Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Alien

"One thing that people are all disturbed about is sex... I said 'That's how I'm going to attack the audience; I'm going to attack them sexually. And I'm not going to go after the women in the audience, I'm going to attack the men. I am going to put in every image I can think of to make the men in the audience cross their legs. Homosexual oral rape, birth. The thing lays its eggs down your throat, the whole number.’”

- Dan O’Bannon (describing the imagery in Alien)

 

 

In preparation for the launch of “Prometheus”, the Film & Art Study at Reel FX screened a special presentation (on June 6, 2012) of the (1979) horror/sci-fi masterpiece, Alien, by visionary director, Ridley Scott. A special “Making of Prometheus” with Ridley Scott was also screened in addition to all 4 viral videos (in Hi Def) from Prometheus!! After the Alien film, we watched the Making of Alien.

Alien - Polish Movie Poster

An initial screening of Alien for 20th Century Fox representatives in St. Louis, MO suffered from poor sound in the theater. A subsequent screening in a newer theater in Dallas, TX went significantly better, eliciting genuine fright from the audience.  Two theatrical trailers  were shown to the public. The first consisted of rapidly changing still images set to some of Jerry Goldsmith's electronic music from Logan's Run. The second used test footage of a hen's egg set to part of Goldsmith's Alien score. The film was previewed in various American cities in the spring of 1979 and was promoted by the tagline "In space no one can hear you scream." 

Alien - Japanese Movie Poster

Alien opened in theaters on May 25, 1979. It was rated "R" in the United States, "X" in the United Kingdom, and "M" in Australia. In the UK, the British Board of Film Classification almost passed the film as an "AA", although there were concerns over the prevalent sexual imagery. 20th Century Fox eventually relented in pushing for an AA certificate after deciding that an X rating would be a better choice commercially for selling a horror film.

The film had no official premier in the United States, yet moviegoers lined up for blocks to see it at Grauman's Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood where a number of models, sets, and props were displayed outside to promote it during its first run. Religious zealots set fire to the model of the space jockey, believing it to be the work of the devil!! (Close, it was designed by H.R. Giger, self proclaimed Satanist!). Alien did have a formal premiere in the United Kingdom at the Odeon Leicester Square on September 6, 1979, but it did not open widely in Britain until January 13, 1980.

Critical reaction to the film was initially mixed. Some critics who were not usually favorable towards science fiction, such as Barry Norman of the BBC's Film series, were positive about the film's merits. Others, however, were not: Reviews by Variety, Sight and Sound, Vincent Canby and Leonard Maltin were mixed or negative.  A review by Time Out said the film was an "empty bag of tricks whose production values and expensive trickery cannot disguise imaginative poverty". They would soon come to eat their words!

Alien won the 1979 Academy Award for Visual Effects and was also nominated for Best Art Direction for Michael Seymour – Production Designer, Leslie Dilley, Roger Christian and Ian Whittaker.

In the decades since its original release critics have analyzed and acknowledged Alien's roots in earlier works of fiction. It has been noted as sharing thematic similarities with earlier science fiction films such as The Thing from Another World (1951) and It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958), as well as a kinship with other 1970s horror films such as Jaws (1975) and Halloween (1978). Literary connections have also been suggested, including thematic comparisons to And Then There Were None (1939). Many critics have also suggested that the film derives in part from A. E. van Vogt's The Voyage of the Space Beagle (1950), particularly the stories The Black Destroyer, in which a cat-like alien infiltrates the ship and hunts the crew, and Discord in Scarlet, in which an alien implants parasitic eggs inside crew members which then hatch and eat their way out. O'Bannon, however, denies that this was a source of his inspiration for Alien's story. Van Vogt actually initiated a lawsuit against 20th Century Fox over the similarities, but Fox settled out of court. Rick Sanchez of ign.com noted the "striking resemblance" to Mario Bava’s cult classic Planet of the Vampires, especially in a celebrated sequence in which the crew discovers a ruin containing the skeletal remains of long dead giant beings, and in the design and shots of the ship itself, astonishingly similar to the derelict spacecraft in Alien. Despite the astounding visual similarities, both O'Bannon and director Ridley Scott claimed in a 1979 interview that they had not seen Planet of the Vampires.

"Space Jockey" - Alien (1979)

Writer David McIntee has also noted similarities to the Doctor Who episode "The Ark in Space" (1975), in which an insectoid queen alien lays larvae inside humans which later eat their way out, a life cycle inspired by that of the ichneumons wasp. He has also noted similarities between the first half of the film, particularly in early versions of the script, to H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, "not in storyline, but in dread-building mystery", and calls the finished film "the best Lovecraftian movie ever made, without being a Lovecraft adaptation", due to its similarities in tone and atmosphere to Lovecraft's works.

Alien has continued to receive critical praise over the years, particularly for its realism and unique environment. It has a 96% approval rating at the online review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes based on 82 reviews, while Metacritic gives the Director's Cut an 83% approval rating based on 22 reviews. Critical interest in the film was re-ignited in part by the theatrical release of the "Director's Cut" in 2003. In his "Great Movies" column that year, critic Roger Ebert ranked it among "the most influential of modern action pictures", praising its pacing, atmosphere, and settings:


One of the great strengths of Alien is its pacing. It takes its time. It waits. It allows silences (the majestic opening shots are underscored by Jerry Goldsmith with scarcely audible, far-off metallic chatterings). It suggests the enormity of the crew's discovery by building up to it with small steps: The interception of a signal (is it a warning or an SOS?). The descent to the extraterrestrial surface. The bitching by Brett and Parker, who are concerned only about collecting their shares. The masterstroke of the surface murk through which the crew members move, their helmet lights hardly penetrating the soup. The shadowy outline of the alien ship. The sight of the alien pilot, frozen in his command chair. The enormity of the discovery inside the ship ("It's full of ... leathery eggs ...").

McIntee praises Alien as "possibly the definitive combination of horror thriller with [science fiction] trappings." He notes, however, that it is a horror film first and a science fiction film second, since science fiction normally explores issues of how humanity will develop under other circumstances. Alien, on the other hand, focuses on the plight of people being attacked by a monster: "It's set on a spaceship in the future, but it's about people trying not to get eaten by a drooling monstrous animal. Worse, it's about them trying not to get raped by said drooling monstrous animal." Along with Halloween and Friday the 13th (1980), he describes it as a prototype for the slasher film genre: "The reason it's such a good movie, and wowed both the critics, who normally frown on the genre, and the casual cinema-goer, is that it is a distillation of everything that scares us in the movies." He also describes how the film appeals to a variety of audiences: "Fans of Hitchcockian thrillers like it because it's moody and dark. Gorehounds like it for the chest-burster. [Science fiction] fans love the hard [science fiction] trappings and hardware. Men love the battle-for-survival element, and women love not being cast as the helpless victim."

Salon.com critic Andrew O'Hehir notes that Alien "has a profoundly existentialist undertow that makes it feel like a film noir" and praises it over its "increasingly baroque" sequels as "a film about human loneliness amid the emptiness and amorality of creation. It's a cynical '70s-leftist vision of the future in which none of the problems plaguing 20th century Earth—class divisions, capitalist exploitation, the subjugation of humanity to technology—have been improved in the slightest by mankind's forays into outer space."


Alien - 1979 Pre Release Poster
In 2002, Alien was deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" by the National Film Preservation Board of the United States, and was inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress for historical preservation alongside other films of 1979 including All That Jazz, Apocalypse Now, The Black Stallion, and Manhattan. In 2008 the American Film Institute ranked Alien as the seventh-best film in the science fiction genre as part of AFI's 10 Top 10, a CBS television special ranking the ten greatest movies in ten classic American film genres. The ranks were based on a poll of over 1,500 film artists, critics, and historians, with Alien ranking just above Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and just below Ridley Scott's other science fiction film Blade Runner (1982). The same year, Empire magazine ranked it thirty-third on its list of the five hundred greatest movies of all time, based on a poll of 10,200 readers, critics, and members of the film industry.


Critics have also analyzed Alien's sexual overtones. Adrian Mackinder compares the facehugger's attack on Kane to a male rape and the chestburster scene to a form of violent birth, noting that the Alien's phallic head and method of killing the crew members add to the sexual imagery. Dan O'Bannon has argued that the scene is a metaphor for the male fear of penetration, and that the "oral invasion" of Kane by the facehugger functions as "payback" for the many horror films in which sexually vulnerable women are attacked by male monsters. McIntee claims that "Alien is a rape movie as much as Straw Dogs (1971) or I Spit on Your Grave (1978), or The Accused (1988). On one level it's about an intriguing alien threat. On one level it's about parasitism and disease. And on the level that was most important to the writers and director, it's about sex, and reproduction by non-consensual means. And it's about this happening to a man." He notes how the film plays on men's fear and misunderstanding of pregnancy and childbirth, while also giving women a glimpse into these fears. Film analyst Lina Badley has written that the Alien's design, with strong Freudian sexual undertones, multiple phallic symbols, and overall feminine figure, provides an androgynous image conforming to archetypal mappings and imageries in horror films that often redraw gender lines. O'Bannon himself later described the sexual imagery in Alien as overt and intentional: "One thing that people are all disturbed about is sex... I said 'That's how I'm going to attack the audience; I'm going to attack them sexually. And I'm not going to go after the women in the audience, I'm going to attack the men. I am going to put in every image I can think of to make the men in the audience cross their legs. Homosexual oral rape, birth. The thing lays its eggs down your throat, the whole number.”


Making the film:


While studying cinema at the University of Southern California, Dan O'Bannon had made a science fiction comedy film with director John Carpenter and concept artist Ron Cobb entitled Dark Star. The film included an alien which had been created using a spray-painted beach ball, and the experience left O'Bannon "really wanting to do an alien that looked real."  A few years later he began working on a similar story that would focus more on horror: "I knew I wanted to do a scary movie on a spaceship with a small number of astronauts", he later recalled, "Dark Star as a horror movie instead of a comedy." Ronald Shusett, meanwhile, was working on an early version of what would eventually become Total Recall. Impressed by Dark Star, he contacted O'Bannon and the two agreed to collaborate on their projects, choosing to work on O'Bannon's film first as they believed it would be less costly to produce. O'Bannon had written twenty-nine pages of a script entitled Memory comprising what would become the film's opening scenes: a crew of astronauts awaken to find that their voyage has been interrupted because they are receiving a signal from a mysterious planetoid. They investigate and their ship breaks down on the surface. He did not yet, however, have a clear idea as to what the alien antagonist of the story would be.
 

Necronomicon IV by HR Giger (1976)
O'Bannon soon accepted an offer to work on a film adaptation of Dune, a project which took him to Paris for six months. Though the project ultimately fell through, it introduced him to several artists whose works gave him ideas for his science fiction story including Chris Foss, H. R. Giger, and (the late) Jean "Moebius" Giraud. O'Bannon was impressed by Foss' covers for science fiction books, while he found Giger's work "disturbing": "His paintings had a profound effect on me. I had never seen anything that was quite as horrible and at the same time as beautiful as his work. And so I ended up writing a script about a Giger monster." After the Dune project collapsed O'Bannon returned to Los Angeles to live with Shusett and the two revived his Memory script. Shusett suggested that O'Bannon use one of his other film ideas, about gremlins infiltrating a B-17 bomber during World War II, and set it on the spaceship as the second half of the story. The working title of the project was now Star Beast, but O'Bannon disliked this and changed it to Alien after noting the number of times that the word appeared in the script. He and Shusett liked the new title's simplicity and its double meaning as both a noun and adjective. Shusett came up with the idea that one of the crew members could be implanted with an alien embryo that would later burst out of him, feeling that this was an interesting plot device by which the alien creature could get aboard the ship.

H. R. Giger

O'Bannon and Giger - 1979

Hans Rudolf "Reudi" Giger is a Swiss surrealist painter, sculptor and set designer. He won an Academy Award for Best Achievement for Visual Effects for his design work on the film, Alien

Giger was born in Chur Canton, Switzerland, the son of a chemist. He spoke of a father who viewed art as a "breadless profession", and strongly encouraged his son to enter into pharmaceutics. Despite this, in 1962, he moved to Zürich, where he studied Architecture and industrial design at the School of Applied Arts until 1970. Giger had a relationship with Swiss actress Li Tobler until she committed suicide in 1975. He married Mia Bonzanigo in 1979; they separated a year and a half later.

Giger's style and thematic execution have been influential. His design for the Alien was inspired by his painting Necronom IV and earned him an Oscar in 1980. His books of paintings, particularly Necronomicon and Necronomicon II (1985) and the frequent appearance of his art in Omni magazine continued his rise to international prominence. Giger is also well known for artwork on several records.



In 1998 Giger acquired the Château St. Germain in Gruyères, Switzerland, and it now houses the H. R. Giger Museum, a permanent repository of his work.
Giger got his start with small ink drawings before progressing to oil paintings. For most of his career, Giger has worked predominantly in airbrush, creating monochromatic canvasses depicting surreal, nightmarish dreamscapes. However, he has now largely abandoned large airbrush works in favor of works with pastels, markers or ink.

His most distinctive stylistic innovation is that of a representation of human bodies and machines in a cold, interconnected relationship, described as "biomechanical". His paintings often display fetishistic  sexual imagery. His main influences were painters Ernst Fuchs and Salvador Dalí. He met Salvador Dalí, to whom he was introduced by painter Robert Venosa. He was also a personal friend of Timothy Leary. Giger suffers from night terrors and his paintings are all to some extent inspired by his experiences with that particular sleep disorder. He studied interior and industrial design at the School of Commercial Art in Zurich (from 1962 to 1965) and made his first paintings as a means of art therapy.

In 2007, Giger and his work were subjects of a 19-minute documentary, H.R. Giger's Sanctuary, which toured internationally and was released on DVD in May 2008.  


Final alien design - HR Giger (1979)
Necronomicon IV - Image alien was based on.
Another image from the series - Necronomicon IV

 

Writing the Alien


In writing the script, O'Bannon drew inspiration from many previous works of science fiction and horror. He later stated that "I didn't steal Alien from anybody. I stole it from everybody!" The Thing from Another World (1951) inspired the idea of professional men being pursued by a deadly alien creature through a claustrophobic environment. Forbidden Planet (1956) gave O'Bannon the idea of a ship being warned not to land, and then the crew being killed one by one by a mysterious creature when they defy the warning. Planet of the Vampires (1965) contains a scene in which the heroes discover a giant alien skeleton; this influenced the Nostromo crew's discovery of the alien creature in the derelict spacecraft. O'Bannon has also noted the influence of "Junkyard" (1953), a short story by Clifford D. Simak in which a crew lands on an asteroid and discovers a chamber full of eggs. He has also cited as influences Strange Relations by Philip José Farmer (1960), which covers alien reproduction, and various EC Comics horror titles carrying stories in which monsters eat their way out of people.

"Nostromo" designs - Ron Cobb (1978)

"Nostromo" bridge - Ron Cobb
With roughly eighty-five percent of the plot completed, Shusett and O'Bannon presented their initial script to several studios, pitching it as "Jaws in space." They were on the verge of signing a deal with Roger Corman's studio when a friend offered to find them a better deal and passed the script on to Walter Hill, David Giler, and Gordon Carroll, who had formed a production company called Brandywine with ties to 20th Century Fox. O'Bannon and Shusett signed a deal with Brandywine, but Hill and Giler were not satisfied with the script and made numerous rewrites and revisions to it. This caused tension with O'Bannon and Shusett, since Hill and Giler had very little experience with science fiction and according to Shusett: "They weren't good at making it better, or in fact at not making it even worse." O'Bannon believed that they were attempting to justify taking his name off of the script and claiming it as their own. Hill and Giler did add some substantial elements to the story, however, including the android  character Ash which O'Bannon felt was an unnecessary subplot, but which Shusett later described as "one of the best things in the movie...That whole idea and scenario was theirs." In total Hill and Giler went through eight different drafts of the script, mostly concentrating on the Ash subplot but also making the dialogue more natural and trimming some sequences set on the alien planetoid.

Despite the multiple rewrites, 20th Century Fox did not express confidence in financing a science fiction film. However, after the success of Star Wars in 1977 the studio's interest in the genre rose substantially. According to Carroll: "When Star Wars came out and was the extraordinary hit that it was, suddenly science fiction became the hot genre." O'Bannon recalled that "They wanted to follow through on Star Wars, and they wanted to follow through fast, and the only spaceship script they had sitting on their desk was Alien". Alien was greenlit by 20th Century Fox at an initial budget of $4.2 million. They just needed a director...

Directing Alien:


O'Bannon had originally assumed that he would direct Alien, but 20th Century Fox instead asked Hill to direct. Hill declined due to other film commitments as well as not being comfortable with the level of visual effects that would be required. Peter Yates, Jack Clayton, and Robert Aldrich were considered for the task, but O'Bannon, Shusett, and the Brandywine team felt that these directors would not take the film seriously and would instead treat it as a B monster movie. Giler, Hill, and Carroll had been impressed by Ridley Scott's debut feature film The Duellists (1977) and made an offer to him to direct Alien, which Scott quickly accepted. Scott created detailed storyboards for the film in London, which impressed 20th Century Fox enough to double the film's budget from $4.2 million to $8.4 million. His storyboards included designs for the spaceship and space suits, drawing influences from films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars. However, he was keen on emphasizing horror in Alien rather than fantasy, describing the film as "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre of science fiction".

Sigourney Weaver & Ridley Scott - Alien (1979)
O'Bannon introduced Scott to the artwork of H. R. Giger; both of them felt that his painting Necronom IV was the type of representation they wanted for the film's antagonist and began asking the studio to hire him as a designer. 20th Century Fox initially believed Giger's work was too ghastly for audiences, but the Brandywine team were persistent and eventually won out. According to Gordon Carroll: "The first second that Ridley saw Giger's work, he knew that the biggest single design problem, maybe the biggest problem in the film, had been solved." Scott flew to Zürich to meet Giger and recruited him to work on all aspects of the Alien and its environment including the surface of the planetoid, the derelict spacecraft, and all four forms of the Alien from the egg to the adult.

Casting the Film:


Casting calls for Alien were held in both New York and London. With only seven human characters in the story, Scott sought to hire strong actors so he could focus most of his energy on the film's visual style. He employed casting director Mary Selway, who had worked with him on The Duellists, to head the casting in the United Kingdom, while Mary Goldberg handled casting in the United States. In developing the story O'Bannon had focused on writing the Alien first, putting off developing the characters for a later draft. He and Shusett had therefore written all of the roles as generic males with a note in the script explicitly stating "The crew is unisex and all parts are interchangeable for men or women." This left Scott, Selway, and Goldberg free to interpret the characters as they liked and to cast accordingly. They wanted the Nostromo's crew to resemble working astronauts in a realistic environment, a concept summed up as "truckers in space".  According to Scott, this concept was inspired partly by Star Wars, which deviated from the pristine future often depicted in science fiction films of the time.


To assist the actors in preparing for their roles, Ridley Scott wrote several pages of backstory for each character explaining their histories. He filmed many of their rehearsals in order to capture spontaneity and improvisation, and tensions between some of the cast members, particularly towards the less-experienced Weaver, translated convincingly on film as tension between their respective characters.


Film critic Roger Ebert notes that the actors in Alien were older than was typical in thriller films at the time, which helped make the characters more convincing:

“None of them were particularly young. Tom Skerritt, the captain, was 46, Hurt was 39 but looked older, Holm was 48, Harry Dean Stanton was 53, Yaphet Kotto was 42, and only Veronica Cartwright at 29 and Weaver at 30 were in the age range of the usual thriller cast. Many recent action pictures have improbably young actors cast as key roles or sidekicks, but by skewing older, Alien achieves a certain texture without even making a point of it: These are not adventurers but workers, hired by a company to return 20 million tons of ore to Earth.”


Alien was written by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett and directed by Ridley Scott.

RATED R (X if you are British!), 117 min, 70mm 6-Track Dolby, Color, 2.20:1 Aspect Ratio.

"Alien" (1979) Poster
video

 

You may remember that the titular xenomorph in Ridley Scott’s 1979 classic Alien was sometimes depicted by a man in a suit. Here’s test footage of 6’10″ Nigerian actor Bolaji Badejo practicing his extraterrestrial motions. 

video


Even with a mock-up of the xenomorph’s head alone — and Badejo running around in his underwear — these reels remain unsettling.

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