• evgriff42

8 Things You Didn't Know About the ALIEN Series

Originally published May 9, 2017 [Pre Disney-Fox buyout]

Don’t worry, I’m tired of summer movies too. But this one could be different, I swear!

I got some things to share with you about a particular favorite movie series of mine, Alien. Specifically, 8 things. More specifically, 8 things you may or may not have to know about the production of Alien, from 1979’s original to Alien Covenant, and if you did, congrats you’re just as much of a fan, if not more of a fan, than me.

Much like other science fiction franchise movie series’, I have a love-hate relationship with Alien. What is amazing, is truly just that. The stuff that isn’t, turns the series into campy schlock. But at the end of the day, it’s enjoyable schlock. I also like that, whether the results are good or bad, the Alien franchise isn’t strictly horror.

It can transcend genres.

If you haven’t seen the 1979 Alien by Ridley Scott (to this date his best film apart from Blade Runner) it is, the least to say, a formative film for science fiction in entertainment as we know it today. It creates a haunting, hollow and isolated atmosphere as it builds tension within a crew aboard a spaceship where the very essence of human survival clashes with the nothingness of technology aboard the ship, and nothingness of space surrounding it, staving off a vicious organic creature that we later learn is an engineered weapon of mass destruction.

These roots are maintained throughout the franchise, but the genre shifts when James Cameron helms Aliens and makes it into a large scale action film, Fincher attempts to turn it into a political thriller and Jean-Pierre Jeunet made it into… a French surrealist movie.

Now that we’ve got Alien Covenant arriving, I wanted to compose a list of things that are unique about the production of this franchise. Of course, there are tons of things people will already know, so I’ll be skipping over those.

The Space Jockey was almost cut from the movie due to the scale of the set.

Ridley Scott just knew Giger’s creations had to be his source of artistic design for the film after seeing the visionary’s Necronomicon IV in 1976, claiming “I’ve seen the monster in the pages of his book already”

Of course, having such unique, nightmarish, post-modern gothic looks turned into something real proved challenging for producers and set designers. Michael Seymour, the production designer, was overwhelmed:

“Giger’s work was the most difficult to translate into three dimensions, but mostly for its scale than anything else. His actual drawings were very sculpture-like in a way. It was the scale that gave us the biggest problems- everything we produced of his was just huge.”

The space jockey’s final resting place, in particular, gave the production team a lot of trouble, ultimately being built 45ft high around the centerpiece on the ground. It got to the point where the massive set might be cut from the film due to economics, and this was still in pre-production stages, but the crew worked around it. The art director, Michael Seymour suggested only half of the wall structure be built, and the Jockey itself on a turntable to compose shots from a seemingly different angle. Pretty darn clever, if you ask me. Especially considering now everything is just a green bouncy house mat. You don’t get your concept artist arriving on set and building walls out of actual goddamn bones anymore. THEY GAVE HIM BONES.

HR Giger was laughed at when he showed the producers the original design of the egg.

Probably because it has a double vagina. Giger himself described the source of the Xenomorph’s terror as “an organic, vagina-like opening.” Apart from the subtext, the concept art is something truly haunting, and it eventually turned out to look exactly as Giger designed it. But the initial unveiling of it’s design to Ridley Scott, art director Les Dilley and producer Gordon Carroll, as Giger described,

“A howl of laughter. I had lovingly endowed this egg with an inner and outer vulva.”

The designs made the most sense to the screenwriter, Dave O’Bannon, who had a strong understanding of how complex the reproduction process of the Xenomorph was, and this brought another level of detail to it. Of course, Scott has the bright idea of attempting to cover up the clear eroticism by going for a “cross” design on the opening of the egg. Because covering eroticism with catholicism has always gone over SO well in the past.

Trigger Happy James Cameron

Sigourney Weaver barely read the script for Aliens. She was just excited to be doing a sequel at all, and completely glossed over anything but the dialogue, thus missing the amount of heavy artillery throughout the film, somehow. This is a problem when you’re a gun control activist and show up on set surrounded by mock weapons used by space marines.

“The scope of the script, its ambition, and frankly, its difference from Alien absolutely knocked my sock off, taking the character of Ripley and turning it into a kind of tour de force of this woman, whose sort of been disenfranchised, who against her will goes back to meet this creature that’s ruined her life and ends up finding a family... ”

Of course, by not looking close enough as to how Ripley ended up there, she bypassed a LOT of stuff:

“I made three movies that year and I confess I skipped almost all the stage directions. We got to one of those huge gun scenes, like the first week, and I realized… of course, Jim loves guns, so did Gale [Ann Hurd, Producer], and I thought it was so kind of ironic I had walked into people who felt that way.”

Weaver ended up taking this discomfort and applying it to her performance:

“For Ripley, all of that was very useful stuff. I wasn’t a marine, I had my own point of view about what we were doing and I was done with violence.”

Cameron seemed pretty proud of himself when he took her to a gun range to get her comfortable with firearms, and how fun they could be, but her opinions on gun control seem pretty consistent throughout the years, despite his cockiness about it.

There’s a different version of Alien 3 on the blu-ray set and it’s actually watchable.

Alien 3 was a mess of a production. It was the third installment of a franchise, a first time directing gig for a guy named David Fincher, and a starring actress who almost didn’t return until the film settled on its third director and 30th rewrite, with a script that was far more complex and unique than 20th Century Fox wanted. The film was botched by the studio in post-production. From intense reshoots to hashing out subplots, and turning the movie’s color pallet into something insufferable, the final result looked like nothing that Fincher originally intended, and the audience wasn’t happy with the movie either.

The tortured reputation of the film was a mark of Fincher’s career, but the movie itself had been given a second chance on the series’ re-release in 2003 on DVD with what is called “The Assembly Cut.” This isn’t simply an “alternate” or “extended” cut of the movie, however, When Fox offered all original directors to return for alternate edits on the DVD versions, Fincher didn’t feel like going back to these traumatic roots and tackle the re-edit, so the task was done by the series’ behind the scenes director, and popular documentarian, Charles De Lauzirika. He went back to 20th Century Fox’s archives of the film, and Fincher’s own production notes from the shooting script and the result is a movie that shares very little with its theatrical counterpart, with many scenes that were revised or cut from the original version of the movie, and some from the theatrical that doesn’t appear at all. This version of Alien 3 shows a bit more specifically what happened to Newt and Bishop, delves into the religious foundations of the inmates on the planet’s prison, and has the Xenomorph, in this film known as the “Dragon” born from an Ox, instead of a poor dog. The Assembly Cut was cobbled together in such a way that makes it a much more coherent film, and the only thing that makes it stand out is the strange dialogue that is clearly done in ADR, and CGI shots of the Xenomorph that look very unpolished. The ending is still pretty consistent with the theatrical though, and still pretty stupid.

Alien 3 was originally going to feature a planet entirely made out of wood.

This was back when the film’s title would be “Alien III”, and had a script by writer/director Vincent Ward in 1990. It was a departure from Aliens to be sure, as it was set on a monastery satellite of a planet, with a structure entirely composed of a wooden frame, almost like something medieval for the Minorite monks to reside in after they escape from earth.

Ward mentions reflecting on the story concept,

“I had the world very strongly in my imagination, a wood-clad environment with floors and floors, with each of the different parts of the monastic guilds in each… the thing I loved about the world was that you could have these ladders that were like 100 meters tall that were bound with the weight and length of themselves, and these huge incredibly gothic spaces and lifts and pulleys that were archaic”

This would signify a culture that has moved as far away from human civilization and its technology as it could have. The script has few resemblances to the final version of the movie, but it was the one to establish Ripley’s presence in the film, and that she would be on a planet whose only residents were men, some who’d never seen a woman.

The Newborn in Alien: Resurrection has a side you never saw.

This is the one that the fewest people saw and the trivia note is “You know, the one written by Joss Whedon.” But at heart, it’s a French film. So you know it’s gotta be sexy.

Truthfully though, I like that someone so different in the directing field was able to tackle this film, because, at the very least, it feels different, and is mostly what I refer to, alongside James Cameron, when I say that each film in the series feels unique to itself. Mathieu Kassovitz describes it best as

“It’s not an Alien movie, it’s a Jean-Pierre Jeunet movie with Alien inside.”

Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the director who would go on to be most known for Amélie, is a self-taught director with an eye for detail and a mind for the fantastical, surreal things that are possible in the world of filmmaking, and in this film, he embraced the unsettling throughline of a narrative that brings a human heroine back to life by way of cloning her from the very monster she spent her life trying to destroy. In the climax of the film, a Newborn is featured, a half-human half Xenomorph hybrid, and it looks absolutely disgusting.

The production designers had the Newborn: a bipedal, old man looking thing with slime slick skin, and, for lack of a better term, had one kind of sexual organ, growing into a completely different kind of a sexual organ and it was a mess.

In an attempt to honor the erotic designs of Giger, Jeunet and his production team showed they either wanted to embrace that kind of physicality or that they didn’t understand the art of subtlety. The Newborn was only shown cut from the waist down after screened for producers, for obvious reasons.

Tom Woodruff, the Effects Designer, and Performer of the alien on the film mentions the director’s vision,

“Jean-Pierre saw this kind of silly, proportions of this thing. We had to drive it down that direction to satisfy what he liked in that drawing, without it just being an alien head on a scrawny man.”

Jeunet reflects on the designs, and the film:

“I am very proud of the arty aspect of the film and probably it’s more for European people than for American people… I think Americans didn’t really like it very much but in France, I was a hero.”

The continuity for the Alien franchise makes no sense, and Ridley Scott doesn’t care. (And maybe that's ok)

For being one of the most well-known franchises in Hollywood blockbuster history, it really doesn’t behave like much of a consistent franchise. We’re not only talking about the fact that version of Alien 3 that was remade, but the fact that continuity regarding the franchise is all out of sorts considering the standards set by Marvel Studios with their universe of films and sequels upon sequels. In fact, in a similar way that Fincher disowned his entry in the series, Ridley Scott got his feathers ruffled about the series going in a direction completely against the grain of where he wanted it to go, despite that it was destined to go in the direction from the beginning, as Fox wanted the original Alien to be an action movie even before production.

He effectively has his own “canon” for the series on his own, and so that puts Aliens, Alien 3, and Alien: Resurrection, into the same fanfiction category as Predator 2 and the Alien Vs Predator films. But those films didn’t even make sense between each other either. How did the same guy play the original Weyland in Alien vs Predator, set in 2004, and then also appear in Alien 3 to stop Ripley in supposedly some time after the event of Aliens in 2179? Or how about Bill Paxton, playing a cop in Predator 2, but also Hicks in Aliens?

Determined to tell the rest of the story of Xenomorph and how it came to be in the first place, he set off to make Prometheus, the prequel to his original film that would give all the answers.

Except it disappointed audiences across the world for the most part because…

Prometheus doesn’t make any sense, either, and Ridley Scott doesn’t care.

Leading into Alien Covenant, we’re not even sure if the events of Prometheus matters because the film contradicts itself within individual scenes, makes reveals that were never needed or asked for, and the only resemblance that it has to the film that it is trying telling the origin story of is the aesthetics of the derelict ship and, sort of, the Space Jockey.

How did Guy Pearce know that Noomi Rapace and not-Tom Hardy were going to be the ones to find the signs from the engineers 40 years before they were born?

Why is there so much sleek, holographic technology 30 years before the original Alien where everything runs on DOS? Or how about why David is more advanced than Ash?

More importantly, what the hell is the black goo? Is there a reason it turns into worms? Why did David try to take the goo and infect the crew? Was it a hit, or a stupid experiment? Why does Charlize Theron need to be Weyland’s daughter? HOW MANY WEYLANDS ARE THERE? Why is the movie called Prometheus? Why does it love Lawrence of Arabia so much? Can we get a director's cut of this, please?

Alien Covenant Releases May 19

And the reason that it doesn’t seem to matter is that the story seems to only share one consistent thing from Prometheus and that’s Michael Fassbender as the android David. Except the most recent preview trailer has a prologue of Noomi Rapace and the original David landing on a planet somewhere, supposedly the engineer's planet they were looking for. Is that in this movie?

You know what, I’m gonna stop asking questions and just go see it. We’ll see, maybe I’ll walk out more confused, maybe I’ll be satisfied. At the very least, I will always appreciate the Alien franchise artistically, and stylistically in its filmmaking, even if Ridley Scott is a complete nut.

3 views0 comments