Memory: The Origins of Alien Movie Review
Written by Ryan Holloway
Released by Dogwoof
Written and directed by Alexandre O. Philippe
2019, 95 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
Released on September 2nd, 2019
Veronica Cartwright (Actor, Alien)
Tom Skerritt (Actor, Alien)
Roger Christian (Art Director, Alien)
Ronald Shusett (Co-writer, Alien)
Terry Rawlings (Editor, Alien)
Diana O’Bannon (Dan O’Bannon’s widow)
Carmen Giger (H.R. Giger’s widow)
Roger Corman (Horror icon)
Since the movie Alien literally, and figuratively, burst onto cinema screens in 1979, countless books, graphic novels, sequels, prequels, not to mention media and mythology scholars have delved deep into what has become cinematic philosophy.
What is there even left to say about a film that this year celebrates its 40th anniversary and has been the subject of such fandom and forensic scrutiny?
Filmmaker Alexandre O. Philippe seems to have answered that question in the resoundingly positive with a documentary that not only nourishes the soul of even the most learned Alien fan, but also seeks to explore how such a film could come to be in the first place.
He has decided to take us on a journey of ancient mythology and religious iconography that has undoubtedly seeped into our collective subconscious and dictated almost every step that filmmakers such as Ridley Scott and artists like H.R. Giger have taken in their illustrious careers and that have come to be the very cornerstone of their creativity – certainly in this case.
But of course, it is not only their work that has been seemingly dictated in this way, almost every science-fiction story owes its existence to the ancient myths and this is probably no more prevalent than with Alien, the film about a beast that destroys in order to create.
Dan O’Bannon was clearly a genius of his time. It was his very early script draft, called ‘Memory’ that would eventually, with some heavy tweaking along the way, become Alien. He tapped into his extraordinary brain that was awash with comic book sensibility and adventure. What also separated him from a lot of filmmakers of the era was a passion, not only for film but to tell a story that would connect with people. Alien could have easily been a Roger Corman effort – he speaks about it in this film – and although that would actually have been something to behold, he was inevitably not the right person to take such a thing forward.
Ridley Scott was certainly the vessel on which Alien eventually flew to transform into the visceral, dangerous beast that it became. Without his stubbornness and the digging in of his still reasonably green heels (this was only to be his second feature film after The Duellists) H.R. Giger would never have been able to work on the film, given that the studio found the Swiss artist’s work too dark, and without these two and their obvious affinity for mythology and the essence of what brings art to life, Alien could have been very different.
Memory explores these ideas as it lays out the history of the film’s early days of production. It also gives us insight into Ridley’s influences, more specifically his love of Francis Bacon. It was Ridley’s conversations with Giger about the Irish-born figurative painter that would inform the designs that ran throughout the film. Bacon himself was an artist that drew on Greek Mythology, especially for his ‘Three Studies for Figures at the Base of Crucifixion’ triptych which was the very piece of work that Ridley would give to Giger as a reference point.
Memory: The Origins of Alien is not just another Ridley Scott, H.R Giger love-in, but more a study of how artists, comic book writers, novelists and filmmakers are all guided by an almost subconscious outpouring of ancient philosophies. Dan O’Bannon, Ridley Scott and H.R. Giger were simply the right people and talents to come together to create the perfect storm.
Absent from the documentary itself are Sigourney Weaver and Sir Ridley himself but they aren’t really missed in a film that explores far more than they, with all due-respect, would have been able to offer.
Amidst the great interview segments from various scholars and media personalities, Tom Skerritt (Dallas) and Veronica Cartwright (Lambert) also make appearances but it’s the insight from such people as Giger’s widow (Carmen) and O’Bannon’s widow (Diana) that add the emotional edge to a wonderfully put together documentary.
If you are fan of Alien, which I’m sure is most of the people reading this review, you will certainly get a lot from a perfectly crafted view on a film that is still quite rightly celebrated as one of the greatest of all-time, not just of the genre but across the cinematic spectrum.
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