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The Funeral

Kane's shrod was "carved in wood and fired from a fishermans catapult".

Kane’s shroud was “carved in wood and fired from a fishermans catapult”.

After the inexplicable chaos of Kane’s sudden and violent death, his crewmates bundle him into the airlock. Too rattled for speeches, they wordlessly propel his remains into the stars. Kane is left to aimlessly wander the universe and the Nostromo rushes on towards its own destiny.

The immediate aftermath of the chestburster scene (such as cleaning up and bundling Kane away) is not shown, and for two obvious reasons. One: to drive the momentum of the film, and two: to probably avoid showing any tenderness towards Kane’s remains. The crew at this point have started to draw together somewhat due to the extreme events happening on board, but they are not (and won’t be) a warm, cohesive unit. Nobody swears revenge for Kane; they just want to get out alive.

The funeral itself seems makeshift. It’s unlikely that the bodies of dead crew are required to be catapulted into space (perhaps they are frozen instead, to await autopsy) but the film obviously presents a very extreme circumstance where the bodily remains, having been exposed to alien spore, may be hazardous to keep around.

Here is the funeral scene as depicted in Dan O’Bannon’s screenplay. Remember, in this version Kane was known as ‘Broussard’:

EXTERIOR – SHIP – OUTER SPACE

A hatch slides open on the side of the ship, and Broussard’s wrapped body tumbles silently out.

AN ELECTRONIC BASS DRUM BEATS A DIRGE as Broussard drifts into eternity.

The scene is intentionally minimalist and cold. The electronic bass drum is perhaps a parody of a funerary salute or drum roll.

Here is how David Giler and Walter Hill wrote the scene in their revisions:

INT. AIR LOCK

Kane’s body wrapped in a makeshift shroud.

INT. BRIDGE

The crew looking at Kane’s body on view screens. Silent. Depressed.

DALLAS: Inner hatch sealed.

Ripley nods.

DALLAS: Anybody want to say anything?

Nothing to say. He nods to Ripley. She presses a button.

INT. AIR LOCK

The outer hatch opens. Yawning space outside. Kane’s body shoots out into eternity. The hatch closes.

There are no ominous drum beats, but the scene retains the sense of unspoken melancholy and thinning nerves present in the original. The whole ordeal is, essentially, the far future’s rendition of burial at sea, and it’s the last we see of the ship’s Executive Officer.

But Kane was scripted to return, in both the original screenplay by Dan O’Bannon and in the many rewrites penned by Walter Hill and David Giler. The geography of the scene may have changed between versions, but the setup remained the same. Ridley Scott told Fantastic Films magazine that, “When they’re looking for the Beast, they hear a tap-tap-tapping coming from Ash’s observation blister. When they check it out, it turns out to be Kane’s corpse floating along with the ship and bumping into it. Seems that when he was ejected, he got tangled up in one of the stanchions.”

Here’s the scene from Dan O’Bannon’s script. It takes place near the end of the second act. For clarity, Kane is known as Broussard in this early iteration of the story, Dallas is Standard, Ripley is Roby, and Parker is Hunter:

INTERIOR – DIM STAIRWELL

Standard’s face is tense as he advances up the circular steps. Suddenly, a METALLIC TAPPING SOUND is heard. He freezes. Then he continues up.

EXTERIOR – DORSAL OBSERVATION DOME – VIEW OF OUTER SPACE

The view of interstellar space is spectacular. As Standard comes up the steps, the METALLIC TAPPING is heard again. Standard looks around. Then he sees it — BROUSSARD’S CORPSE FLOATS OUTSIDE THE GLASS OF THE DOME. It is tangled in some rigging, and the movement of the machinery causes the cadaver to tap on the glass periodically.

STANDARD : (shouts) You can come up!  It’s safe!

The others come up the steps.

ROBY: (spying the corpse) Oh — Jesus —

Broussard’s corpse is blue and bloated where the wrappings have torn loose. Bumping against the glass, he looks like he wants to come in.

STANDARD: The ship’s gravitational attraction must have drawn him back.
HUNTER: (horrified) Should we go outside and bring him in?
STANDARD: No… the risk is too great. Perhaps after we’ve destroyed the thing.

Glancing back, the men retreat from the observation dome. Broussard remains against the glass, peering in with dead eyes.

Here it is repurposed in Giler and Hill’s script. The action sees Ripley searching for the key to Mu-th-r’s control room in Ash’s compartment.

INT. BLISTER STAIRCASE

Ripley cautiously descends the stairs to the blister. Carrying a flamethrower.

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…
She grabs the key and bolts up companionway.

O’Bannon’s version focuses on the elegiac aspects of the scene: Hunter’s discomfort, Standard’s resolve, Roby’s disgust, and the dead Broussard’s imagined forlornness. Giler and Hill’s version focuses more on Ripley’s restrained horror and the spectacle of Kane’s decomposing face.

The return of Kane was ultimately cut from the movie, but the production crew did manage to craft its pivotal prop: the body bag.

Sarcophagus. There was an Egyptian element to the Company designs, from the panels on some of the ship’s walls, to the ‘wings of Horus’ Weylan-Yutani logo, and to this burial unit. Interestingly, Egyptian mummies kept their hearts as they were necessary for judgment in the afterlife – Kane’s own heart was likely shredded when the Alien tore through him.

The overall look of it all is part quarantine bag, part Egyptian mummy’s shroud. The body is bound and fastened into a shape reminiscent of a sarcophagi, and the deceased’s name and rank is slipped into a clear pouch under the chin. When supervising model maker Martin Bower had Kane’s shroud carved as a small wooden prop he had these details copied in full, even though we would never see the thing in a close-up shot.

kanes death shroud

The patch on Kane’s shroud commemorates the establishment of United Kingdom settlements on Mars and Titan.

Finally, the corpse is loaded into the airlock and sent adrift. For this scene, Ridley sketched two figures escorting Kane out of the lock. These were likely Brett and Parker, who were originally planned to have ‘maintenance’ scenes outside of the Nostromo.

Today, space burial is extravagant yet quirky; usually reserved for science-fiction icons and a few peculiar scientists. The remains of American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh are currently racing for the limits of our solar system, and has the distinction of being “the first set of human remains which will escape the solar system to travel among the stars”.

There’s a sense of wonder about that… but in Alien, the space burial is makeshift, emotionless, and somewhat nihilistic: Tombaugh’s ashes are considered to be trailblazing their way into a seemingly infinite frontier; Kane’s bones will be lost in the ever-expanding void. Tombaugh’s chariot, the New Horizons spacecraft, will investigate and analyse foreign worlds. Kane is merely debris.

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The Other Kane

The Alien creature, at one point dubbed “Kane’s son” by Ash, demands birth from the chest of John Hurt in a spectacular and gory fashion. But though Kane was always to father the Alien, the role of Kane himself changed hands during the film’s production. In fact, the role had to be recast after filming had already commenced. In the beginning, the actor portraying Kane was Shakespearean stage veteran, Jon Finch.

The story of Finch’s departure is somewhat muddled. Most sources agree that Finch left the film due to a diabetic attack, which is denied by Finch himself. Some say that Finch’s illness revealed itself before the cameras, another says it took place in a plasterer’s chair. Some say he filmed for weeks, some say he filmed for days, and some say he filmed for merely one shot.

“I had cast Jon Finch, who was Polanski’s Macbeth, as Kane,” Ridley Scott told Empire magazine. “First day, first shot, Jon collapsed. I talked to him and he said, ‘I’m a diabetic…’ He had gone yellow and couldn’t get up — we had to lift him out of the scene. He was fine, but he had to recuperate. He hadn’t taken his insulin and was drinking too much Coca-Cola.” Finch’s departure sent Scott back to his Kane wishlist. He settled for John Hurt, who had turned down the role before due to a prior engagement. “That night we looked at the book and came across John Hurt, who I have always liked.” Luckily for Scott, Hurt was now free to take over the role.

The story is not as simple as Ridley suggests, however. Special effects supervisor Brian Johnson tells an alternate take on Finch’s sudden illness: “Jon Finch was the character that John Hurt took over. And Jon Finch went into the sculptor’s place to have his life mask done, and he hadn’t told anybody he was a diabetic, and he had to discover while he was inside his life mask. And he actually passed out. And they went, ‘okay John’, and there was no response. And they got the ambulance out there and dragged him out. Because he hadn’t declared that on his insurance, the company couldn’t go on using him.”


Art director Roger Christian’s version is closer to Scott’s than Johnson’s, though he credits the set smoke, as well as the diabetes, with Finch’s departure: “[Finch] looked really ill [on the Alien set]. Despite what the books and the other sites say, he actually did three days of shooting. But the smoke, after the first two or three days… Ridley loves smoke, and that was when we were using the bee-puffer, the incense smoke. At that stage, that was really upsetting [Finch], plus there was the diabetes, as it transpired. But no, he did more than one shot – he was there for the first couple of days. He was really trying, and he looked great, actually, as the character. And then he got so ill he just couldn’t carry on, and Hurt just took over and Ridley didn’t have to re-shoot that much; just the parts with [Finch].”

HR Giger wrote in his diary that on July 4th 1978 “Jon Finch, the main actor, is sick again and had to go to the hospital.” That Finch was sick ‘again’ informs us that he certainly worked several days on set, and that his difficulties were reccuring. Giger also noted that production designer Michael Seymour was “delighted” with Finch’s illness because “this gives him at least three more days to build the sets.”

Finch himself explained the situation on the Alien Anthology but, curiously, diabetes is not attributed at all: “Well, the first time I nearly worked with [Ridley Scott] was on The Duellists, which was his first picture,” he said. “And he sent the script to my then-agent, who I’d just left … of course, the agent hadn’t actually sent the script to me, so I lost out on The Duellists … and then we did Alien, and I did, I think, about three days on that, plus all the building of the chest and the neck and the head and all that stuff, you know. And after three days, I had an extremely bad bronchial attack for the first time in my life—never happened since—and ended up in intensive care and had to take two weeks off after that. So, you know, I couldn’t work it. So sadly, I missed that one, and John [Hurt] did it.”

The closest version of the truth would seem to incorporate everything we’ve been told: that Finch filmed for three days and even sat for his life-cast sessions but, due to set smoke, suffered a bronchial attack and was hospitalised. Initially, on set, Finch attributes his illness to diabetes. The two weeks needed for recovery necessitate Finch’s withdrawal from the film, and Hurt is signed and cast to fulfil the pivotal role of Kane.

John Hurt on set as Kane, filling the seat which Finch had previously occupied. When reflecting on the film, actor Ian Holm said: “John Hurt, as you know, had an even more famous scene [than Ash’s decapitation] 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!'”

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