5 Things You Might Not Know About Ridley Scott's 'Alien'

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by Oliver Lyttelton
May 25, 2012 10:03 AM
5 Comments
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The success of "Star Wars" changed everything. While "2001" had been a giant hit a decade ago, most put it down to a fluke, but George Lucas' film suddenly proved that science fiction wasn't just for B-movies, but could be a licence to print money. Every studio in town were chasing the genre, but 20th Century Fox, who had distributed "Star Wars" had a head-start: they already had another space-set script in development, "Alien," by Dan O'Bannon, Ronald Shusett, Walter Hill and David Giler. They swiftly attached new helmer Ridley Scott to the project, and production got underway in the summer of 1978.

The result, released exactly two years after "Star Wars," on May 25th, 1979 (thirty-three years ago to the day) was an enduring classic, which serves as a high watermark of the both the sci-fi and horror genres, and launched Scott's career. Next week, the director will return to where it all started: the first screenings of "Prometheus," his semi prequel to the original, will take place, with the film hitting theaters around the world on June 1st, before following in the U.S. on June 8th. To mark the anniversary, and the imminent arrival of "Prometheus," we've gathered up five things you might not know about Scott's sci-fi classic. Check them out below.

1. The film came into being thanks to a beach ball.

Screenwriter Dan O'Bannon (who passed away in December 2009) had started out in special effects, co-writing John Carpenter's existential sci-fi comedy debut "Dark Star." In that film, the alien creature (a mascot adopted by the ship's crew, rather than an antagonist) was a spray-painted beach ball, but O'Bannon wanted to come up with something revolving around a realistic, terrifying extraterrestrial creature. Not long after, he was contacted by writer Ronald Shusett, who wanted to work together on an adaptation of Philip K Dick's "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" (which would eventually become "Total Recall"), but the pair agreed to work on O'Bannon's idea first, starting off from an uncompleted script called "Memory," which began with astronauts awakening from a long journey. After a small delay when O'Bannon was hired for the effects on Alejandro Jodorowsky's aborted version of "Dune," the two bashed out a script, initially called "Star Beast," but soon retitled "Alien." It was minimalist stuff -- they deliberately wrote generic, interchangeable human characters, focusing more of their time on the creature -- but it proved effective. The duo were on the verge of selling the film to Roger Corman's company when Walter Hill's shingle Brandywine, who had a deal at 20th Century Fox, expressed an interest. Hill, and partner David Giler, would do substantial rewrites on the film, but it was only after "Star Wars" proved to be a mammoth success that the film got the greenlight from the studio: despite Fox having released Lucas' film, "Alien" was the only science-fiction script that the company had in the works.

2. Robert Aldrich, Peter Yates and Jack Clayton were all in the running to direct before Ridley Scott.

Initially, the studio wanted the film in the hands of a reliable veteran, and people like Peter Yates ("Bullitt," "The Deep," "The Friends Of Eddie Coyle"), Jack Clayton ("Room at the Top," "The Innocents") and Robert Aldrich ("Kiss Me Deadly," "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane," "The Dirty Dozen") were all considered. Aldrich in particular nearly got the gig, but when Hill and Giler met with him, it was clear that the veteran helmer was treating it as a job-for-hire: when they asked him what he thought the facehugger should look like, Aldrich responded "We'll put some entrails on the guy's face. It's not as if anyone's going to remember that critter once they've left the theater." Hill considered directing the film himself, but ended up making "The Warriors" around the same time, while O'Bannon pushed heavily for the job himself. But in the end, the studios and producers were impressed by "The Duellists," the debut of a young British commercials director named Ridley Scott. Scott was trying to make another historical epic, "Tristan & Isolde," at Paramount, but couldn't get a greenlight, and jumped at the chance when it came along. From the first meeting, it was clear that Scott was the man they needed -- he had no intention of treating it as a knock-off B-movie, as Aldrich had been. Indeed Fox executives were so impressed by Scott's presentation of storyboards and designs that they doubled the budget of the film, from $4 million to over $8 million.
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5 Comments

  • SpaceFace | June 1, 2012 3:40 PMReply

    Good to be reminded of the unadulterated terror/pleasure that movie instilled in me 35 years ago... And still does.
    Note to obloodyhell: If you ever find yourself trapped in a confined space with an odd looking creature with acid for blood, have a sip of the kool-aid, stab it with a screwdriver and usher it into a bulkhead.

  • Bongo | June 1, 2012 12:42 PMReply

    @OBloodyHell

    Wow. You have absolutely no idea what are you writing about don't you? A hammer. Wow.

  • OBloodyHell | May 31, 2012 1:37 PMReply

    Alien is VASTLY overrated. With the exception of the chestburster scene, which until that point was beyond the capability of film prosthetics FX, virtually every significant scene in the movie is derived from some other b-grade SF pic from the 50s or 60s. I know this, because a friend of mine, then an aspiring director himself and an even bigger film buff than I am, listed the derived-films off for me one by one in order. The only one I specifically recall was the end sequence which was, IIRC, ripped off from "X From Outer Space" (IMDB title "tt0062411").

    Then combine that with the essentially ludicrously technically flawed macguffin of the film -- "trapped with no weapons" -- which is utterly required by every aspect of the plot.

    I say ludicrous because it fails to grasp "Tool==weapon". A hammer is a GREAT club. A screwdriver does a GREAT job at stabbing things. Any spacecraft is going to have on it a massive array of TOOLS which can be converted to a weapon against the monster in no time whatsoever. Laser welders, molecular monofilament, simply all manner of advanced TOOLS which would inarguably be easily found on an interstellar ship and readily turned into a weapon.

    "It's got acid for blood" Fine, put it in an outer bulkhead that you can seal it off, make sure the gravity is directed so that the acid eats through to the exterior and then evaporates into space. Problem solved.

    It's an "Idiot" plot -- the only reason the story continues to advance is because EVERYONE INVOLVED is a complete and total IDIOT. One character exhibits the slightest brains or resourcefulness and that thing is sliced alien parts being exhausted out into space.

    Other than the chestbursting scene and the impressive design work from Moebius and Giger, the movie is a vastly overrated waste of time and money.

  • Neil | June 1, 2012 3:46 PM

    Wow you really have excelled in the stupidity stakes today. I'm unsure where to actually start in your rambling drivel so I won't bother. Safe to say though you really have no idea do you.

  • tyrannosaurus max | May 25, 2012 12:19 PMReply

    Awesome. Thanks, Oliver.

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