“A lot of this stuff we had to make up on the day. So we couldn’t work out how to kill Ash. So we used one of those cattle prods and also left his interior to really be an organic choice, rather than having steel pipes and things like that [as innards] … I loved the glass marbles on the strands and the teeny bits of fibre-optics, and of course his blood … we worked forever trying to find what would be the voice of a dying robot. It’s almost a doppler effect. Spooky.”
~ Ridley Scott, Alien commentary, 1999.

“There’s so much you do which you keep really simple,” Scott said of the disconnection scene. “You know, the head on the table could have gone crazy with all kinds of stuff underneath it, but [it] was a very simple thing. We just had the mask, finished it, checked the rushes, went back, and incinerated it. That was it, one shot. Today that would cost a million dollars. I think it probably cost about two hundred quid.”

“Of its genre, I think that [Alien] has become a classic, so people still send me photographs to sign. John Hurt, as you know, had an even more famous scene where an Alien pops out of his stomach. I remember some of the Americans coming up to him the day before [filming] and saying, ‘Hey, John, it’s the big scene tomorrow. Do you have ideas how you’re going to approach this whole thing?’ John looked at me and winked and said, ‘I don’t know really. [Deep sigh] I suppose… I’ll just… bring my not inconsiderable imagination to bear… and just… do it!’ I think that’s in a nutshell what I do. I just do it.’
~ Ian Holm.

Before he goes Ash delivers one of the series’ most famous monologues, which was written by David Giler on the morning of the shoot. The earlier scripts featured a less poetic turn, with Ash soliloquising like a Bond villain in some iterations and having no final dialogue at all in others.

“This was a really doomy speech,” said Scott, “about the indestructibility and the perfection of what they were up against [with the Alien], and this was a scene written during photography because we never were really happy about the dialogue we had, and I think that Dave [Giler] really had to work on this incessantly as we headed towards the actual day. I think we actually came up with the words that morning, or David did.”

According to Veronica Cartwright, two versions of the scene were shot: the first was as originally scripted (a lot of explanatory plot talk) and the second featured the dialogue as we know it. Only Holm’s scenes were reshot, with the crew’s reactions carried over from the first shoot. “The original scene had more grapey things and stuff [around Ash],” claimed Cartwright. “I talked to Ian later, he said they went back and reshot with more tubey looking odds and ends, and they also changed the dialogue … Originally, this is where [Ash] brought up ‘has anybody tried to communicate with [the Alien]?’ and we were all standing around,  listening to him … So here we are, we were all sitting there with bated breath listening to Ian, he’s got his head in the middle of the table, you know with grapes and all sorts of stuff hanging off his head, [but] what you see is Ian months later [when they] redid it.”

The reshooting, if it happened at all, was unlikely to be months later: it was perhaps only days or weeks at the most, considering the film’s limited budget and schedule – it may have even been shot later on that first day. Ridley usually refers to the scene as having been shot very quickly, with the burning of Ash’s body being done only in one take.

“I loved his ideas,” Cartwright said of Holms’ performance. “He had this twitch, which you don’t get to see very much. He starts out fine, but as he starts to get [on] this left eye would twitch all the time as he starts to break down.”

Still, despite all, Dan O’Bannon remained adamant that Ash was a detraction for the film. “The whole point of Alien, according to Walter Hill, is that evil corporations created this situation; this crew wouldn’t even be in this desperate situation in the first place if the evil corporation hadn’t sought out this organism and decided to use it as a weapon, and stuck a robot on board to deceive the crew and get them trapped in this situation where this alien organism can do its worst and show that it would be very good for the corporation’s weapon systems. As far as Walter Hill is concerned, that’s what the movie is about.”

Ash's 'death mask'.

Ash’s ‘death mask’.

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Ash’s Blister

alienashblister

Ash’s blister, as it is identified in the script by Walter Hill & David Giler, is, from the outside, a small glassy protuberance on the belly of the Nostromo. The compartment first appeared in Dan O’Bannon’s script, albeit as a glass apse situated on the roof of the ship. From this location the screenplay’s characters find respite from their work and engage in philosophical and existential discussions on the nature of eternity and their limited and ephemeral place within it. Throughout the later script revisions by Giler and Hill the dome became the scene of Dallas and Ripley’s lovemaking, and then, with further revisions and the addition of the android Ash, it was relocated and re-envisioned – no longer a communal or solitary getaway spot, it became the work station of the Company’s very own inside man.

Fantastic Films: “One of the lovely touches in Dark Star was the guy sitting in the dome on top of the ship, just staring off into space. He’s gone stir-crazy.”
Ridley Scott: “They say actually if you have a porthole you spend most of your time staring at space. Maybe it is a sort of space sickness. That you could become so entranced with the idea of what you’re in.”
FF: “I see Ash’s bubble as a direct outgrowth of Dark Star.”
RS: “There was a bubble in O’Bannon’s original screenplay. That’s where the love scene took place … I guess the Ash ‘blister’ was all that was left of that [aesthetic] intention.”
~ Fantastic Films magazine, 1979.

The change in design, name, and location may be incidental, but altering the dome from a glass bauble on the roof of the ship to a ‘blister’ on its underside tonally changed the location from a vista to the stars, to a rather dingy ‘cave’ to which the insidious Ash can secrete himself away, like the monster Grendel after committing his murders. In the film, Mu-th-r’s control room also doubles for this sort of purpose; a haven for plotting, or ‘collating’, with the ship’s computer (from where you can perhaps draw another thin Beowulf allusion). “Love this cockpit,” Ridley Scott said of the blister, “somehow it’s very fascist … I always liked those blisters at the bottom of the Blenheim bomber, or Wellington Bomber, and that’s where you put him, in his own blister.”

Ron Cobb's design of the observation dome.

Ron Cobb’s design of the observation dome.

Concept of the blister.

Concept of the blister.

Ripley and Dallas’ sex scene was scrapped from the movie, and though it was filmed for Sigourney’s screentest, it was shot with an improvised, mid-constructed set, rather than the dome/blister. Another scene intended for the dome/blister was the reappearance of Kane’s corpse, which knocks against the glass to frighten Ripley.

From Hill and Giler’s script:

INT. ASH’S BLISTER

Looks around the blister.
Satisfied it’s deserted.
She puts down the flamethrower.
Methodically begins to search for the key.
Faint tapping sound.
Then stops.
She looks around.
Sees nothing.
Resumes searching near blister window…
Ripley finds key…
Tapping sound.
She whips around to see: Kane’s disfigured face slapping against the plexiglass.
She stifles a scream.
Drops the key onto the curved surface of the blister.
Fishes for it…
Kane’s bloated face swings in…

With the excision of this scene, Ash’s blister only figures into the film’s first act, and is unexplored throughout the rest of the movie. From here, Ash surveys the sojourn to the derelict craft and begins to plot against the crew.

One of the Nostromo's landing legs, with Ash's blister being constructed in the background.

One of the Nostromo’s landing legs, with Ash’s blister being constructed in the background.

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Debate: Bishop II, Man or Machine?

Bishop II and Weyland-Yutani’s ‘dog-catcher’ commandos.

“I play the man who created Bishop in his image, a guy actually much less human than his creature.”
~ Lance Henriksen, L’Ecranfantastique, 1992.

With the Fiorina Alien destroyed, Ripley and Morse stumble off the mobile gantry only to have a squad of Weyland-Yutani commandos close in on them. From their midst emerges a familiar figure. “You’re an android,” says Ripley, “same model as Bishop.” “No,” comes the response. “I’m very real.”

Another one of the Alien series’ biggest matters of debate is the identity of the mysterious Bishop II. The appearance of Charles Bishop Weyland in Paul Anderson’s Alien vs. Predator movie, and the recurrence of Bishop-based android figures throughout the expanded universe (Karl Bishop Weyland in Rebellion’s AVP), have popularised the idea that Alien 3‘s Bishop character is indeed robotic.

In the light of the Paul Anderson movie, Lance Henriksen stated: “They were leaving [Bishop II’s identity] open because they weren’t sure what they were going to do with me. But what I saw was that it was a more advanced model certainly. Again, I love the idea of the advanced models.” This retcons his earlier statements on the Alien 3 commentary, where he states that Bishop II made the Bishop androids in his image, in a paean to God’s work in Genesis.

“In the script it said Bishop I and II …  if you were going to build an android you’d build it in your own image. It’s like when you read the Bible – God made man in his own image.”
~ Lance Henriksen, Alien 3 commentary, 2003.

So is Bishop II human, or an android? He claims to be the designer of the Bishop model. The case for this man being an android, beyond Ripley’s suspicions, is that:

  1. he survives an incredible blow to the head, and
  2. Charles Bishop Weyland is a human character in Alien vs. Predator, played by Lance Henriksen. Ergo, Bishop II can’t be human.

Argument no. 2 is retroactive, since Alien vs. Predator was made a decade after Alien 3, and the decisions made by Paul W. Anderson have no bearing on earlier decisions made by Walter Hill, David Giler, and David Fincher. It’s hard to take too seriously, but many fans of the series may wish to do so.

The arguments against Bishop II being an android go as thus:

  1. he doesn’t bleed like a droid.
  2. he suffers from the lingering effects of pain, unlike other robots in the series (best seen in the assembly cut)
  3. the script definitively states that he is a human.
Bishop II concept art.

Bishop II concept art.

Concerning the latter point, there is not one version of the ever-changing Alien 3 script that depicts Bishop II as an android. Every one makes it clear that he is flesh and blood, without a synthetic bone in his body. In one early version, Morse hits him in the head with an axe. “Bishop II stands there frozen,” reads the script, “then turns to Morse, axe stuck in his head. No wires. No milk. Real blood.” Bishop II chokes out that he is not a droid – then dies. The Weyland-Yutani surgeon takes over his role, trying to convince Ripley to accompany them.

In another version of the ever-evolving script it is Golic, who has been spared until this point, who assaults Bishop II. The results are the same. Bishop bleeds, cries out, and dies. The final revised draft is different in details in that Bishop II does not die from his wounds, but he is clearly still human:

AARON: You fucking droid –!
And smashes Bishop II in the head.
Bishop II writhes on the floor. The troops fire on Aaron, shoot him down.
Bishop II turns.
No wires.
No milk.
Real blood.
BISHOP II: I am not a DROIDDDDD!!!!

Henriksen’s performance was truncated in the theatrical cut, making Bishop II seem more impervious to pain, but footage of him post-injury was restored to the assembly cut in 2003. He now, as he addresses Ripley, winces, grunts, and groans in agony, and tries to staunch his bleeding head.

In 1992 Henriksen complained that the scene maybe depicted him too ambiguously: “It’s hard to tell [that I’m human]. Bishop II gets clobbered on the head with a piece of steel. It almost takes my ear off. It opens the side of my head up, but I don’t die. They think I’m an android and they realise after they clobber me that I’m not an android. I’m a person, the guy who created Bishop.”

“When Lance gets hit in the head with this lead pipe, we had an appliance which showed his ear had become dislodged, as Fincher wanted to show that this is the real guy, and not a synthetic person.”
~ Tom Woodruff, Alien 3 commentary, 2003.

Lance, over at his facebook page in 2010, commented on the haphazard way the scene and character was put together, hinting that there was no real deep thought or conviction put into it: “There was some confusion at the moment of execution, makeup found an ear from Jack Nicholson, left after his Batman appearance, and used it on the flap of the skin wound, I think the unresolved questions adds to the entertainment, is he or is he not?” Henriksen finished by adding, “Fincher was content with the issue.” Earlier, in a 1992 issue of Starlog, Henriksen commented: “I get to play what’s left of Bishop, and I play Bishop II, his human creator.”

The enigmatic Bishop II.

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