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Memory - The Origins of Alien

By midlandsmovies, Aug 26 2019 09:00AM

Memory – The Origins of Alien


Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe

Opening in Greece with shots of bugs & ancient hieroglyphs, a group of witches chant incantations in a strange beginning for a documentary about Ridley Scott’s sci-fi horror classic Alien.

However, what the film attempts to convey is how the historical symbolism and metaphorical signifiers of the film are actually curated from an underlying “global set of myths”.

Focusing “mostly” on the film’s writer Dan O’ Bannon, the documentary explores his rural upbringing, obsession with sci-fi and monsters and his many influences. One such is “Seeds of Jupiter” – a comic book about a man whose alien infection eventually escapes his body and scuttles off his military location. Sound familiar?

A competent artist in his own right, his early version of Alien (the awfully-titled “Star Beast”) was injected with a new lease of life when Swiss artist H R Giger became involved.

His sexual, mechanical and biological amalgamations were the perfect aesthetic for Bannon’s alien. Giger went to Egypt as a child and was obsessed by black bones and in early storyboards, the derelict spaceship was actually a Pyramid. Unbelievably Fox fired the artist but when original director Walter Hill exited the project, it was Ridley Scott who brought him back on board.

The documentary has the usual talking heads and I must admit that the fact Alien is one of my favourite films of all time helped maintain my interest even when the film didn’t quite work. It argues that the alien has its roots in Renaissance demons and medieval dragons and that it resonates with the human race’s deeper fears.

For me, this only partially rings true. Maybe its longevity can be traced to these themes but I’m not convinced the script of “Star Beast” had such illusions explicitly added. I would argue many of the “theories” are more Room 237 than they are intentional. It puts forward the notion that the 70s economic downturn, terrorism and corruption are represented, which is an interesting if less believable proposition. And the documentary loses some focus elsewhere too BUT I’d caveat that too many theories are probably better than too few.

That said, the combination of the dark psyches of O’Bannon, Scott and Giger together certainly helped bring deeper meaning to the film. Their obsessions of exploration of the ancient past and creation – a theme Scott would come back to in Blade Runner as well as Prometheus – give Alien much more depth than other monster movies.

Like Alien itself, the documentary builds to the iconic chest scene and an in-depth breakdown. With its male pregnancy fetishism, the quote of the film comes from actress Veronica Cartwright who describes the chest burster thus: “It frankly looked like a penis… with teeth”.

From paintings by Francis Bacon to a nice eulogy about Dan O’Bannon from his wife Dianne, The Origins of Alien casts its net very wide. Yet it‘s festering with curious but interesting philosophies and gives birth to a number of thought-provoking ideas about one of the greatest films ever made.

Michael Sales

MEMORY: THE ORIGINS OF ALIEN in cinemas 30 August, on VOD and DVD 2 September

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