Tag Archives: O’Bannon

Interview with Walter Hill, 2004

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From Film International #12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Alien, Alien 3, Aliens

Facehugger/Chestburster

“It comes from inside of you – talk about no escape!”
~ Dan O’Bannon, Alien Evolution, 2001.

Stanley Kubrick, in his science-fiction opus 2001: A Space Odyssey, declined to show the extraterrestrial masters behind the Monolith on the advice of Carl Sagan, who argued that no film depiction of an alien could be convincing. In a 1968 interview with Playboy, the interviewer posed to Kubrick that extraterrestrials in fiction were typically portrayed as “bug-eyed monsters scuttling hungrily after curvaceous earth maidens.” Kubrick suggested that this trend “probably dates back to the pulp science-fiction of the Twenties and Thirties.” In short: depictions of alien monsters to date were the stuff of old comic books and were not taken seriously by cinema, which had yet to carve out its own unique and convincing renditions of alien life-forms. Whilst Kubrick’s film was bolstered by keeping his alien forces off-screen, it is interesting that both lusty bugs and the pulp depictions of aliens, anathema to serious-minded filmmakers in the 1960’s, would in fact serve as the roots from which the most terrifying and convincing alien monster would grow, a decade after Kubrick put his apparently definitive stamp on the genre, in 1979’s Alien.

When Dan O’Bannon started conceptualising his alien creature he turned to two key influences: the creatures depicted in the comic books he devoured as a child, and the insect world. “Works of fiction weren’t my only sources,” he explained in his essay Something Perfectly Disgusting. “I also patterned the Alien’s life cycle on real-life parasites … Parasitic wasps treat caterpillars in an altogether revolting manner, the study of which I commend to anyone who is tired of having good dreams.”

To illustrate his point, O’Bannon quotes Carl Zimmer, the author of Parasite Rex (2001): “Psychiatrists actually recognise a condition they call delusional parasitosis – a terror of being attacked by parasites … it is not just a fear of being killed, it’s a fear of being controlled from within by something other than our own minds, being used for someone else’s ends. It’s a fear of becoming a flour beetle controlled by a tapeworm … When an alien bursts out of a movie actor’s chest, it bursts through our pretences to be more than brilliant creatures. It is nature itself that is bursting through, and it terrifies us.”

The insect world, O’Bannon knew, was one of sheer brutality, where even acts of copulation routinely result in murder. Indeed, certain parent insects quickly become fodder for their newly hatched spawn (an anecdote about a spider being eaten by its children is used to disturbing effect in Blade Runner.) Insects are also notoriously cruel to other species of insect – the relationship between flies and spiders is an obvious horror, but varieties of wasp also use the bodies of other insects as the host for their young. A genus of the Phoridae fly, the Pseudacteon, also known as the ant decapitating fly, is infamous for its violent use of ant bodies: eggs are laid in the ant’s thorax, and the larvae migrates to the brain, where it feeds on the hemolymph and muscle and nerve tissue. “After about two to four weeks, they cause the ant’s head to fall off by releasing an enzyme that dissolves the membrane attaching the ant’s head to its body. The fly pupates in the detached head capsule, requiring a further two weeks before emerging.”

“It was our idea,” explained Ron Shusett to Cinefantastique, “that it would be the life-cycle of an insect. The way a wasp will sting a spider, paralyze it, and lay its eggs in the spider. Its eggs grow off the living spider, like a surrogate mother. That we did want it to be.”

Ridley Scott added: “There’s a fundamental connection in nature because we actually watched, in preparation for this [movie], Oxford Scientific, [which] had this interesting piece of footage where they’d watched a slice of bark, and there’s a grub underneath the bark … Across the top of the bark was this insect, which passes over the grub, stops, backs up, and ‘feels’ the grub is there, let’s say, the equivalent of 8 feet below you. It goes up on its hind legs, produces a needle from between its legs, and drills through the bark and bulls-eyes right into the grub and lays its seed, so that the grub becomes the host of the insect.”

At first, O’Bannon was stuck on the point of getting the Alien on board the spaceship. Having it simply sneak aboard seemed too banal. But if the creature could stow away within the body of a space-man… Dan, fascinated and repulsed by the horrific life cycle of parasitoid wasps, incorporated the concept into his alien monster. It would gestate inside a living host and explode from their body. The Alien could get on the ship, and excitingly, not without spilling blood.

Broussard -later Kane- is exposed to the Alien spore.

Another inspiration behind the incubating monster, according to artist Chris Foss, was an episode of food poisoning that saw O’Bannon taken to hospital: “Long before he came to Paris [for Jodorowsky’s Dune], [O’Bannon] ate some fast food and woke up in the night in incredible pain and actually had to be taken to hospital, and imagined that there was a ‘beast’ inside him. And that was exactly where that thing [the chestburster] came from.” HR Giger corroborated this in an 1999 interview, saying, “Dan O’Bannon, when he was writing the script, had a stomach pain and he wanted the pain to go away and came up with the idea of the pain leaving through the stomach, so he invented that.” According to The New York Times, O’Bannon also told them: “The idea for the monster in Alien originally came from a stomach-ache I had.”

Stomach trouble was a decades-long ailment for O’Bannon, who was diagnosed with an inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s, sometime in the 1970’s. In fact, his first wage from Twentieth Century Fox allowed him to pay off his accrued stomach-related medical expenses at that point: “I’d been under much stress and other problems plus not taking care of myself, that I came down with a very bad stomach ailment in 1977. I was sick a great deal of that year, I was in and out of the hospital.”

The trauma of feeling poisoned apparently stayed in O’Bannon’s mind when writing Alien. His health troubles, coupled with the horrors of the insect world, all seemed too deliciously distressing to pass up. He knew what to inflict on the crewmen of his embryonic Alien story: impregnation by way of rape and poisoning, all imbued with the fear of parasitoid insects.

Now all he needed was a monster designer.

Giger airbrushing an alien hieroglyphic displaying the violent and parasitic Alien life-cycle.

From the beginning, Dan O’Bannon had envisioned a Giger-monster stalking his ship and slaughtering his crewmen. He had been introduced to the artist’s unique biomechanical style and nightmarish imagery whilst living in Europe, working on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s ultimately aborted Dune. Jodorowsky had gathered a cabal of striking artists, illustrators, and visionaries to bring Frank Herbert’s sci-fi opus to life. O’Bannon: “Jodorowsky found these very good and fantastically original sci-fi artists to design all of the sets and costumes and spaceships and everything. It was an amazing achievement. It was like being in an art museum, that room where they were hanging it, designing it all and putting it on the wall.”

Giger’s work, however, grabbed O’Bannon most of all: “His visionary paintings and sculptures stunned me with their originality. 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 … And so I ended up writing a script about a Giger monster.”

After his return to America, and with the Alien script written, purchased, and in the pre-production phase, O’Bannon was able to elicit HR Giger’s help in designing the alien beast. Ron Shusett: “We signed the deal and tried to get them to hire Hans Giger, who Dan had met on Dune. He’d never designed a movie, but there was some brilliant design work for Dune. Dan said, ‘This is our guy.’ So we rustled up some money and paid him to do about seven drawings, specifically the alien creature and the [derelict] spaceship.”

Giger’s signature mesh of bone and machines, interlaced with decay and sexuality, would give Alien the unique ingredient it needed to distance itself from other standard sci-fi fare. “When I was about 5 years old my father got a human skull,” explained Giger. “That was something special. I was very young, and it was a little frightening. But I was proud to have a skull. My interest in skulls and bones came very early.”

Of his art and interests, Giger explained: “An old friend of mine, Sergius Golowin, a specialist in myths and fables and magic, gave me a book by Lovecraft in the late 60’s and introduced me to Necronomicon: The Book of the Dead. He said the entire corpus of my work could easily be pages out of the Necronomicon. I very much admire Lovecraft … When The Necronomicon was printed, I had hand-bound copies in French, and I sent the first one to Dan O’Bannon.” Additionally, Giger name-checked the “Ancient Egyptians” as being among his influences, telling Tatuaz magazine in 2008: “When I was about 6 years old, every Sunday I went to the museum in Chur, where in the basement they kept a beautiful mummy. She had an old odour, and it fascinated me. Later, when I started to draw and use an airbrush, that for me was a memory of great inspiration … The Egyptian art is a lot of death.”

“In August of ’77,” explained Giger in 1979, “I got a call from O’Bannon. He asked if I would like to do some work for a film called Alien. I said, ‘yes, why not’ … I made the first designs for Alien even before Ridley Scott was the director.”

Early facehugger concept. The facehugger’s mouth was based on an Ancient Egyptian peseshkaf – a tool used by embalmers in the ‘opening of the mouth’ ritual. The bald being and his clothing resembles Prometheus‘ Engineer and pressure suit – this image was included as an easter egg within the Ultramorph mural in the aforementioned film. Image copyright HR Giger.

Variation. A maggot-headed ‘hugger. Rather than force the victim’s mouth open with a plier, the creature forces its proboscis between his lips. Image copyright HR Giger.

Later facehugger design. Smothering a space-suited victim. Details of the creature’s underbelly linger like a bad dream. Image copyright HR Giger.

The only problem with Giger was the reluctance of Twentieth Century Fox and the film’s producers to hire him. Giger had initially worked on a commission from O’Bannon and Shusett, and though he had begun preliminary design work, he had yet to be brought onto the film in an official capacity. “This man is sick,” producer Gordon Carroll is quoted as saying, having seen Giger’s designs. “I fought a year with Fox to hire Giger,” O’Bannon told Science Fiction Film Making magazine in the 1980’s. “I wrote the script so Giger could design those things, and then they picked up the script and said, ‘Naw, we don’t want this guy. When has he ever designed a movie?’”

“I had a heck of a time trying to get the producers to hire Giger,” said O’Bannon elsewhere. “They really didn’t want to get him involved because he’s not a movie professional; he was some ‘whing-ding’ in Zurich. They wanted to find somebody who had done this before, that they could count on.” Ron Shusett chips in: “The studio let us hire Cobb, because he was more normal. Giger, they were terrified of. They said, ‘these drawings are repulsive – people will stay away in droves.’ For eight months they refused to hire him.”

The key to hiring Giger was Ridley Scott, as O’Bannon explains: “When Ridley came to the project, Ronnie was rushing up with the original draft of the script [and] I was rushing up with copies of Giger’s work. Ridley saw Giger’s stuff he was snowed. He said, ‘This is it!’” Scott called up Fox and explained that he would not do the film if Giger was not hired as the creature designer. His threat worked, and Giger was hired. Later, producer David Giler would tell Cinefantastique, “[Alien’s] a richly textured film, thanks to HR Giger’s work.” Dan O’Bannon agreed: “Only because Ridley was hired on was Giger hired. He took a liking to Giger’s work. Without Giger, I don’t think we would have had much of a movie.”

In the original screenplay the Alien eggs are not found within the Space Jockey craft as they are in the final film, but within a pyramid structure belonging to a long extinct alien race, quite distinct from the Jockey, who, like the humans of the story, simply stumbled upon the alien spore whilst exploring the barren planetoid. O’Bannon described the spore, in a letter to Giger, as being “leathery, egg-shaped objects about one meter tall, which contain the larva of the Alien.” The spore-carrying creature itself, the facehugger, is not described, beyond being a small parasite. It fell to Giger to design the eggs as mandated by O’Bannon, and to refine the creature within.

“I saw the inhabitants of this planetoid as tough and primitive, and with an extremely complicated sexual cycle. See, these alien beings had two sexes of their own, but they needed a third host animal to reproduce. So they’d bring in an animal, put it up on the plinth with a spore and wham! Then they’d lead the inseminated animal off to an enclosure somewhere to await the birth. But the planetoid was now dead and this civilisation had been gone for a million years. All that remained of it was this pyramid and the spores – which can survive dormant for incredible lengths of time under even the most adverse conditions.”
~ Dan O’Bannon, Something Perfectly Disgusting.

Initially thought of by O’Bannon as a sort of squid-like creature, the facehugger was conceptualised by Giger as a large parasite that could envelope an entire head. “[The facehugger was] kind of like a crab sitting in the egg,” Giger explained. “Dan O’Bannon had an insect-like design for that at first. But I always look for a function. These creatures should be able to jump out. I used the tail as a spring, a spring would be good. And I liked the crab fingers very much. Kind of a spider with a tail.”

“At school I worked as an industrial designer so everything must have a function,” explained Giger. “The facehugger was determined through its function. You have to show that. I was thinking that something that jumps out and then holds on to someone’s face needs fingers or hands. Normally if someone is sitting on your face you can’t breathe through your nose, so you automatically open your mouth. Then the monster goes down. So it looked a little bit like a crab or a spider. I like long fingers, so it had these long fingers, then two hands and a spiral tail. The ‘hands’ hold on to Kane’s face and the tail wraps around his neck.”

The job of designing the various elements of the film, from the Alien lifecycle and derelict craft, left Giger overloaded with work. “It wasn’t physically possible for Giger to do all the stages of the Alien,” Ridley told Starlog in 1979. “There just wasn’t time. But he had done some specific drawings of the four stages. He worked backwards: he designed the big chap first, then asked himself what a baby version of it would look like. Giger did the big chap and the egg, not the thing that comes out of it, just the egg. We finally chose a guy named Roger Dicken, an English special-effects man, specifically a model builder, to work on two of the Alien elements, the facehugger and the chestburster.”

“There was a big meeting,” O’Bannon told Cinefex in 1979, “and everybody was talking at the same time and trying to tell Dicken what the hell it should look like. Finally, Ridley pulled out Giger’s book and said: ‘Look, I want these fingers here on this page and I want that over there for the back, and then I want the tail from this other page.’ And Dicken was just confused. So I asked Ridley if I could take a try at it, and he said, ‘Go ahead.’ So I went over to the art department with Dicken and we took a drafting table and a huge piece of paper and some pencils. I drew two heads on the paper, and then I opened up Giger’s book and put it down in front of us.”

“‘All right,’ I said. ‘Ridley said he wanted part of this body, right?’ And I sketched it out. ‘And he liked these fingers.’ So I added the fingers. ‘And he wanted this tail.’ Well, while we were doing this, Giger came in –his plane had arrived from Switzerland- and he had some new designs for the facehugger. And they were very similar to what we were putting together on the drawing board – not identical, but similar. His had an eye on the back, and the shape of it was much more like the palm of a hand. I looked at them and I said, ‘Oh, that’s good.’ Then Giger looked at the thing I was sketching with Dicken, and he said, ‘No, that’s better, that’s much better.’ I was really flattered. So I said, ‘Then I should continue with it?’ And he said, ‘Oh, yes.’ So we went on.”

Facehugger profile. Note the cyclopean eye. Image copyright HR Giger.

O’Bannon continues: “When it came to trying to figure out what kind of a skeletal understructure the thing would need so the fingers could hook up, I got Ron Cobb over and he scrawled out his ideas – which, as usual, were excellent. Then I cleaned the whole thing up a little and did it in ink –exact size- and that’s what we went with.”

The facehugger, like the film at large, was the rare successful product of a melting pot approach to design. “I was really pleased,” said O’Bannon, “because I had kind of eclectically constructed the facehugger out of the things that Ridley wanted and the things that Giger wanted, and some good ideas from Cobb and from Dicken. Then we put the thing through a blueprint machine, got Ridley to okay it, and Roger went off and built it.”

Ridley with Giger’s Necronomicon paintings and a prototype facehugger bust. Image courtesy of mauvais-genres.

“We were having troubles,” Giger told Starlog in 1979, “so I spent most of the time working on the egg and the big Alien. We got Roger Dicken to build the facehugger and chestburster – and he did them very well. They are taken from my paintings.”

Giger then revealed: “But also made a facehugger. It had a skeleton inside that you could see through a translucent skin. But there was no time for me to finish it…” He elaborated to Cinefex that same year: “It was going to be very smooth and slimy, with eight long, fine, but very strong fingers. The main difference was that mine was going to be translucent. I wanted the inside to be visible because it had a sort of skeleton under the skin.”

Unfortunately for Giger’s facehugger, “the producers stopped me because they were worried that I wouldn’t get the big [Alien] finished in time.”

Giger’s personal facehugger mid-build. The spine is more prevalent and the skin was to be yellow-translucent. More at the Prop Store.

Though the resulting facehugger resulted from a collaborative effort between the director, writer, concept artist, and even a few others, Roger Dicken expressed some dissatisfaction, and had a different idea of how the creature should have looked, saying to Starburst magazine: “I would have liked it to have been a little more scaly and I would have liked to have little barbs like rose thorns on the legs and down the tail. As the Alien was so self-preserving, you shouldn’t be able to get a hold of the thing. I felt that in the film this wasn’t well brought over.”

Intended to be Alien’s big shocker moment, the chestburster was perhaps, next to the physical form of the fully grown Alien, the most important design to be made. If the chestbursting lacked punch, then the audience may not take further events and dangers seriously. For its design, Giger was pointed towards the art of Francis Bacon by Scott. Bacon, already a favourite artist of Giger’s, served as the inspiration for the first incarnation of the chestburster. “I think when you want to be really scared,” Ridley Scott said to Cinefantastique, “you’ve got to think about what it is that makes you very physically uneasy, that upsets you in a primal way. And I’m not easily upset, but we looked at various painters’ works, and the one that caught us was by Francis Bacon, the three flesh necks with the jaws on the end. The primality, if there is such a word, was what interested me.”

“Ridley Scott asked me to do something based on a crucifixion painting by Francis Bacon,” said Giger, “in which the only thing of the figure you see is a mouth and some flesh behind. He wanted something like that which could go into the stomach or come out of it. First it was designed as a little dinosaur and I didn’t like it at all, but finally we gave him a worm-like shape with no legs … I believe the strongest, scariest feeling is to see an alien-worm inside a person’s body moving under his skin.”

Giger’s first abortive attempt at the chestburster, inspired by Francis Bacon.

Giger’s first chestburster design was received with reservation and ridicule. “To me, it looked like a plucked turkey” said Roger Dicken, “a veined, repulsive-looking thing with fangs … Obviously, you couldn’t get something the size of a large turkey out of a human chest, but they were going to cheat it somehow.”

Despite his incredulity at the design, Dicken crafted a workable prop from the design. “Dicken reproduced it very faithfully,” Ridley told Cinefex. “The problem was that what looked great on paper didn’t in actuality.” Dicken had brought the prop to the studio and operated it like a hand puppet. The effect looked “entirely comical – it looked like some kind of plucked, demented turkey.”

Frightened of the chestburster eliciting laughs rather than screams, Ridley went back to the drawing board. “We went back and re-examined various illustrations and ideas, and tried to come up with something we thought would be the most frightening,” he told Cinefantastique. “I wanted more of a biological link between the baby, which is what we were really designing, and what the final creature would look like. And I wanted it to be a very smooth object. The other was all wrinkled and ancient-looking, like some malevolent muppet. And when it came out, I wanted it to look very rude – and totally carnivorous. So to be honest, that beast was very much the product of several people – Giger and Dicken and me, and even a bit of Gordon Carroll.”

“We worked for weeks on the baby [chestburster],” said Scott. “I knew I didn’t want something with bumps and warts and claws. You know, I find that most horror films have never really frightened me; and I tend not to be convinced by a lot of science-fiction films specifically because of the effects. So I knew it had to be good, this baby. We decided that the big chap, in embryo form, would have a head either tilted down or tilted back. We tilted it back because it seemed more obscene that way, more reptilian, more phallic.”

Roger Dicken: “The overall look of the chestburster was this long banana-shaped thing with a head on it from the Giger drawing. I made various models of it. One afternoon, Ridley Scott came over here and over cups of tea we literally constructed the thing by trying on different tails and so on, and it was finally agreed that that was what it would finally look like.”

One prototype chestburster. The head closely resembles the adult Alien’s tongue.

Final prop from the film. Note the little nubs indicating arms. “I tried to do several things with the chestburster,” said Giger in ’79. “He started out with arms and legs, but later we made them only small. Now he’s like the long skull of the big alien—a long skull with teeth and a tail.”

For the Alien’s birth, the production crew “had gone to a butcher’s shop and got animal innards,” according to Ron Shusett. “Livers, hearts, things like that.”

Scott kept the design of the chestburster hidden from the majority of the cast, bar John Hurt, from whom’s chest the ‘burster would sprout. Producer and co-writer David Giler told Cinefantastique that “the ‘Chest Birth’ was simulated for the actors by surprising them with a shower of animal entrails. That’s why their looks of disgust and horror are so real . They had no idea what we were going to shoot that day.”

“I was there,” O’Bannon told Fantastic Films, “and they had three cameras set up ’cause they wanted to catch it from all angles and all the cameras were covered in clear plastic tarps. The lenses were covered with flat optical class like underwater cameras and Ridley and the D.P. and all of the technicians were all wearing overalls up to their necks. It took them three to four hours to get the actor doing to do the stunt rigged because there was mechanical stuff involved. Meanwhile the other actors didn’t come on set, I don’t know where they were, they had a room where the actors could hang out and talk to each other. Then they brought them in when they were ready for it, they hadn’t seen all the preparation. All they did was they walked on, they saw all these tarps, and they saw huge hydraulic machines with hoses leading to this rigged man, and they saw everybody wearing coveralls. I looked at Sigourney Weaver, who’s the lead. I saw her face as she looked at the tarp, coveralls and camera, and she seemed to go a little shaky. The actors looked real uneasy when they saw the set-up because it looked like they were trying to prepare for Vesuvius.”

“I knew that the special effects men were trying to rig the blood so that it would hit me,”said Sigourney after the film’s release. “I was absolutely green. There had been a huge vat of kidneys and livers and intestines floating around on the set for two days and the stench was awful.”

“I noticed Sigourney really looking scared,” said Shusett. “I said, ‘You’re really getting into character.’ She said, ‘No, I have a feeling I really feel I’m going to be pretty repulsed right now.’ A couple years later, I read an interview where she said, ‘The reason I knew it was I saw Dan O’Bannon and Ron Shusett over in the corner, and they were putting on rubber raincoats and laughing like little kids on Christmas morning. So I knew it was going to be a blood-bath!’ It worked so great. Veronica Cartwright – when the blood hit her in the fact, she totally passed out. I heard from Yaphet Kotto’s wife that after that scene he would go to his room every night and not talk to anybody.”

“The amount of blood was just unparalleled,” continued O’Bannon. “I saw Veronica Cartwright get drenched from head to toe in blood and scream her fool head off and fall backwards over a table and brain herself … Then afterwards these two people pick Veronica Cartwright up and she was weak-kneed and they had to help her off the set.  She was drenched, all her clothes sticking to her, and her hair sticking to her with this red dye and she was near hysterics. And twenty minutes later they come back and they had showered her and fixed her up and put a duplicate costume on her and she looked the same, but a little spooked, and I went up to her and I said, ‘That was really terrific. Was that all acting?’ And she looked at and said in a kind of spooked voice, ‘Well, I was a little freaked-out.'”

“John Hurt had been lying there for about four hours while they fixed him up,” Cartwright told Fantastic Films in ’79. “By the time I got there I was thinking, ‘uh oh’. They had three cameras so they could get all our first reactions – our gut reactions. That’s what you see in the film. Those reactions are totally raw. Nobody quite anticipate what was going to happen. I was told I’d get some blood on me. I had no idea the hose was pointed at my face. I felt very queasy afterwards.”

“Kane’s Son.” The creature demands birth from his body and quickly grows to become The Eight Passenger.

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Path to Prometheus

""Now that Joss Whedon has turned in his script to the Fox Big Brass and awaits their approval. How much longer do we have to wait for the next Alien sequel? We wish we knew." ~ Cinescape magazine, 1995.

“Now that Joss Whedon has turned in his script to the Fox Big Brass and awaits their approval, how much longer do we have to wait for the next Alien sequel? We wish we knew.”
~ Cinescape magazine, 1995.

Fifteen years lapsed between Alien Resurrection and the next Alien-verse follow-up, Prometheus. As with any of the films post-Aliens, Twentieth Century Fox sought to capitalise and make a sequel immediately;­­­ it was merely a matter of which direction the series ought to take—and the series looked in many directions, from a continuation of Alien Resurrection, to the Alien vs. Predator offshoots, and to rumours of an Alien remake, before finally settling on a prequel. “It’s the story of creation,” said Ridley Scott, “of the gods, and the man who stood against them …”

In 2007, when asked about how he would like to see the series continue, Alien creator Dan O’Bannon was decisive: “I’d like to see it stop.” Tired of endless sequels that would continue to “drain any remaining impact out of the original”.

O’Bannon opined that the series had been “played out after the first [sequel]. Cameron, in the first one, did about the only thing that you could do, which was that he switched to a different genre … But once he had done that, there was really nothing left to do. And they just keep squeezing the thing until it’s an empty bag.”

Even series producer Walter Hill referred to Alien 3 as “another complete fucking mess,” and went on to explain, “The studio wanted to crank out another one … David [Giler] and I were a bit sick of it, and wanted to end the whole thing … Fifteen years later, and we’re still in hotel rooms rewriting Alien … We had nothing to do [with Alien Resurrection], didn’t even think it was a good idea for starters, we thought we had ended the series … Personally, I think it’s a lousy movie.”

“With Sigourney Weaver in the lead and James Cameron behind the camera, Alien 4 looks set to restore the genre’s finest fear franchise – with more than a little help from twenty-something screenwriter Joss Whedon. Fresh from polishing the script of Kevin Costner’s mega-budgeted fantasy movie, Waterworld, Whedon resurrects Ripley with the time-honoured sci-fi premise of cloning, and that’s not the only twist he has in store. He says, ‘Is she all woman or is just a little something wrong? The whole intention is that when she comes back from the dead, she has to be larger than life.’ 

Whedon cites the original Alien as the film that’s had more influence on him than any other and promises that Alien 4 will be extraordinary – ‘I want to do an Evil Dead, where it’s really menacing and never stops. I want every scene to contain something special.'”
~ Starburst magazine, 1995. 

Back in 1997, whilst promoting the aforementioned movie, Twentieth Century Fox were confident in the validity of the franchise: “All we can say is that the end of Alien Resurrection points you towards the locale of Alien 5,” Tom Rothman told Entertainment Weekly. Rothman was confident that the Alien sequel train would continue rolling unabated in the wake of Resurrection, which was expected to revitalise the series after the dour turn and critical lashing of Alien 3: “We firmly expect to do another one: Joss Whedon will write it, and we expect to have Sigourney and Winona if they’re up for it.” Whedon himself teased, “There’s a big story to tell in another sequel. The fourth film is really a prologue to a movie set on Earth. Imagine all the things that can happen.”

Alien 5 seemed planned even before Alien Resurrection was shown to audiences. In March 1996 Weaver said, “I am absolutely sure there will be an Alien 5 , because I know how Alien 4 ends. I am the last person who thought I would do another one, but we have a wonderful script. They came up with the most the most provocative situation for Ripley to find herself in. It is very unexpected and will surprise a lot of people and will give me an interesting job.”

Later the next year, Whedon outlined to SFX magazine his plan for approaching Alien 5: “If I write this movie, and it has my writing credits on it, then it’s going to be on Earth … And it’s going to be very different from the last one … The studio talked about Alien Resurrection as a kind of placeholder. They said, ‘We want to do Earth or the big Alien planet, but we’re not convinced yet that this franchise has legs. So we want to do a smaller story.’ I don’t think you can do that with Alien 5. I think the time of people running around in a tin can has passed. You have to work on a broader canvas otherwise it becomes an episode and not a new movie. The way Cameron exploded from the first to the second, you have to do that again, and that means going somewhere new … With Alien Resurrection, I used the first two movies as models, but with this one I can promise you something new, something completely different from what’s been seen before.”

The two prominent ideas for Alien 5 were Aliens-on-Earth, and planet-of-the-Aliens. Aliens running amok on Earth had in fact been advertised as the plot for Alien 3, though no script for such a film ever existed. A trailer proclaiming that, “On Earth everyone can hear you scream,” came and went. Despite anyone’s enthusiasm for an Earth-bound Alien film, Weaver herself claimed no interest in the idea: “The only thing I’m not interested in is going to Earth. I saw that Star Trek movie where they went to Earth and … yawn. I think it’s more fun to go to a foreign planet … Fantasy is what we need!”

Ridley Scott also found the idea of Aliens on Earth to be less enticing than exploring the origin of the creatures: “Earth would be interesting, and there is talk about it … I say we should go back to where the Alien creatures were first found and explain how they were created. No one has ever explained why. I always figured that a battleship carrying bio-mechanical organisms that could be weapons was sent into space with some Space Jockey who didn’t last long.” He elaborated on his vision of Alien 5 further: “I had an idea for a fifth installment in the series. It would be all about the Aliens themselves: what their world and civilization are like. What made them tick. We always thought of that derelict spacecraft, where they found all the eggs in the first one, as a sort of aircraft carrier or bomber. They would drop the eggs on the planets they wanted to conquer, then come back a few years later after the landscape had been ‘cleared,’ so to speak.”

Ridley’s idea about exploring the culture which originated the Aliens was a persistent one. Alien‘s associate producer, and friend to Scott, Ivor Powell, claimed to be fascinated by the same theme: “I would have gone before [Alien], that’s what I find interesting. I want to know who that Space Jockey is. What are the Aliens doing in the silo? Are they armaments, are they shipping them somewhere?” Journalist Paul Sammon, author of Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner, expressed interest in the same idea, pointing to the untapped lore lying behind the original film: “Despite the fact that there have been four films in the saga so far, there are still all these unanswered questions that the original brought up. Like, what’s the deal with LV-426? Where did the original Alien race come from? Who are they, really? What are they? Who was the Space Jockey? Why did it have all those eggs on a crashed ship? I mean, the first Alien hinted at a whole backstory that hasn’t been explored in the saga yet.”

Despite the intense curiosity in such themes and storylines, Fox was still touting Joss Whedon as the pen behind their planned Alien 5, with Vincenzo Vitali, the director of Cube, briefly rumoured to be aiming for the director’s chair by the Spanish press.

“I remember a young writer friend called me when I was in LA, and he called me from London after the fourth [film] one and said, ‘I’m crying.’ I asked why and he said, ‘I’ve just come out of Alien [Resurrection], and they’ve turned it into a comedy!’ He said, ‘The world of Alien is just going to collapse – this is the end of it.’ And it’s true – you don’t hire a comedy director to make Alien.”
~ Roger Christian, Alien art director, 2010.

However, a frustrated Whedon seemed to have lost interest in a fifth movie after Resurrection‘s release, stating: “I’ll tell you there was a time when I would have been interested in that, but I am not interested in making somebody else’s franchise anymore. Any movie I make will be created by me.” When later asked by a fan at the 1998 San Diego Comic Con about any potential Alien 5 involvement, Whedon replied: “Uhh, that’s a big no. Did you see Alien 4?” Without a writer, the latest proposed sequel seemed stuck, but two series regulars were, briefly, working on a collaborative effort to bring Alien 5 back from development hell.

“Ridley and I talked about doing another Alien film,” James Cameron told AICN in 2006, “and I told Fox that I would develop a fifth Alien film.” Cameron had told the BBC in 2003: “We’re looking at doing another one. Something similar to what we did with Aliens: a bunch of great characters and, of course, Sigourney.” Cameron name-checked Arnold Schwarzenegger as one casting possibility (which would never come to pass regardless of the project’s completion, considering Arnold’s impending governership,) and even Harrison Ford was rumoured. Also in 2003, Cameron spoke to the Houston Chronicle about how Alien 5 should also draw on the uncompromising nature of Ridley’s original movie: “[Alien] holds a special classic niche as one of the great terrifying experiences, and the trick [to making a new Alien film] is you don’t go crazy and make a $150-million movie, because you don’t want to have to compromise, you don’t want to try to do a PG-13 Alien that is all things to everyone. It’s got to still maintain its roots in this kind of cinematic Id. Ridley did it really beautifully. He just kind of put you into this Freudian nightmare in space.”

Though Scott’s interest in returning to the series was lackadaisical even with Cameron working on a script, any co-Cameron/Scott Alien 5 project was eventually put out of order by Fox, who decided to bring the Alien vs. Predator series to the big screen instead. “I was working with another writer,” Cameron explained, “and Fox came back to me and said, ‘We’ve got this really good script for Alien vs. Predator …'”

“Ridley and I talked over lunch maybe 10 years ago and I said, ‘Look, I’ll write it and produce it, you direct it, it’ll fucking kick ass!’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it!’ And nothing happened. And then they did Alien vs. Predator, and that kind of pissed in the soup.”
~ James Cameron, Total Film, 2009.

Fox had toiled with bringing the comic book venture to the screen for almost a decade, but it was a pitch by writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson (and an alleged truce of sorts between Alien and Predator‘s producers) that allowed the project to finally go green. Anderson had toyed with Alien-style horror (with a dash of Hellraiser and Solaris) in his 1997 film, Event Horizon. “If you’re going to make a horror movie, it doesn’t get any better than Alien,” he has said. “I’ve been waiting to do a movie with Aliens in it since I was at school, since the first Alien movie came out, since I fell in love with Sigourney Weaver and since the Alien scared the hell out of me.” However, Anderson admitted to Empire magazine that his Alien vs Predator film was not designed to mimic either AlienAliens, nor even Predator: “Hopefully it’s got elements of both, but it’s built to please a younger audience exposed to the video games and comic books.”

Alien vs. Predator has had a torturous history,” Anderson told Empire magazine. “Fox have had a script for it for ten years, ever since Peter Briggs did an adaption of the comic book, and yet they didn’t make it. Alien was still an active franchise and the producers not seeing eye-to-eye was a stumbling block for a long time. I think a lot of them don’t actually get on. But by the time I was involved there was a sense at the studio that they were dead franchises.”

AVP presents possibilities to re-energise both franchises,” Anderson continued. “I set about making a standalone movie that didn’t contradict anything within the original franchises, but fed into them, and then left other filmmakers to go and make an Alien 5 or Predator 3.” He finished by joking, “This is AVP, and whoever wins, Rupert Murdoch wins!”

Ultimatley, Anderson’s movie didn’t do much to instill confidence in the series on behalf of either critics or long-time fans, (fan-site AVPGalaxy temporarily closed down in response, and when asked for his opinion on the movie, Dan O’Bannon quipped: “videogame.”) Still,  the AVP installments continued with Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, written by a co-writer of the first movie, Shane Salerno, and directed by first-time helmers, Greg and Colin Strause; two special effects artists who founded VFX company, Hydraulx. After the tribulations of Alien 3Resurrection, and Anderson’s Alien vs. PredatorRequiem did what seemed to be impossible – and brought the Alien brand to its nadir.

A requiem is defined as “a Mass for the repose of the souls of the dead,” and if the second AVP film demonstrated anything, it was that the reputation of both Alien and Predator franchises were firmly in the ground. Even though it was released in January of 2007, Empire magazine was quick to dub the film a “strong contender for worst film of the year.”

Failing to predict the reaction towards their movie, the Strauses had originally intended for their film to lead in to another Strause-helmed AVP. The brothers told i09: “The original ending for AVPR, that we pitched them, ended up on the Alien homeworld, and actually going from the Predator gun, that you see at the end, it was going to transition from that gun to a logo of a Weyland-Yutani spaceship that was heading to an Alien planet. And then we were actually going to cut down to the surface [of the Alien planet] and you were going to see a hunt going on. It was going to be a whole tribe of Predators going against this creature that we called King Alien. It’s this huge giant winged Alien thing. And that was going to be the lead-in, to show that the fact that the Predator gun [at the end of AVPR] is the impetus of all the technological advancements that allowed humans to travel in space. Which leads up to the Alien timeline.”

Colin Strause told i09: “[Humanity] could take that and reverse engineer [Predator technology], figure out what the power source was – all of those things. And in theory, that would enable that company [Weyland-Yutani] to make massive advancements in technology and dominate the space industry. That was the whole idea, to literally continue from Ms. Yutani getting the gun, and then cut to 50 years in the future, and there’s spaceships now. We’ve made a quantum leap in space travel. That was going to set up the ending, which would then set up what AVP3 was going to be, which would take place 100 years in the future. That was kind of the plan.”

In an interview with a UK newspaper, Colin announced: “The next film I want to do would be back on the Alien homeworld. And I’d like to introduce the viewers to Aliens so big, they’re almost dinosaur size, or even bigger, with more of a space theme.”

Fan response was understandably negative. “People who hate the movie will say any idea of ours is dumb, regardless of its merits,” Colin Strause said in response to criticism of the planned AVP3, over at AVPGalaxy forums. “I bet if some other director said the same thing most of you [the fanbase] will be saying it was the best idea ever; of course you will never admit that.”

Ultimately, after the abysmal Aliens vs Predator: Requiem and the overwhelming negativity directed at the film and its directors, even Fox lost its taste for bringing the two creatures together again, and AVP was shelved.

There were rumours of an Alien remake doing the rounds shortly thereafter, though Alien 5 was briefly on some people’s lips, with even Tom Woodruff Jnr of Amalgamated Dynamics wanting to have a shot at the film: “I would love to work on an Alien film and totally … not so much re-invent the Alien, but devise a new Alien that’s of that same world, but is still different. We had little stabs at it, like with the Newborn creature in Alien Resurrection.” Alec Gillis also mentioned Woodruff’s interest in Alien 5, though he kept tight-lipped on details: “I can’t really speak to that concept for an Alien 5, because it’s still something that’s pending.”

Finally, during a press junket for The Taking of Pelham 123 in 2009, Tony Scott, brother to Ridley, revealed: “Carl Rinsch is going to do the prequel to Alien.” The other Scott brother was pleased that Rinsch, a son-in-law to Ridley, was helming: “I’m excited ’cause Ridley created the original and Rinsch is one of the family.” Rinsch’s tenure on the prequel didn’t last long however. Later in 2009, it was announced that Ridley Scott himself would return to the Alien series and direct the prequel to his 1979 classic.

Scott had mused on returning to Alien since the early eighties. Another film, according to Scott, “certainly should explain what the Alien is and where it comes from. That will be tough because it will require dealing with other planets, worlds, civilisations. Because obviously the Alien did come from some sort of civilisation … The Alien may be one of the last descendants of some long-lost self-destructed group of beings … What I missed most of all [in the first film] was the absence of a prognosis scene. There were no speculative scenes or discussions about what the Alien was and all that sort of thing either. I believe that audiences love those, especially if they’re well done. They give the threat much more weight. If they make Alien II, and if I have anything to do with it, the film will certainly have those elements in it. From a certain point of view, Alien II could be more interesting than Alien I.”

Of course, as history went, James Cameron was the first to bring a sequel to the screen. Scott, on the other hand, was left out entirely. “I was a little dismayed,” he said, “no one even mentioned it to me.” However, Scott relieved himself knowing that “Jim loved Alienadored it … I would never, ever critique or criticise [Aliens] because I think it was very successful and what he did was really good.” In fact, whilst Cameron was directing the sequel at Shepperton Studios, he bumped into Ridley himself. “I was coming out of dailies,” Cameron told Fangoria in 1986, “and he was going in, and we spoke for about ten minutes. We didn’t really talk about Aliens at all; he didn’t seem particularly curious about it, other than the fact it was being done. We just spoke in general terms about shooting in England. It was very polite, there was no depth to it. Basically, it was like, ‘Hello, pleased to meet you.'”

Scott was also considered for Alien 3, but could not clear his schedule. “He could never get it together,” claimed Sigourney Weaver. However, he did find time to drop in on David Fincher during filming, and was even interviewed on the set. “This is not the way to make movies,” he told the struggling Fincher, “make sure you make a little film where you have some control whilst they’re beating you up.” Two decades later, Scott would return to Shepperton to again stand on an Alien-verse set.

“From the very early going all the scripts said Untitled Alien Prequel, and then we tried a bunch of colons, it was Alien: Engineers, Alien: Genesis, Alien: Origins.”
Jon Spaihts, Prometheus enhancement pods, 2012.

“It’s a brand new box of tricks,” Ridley told Empire in 2009 on the subject of the prequel. “We know what the road map is, and the screenplay is now being put on paper. The prequel will be a while ago. It’s very difficult to put a year on Alien, but if Alien was towards the end of this century, then the prequel story will take place thirty years prior … I never thought I’d look forward to a sequel, but a prequel is kind of interesting. I’m looking forward to doing that.” That same year, when talking to MTV, Scott said: “I’ve got a pile of pages next to me. It’s like the fourth draft. It’s a work in progress, but we’re not dreaming it up anymore. We know what the story is. We’re now actually trying to improve the three acts and make the characters better, build it up to something. It’s a work in progress, but we’re actually making the film.”

“I’m in Pinewood now doodling spaceships,” said the Alien prequel’s production designer, Arthur Max, in 2010. “I’ve got a little art department and we’re trying to get it off the ground … we can deconstruct the original. That’s an interesting challenge to anticipate. Where it all came from. Its origins. It’s almost like archaeology. You’re designing in reverse time.”

Though there was no chance of Ripley appearing in a pre-Ripley world, Sigourney Weaver was happy to see the series returning to Ridley: “I’m glad it’s in his hands. I always said if you’re going to do another one, go back to the planet where they came from, so I certainly think it’s a great idea. I’ll be excited to see it. I think he’s an amazing director and I always felt very incomplete because we didn’t know where they came from, and so we’re going to find out I hope.” James Cameron was likewise excited: “I cannot wait to see it. I truly cannot wait. I will be the first person in line to see it – but he’d [Ridley] better invite me to a preview screening!”

Scott also made it clear that if the Alien creature was to return, then it wouldn’t assume the recognisable shape of the creatures from the previous movies. “They’ve squeezed the franchise dry,” said Ridley. “The first one will always be the most frightening, because the beast we put together with Giger and all its parts -the facehugger, the chestburster, the egg- they were all totally original, and that’s hard to follow … I don’t want to repeat it. The Alien in a sense, as a shape, is worn out. Once I get more serious and get going, and the big wheels start turning, we’ll [Scott and Giger] certainly talk. And maybe we’ll come up with something completely different.”

“In my view, the story of Alien can only go one direction; to return home to the planet where the first discoveries were made, which might be an opportunity to provide fans and audiences with past surprises and answers to questions they had. I am convinced that everyone who was involved from the beginning of the production of this series has the same feelings as me.”
~ HR Giger, Tatuaz magazine, 2008.

Excitingly, Giger seemed to confirm his involvement in the film to a Swiss newspaper in February 2011, saying: “Ridley Scott and I met in London to discuss the details of the project. It was a warm reunion after such a long time. It’s going to be huge. I can not tell you what I’m doing exactly.”

Ridley and Giger rifling through Prometheus designs and sketches during production.

People had returned from one Alien movie to another before, including AlienAliens conceptual artist Ron Cobb; Alien focus puller-turned Aliens cinematographer Adrian Biddle; Alien Queen stuntmen-turned-Fiorina 161 prisoner stuntmen Nick Gillard and Malcolm Weaver; and AlienAliens creature stuntman, Eddie Powell. However, none were as monumental or even as instrumental as Scott and Giger, and fans as well as the media waited in anticipation for further news.

It was in this hush period that the embryonic film underwent massive changes. The most significant of these was the recruitment of a secondary writer (Damon Lindelof, hired to buttress a script originally by Jon Spaihts) and the new movie’s subsequent and very deliberate distancing from Alien; though the new film, tentatively titled Paradise before becoming Prometheus, would still retain an umbilicus to the original series.

“We were told several different titles, we didn’t really know what the project was called. My paperwork said Alien Prequel, Untitled Alien Prequel. That’s what I was working on. Then LV-426 was the title, so some people say ‘oh it’s not the same planet,’ but in Ridley’s mind it could have been at one point … And then another title was Paradise … and then one day, boom, Prometheus.”
Steven Messing, Visual Effects Art Director, Prometheus enhancement pods, 2012.

In 2012, Spaihts explained: “If you’ve seen the original Alien, you’ve seen the remains of the enigmatic giant—whom the fan community calls the “Space Jockey”—who has died in the derelict wreck. This character is the great, unopened door of that original film—the great mystery. Who is that? Where did that derelict ship come from? How did that giant die? And it’s in that mystery that the story seed of Prometheus takes root. There is some inevitable kinship between the two stories [Alien and Prometheus] in terms of xenobiology. But the titular creature of Alien is very much confined to the shadows and is not at all the focus of Prometheus, which is driving in a new direction. With Prometheus, the origin of the menace and forces that our heroes encounter is essentially the central mystery of the tale itself. So the story is very much about people prying into the shadows and trying to shed light on these mysteries.”

Like Resurrection and Alien vs. Predator before it, Prometheus was also intended to bring a new life to the tired series. “From the get-go,” said Spaihts, “the studio made it plain that they were interested in not just a new film but a new limb for a new franchise altogether. My story development envisioned a trilogy from the beginning.” Spaihts elaborated further with EMPIRE magazine: “I did have a plan for multiple films and the conversations I had with Ridley was about a new franchise from the beginning. We talked about a possible trilogy, or a duology, but more often as a trilogy. And I did have pretty broad notions as to how we were going to get from this world to the original Alien – the baton pass, closing the circle, if you will.”

Jon Spaihts on the Prometheus writing process: “At the time I was brought aboard, Ridley was looking to return to the Alien universe. They were calling it a prequel at the time, and Ridley was going to produce and not direct. I took a stab at the story and came up with something they really liked, and Ridley got so excited he decided to direct it himself. It really threw everything into overdrive at the studio … I worked with Ridley to create five drafts of the script, then 20th Century Fox wanted a more established writer to finish the project, which is typical of studios, and so Damon Lindelof was brought on board and he worked with Ridley on the final draft … I created a mythology that was outside of the original film, and became the centre of the movie. It remained the centre as Damon took over and took the work forward.”

Damon Lindelof on the Prometheus writing process: “I really liked Jon’s script, I thought there were some very cool and original ideas in it … I read it and enjoyed it, but I just felt like that draft was very married to Alien: 35 pages in we’re already dealing with eggs and facehuggers and chestbursters and xenomorphs and acid blood. I felt like that was all the stuff we’ve seen before, and then there was this other idea in the script that I haven’t seen before, so I told them, ‘What I think this script would really benefit from is a remixing of its ideas, to make the movie about these ideas and themes of creation, and focus it more on the idea of going to visit these beings who may or may not have made us.’ … This movie was going to say, ‘What if creation wasn’t the result of some kind of all-knowing deity? What if it’s the result of something we can actually go and visit? Are we the result of an experiment, and what’s the purpose of that experiment? Are we deemed a success or a failure?’ … The idea that Ridley was advancing for Prometheus was A: what if those things weren’t as alien as we thought they were? And B: what if there is a fundamental relationship between those beings and us? And C: what if they weren’t victims of these eggs but were directly responsible for making them? As in, it’s more of a thing where they made Pandora’s Box and something got out, rather than them being innocent, hapless victims. Those were the ideas that really got me pumped up for Prometheus.

The shift from Alien 0 to Prometheus was announced at the beginning of 2011. Misdirection seemed to be a central part of the film’s advertisement process, with Scott and Lindelof stating that Prometheus was almost entirely removed from the Alien saga. “While Alien was indeed the jumping-off point for this project,” said Scott in a press release, “out of the creative process evolved a new, grand mythology and universe in which this original story takes place. The keen fan will recognize strands of Alien’s DNA, so to speak, but the ideas tackled in this film are unique, large and provocative.”

As it later turned out, it didn’t take a keen fan to take note of the presence of the Space Jockey or derelict craft, and with their appearance the Prometheus universe seemed less new than what had been claimed.

“There’s a definite connecting vein [to Alien]. You realise you’re part of something else, but it’s definitely in keeping with the old ones … Alien fans will recognize things in it. It’s not ignoring Alien, there’s still a link to that world. But it’s a different story. It’s definitely connected, though.”
~ Michael Fassbender.

In June 2012, Spaihts elaborated on the relationship between Alien and Prometheus: “If we’re going to revisit the Alien universe, that’s cool, but the end of the movie shouldn’t be the original Alien, this movie should go off in its own direction, so if there was a sequel to Prometheus, it would not be Alien  Alien was about unleashing a killing machine with acid for blood and surviving it; this is going to have certain themes in common, but it’s going to be about something slightly different … Essentially it’s a cousin to that first story. It’s less a prequel than a spin-off. It leaps back into that universe we know from the original Alien, but rather than following that plotline, or going backwards to set that plotline up, it sets off sideways, to investigate a new set of questions, and open up a whole new arm of the mythology.”

Essentially, the goal with Prometheus was to shed the well-worn staples of the previous Alien films and yet, by tapping into the unexplored lore behind them, such as the Space Jockey, to also continue the series from an entirely fresh perspective.

Alien vs. Predator vs. Prometheus: The prequel film was of course tethered to the original Scott film, but what about the relationship between it and AVP? Lindelof explained: “[Ridley] wanted to use Weyland as a conduit in the story, and was not at all interested when I said, ‘You know, Weyland was a character in one of the Alien vs. Predator movies.’ He just sort of looked at me like I had just slapped him in the face. That was the beginning, middle, and end of all Alien vs. Predator references in our story process.” Peter Weyland indeed usurped Charles Bishop Weyland and removed him, and by extension AVP, from the continuity.

Lindelof on Ridley and the Alien series: “He hasn’t seen the Alien vs. Predator films. He likes Cameron’s sequel but he admits to feeling a little conflicted that he was passed over in terms of directing the sequel. He’s a huge Fincher fan and feels sorry that David was so hamstrung in terms of what he could and could not do in terms of Alien 3, and while he acknowledges that it’s a beautiful looking film I think he wishes that Fincher would have been allowed to do what Fincher does on that film. I have a feeling that if Alien 3 had been Fincher’s third film instead of his first then it would have been up there in the pantheon of great sci-fi. We didn’t talk about Resurrection.”

Prometheus, like Alien before it, seems to carry within it the DNA of several progenitor films. The stowaway Weyland seems like a riff on Dark Star‘s frozen Commander Powell gag, though it’s more in line with an idea abandoned in Blade Runner, where Eldon Tyrell is revealed to be harboured away within a stasis chamber. Some of the spacesuits evoke Planet of the Vampires; the Space Jockey’s battle with the Trilobite creature evokes panels from Dan O’Bannon/Moebius’ The Long Tomorrow (panels from the comic strip can even be seen pinned to production storyboards); and the Space Jockey temple is very clearly derived from HR Giger’s Harkonnen Castle design from Jodorowsky’s unmade Dune. But most important is the film’s tie to Alien itself. Beyond the obvious Space Jockey creature and derelict spacecraft (now fully functional and called the Juggernaut), Prometheus returns to ideas abandoned in the original film: from major themes like ancient alien civilisations and von Däniken-esque interstellar gods, to little nods like the crew of the Prometheus salvaging a Space Jockey’s head, just as the crewmen of Dan O’Bannon’s script return to their ship with the ossified head of the derelict’s pilot. Though Alien presented the Space Jockey and its cargo as beings that are entirely distant from us, the universe was rendered smaller in Prometheus by linking the Engineers to Earth’s history. However, this is not necessarily any less Lovecraftian than the original film: in the Lovecraft mythos and cosmogony, which Dan O’Bannon drew heavily on, ancient alien deities once ruled the Earth, but have since fallen into a death-like slumber. Their awakening will spell the end for humanity. The parallels here with Prometheus are obvious.

Alien went to where the Old Ones lived,” claimed Dan O’Bannon. It was a decades-long journey, but Prometheus, for all it successes and failures, turned its needle back towards some central core of the Alien mythos, which had been diverted over the years by Ripley-centric sequels and comic book mash-ups.

Speaking to the BBC about Prometheus and the planet housing the Space Jockey facility, LV-223, Ridley stated: “Yeah, it’s not the same planet [from Alien] at all … If there was a sequel to this, which there might be if the film is successful, there’ll be two more of these before you even get to Alien.”

In an interview with movies.com, Scott said: “From the very beginning, I was working from a premise that lent itself to a sequel. I really don’t want to meet God in the first one. I want to leave it open to [Dr. Elizabeth Shaw] saying, ‘I don’t want to go back to where I came from. I want to go where they came from’ … I’d love to explore where the hell [Dr. Shaw] goes next and what she does when she gets there, because if it is paradise, paradise cannot be what you think it is. Paradise has a connotation of being extremely sinister and ominous …”

Ridley Scott on the Orrery/pilot chamber set. Destination: Paradise?

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