- "In space no one can hear you scream."
- ―Alien tagline
|Directed by||Ridley Scott|
|Produced by|| Gordon Carroll|
Ronald Shusett (executive producer)
|Written by|| Story:|
David Giler (uncredited)
Walter Hill (uncredited)
|Starring|| Tom Skerritt|
Harry Dean Stanton
|Editing|| Terry Rawlings|
David Crowther (Director's Cut)
|Distributor||20th Century Fox|
|Release date(s)||May 25, 1979|
|Running time||119 minutes|
|Rating|| MPAA: R|
Alien is a 1979 science fiction horror film directed by Ridley Scott and starring Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto. The film's title refers to its primary antagonist: a highly aggressive extraterrestrial creature which stalks and kills the crew of a spaceship. Dan O'Bannon wrote the screenplay from a story by him and Ronald Shusett, drawing influence from previous works of science fiction and horror. The movie was filmed at Shepperton Studios near London, England, and was produced through Brandywine Productions and distributed by 20th Century Fox, with producers David Giler and Walter Hill making significant revisions and additions to the script. The titular Alien and its accompanying elements were designed by Swiss surrealist artist H. R. Giger, while concept artists Ron Cobb and Chris Foss designed the human aspects of the film.
Alien garnered both critical acclaim and box office success, receiving an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, Saturn Awards for Best Science Fiction Film, Best Direction for Scott, and Best Supporting Actress for Cartwright, and a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, along with numerous other award nominations. It has remained highly praised in subsequent decades, being inducted into the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2002 for historical preservation as a film which is "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In 2008 it was ranked as the seventh-best film in the science fiction genre by the American Film Institute, and as the thirty-third greatest movie of all time by Empire magazine.
The success of Alien spawned a media franchise of novels, comic books, video games, and toys, as well as three sequel and two prequel films. It launched Weaver's acting career by providing her with her first lead role, and the story of her character Ripley's encounters with the Alien creatures became the thematic thread that ran through the film sequels Aliens (1986), Alien3 (1992), and Alien Resurrection (1997). The film also led to two crossover films with the Predator franchise, Alien vs. Predator (2004) and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007), and a video game sequel, Alien: Isolation (2014).
In 2122, the commercial towing spaceship USCSS Nostromo is on a return trip from Thedus to Earth, hauling a refinery and twenty million tons of mineral ore, as well as a seven-member crew in stasis. Upon receiving a mysterious transmission from a nearby planetoid, possibly a distress signal, the ship's computer awakens the crew. Required by standing orders from their corporate employers to investigate the signal, the crew detaches the Nostromo from the refinery and lands on the planetoid, resulting in some damage to the ship. Captain Dallas, Executive Officer Kane and Navigator Lambert set out to investigate the signal's source while Warrant Officer Ripley, Science Officer Ash, and Engineers Brett and Parker stay behind to monitor their progress and make repairs.
Dallas, Kane, and Lambert discover that the signal is coming from a derelict alien spacecraft. Inside it they find the remains of a large alien creature, whose ribs appear to have been exploded outward from the inside. Meanwhile, the Nostromo's computer partially deciphers the signal transmission, which Ripley determines to be not a true distress call, but some type of warning. Kane discovers a vast chamber containing numerous eggs, one of which releases a creature that attaches itself to his face. Dallas and Lambert carry the unconscious Kane back to the Nostromo where Ash allows them inside, defying Ripley's orders to follow the ship's quarantine protocol. They unsuccessfully attempt to remove the creature from Kane's face, discovering that its blood is an extremely corrosive molecular acid. Eventually the creature detaches of its own accord and is found dead. With the ship repaired, the crew resume their trip back to Earth.
Kane awakens seemingly unharmed, but during a meal before re-entering stasis he begins to choke and convulse, until an alien creature bursts from his chest, killing him and escaping into the ship. Lacking conventional weapons, the crew attempt to locate and capture the creature by fashioning motion detectors, electric prods and flamethrowers. During the search, Brett follows the crew's cat, Jones, into a large room where he encounters the Alien, now fully grown into a formidable creature; it attacks him and disappears with his body into the ship's air shafts. Dallas enters the shafts intending to force the Alien into an airlock where it can be ejected into space, but the creature ambushes him. Lambert implores the remaining crew members to escape in the Nostromo's shuttle, but Ripley, now in command, explains that the shuttle will not support four people.
Accessing the ship's computer, Ripley discovers that the Nostromo's corporate employers had known about the Alien signal all along, and that Ash had been placed aboard with a secret order to return the creature to them, even at the expense of the crew's lives. Ash almost suffocates her, but Parker intervenes and decapitates him with a blow from a fire extinguisher, revealing Ash to be an android. Before Parker incinerates him, Ash smugly predicts that the other crew members will not survive. The remaining three crew members plan to arm the Nostromo's self destruct system and take their chances in the shuttle, but Parker and Lambert are killed by the Alien while gathering the necessary supplies. Desperate, Ripley initiates the self destruct sequence and heads for the shuttle with Jones the cat, but finds the Alien blocking her way. Trapped, she attempts to abort the self destruct but fails, and with no alternative she makes for the shuttle once more. She finds the Alien is gone and narrowly escapes in the shuttle as the Nostromo explodes.
As she prepares to enter stasis, Ripley discovers that the Alien in fact stowed aboard the shuttle with her. She puts on a space suit and opens the hatch, causing explosive decompression which forces the Alien out of the open doorway, but it hangs on. Ripley shoots it with a grappling gun and the impact propels it out; in the process, the gun is ripped from her hands and catches in the closing door, tethering the wounded Alien to the shuttle. It attempts to crawl into one of the engines, at which point Ripley activates them and incinerates it, blasting the Alien into space. She broadcasts a distress call, and puts herself and Jones into stasis for the return trip to Earth.
- Dallas .... Tom Skerritt
- Ripley .... Sigourney Weaver
- Lambert .... Veronica Cartwright
- Brett .... Harry Dean Stanton
- Kane .... John Hurt
- Ash .... Ian Holm
- Parker .... Yaphet Kotto
- Alien ....
- Mother .... Helen Horton (voice)
Dan O'Bannon and Ronald ShusettEdit
The impetus for Dan O'Bannon to write Alien stemmed from Dark Star, an ultra-low-budget science fiction comedy he had made with Ron Cobb and director John Carpenter while studying cinema at the University of Southern California. Dark Star 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." The relatively cold reception the comedy Dark Star had received also led O'Bannon in the direction of a horror film — his reasoning being that while it was hard to make people laugh due to the diverse nature of comedy, it was easy to scare an audience as fear is almost universal.
As he was working on this new concept, O'Bannon was contacted by fellow screenwriter Ronald Shusett, who had been impressed by Dark Star, and the two agreed to collaborate. At the time, Shusett was working on an early version of what would become Total Recall (starring Arnold Schwarzenegger), but the pair elected to pursue O'Bannon's concept first as they believed it would be the cheaper of the two to produce. The project, at this point titled Memory, would eventually form the first half of Alien: the crew of a spacecraft wake from stasis to find their journey home is not yet complete, and soon learn that they have been roused in response to a mysterious signal being received from an uninhabited planet. They set down to investigate and their ship malfunctions, stranding them there. However, O'Bannon did not yet have any ideas for the alien menace that would subsequently terrorize them.
Work on Memory stalled while O'Bannon accepted an offer to work on a film adaptation of Dune. While the project ultimately fell through, it introduced O'Bannon to several artists who would influence Alien, not least of all H. R. Giger. Inspired by Giger's disturbing yet beautiful artwork, O'Bannon resumed work on Memory. At Shusett's suggestion, he combined the script with another he had written about gremlins infiltrating a B-17 bomber over Tokyo during World War II titled They Bite; the location was simply switched to a spaceship, and O'Bannon had the second half of his story, now titled Star Beast. Shusett is credited with the key concept of getting the alien creature on board the ship by having it implanted inside one of the crew, only to later burst out of him, an idea that came to him in a dream. O'Bannon, meanwhile, gave the antagonistic creature acid blood as a means to prevent the crew from simply killing it. While he was thrilled with the story, O'Bannon disliked the title, and eventually changed it to Alien after noticing the number of times the word appeared in the screenplay. He and Shusett liked the new title's simplicity, as well as its double meaning as both a noun and an adjective.
O'Bannon drew inspiration for his script from various sources, later stating, "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 (Dark Star director John Carpenter would later direct a film version of this story in 1982, titled The Thing). 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. It! The Terror From Beyond Space and the works of H. P. Lovecraft have also been cited as likely influences.
Walter Hill and David GilerEdit
While O'Bannon and Shusett almost signed a deal to produce Alien as a low-budget feature with Roger Corman's studio, a friend offered to find them a better deal and passed their script on to Walter Hill, David Giler and Gordon Carroll at Brandywine Productions, which had ties to 20th Century Fox; supposedly, the script was literally found its way to Hill's desk through the window of his office, which backed onto an accessible alleyway. While Hill was immediately drawn to the script, Giler was and has remained adamantly dismissive of O'Bannon and Shusett's work, labelling it the "bone skeleton of a story then. Really terrible. Just awful. You couldn't give it away." Despite this, both men were thrilled by the now-infamous Chestburster scene, and based on the strength of this core idea Hill and Giler began making revisions to the script.
Aside from changing the names of the characters, Hill and Giler sought to remove many of the extraterrestrial aspects from the story. For example, the original alien stone pyramid where the Eggs were to be found was replaced by a man-made military facility containing biological weapons. "They wanted that to be an army bunker for some reason," said Shusett. "I guess they just went, 'Okay this will give it realism,' and that's boring." These alterations were later vetoed by director Ridley Scott at O'Bannon and Shusett's behest, and the origins of the creature again became extraterrestrial. Other more outlandish ideas were likewise blocked, including appearances by characters such as Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun and Jack the Ripper. Despite the rejection of these alterations, some significant changes stuck. Most notably, Hill and Giler came up with the character of Ash and the subplot of his being an android acting on secret company orders. O'Bannon was dismissive of the idea, while Shusett was more amiable, describing Ash as "one of the best things in the movie... That whole idea and scenario was theirs." Another key change came from Fox's then-President Alan Ladd, Jr., who is credited with suggesting the character of Ripley be turned into a woman in order to make the film stand out from its contemporaries.
The battle over the script led to huge tension between the four writers, O'Bannon and Shusett one one side and Hill and Giler on the other. Despite his subsequent praise for some of the ideas they added, Shusett was generally dismissive of their tampering, stating, "They weren't good at making it better, or in fact at not making it even worse." O'Bannon went further, claiming Hill and Giler were simply seeking to justify the removal of his and Shusett's names from the screenplay, so that they could claim it as their own. With rewrites continuing even as filming was taking place, O'Bannon and Shusett were eventually brought back into the fold to finalize the script.
The battle over the script came to a head when it came time to apportion screenplay credits for the film. According to O'Bannon, the film was originally to be credited solely to Hill and Giler. As a result, O'Bannon filed a complaint with the Writers Guild of America, who eventually ruled in his favor. Despite an appeal by Hill, the film ultimately credited its story to O'Bannon and Shusett, and the screenplay to O'Bannon; Hill and Giler where not mentioned at all. However, despite this official ruling, it is certain Hill and Giler contributed at least some aspects to the finished film.
The outcome of the writing process led to on-going hostility between O'Bannon and the producers, with Giler continuing to accuse O'Bannon of stealing his writing credit on the film, and eventually O'Bannon took legal action to close the matter for good. "In the end," summed up Giler, "the plot in O'Bannon's Alien and the one in ours are the same. Basically the same. And yet, they are as different as night and day. It's something subtler than the Writer's Guild is equipped to handle. Though the storylines are basically the same, what happens to the characters has been changed drastically. That is what has been altered."
Set Design and FilmingEdit
Alien was filmed over fourteen weeks from July 5 to October 21, 1978. Principal photography took place at Shepperton Studios near London, while model and miniature filming was done at Bray Studios near Maidenhead, Berkshire. Production time was short due to the film's low budget and pressure from 20th Century Fox to finish on schedule. A crew of over 200 workmen and technicians constructed the three principal sets: the surface of the planetoid, and the interiors of the Nostromo and derelict spacecraft. Art Director Les Dilley created 1/24th scale miniatures of the planetoid's surface and derelict spacecraft based on H. R. Giger's designs, then made molds and casts and scaled them up as diagrams for the wood and fiberglass forms of the sets. Tons of sand, plaster, fiberglass, rock and gravel were shipped into the studio to sculpt a desert landscape for the planetoid's surface, which the actors would walk across wearing space suit costumes. The suits themselves were thick, bulky and lined with nylon, had no cooling systems and, initially, no venting for their exhaled carbon dioxide to escape. Combined with a heat wave, these conditions nearly caused the actors to pass out and nurses had to be kept on-hand with oxygen tanks to help keep them going. For scenes showing the exterior of the Nostromo, a 58-foot (18 m) landing leg was constructed to give a sense of the ship's size. Ridley Scott still did not think that it looked large enough, so he had his two sons and the son of one of the cameramen stand in for the regular actors, wearing smaller space suits to make the set pieces seem larger. The same technique was used for the scene in which the crew members encounter the dead Pilot inside the derelict spacecraft. Like the adults, the children nearly collapsed due to the heat of the suits, and eventually oxygen systems were added to assist the actors in breathing.
The sets of the Nostromo's three decks were each created almost entirely in one piece, with each deck occupying a separate stage and the various rooms interconnected via corridors. To move around the sets, the actors had to navigate through the hallways of the ship, adding to the film's sense of claustrophobia and realism. The sets used large transistors and low-resolution computer screens to give the ship a "used", industrial look and make it appear as though it was constructed of "retrofitted old technology". Ron Cobb created a system of industrial-style symbols and color-coded signs for various areas and aspects of the ship; these symbols were later used for the trophy/achievement icons in the video game Alien: Isolation. The company that owns the Nostromo is not named in the film, and is referred to by the characters simply as "the company". However, the name and logo of "Weylan-Yutani" appears on several set pieces and props, such as computer monitors, beer cans and the actors' costumes. Cobb created the name Weylan-Yutani to imply a business alliance between Britain and Japan, deriving "Weylan" from the British Leyland Motor Corporation and "Yutani" from the name of his Japanese neighbor. The 1986 sequel Aliens named the company as "Weyland-Yutani", and it has remained a central aspect of the franchise ever since.
Art director Roger Christian used scrap metal and parts to create set pieces and props to save money, a technique he employed while working on Star Wars. Some of the Nostromo's corridors were created from portions of scrapped bomber aircraft, and a mirror was used to create the illusion of longer corridors in the below-deck area. Special effects supervisors Brian Johnson and Nick Allder made many of the set pieces and props function, including moving chairs, computer monitors, motion trackers and flamethrowers. Four identical cats were used to portray Jones, the Nostromo crew's pet. During filming Sigourney Weaver discovered that she was allergic to the combination of cat hair and the glycerin placed on the actors' skin to make them appear sweaty. By removing the glycerin she was able to continue working with the cats.
H. R. Giger designed and worked on all of the alien aspects of the film, including the derelict, which he designed to appear organic and biomechanical in contrast to the industrial look of the Nostromo and its human elements. For the interior of the derelict and the Egg chamber he used dried bones together with plaster to sculpt much of the scenery and elements. Veronica Cartwright described Giger's sets as "so erotic... It's big vaginas and penises... The whole thing is like you're going inside of some sort of womb or whatever... It's sort of visceral". The set with the deceased Engineer Pilot, nicknamed the "Space Jockey" by the production team, proved especially problematic, as 20th Century Fox did not want to spend the money for such an expensive set when it would only be used for one scene. Scott described the set as the cockpit or driving deck of the mysterious ship, and the production team was able to convince the studio that the scene was important to impress the audience and make them aware that this was not a B-movie. To save money only one wall of the set was created, and the Pilot sat atop a disc that could be rotated to facilitate shots from different angles in relation to the actors. Giger airbrushed the entire set and the Pilot by hand.
The origin of the Pilot creature was not explored in the film, but Scott later theorized that the ship might have been a weapons carrier capable of dropping Xenomorph Eggs onto a planet so that the Xenomorphs could use the local lifeforms as hosts. In early versions of the script the Eggs were to be located in a separate, pyramid-shaped silo, which would be found later by the Nostromo crew and would contain statues and hieroglyphs depicting the Xenomorph reproductive cycle, offering a contrast of the human, Xenomorph and Engineer cultures. Cobb and Giger each created concept artwork for these sequences, but they were eventually discarded due to budgetary concerns and the need to trim the length of the film. Instead, the Egg chamber was set inside the derelict and was filmed on the same set as the Pilot scene; the entire disc piece supporting the Pilot and its chair was removed and the set was redressed to create the Egg chamber. Light effects in the Egg chamber were created by lasers borrowed from English rock band The Who. The band was testing the lasers for use in their stage show in the sound stage next door.
Alien was originally to conclude with the destruction of the Nostromo and Ripley escaping in the shuttle Narcissus. However, Ridley Scott conceived of a "fourth act" in which the Alien appears on the shuttle and Ripley is forced to confront it. He pitched the idea to 20th Century Fox and negotiated an increase in the budget to film the scene over several extra days. Scott had wanted the Alien to bite off Ripley's head and then make the final log entry in her voice, but the producers vetoed this idea as they believed that the Alien had to die at the end of the film.
Spaceships and planetoidEdit
The spaceships and planets for the film were shot using models and miniatures. These included models of the Nostromo, its attached mineral refinery, the escape shuttle Narcissus, the planetoid and the exterior and interior of the derelict. Visual effects supervisor Brian Johnson, supervising modelmaker Martin Bower and their team worked at Bray Studios, roughly 30 miles (48 km) from Shepperton Studios where principal filming was taking place. The designs of the Nostromo and its attachments were based on combinations of Ridley Scott's storyboards and Ron Cobb's conceptual drawings.
Only one shot was filmed using blue screen compositing: that of the shuttle racing past the Nostromo. The other shots were simply filmed against black backdrops, with stars added via double exposure. Though motion control photography technology was available at the time, the film's budget would not allow for it. The team therefore used a camera with wide-angle lenses mounted on a drive mechanism to make slow passes over and around the models filming at 2½ frames per second, giving them the appearance of motion. Scott added smoke and wind effects to enhance the illusion.
A separate model was created for the exterior of the derelict. Matte paintings were used to fill in areas of the ship's interior as well as for exterior shots of the planetoid's surface. The surface as seen from space during the landing sequence was created by painting a globe white, then mixing chemicals and dyes onto transparencies and projecting them onto it. The planetoid was not named in the film, although in Aliens it is christened LV-426. In Alien the planetoid is said to be located somewhere in the Zeta II Reticuli system.
Egg and FacehuggerEdit
The scene of Kane inspecting the Egg was shot during post-production. The "Facehugger" and its proboscis, which was made of a sheep's intestine, were shot out of the Egg using high-pressure air hoses. The Facehugger itself was the first creature that Giger designed for the film, going through several versions in different sizes before deciding on a small creature with human-like fingers and a long tail. Dan O'Bannon drew his own version based on Giger's design, with help from Ron Cobb, which became the final version. Cobb came up with the idea that the creature could have a powerful acid blood, a characteristic that would carry over to the adult Alien and would make it impossible for the crew to kill it by conventional means such as guns or explosives, since the acid would burn through the ship's hull.
- See also: Chestburster
The design of the "Chestburster" was inspired by Francis Bacon's 1944 painting Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion. Giger's original design resembled a plucked chicken, which was redesigned and refined into the final version seen on-screen. When the creature burst through the prosthetic chest appliance worn by John Hurt, a stream of blood shot directly at Veronica Cartwright, shocking her enough that she fell over and went into hysterics. According to Tom Skerritt, "What you saw on camera was the real response. She had no idea what the hell happened. All of a sudden this thing just came up." The creature then runs off-camera, an effect accomplished by cutting a slit in the table for the puppeteer's stick to go through and passing an air hose through the puppet's tail to make it whip around.
The real-life surprise of the actors gave the scene an intense sense of realism and made it one of the film's most memorable moments. During preview screenings the crew noticed that some viewers would move towards the back of the theater so as not to be too close to the screen during the sequence. In subsequent years the Chestburster scene has often been voted as one of the most memorable moments in film. In 2007, the British film magazine Empire named it as the greatest 18-rated moment in film as part of its "18th birthday" issue, ranking it above the decapitation scene in The Omen (1976) and the transformation sequence in An American Werewolf in London (1981).
- See also: The Alien (Xenomorph)
For most of the film's scenes the titular Alien was portrayed by Bolaji Badejo, a Nigerian design student supposedly encountered by the crew in an English pub. A latex costume was specifically made to fit Badejo's 7-foot-2-inch (218 cm) slender frame, made by taking a full-body plaster cast of him. Scott later commented that, "It's a man in a suit, but then it would be, wouldn't it? It takes on elements of the host – in this case, a man." Badejo attended t'ai chi and mime classes in order to create convincing movements for the Alien. Although Badejo was the principle Alien actor, in several famous scenes the creature was actually portrayed by stuntmen Eddie Powell and Roy Scammell. These include the scene where the fully-grown creature is first revealed, when it lowers itself from the ceiling to kill Brett; in the sequence a costumed Powell was suspended on wires and then lowered in a graceful unfurling motion. Shots of the Alien inside the vents also did not feature Badejo, as he simply could not fit inside the restrictive set.
- "I've never liked horror films before, because in the end it's always been a man in a rubber suit. Well, there's one way to deal with that. The most important thing in a film of this type is not what you see, but the effect of what you think you saw."
- ―Ridley Scott on his decision to keep the Alien hidden
Scott chose not to show the Alien in full through most of the film, showing only pieces of it while keeping most of its body in shadow in order to heighten the sense of terror and suspense. The audience could thus project their own fears into imagining what the rest of the creature might look like: "Every movement is going to be very slow, very graceful, and the Alien will alter shape so you never really know exactly what he looks like." The Alien has been referred to as "one of the most iconic movie monsters in film history" in the decades since the film's release, being noted for its biomechanical appearance and sexual overtones. Roger Ebert has remarked that "Alien uses a tricky device to keep the alien fresh throughout the movie: It evolves the nature and appearance of the creature, so we never know quite what it looks like or what it can do... The first time we get a good look at the alien, as it bursts from the chest of poor Kane (John Hurt). It is unmistakably phallic in shape, and the critic Tim Dirks mentions its 'open, dripping vaginal mouth.'"
- See: Alien (soundtrack)
Editing and post-production work on Alien took roughly twenty weeks to complete. Terry Rawlings served as Editor, having previously worked with Scott on editing sound for The Duellists (1977). Scott and Rawlings edited much of the film to have a slow pace to build suspense for the more tense and frightening moments. According to Rawlings: "I think the way we did get it right was by keeping it slow, funny enough, which is completely different from what they do today. And I think the slowness of it made the moments that you wanted people to be sort of scared... then we could go as fast as we liked because you've sucked people into a corner and then attacked them, so to speak. And I think that's how it worked." The first cut of the film was over three hours long; further editing trimmed the final version to just under two hours.
One famous scene that was cut from the film occurred during Ripley's final escape from the Nostromo: she encounters Dallas and Brett who have been partially cocooned by the Alien. O'Bannon had intended the scene to indicate that Brett was becoming an Egg while Dallas was held nearby to be implanted by the resulting Facehugger. Production Designer Michael Seymour later suggested that Dallas had "become sort of food for the alien creature", while Ivor Powell suggested that "Dallas is found in the ship as an egg, still alive." Scott remarked that, "they're morphing, metamorphosing, they are changing into... being consumed, I guess, by whatever the Alien's organism is... into an egg." The scene was cut partly because it did not look realistic enough and partly because it slowed the pace of the escape sequence. Tom Skerritt remarked that "The picture had to have that pace. Her trying to get the hell out of there, we're all rooting for her to get out of there, and for her to slow up and have a conversation with Dallas was not appropriate." It was later reinstated in the film's Director's Cut.
- See: Alien deleted scenes
Release and ReceptionEdit
- "It was the most incredible preview I've ever been in. I mean, people were screaming and running out of the theater."
- ―Editor Terry Rawlings describing the film's screening in Dallas.
An initial screening of Alien for 20th Century Fox representatives in St. Louis suffered from poor sound in the theater. A subsequent screening in a newer theater in Dallas 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, more famous trailer began with test footage of the Xenomorph Egg — in fact a decorated hen's egg — followed by silent clips of the movie set to haunting, alien "wailing" music, composed especially by Jonathan Elias. The music from this trailer has subsequently been used in other Alien media, including trailers for Prometheus. 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 opened in theaters on May 25, 1979. It was rated "R" in the United States, "X" in the United Kingdom, and "M" in Australia. 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. 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". H. R. Giger later commented that Alien was a third-rate film, and said that he was secretly glad that he didn't "get a fair mention in the screen credits."
The film was a commercial success, making $78,900,000 in the United States and £7,886,000 in the United Kingdom during its first run. It ultimately grossed $80,931,801 in the United States and $24,000,000 internationally, bringing its total worldwide gross to $104,931,801.
Alien won the 1979 Academy Award for Visual Effects and was also nominated for Best Art Direction (for Michael Seymour, Leslie Dilley, Roger Christian, and Ian Whittaker). It won Saturn Awards for Best Science Fiction Film, Best Direction for Ridley Scott, and Best Supporting Actress for Veronica Cartwright, and was also nominated in the categories of Best Actress for Sigourney Weaver, Best Make-up for Pat Hay, Best Special Effects for Brian Johnson and Nick Allder, and Best Writing for Dan O'Bannon. It was also nominated for British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards for Best Costume Design for John Mollo, Best Editing for Terry Rawlings, Best Supporting Actor for John Hurt, and Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Role for Sigourney Weaver. It also won a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and was nominated for a British Society of Cinematographers award for Best Cinematography for Derek Vanlint, as well as a Silver Seashell award for Best Cinematography and Special Effects at the San Sebastián International Film Festival. Jerry Goldsmith's score received nominations for the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score, the Grammy Award for Best Soundtrack Album, and a BAFTA Award for Best Film Music.
Home video releasesEdit
Alien has been released numerous times in multiple home video formats over the years. The first of these was a seventeen-minute Super-8 version for home projectionists. The film was also released on both VHS and Betamax for rental, which grossed an additional $40,300,000 in the United States alone. Several VHS releases were subsequently sold both singly and as boxed sets. Laserdisc and Videodisc versions followed, and were notable in that they included deleted scenes and director commentary tracks as bonus features. A VHS box set containing Alien and the sequels Aliens and Alien3 was released in a Facehugger-shaped box, and included some of the deleted scenes from the Laserdisc editions. When Alien Resurrection premiered in theaters in 1997, another set of the first three films was released with a bonus Making of Alien Resurrection cassette. A few months later the set was re-released with Alien Resurrection taking the place of the making-of video. Alien was released on DVD in 1999, both singly and packaged with Aliens and Alien3 as The Alien Legacy. This set was also released in a VHS version, which additionally included a commentary track by Ridley Scott and a bonus cassette featuring an exclusive making-of, also titled The Alien Legacy.
On December 2, 2003, Alien was released as part of the Alien Quadrilogy DVD box set, which featured both the theatrical release and a new alternate cut of each of the four films in the series, along with a host of bonus features. The Director's Cut of the film was specially created for the set, along with a new commentary track featuring many of the film's actors, writers, and production staff, and a documentary entitled The Beast Within: The Making of 'Alien'. Each film was also released separately as a stand-alone DVD, again featuring two versions of each movie.
The Alien Quadrilogy set earned Alien a number of new awards and nominations. It won DVDX Exclusive Awards for Best Audio Commentary and Best Overall DVD, Classic Movie, and was also nominated for Best Behind-the-Scenes Program and Best Menu Design. It also won a Sierra Award for Best DVD, and was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best DVD Collection and Golden Satellite Awards for Best DVD Extras and Best Overall DVD.
In 2010 both the theatrical version and Director's Cut of Alien were released on Blu-ray Disc as part of the Alien Anthology set.
- See: Alien Director's Cut
Around and shortly after Alien's release in theaters, a number of merchandise items and media were released and sold to coincide with the film. These included a novelization by Alan Dean Foster, in both adult and "junior" versions, which was adapted from the film's shooting script. Heavy Metal magazine published a comic strip adaptation of the film entitled Alien: The Illustrated Story, as well as a 1980 Alien calendar. Two behind-the-scenes books were released in 1979 to accompany the film: The Book of Alien contained many production photographs and details on the making of the film, while Giger's Alien contained much of H. R. Giger's concept artwork for the movie. A soundtrack album was released as an LP featuring selections of Goldsmith's score, and a single of the main theme was released in 1980.
A twelve-inch tall model kit of the Alien was released by the Model Products Corporation in the United States and by Airfix in the United Kingdom. Kenner Products also produced a larger-scale Alien action figure, as well as a board game in which players raced to be first to reach the shuttle pod while Aliens roamed the Nostromo's corridors and air shafts. Official Halloween costumes of the Alien were released for October 1979. Several computer games based on the film were released, but not until several years after its theatrical run. Despite the popularity of the Kenner merchandise, which was targeted for children who were too young to see film, Kenner recalled all of its merchandise for the film due to complaints from parents for the toys being "too scary" and for selling children merchandise for an R-rated film.
Impact and AnalysisEdit
- "The 1979 Alien is a much more cerebral movie than its sequels, with the characters (and the audience) genuinely engaged in curiosity about this weirdest of lifeforms...Unfortunately, the films it influenced studied its thrills but not its thinking."
- ―Film critic Roger Ebert on Alien's cinematic impact.
Alien had both an immediate and long-term impact on the science fiction and horror genres. Shortly after its debut, Dan O'Bannon was sued by another writer named Jack Hammer for allegedly plagiarising a script entitled Black Space. However, O'Bannon was able to prove that he had written his Alien script first. In the wake of Alien's success, a number of other filmmakers imitated or adapted some of its elements in their own movies, sometimes even copying its title. One of the first was The Alien Dead (1979), which was renamed at the last minute to cash in on Alien's popularity. Contamination (1980) was initially going to be titled Alien 2 until 20th Century Fox's lawyers contacted writer/director Luigi Cozzi and made him change it. Despite the altered title, the film still built on press coverage of Alien's Chestburster scene by having many similar creatures, which originated from large, slimy eggs, bursting from characters' chests.
An unauthorized Italian sequel to Alien, titled Alien 2: On Earth, was released in 1980 and included alien creatures which incubate inside human hosts. Other notable science fiction films of the era that exploited elements of Alien include Inseminoid (1981), Galaxy of Terror (1981), Forbidden World (1982), Xtro (1982) and Creature (1985). Notably, the sequel to Xtro, Xtro II: The Second Encounter (1991), would include several elements ripped from Alien's official sequel, Aliens.
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. 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.
Lasting critical praiseEdit
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 ...")"
- ―Roger Ebert
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."
- "Almost every horror film since Alien has ripped it off in some way, but most of the imitations have focused on details — a slimy killing-machine monster that is both vaginal and penile; the dripping, cavernous interiors of the Nostromo; those immensely influential H. R. Giger "biomechanical" designs — and missed what you might call the overall Zeitgeist of the film."
- ―Salon.com critic Andrew O'Hehir
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."
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.'"
Alien notably establishes several elements and plot points that would become recurring conventions for the rest of the franchise, being reused in most if not all of the subsequent Alien movies and many of the video games based on the series. These include:
- References to Joseph Conrad: The Nostromo and the Narcissus are both named after aspects taken from Conrad's literary works. Spacecraft in Aliens (the USS Sulaco) and Alien3 (the Patna) would similarly be named in reference Conrad, as would ships featured in the video games Aliens versus Predator 2 (the USS Verloc), Aliens vs. Predator (the USS Marlow), Aliens: Colonial Marines (the USS Sephora) and Alien: Isolation (the Torrens).
- Flamethrowers: Following on from the Flame Thrower featured in Alien, flamethrower weapons would feature prominently in Aliens (the M240 Incinerator Unit), Alien Resurrection (the Draco Double Burner) and Prometheus (the Prometheus Flamethrower). While Alien3 did not feature flamethrower weaponry, fire was still used against the Dragon in the film. Flamethrowers also feature in the vast majority of the video games based on the series.
- Vent shafts: Alien, Aliens and Alien3 all feature scenes set inside ventilation shafts, as do many of the video games in the franchise.
- Mess halls: Similarly, Alien, Aliens, Alien3, Alien Resurrection and Prometheus all have scenes set in a mess hall, often as a means to introduce one or more of the major characters in the film.
- Android characters: After Ash, androids would feature in Aliens (Lance Bishop), Alien3 (Lance Bishop again), Alien Resurrection (Annalee Call) and Prometheus (David). There is also a notable tradition of giving these synthetic characters names that begin with subsequent letters in the alphabet — Ash, Bishop, Call and David, A-B-C-D.
- Malevolent mega-corporations: The company operating the Nostromo (Weyland-Yutani, although it is unnamed in Alien) is willing to expend the ship's entire crew to secure the Alien creature. Weyland-Yutani would return with the same goal in Aliens and Alien3, while the United Systems Military would assume a similar role in Alien Resurrection. Most of the games based on the franchise also feature Weyland-Yutani as antagonists, typically attempting to capture and/or study the Xenomorphs.
- Begging to be killed: Although initially cut from Alien, a famous scene was reintegrated in the Director's Cut where Ripley discovers Dallas and Brett cocooned in the ship's cargo hold, the latter being transformed into an Egg, and Dallas begs to be killed. Ripley grants his request with her incinerator. Almost identical scenes would appear in Aliens (with Mary), Alien Resurrection (with Ripley 7) and Prometheus (with Holloway), as well as the video game Aliens vs. Predator (with Major Van Zandt). A similar scene was also in early versions of the script for Alien3. Alien vs. Predator has its own take on the sequence, when a cocooned Sebastian convinces Lex to shoot him before the Chestburster inside him can emerge.
- Sting-in-the-tail endings: Ripley believes she has safely escaped aboard the Narcissus, but suddenly finds herself confronted one final time by the Alien, which has stowed away on board. The exact same scenario would happen in Aliens (with the first Acheron Queen aboard the Sulaco) and Alien Resurrection (with the Newborn aboard the Betty). Each time, Ripley kills the creatures by flushing them into space. The same scenario also occurred at the end of the video game Aliens: Colonial Marines (with the second Acheron Queen aboard the Resolute), while in Alien3, the Dragon is believed killed by the molten lead, only for it to emerge from the metal and attack again.
- The genesis of Alien arose out of Dan O'Bannon's dissatisfaction with his first feature, Dark Star, which John Carpenter directed in 1974. Because of that film's severe low budget, its alien creature was quite patently a beach ball. For his second attempt, O'Bannon wanted to craft an altogether more convincing specimen. The goofiness of Dark Star also led him in the direction of an intense horror movie.
- According to director Ridley Scott's commentaries on home versions of the film, the gore and horror in Alien were greatly influenced by classic 1974 horror film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, of which Scott is a fan. Ridley Scott has even stated in respect to the production of Alien that he wanted to make "a slasher movie in space".
- Originally, the film was to be directed by Walter Hill, but he pulled out and gave the job to Ridley Scott.
- All of the names of the main characters were changed by Walter Hill and David Giler during the revision of the original script by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett. The script by O'Bannon and Shusett also had a clause indicating that all of the characters are "unisex", meaning they could be cast with male or female actors. However, Shusett and O'Bannon never thought of casting Ripley as a female character.
- The stylized artwork that Ridley Scott used to create the storyboards that got Fox to double the budget from $4.2 million to $8.4 million were inspired by the artwork of the late comic book legendary artist Mœbius, who also designed the character costumes, the IRC Mk.50 Compression suit, the insignia and the crew uniforms for the film.
- The writing partnership between Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett came about when Shusett approached O'Bannon about helping him adapt a Philip K. Dick story that he had acquired the rights to. That was "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale", which later became Total Recall (starring Arnold Schwarzenegger). O'Bannon then said that he had an idea that he was stuck on about an alien aboard a spaceship and that he needed some assistance. Shusett agreed to help out and they tackled the alien movie first as they felt it would have been the cheaper of the two to make.
- The original title of the film was "Star Beast".
- Originally, no film companies wanted to make the film, including 20th Century Fox. They stated various reasons, most being that it was too bloody. The only producer who wanted to make the film was Roger Corman, and it was not until Walter Hill came on board that 20th Century Fox agreed to make the film, on the condition that the violence was toned down; even after agreeing to make the movie, Fox still rejected the first cut for being "too bloody".
- It took around 11 weeks to build the sets for the film.
- Many of the crew dialogue scenes were improvised by the cast.
- The spacesuits worn by Tom Skerritt, John Hurt and Veronica Cartwright were huge, bulky items lined with nylon and with no outlets for breath or condensation. As the actors were working under hot studio lights in conditions in excess of 100 degrees, they spent most of their time passing out. A nurse had to be on hand at all times to keep supplying them with oxygen. It was only after Ridley Scott's and cinematographer Derek Vanlint's children were used in the suits for long-shots and they passed out too, that some modifications were made to the costumes.
- Ridley Scott is reportedly quoted as saying that originally he wanted a much darker ending. He planned on having the Alien bite off Ripley's head in the escape shuttle, sit in her chair, and then start speaking with her voice in a message to Earth. Apparently, 20th Century Fox wasn't too pleased with such a dark ending.
- The rumor that the cast, except for John Hurt, did not know what would happen during the Chestburster scene is only partially partly true. The scene had been explained for them in advance. However, they did not know specifics. For example, Veronica Cartwright did not expect to be sprayed so liberally with fake blood and her horrified reaction is genuine (to the point where she actually stumbled over part of the set and fell to the floor in shock, as can be seen in behind the scenes footage).
- Another popular myth surrounding the film — that a member of the cinema staff fainted during the Chestubrster scene at the premier — is also partly true. An usher working at the theatre did indeed faint, although not in reaction to the Chestbursting scene as is usually suggested, but as a result of Ash's decapitation.
- Several monitor graphics from the Nostromo in Alien were reused in Ridley Scott's later film Blade Runner, on screens inside the movie's flying "Spinner" police cars. This, along with general similarities between the two films' design and appearance, have led many fans to speculate they may share the same universe. Supplemental materials on the Prometheus Blu-ray later listed the Tyrell Corporation from Blade Runner as one of Weyland-Yutani's competitors (although this information could be considered more of an Easter Egg than hard fact). In many interviews Scott has also referred to the androids from the Alien franchise as "replicants" — a term used in Blade Runner.
- According to the Colonial Marines Technical Manual, the date the Nostromo set down on the moon and picked up the Alien was 3rd June 2122.
- See: Alien goofs
- Alien (soundtrack) — The soundtrack to the film by Jerry Goldsmith.
- Alien (novel) — The novelization of the film by Alan Dean Foster.
- Heavy Metal Presents Alien: The Illustrated Story — A comic book adaptation of the film.
- Alien (1984 video game) — The video game based on the film.
- The Beast Within: The Making of 'Alien'
- ↑ The cinematic release of the film ran 119 minutes, while later video and DVD versions ran 116 minutes due to the different frame rates between film and video. McIntee, 14.
- ↑ Official documentation for the film states that the budget was $11 million, but other sources give different numbers. Sigourney Weaver has stated that it was $14 million, while Ridley Scott, Ivor Powell, and Tom Skerritt have each recalled it being closer to $8.4 million. McIntee, 14–15.
- ↑ http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=alien.htm
- ↑ 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 4.16 4.17 4.18 4.19 Ridley Scott, David Giler, Walter Hill, H. R. Giger, Dan O'Bannon, Ronald Shusett. The Beast Within: The Making of 'Alien' [DVD]. 20th Century Fox.
- ↑ 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 "Strange Shapes - Writing Alien". Retrieved on 2015-03-06.
- ↑ Chris Foss, Dave Hughes. (1990). Skeleton Crew magazine, Vol. 2 #2. Argus House, 5.
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 Mark Kermode, Ridley Scott, Dan O'Bannon, Ronald Shusett, James Cameron, Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Alien Evolution [DVD]. Nobles Gate Scotland.
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 8.2 David McIntee. (2005). Beautiful Monsters: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to the Alien and Predator Films. Telos Publishing Ltd, 19.
- ↑ 9.0 9.1 9.2 John Hurt, Ridley Scott, James Cameron, H. R. Giger, Dan O'Bannon, Ronald Shusett. The Alien Saga [DVD]. Prometheus Entertainment.
- ↑ "Digital Trends - Prometheus Blu-ray links Alien, Blade Runner universes". Retrieved on 2013-05-28.
- ↑ Lee Brimmicombe-Wood. (1995). Aliens: Colonial Marines Technical Manual. Boxtree Ltd., 135.