Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Alien (1979), directed by Ridley Scott, is an extremely popular and influential science fiction/horror film that spawned several sequels and imitators. Although the title characters are the highly aggressive extraterrestrial creatures, the real connecting thread is the saga of Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, a human woman who finds herself the principal opponent of the species throughout the series. The film is especially notable as the first major American film series with a female action hero.
There are just seven human actors in the movie: Tom Skerritt (Captain Dallas), Sigourney Weaver (Warrant Officer Ripley), Veronica Cartwright (Navigator Lambert), Harry Dean Stanton (Engineering Technician Brett), John Hurt (Executive Officer Kane), Ian Holm (Science Officer Ash), and Yaphet Kotto (Chief Engineer Parker).
The story begins when the crew of the commercial transport ship Nostromo (named for a character in a novel by Joseph Conrad) receive a transmission which might be of nonhuman origin. They land on a deserted planet (Acheron) and find a derelict spaceship with a dead alien and many large eggs. When one of the crew is attacked by a newly-hatched alien, the creature is brought aboard the Nostromo, where it methodically wipes out the crew.
The eponymous alien creature is a lethal predator with consistently surprising abilities and physical forms, and which reproduces by parasitizing living victims. The plot device of the alien having acid for blood was created in order to prevent the Nostromo's crew from being able to kill it easily with firearms—the spilled blood would have eaten through the ship's hull. On the other hand, a flamethrower proved to be a suitable weapon, even though they have a limited firing range. The life cycle of the alien has been compared to that of the tsetse fly.
After the ship's Captain is killed in an attempt to trap the creature Ripley assumes command. She discovers that the ship had been deliberately re-routed by the Company that owns it to investigate the signal and return a specimen (Ripley had already surmised that the transmission might have been a warning message). The Science Officer Ash is revealed as an android placed by the Company to protect the creature and that the crew were regarded as dispensable. Ripley as the sole survivor destroys the Nostromo escaping in a shuttle craft after destroying the alien in the vehicle's rocket engine.
The original screenplay was written by Dan O'Bannon, who had collaborated with John Carpenter on the cult sci-fi film Dark Star. O'Bannon's original script was titled Star Beast, and was a revision of an idea O'Bannon had years before, about gremlins getting loose aboard a World War II bomber and wreaking havoc with the crew.
O'Bannon's original script bears many resemblances to the film that was actually produced, yet with significant differences. The spaceship—designed for a low-budget production in mind—was a small craft called the Snark. In the original script the ship's crew -- inlcuding the Ripley character -- are all male. Actor Tom Skerritt was originally cast as Ripley, but during script development the character was re-cast as a woman, reportedly at the insistence of producer Alan Aldd Jr -- a decision which proved crucial to the film's success.
After landing in response to the intercepted alien message the crew discover the derelict alien craft and its dead pilot. Ominously the pilot in its death throes had had scratched a triangle on its control console. The crew members go outside and see the remains of an ancient pyramid. Kane is lowered into the structure where he finds a chamber with a breathable atmosphere. The alien embryo eggs are housed in an altar like structure and there is a hieroglyph depicting the alien's lifecycle. This concept was retained for a long time, and preliminary H.R. Giger pyramid drawings intended for Alien exist, but eventually the producers went with the idea of combining the wrecked derelict ship with the egg chamber (also designed by Giger). The sub-plot of Ash being an android and the betrayal of the crew was introduced later in the script development. A scene in which Ripley and Dallas have sex was dropped in order to secure a lower censorship rating.
Substantial excerpts of O'Bannon's original script appeared as bonus materials on the 1992 laserdisc boxed set of Alien, though they were not included in the 1999 Alien Legacy DVD box. The complete O'Bannon script was included on the 2003 Alien Quadrilogy DVD box set as a bonus feature.
O'Bannon wrote the original treatment in 1976 while staying with Ronald Shusett after the film version of Dune he had been working (directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky) on fell apart. Artist Ron Cobb , who had worked with O'Bannon on Dark Star and Star Wars, produced a series of conceptual designs that defined the gritty realism of the film. O'Bannon and Shusett sold the script to the Brandywine company of David Giler, Gordon Carroll, and Walter Hill who had a production deal with Twentieth Century Fox with Hill attached to direct. Hill and Giler re-wrote the script ejecting superfluous elements and making it more action orientated. These changes were the source of tension between O'Bannon and the other production members that lasted through the making of the film. O'Bannon invited other artists who had worked on the Dune project to work on the film including Foss, Moebius, and Giger. At this stage there was a hiatus in the production as the studio was alarmed at the prospect of committing to a new science fiction film when it feared the yet to be released Star Wars would be a flop.
With Star Wars a box office hit Fox gave the film the go ahead with an $8 million budget - much higher than the writers had originally pictured. During the production hiatus Hill had been replaced by Ridley Scott who revised many of the design elements before principal photography started at Shepperton Studios in England. Giger was brought from Zurich and along with Ron Cobb was set up at the studios as a type of artist in residence (Giger kept a diary through the production that was the basis of his book Giger's Alien). Much of the films production design was done by the same team that had worked on Star Wars with John Mollo supervising the costumes including the distinctive spacesuits. Another Star Wars alumnus Carlo Rambaldi produced the crucial mechanical effects for the title alien's head. Special effects were lead by the team of Brian Johnson and Nick Allder who had worked on 2001: A Space Odyssey and Space 1999. Scott turned to a computer animation pioneer Bernard Lodge from his old college the Royal College of Art in London to produce the films influential green line computer displays.
Aside from the creation of the Alien movie franchise and launching the international careers of Weaver and Ridley Scott the box office success of the film spawned a cycle of imitations including Xtro , Insemnoid , and in some degree John Carpenter's The Thing.
The film's visual style has also been hugely influential as for the first time in a Science Fiction film space travellers are depicted as blue collar company employee drones rather than highly empowered agents of a quasi-military structure such as Star Trek. The film Outland borrows much of this premise but across the genre the aesthetic of Alien for future technology became the norm in the following decade.
In addition to movies, Nintendo's video game franchise Metroid takes much of its influence from the movies of the Alien franchise. To commemorate this influence, one of the game's perrenial villains is named Ridley, in honor of Alien director Ridley Scott.
- 1979: Alien, directed by Ridley Scott
- 1986: Aliens, directed by James Cameron
- 1992: Alien3, directed by David Fincher
- 1997: Alien: Resurrection, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet
There is also a rumored Alien 5 movie. Although it was said that the script is, for the time-being, too violent to appeal to any major group, Ridley Scott had said on occasion that he would be open to directing the film. However, when interviewed in 2005 after the release of "Alien vs. Predator" Scott stated that the franchise had been wrung dry and no longer interested him. The chance of the film happening is probably unlikely now.
The Director's Cut (2003)
October 29, 2003 saw Alien re-released in cinemas as a Ridley Scott director's cut. It restores many—but not all—of the deleted scenes that have already appeared as bonus materials on previous laserdisc and DVD releases of the film, and makes some interesting deletions from the original cut. However, unlike the Star Wars "Special Editions", it does not appear as if any of the film's original special effects footage has been digitally enhanced (though the film's original negative did undergo some digital cleanup and restoration). Also, Ridley Scott has stated that he didn't really think that Alien required this tweaking, the movie company simply wanted to capitalize on a popular franchise in its latter day. Still, here is a brief rundown of the restored footage in the order the scenes appear.
- The Nostromo crew listening to the alien transmission.
- Lambert slapping Ripley for refusing to let them bring Kane back aboard the ship.
- Some dialogue deleted during the scene where Ripley confronts Dallas in the corridor over letting Ash keep the dead alien face-hugger. Dallas's lines about the Nostromo's original science officer being replaced by Ash at the last minute have been removed. This is an interesting deletion as it removes a bit of foreshadowing that all is not as it seems with the character of Ash.
- A handful of shots added to Brett's death scene, including one where the alien can clearly be seen dangling from above, and another where Parker and Ripley rush into the room just after Brett has been grabbed.
- A brief sequence showing Dallas querying the ship's computer "Mother" about his odds of killing the alien, and getting no reply, before he enters the ventilation ducts, has been cut.
- A portion of the film's most famous deleted scene—Ripley discovering the alien's nest and the bodies of Dallas and Brett—has been restored, though the Director's Cut does not include Ripley's lines to the dying Dallas ("What can I do?" and "I'll get you out of there.") before she kills him with the flame thrower.
- A quick extension of a shot as Ripley discovers the alien blocking the path to the shuttle; the alien is shown staring at Jones the cat in his catbox, then it swats the catbox out of its way. This extended shot has actually never been shown before, even on DVD.
Both the Director's Cut and the original theatrical version are included in the Alien Quadrilogy boxed set, which was released on December 2, 2003.
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