|Ridley Scott Director||previously directed The Duellists|
A mining ship, investigating a suspected SOS, lands on a distant planet. The crew discovers a strange creature and continues to investigate the ship before one of them is attacked.
Before being cut for time, the film ran for three hours and twelve minutes.27 More Trivia
19 More Quotes
Now, this air shaft may work to our advantage. Here. It leads up to and comes out in the main airlock. All right, there's only one big opening along the way, we can cover that up, and then we... drive it into the airlock and zap it into outer space.
|Tom Skerritt||Captain Dallas|
|Sigourney Weaver||Ellen Ripley|
|Harry Dean Stanton||Brett|
Alien took the world by storm in 1979. Unlike Star Wars, Alien took pride in showing the American public the horrors of space travel. With the help of H.R. Giger, Ridley Scott made one of the most recognizable science fiction horror films ever.
Alien opens on a green planet floating silently through space. Nearby, the Nostromo, a mining transport ship, sails slowly towards home. Inside the massive ship, the hallways and gangways are completely silent and devoid of humans. The only relatively human thing on the bridge are helmets left behind by the absent crew.
The ship's computer suddenly kicks in and brings several of the stations on line. Two of the nondescript stations communicate to each other and begin turning on the ship's living quarters. One of the doors slides open revealing the sleeping crew in suspended animation. The lights come on and the capsules raise their lids in synchronization, awaking the crew.
Around the breakfast table the crew eats and jokes around happy to return to Earth. In the middle of the meal Dallas ( Tom Skerrit) gets a warning signal from Mother, the ships on board computer, about a priority message. The crew leaves for the bridge and as Dallas talks with Mother they discover that they are no where near Earth.
Dallas reconvenes the crew and tells them that the ship picked up a beacon of unknown origin. However when Parker ( Yaphet Kotto) complains about the pit stop Ash ( Ian Holm) explains that in their contracts that they must investigate or give up their shares.
The crew begins their approach to the planet below. After a bumpy ride the Nostromo lands on the planet only a few kilometers from the unknown signal. After assessing the slight damage done to the ship Ash explains that the environment on the planet could sustain them to hick the distance to the signal in space suits. As Dallas, Lambert ( Veronica Cartwright), and Kane ( John Hurt) set out on foot Ripley ( Sigourney Weaver) asks Ash to route the signal to her station so that she can try and decipher the meaning of the signal.
After climbing over a hill Dallas and the team observe a massive alien craft that seemed to have crash landed on the planet. The three of them continue into the alien craft as Ash watches on the monitors, still inside the Nostromo.
Inside the ship it seems to be built out of a biomechanical substance. Near the center of the ship is The Traveler. He is a massive dead alien reclined in what looks like a pilot's chair. His chest cavity was broken open as if something had escaped within it’s body.
Back on the Nostromo, Ripley tells Ash that she thinks the signal is a warning and wants to go out and tell Dallas and the team, who have been cut off. Ash convinces her that by the time she got out there the team would know it’s a warning.
Meanwhile Kane discovers a hole in the hull and uses a wire to descend downwards. Inside is a massive cavern filled with eggs. As Kane investigates he gets closer to one of the egg sacs. Getting ever closer Kane is attacked by the still living being inside the egg.
Dallas and Lambert bring Kane back onto the Nostromo. Inside the airlock Ripley is told that a being attacked Kane. She says that protocol is forty eight hours quarantine. Ash disobeys he and opens the hatch.
In the medical bay Ash cuts off Kane’s suit and helmet to reveal the Facehugger. It’s claws are wrapped around Kane’s skull as its tale is completely wrapped around his throat. As they move to take it off the tale starts choking Kane. After some x-rays Ash discovers that the Facehugger has a tendril deep within Kane’s throat. Dallas tells Ash that they have to cut it off even if it kills Kane. Dallas makes the first cut but the moment he does the blood from the Facehugger eats through the hull like acid. After watching the blood eat through three decks Dallas decides not to cut the being from Kane.
Later that night Ripley confront Ash. At first she asks Ash about the Facehugger. Ash explains that it is silicon based making it extremely resilient to most environmental conditions. Ripley tells Ash that he should have obeyed orders and observe the science divisions most basic rules. Ash threatens her back and explains that he’ll do his job and that she should do hers.
As Dallas enjoys his music on the lifeboat Ash calls him up and tells him to come to the medical bay. When Dallas and Ripley arrive they see that the Facehugger that was attached to Kane is missing. After they search the room they find the Facehugger dead and Kane still unconscious but alive.
With the ship fixed the crew return to space and resume their trip home. As Lambert tells everyone that it will be another ten months to come home Ash calls them up and reveals that Kane has woken up and is in fine health.
Before they enter back into hibernation for the journey every comes together to have one last meal. Suddenly Kane begins to choke and convulse. It starts getting worse and worse and the rest of the crew try to hold him down on the table. Blood begins to force through his chest followed by the Chestburster breaking through Kane’s body and escaping into the bowels of the ship.
After giving Kane a funeral at sea the crew begins to make preparations to hunt down the small creature hidden in the ship. Brett ( Harry Dean Stanton) and Parker rig up some cattle prods and primitive motion sensors. Dallas splits everyone up into two teams: Ripley, Brett, and Parker and the second team is Lambert, Dallas and Ash.
Ripley and her team hunt in the under part of the ship. At first they have a false alarm after detecting Ripley's cat. Brett is sent after the scared cat alone as Ripley and Parker continue the search. As he searches for the cat the Alien, fully grown, grabs Brett and lifts him up into the rafters killing him.
Parker and Ripley explain to Dallas that the creature is now extremely large and they saw it disappear into the air shafts after killing Brett. Dallas decides to use himself as bate to trap the alien into a corner and flush it out an airlock. Ash suggests using fire to corner the being.
Inside the air ducts Dallas comes closer and closer to the alien. Lambert attempts to guide Dallas with the motion censor but it’s too late and the alien kills Dallas.
Hysterical Lambert suggests taking the lifeboat and blowing up the rest of the ship. Ripley reminds her that the shuttle won’t take four. Instead Ripley says that they should move in twos and corner the alien just like Dallas originally planned. As Parker leaves to refill his flamethrower Ripley asks Ash if Mother has any suggestions. He says they don’t have anything at the moment since they are still collating the information.
Now second in command Ripley gains access to Mother. Inside she learns that the crew of the Nostromo had been sent to the planet to pick up the alien bring it back to earth for the Company to use in their bio weapons division. She also finds out that the crew is considered expendables. Ash walks in on her finding this out, he knew the entire time. When Ripley attempts to leave Ash tries to kill her. Right in time Parker shows up and takes off Ash’s head with a fire extinguisher revealing Ash as an Android.
Ripley reactivates Ash’s head to get answers. He was sent on Company orders to bring back the alien under any circumstances. Ash continues by saying that the alien is pure in every sense of the word. Ripley unplugs Ash’s smiling face and tells Parker and Lambert that they are going in the lifeboat and blowing up the ship.
As Ripley gets the shuttle ready, Lambert and Parker collect coolant for the life support systems. As she boots up the shuttle Ripley hears Jonesy the cat. She finally finds him on the bridge and puts him in a carrying case to take with her on the life boat.
In the storage room the alien ambushes Lambert and Parker. Ripley hears them struggle over the com system and tries to make it before both of them are killed. However Ripley is too late and becomes the lone survivor of the Nostromo crew.
After seeing a glimpse of the alien, Ripley runs to the self destruct mechanism and activates it. Grabbing Jonesy, she makes her way to the life boat, but is cut off by the alien. Leaving Jonesy behind she runs back to the self destruct and tries to deactivate it so she can escape in time but Ripley is too late once again.
With the alien now gone Ripley retrieves Jonesy and enters the lifeboat. In the nick of time Ripley launches the ship escaping the explosion just in time.
Feeling safe Ripley stripes down to get into the hibernation bed. However the alien had sneaked aboard. Hiding in the space suit closet Ripley slowly puts on the suit and makes her way to a control panel. From there she vents gas to flush out the alien and opens the hatch to suck the alien into space. Barely hanging on to the outer hull the alien continues to haunt Ripley. She activates the engines launching the alien into deep space. The only survivor of the crew, Ripley, records a distress message in hopes of being rescued, and enters hibernation with her cat Jonesy.
Putting together the Story
Dan O’Bannon went to USC where there he met up with John Carpenter. Carpenter was working on his thesis project film called Dark Star. The budget exploded on the film and they eventually got it released in theaters. In the film O’Bannon was not satisfied with how the alien in Dark Star turned out. He decided to rewrite the script so that it would be a horror film instead of a comedy.
Hearing about Dark Star, Ronald Shusett called up Carpenter and O’Bannon. Shusett and O’Bannon had a better report with each other and decided to work on a break out script.
O’Bannon knew the basic concept of the story. He wanted a small number of astronauts on a space ship with a really scary alien. The astronauts would wake up and discover that they are not home and have received an alien signal and go to the planet to investigate.
With only twenty nine pages Shusett read what O’Bannon already had. The first couple of pages where very similar to what ended up being on screen. Still at the time O’Bannon didn’t know where to take the story next nor what the alien looked like or how it acted.
Working on a film, a collapsed production of Dune, in Paris O’Bannon met several artists that would come to help shape the original look for Alien. There he met Chris Foss and H.R. Giger. At a hotel Giger showed O’Bannon a collection of his paintings and drawings that would eventually become the basis of the Alien design.
With the production going under O’Bannon was out of a job and needed to sell a script to make some kind of money. Back in the states Shusett convinces O’Bannon to return to his Alien script which was originally called ‘Star Beast.’ However while writing the dialogue for the film O’Bannon realized that all of his characters continually reference the Star Beast as the alien. From there they had their title.
One hang up in the script was how does the alien get up into the ship. With O’Bannon writing the script in Shusett’s home Shusett came up with the idea late one night. What if the alien has sex with one of the crew? Shusett explained that the alien would attach itself to the subjects face and would later come bursting through the victims stomach. O’Bannon immediately agreed. Three weeks later they had about 85% of the completed story.
With everything ready the two of them began shopping the script around. Even when they would come close to a deal most of the studio’s wanted to change to much and the writing duo backed off. The closest they came to a deal was actually with Roger Corman, however no papers were ever signed.
Gordon Carroll, David Giler, Walter Hill had just formed a new production studio named Brandywine films. Through a series of hand offs the script landed in their laps. Originally they thought the script was horrendous except for the Chestburster scene, and rewrote the entire script. O’Bannon claims that Brandywine didn’t want O’Bannon to have any credit for the script.
Giler and Hill wrote several drafts of the script and they changed the tone of the entire film. All the drafts seemed to get worse and worse. The only actually change Hill and Giler made that made it to the final film was the character of Ash being an android.
O’Bannon and Hill continued to fight over the script. Hill had declared that he hated sci-fi and that was the best contribution that anyone there had to the film. At another point Hill changed the names of every character in film simply because he didn’t like them.
The script didn’t excite Fox studios about a sci-fi picture. This was before Star Wars. Since Alien was the only script they had to make a quick turn around on Star Wars success they green light the film.
Ridley Scott joins the team
While writing the scrip O’Bannon thought he was going to direct the film so he focused on the concept of the Alien. However Giler and Hill thought Hill was going to be the director. However Hill stepped down since he felt he didn’t have the ‘temperament’ for special effects.
Gordon Carroll did not believe Alien was going to be a small B-film and was not found of the suggestions given to him for directors. None of them seemed to take the script seriously. Carroll wanted to make an A-list film, however the A level directors all though Alien was a second rate monster movie.
Ridley Scott had finished The Duellists, that Scott views as a complete failure. Watching the film at Cannes the producers thought Scott had potential and offered the film to Scott. After reading the script Scott jumped on the project immediately and just after a day was standing on the Hollywood lot.
Scott told them that this next step would have to be to storyboard the entire film. For nearly four weeks Scott worked day and night on the story boards. The major influences Scott brought with him while designing the boards was the Heavy Metal comics especially the work of Moebius. After looking at the story boards the producers decided to double the budget. Scott’s singular inspiration for the project came for 2001: A space Odyssey and too a lesser degree Star Wars. The only problem Scott had with Star Wars was that it was a fairy tale, and that wouldn’t do.
“I was going to do the Texas Chainsaw Massacre for science fiction.” -Ridley Scott.
Ivor Powell, associate producer, did his best to show Scott all of the science fiction films he thought were great. Scott had little dealings with scifi at the time and was not pleased with the films Powell had shown him and went further to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre direction.
What worried Scott the most was not the sets, cast, or filming but the look and feel of the monster. Enter H.R. Giger. The first meeting about the monster O’Bannon gave Scott Giger’s art book. Scott was immediately stunned by the paintings and felt that the problem of what the alien would look like was solved. Everyone wanted to bring Giger in to talk about the film but Scott had already decided, they had their monster. Meeting Giger in Zurich Scott even had to convince Giger that he didn’t want to change the look. Scott told Giger that he didn’t even need to change the look of the alien because he has five other things to design. For seven months Giger drew hundreds of versions of the alien, Facehuggers, Chestbursters, alien ships, and the Space Jockey. The uphill climb was the studio. Chris Foss and Ron Cobb joined Giger and began drawing out the design of Alien. Fox did not like Giger’s designs because they felt it was too scary and no one would come see the film.
Inclusion of H.R. Giger
Many people on set where genuinely scared of Giger. Many of them didn’t want to be near his workshop that he had set up inside the studio. They thought of him as a vampire and thought he kept the skeleton of ex wife with him at all times. However, Scott, Shusett, and O’Bannon became good friends with Giger during the shoot and the pre-production.
The Facehugger was one of the first things Giger actually painted for Alien, even before Scott was brought on board. Originally he drew a massive monster that would attach itself to a human. Later O’Bannon suggested a smaller version.
Giger first approach to the Chestburster resembled a chicken. Giger tried again but it still looked like a small dinosaur. Finally, he chopped off the legs leaving only the head and tail giving us the final design.
Giger used several different parts of actual animals as inspiration to build the actual model of the full grown alien. Carlo Rambaldi worked primarily on the animation and puppetry effects of the alien. The main problem was all the detail on the head. Rambaldi had to design the mechanics around the structure of the head and yet keep the original design in tack. The large problem with the suit was making it thin enough for details to pop out on film and yet strong enough to go through hell. One day in the pub the casting director found the seven foot tall Eddie Powell. He was extremely thin, so the built the suit directly to him. They sent Eddie to mime and Tai Chi classes to learn the movements that he would have to perform. KY jelly was used for all the slime on the alien.
Giger took a very hands on approach to everything that he designed and was put by the art department. He airbrushed the Space Jockey set and the alien all himself.
Scott wanted to cast the best actors he could so that way he wouldn’t have to help them as he concentrated on the visual style of the film.
In the original script all the parts were written for men however by reading the script it’s very ambiguous. It is unknown who came up with the idea of making Ripley a woman. Even though O’Bannon and Shusett where open to changing some characters to women Shusett admits to have never have thought of making Ripley a woman.
At the time Sigourney Weaver was not a big star but auditioned for the part. She was recommended to Scott because of a play she had done on Broadway. Although not a fan of the script Weaver went for the part anyway. Scott and the producers came to an agreement. Weaver was the last to be cast and her screen test actually took place on the sets that were built for the film.
Veronica Cartwright was cast for the part of Lambert. Originally she read for Ripley but didn’t get the part. Later she was called back and was told she was hired but not for which part. Cartwright thought she had the part of Ripley up until the costume fittings. Now realizing she was playing the role of Lambert Cartwright reread the script and was unhappy with the role. Eventually she was convinced to stay on.
Reading the script Tom Skerritt was not drawn to the project. However at the time the budget was much smaller and Ridley Scott was not yet attached to the film. Several months later they called Skerritt again and told him about the increased budget and that Scott was directing. With that the actor agreed to be apart of the film.
The first thing Harry Dean Stanton told Ridley Scott was that he didn’t like science fiction or monster films. Scott agreed but convinced Stanton that Alien was bigger than that.
John Hurt was given the role of Kane but had other projects lined up John Finch was then hired to play the part of Kane. However, he became sick The first day of production Finch became very ill. He had to be lifted out of the seat and carried off of the set. It turned out Finch was a diabetic. John Hurt became free at that point and Scott convinced him to come play the part. The very next day Hurt was on set shooting the film.
At the time Ian Holm was very much a theater star and had done very little television and almost no film work. Scott was extremely happy about having Holm aboard.
Alien was shot on Shepperton Studio’s. It was a little run down and wasn’t famous for any film up until that point. It took nearly fourteen weeks to shoot the entire film.
Within the first four days of shooting almost ten producers where on set watching Ridley Scott’s every move. Those first two days Scott was doing mostly lighting tests to get the look of the film in the actually tests. This made the producers angry, because they thought he should be shooting the actual film and not doing any more tests. The level of tension and frustration really got to Scott. At one point Scott punched a hole through the set because the producers where being unreasonable to the point of madness.
Another problem was the space suits. Not only were they huge and extremely bulky but they retained heat. With the helmet on the cast was burning alive inside the suits. On top of that there was no escape for the actors breath and they began to breath their own carbon dioxide. All the actors passed out from lack of oxygen more than once. John Hurt sweated so much that it would completely fog up the helmet. It was until they shot the scene with the Traveler was there something done. To get a sense of scales kids where used to make the set look bigger. Two of them were Ridley Scott’s kids and they passed out in their versions of the suits as well. After that they changed to suits to give the actors air. Also moving around the massive set was a chore.
For most of the shoot the actors where confused on what was going on. Scott rarely communicated with them since he was focusing on the composition and look of the film. He was not worried with the actors performances. The actors, especially Tom Skerritt, began to feel completely neglected on set.
On set Weaver became allergic to the four cats that played the part of Jonesy. She was terrified that she was going to be fired. However the next day she was relieved that it was the Glycerin, used to create sweat on the actors, that she was allergic too.
All the interior sets where connected to each other. This created a very claustrophobic effect on the cast and crew. It no longer became shooting on set but shooting on location for everyone involved. This helped with the actors feeling inside the moment since every where they looked was the set, there where no false walls or windows, just the Nostromo.
Mike Seymour was the primary art director on Alien and had worked on commercials with Ridley Scott. Even with the great art team they had put together it was very hard work to pull off all of the designs. It took around six months to build all of the sets. O’Bannon took great care of overseeing the art. Not even Scott was as hard on the team as O’Bannon was who looked over every piece that they produced. Even though O’Bannon was harsh on the team Scott gave him complete license to have a say so if he didn’t like something.
Even though, at the time, Scott and the other designers knew that computer would be much more advance in the future and that screens would be high resolutions Scott wanted a mild retro look to the technology in the film. Ron Cobb took this a step further and designed many of the labels inside the Nostromo after the industrial revolution but with a sense of humor commenting on the man trapped in the machine motif.
To create the clutter look of the Nostromo Scott and the art directors visit a plane graveyard and took what they needed.
To create a sense of scale Scott had a fifty six foot landing leg of the Nostromo built. However he felt it wasn’t big enough and put his kids some suits. On film the set now looked twice as big.
While on set all the actors would have lunch with each other every day. Out of this came a lot of the imporvisation that came into the film. Weaver, who had worked mostly on stage, was not used to improvisation and she had a hard time keeping up. All the other actors saw Weaver as inexperienced and complained within their group about how her performance may hurt the film. The tension was used in many of the scenes of Alien. Yaphet Kotto was the main person pushing Weaver. He would consistently challenge her as an actor off camera and berate her on camera. In one scene Weaver was suppose to be hit by Cartwright, however Weaver kept ducking the hit ruining the shot. Scott went to Cartwright and told her to actually hit Weaver. That take is in the film.
On the budget they had Scott was unable to fix Ash’s head for the burning special effects. During the drying the cast of Ian Holms head shrank and looked much different than the actor. Sadly there was no money to go back and fix it.
Initially the egg effects were not up to par for Scott’s liking. They couldn’t get the alien to move in a realistic fashion within the egg. Eventually they made some gloves for Scott and he stuck his hands in the egg and created the final effect. Inside the egg they used essentially a cows stomach and pig intestines.
The Chestburster scene
All the actors on set knew about the infamous Chestburster scene. Weaver and Cartwright wanted to see what it looked like and where brough into the art studio. Initially they though it looked funny and resembled a penis.
However the cast didn’t know there where small explosives that were going to go off and spurt blood all over them.
First was the initial punch of the alien. A small air house filled with blood was under Hurt’s shirt and exploded making all the actors actually jump. Scott called cut and cleared everyone off of the set. They then rigged up the false chest that had the actual puppet and several high pressure pumps inside it.
When the cast returned the set smelled of rotting intestines and everyone was wearing black raincoats. O’Bannon and Shusett where also on set snickering to each other in the corner.
With Hurt’s acting everyone else was drawn in right at the moment the Chestburster erupted out. Cartwright was hit with most of the fake blood which actually made her slip and fall to the ground.
When Dan O’Bannon asked to see the dailies that were coming in Gordon Carroll denied him entry saying that he didn’t earn the right to see the dailies. O’Bannon didn’t argue but instead went up to the projection booth and watched them from there. O’Bannon was very happy with the look of the film.
The studio became increasingly worried about the growing budget. It hadn’t been since 2001 had a science fiction film had sets been this big. There was much debate with the studio over the Space Jockey Set however. The studio argued that they could not use the set just once and if they wanted to build it they would have to rewrite the script. Scott refused to back down and told the studio that he couldn’t cheat this set. In the end it ended up costing almost 500,000 dollars. This became a constant struggle between Scott and the studio and many of sequences in the film had to be cut.
Terry Rawlings had did the sound design for Scott’s previous film. When he got the call for Alien Rawlings said he wanted to cut the film instead of the sound. Rawlings was on set for most of the film.
It took around twenty weeks to edit the film and do the sound mixing.
Rawlings deliberately made the film as slowly paced as possible. It was particularly difficult to cut the film with no sound mixing or music.
The first cut was over three hours long. Shusett begged them to cut over an hour out of the film. Once they did Shusett loved the film when previously he felt everything took to long to happen in the film.
Jerry Goldsmith, the composer, was absolutely terrified by the film even with out the music. He took that fear and added it into the music he made for the film. The first theme he wrote was not liked by Scott. Goldsmith came back with a theme he didn’t like but Scott loved and became the main theme of Alien. In the end Goldsmith hated the use of his score and complained to Fox about it.
Brain Johnson worked on both Empire Strikes Back and Alien. He headed up all the visual effects for the film.
Originally, the plan was to shoot the effects at the same time as the regular production schedule.
They didn’t have the budget to do stop motion so they had to due the model work the old fashion way of moving the camera’s around the model.
Most of Scott’s solutions was to add smoke to the special effect shots. He did this so he could create movement without shooting expensive ‘galaxy’ shots of starts whizzing by.
The model of the Nostromo ended up being nearly seventeen feet in length. Some say that it weighed a quarter of a ton. A fork lift had to be used to create some of the docking effects in the film.
To get some of the shots of Ripley inside the lift boat a model had to be built big enough to put a TV inside that could play prerecorded video.
Scott fought with the model workers. He would change things and then shoot them right after things. At times he would even take a hammer to the delicate models.
Marketing Alien to the masses
Steve Frankfurt and Richie Greenberg headed up the marketing blitz that took America by storm. They are both directly responsible for the classic poster design and the classic tagline “In space no one can hear you scream.”
They also created the main title sequence that gradually spells Alien at the top of the screen.
The original cut was considered more terrifying especially by the wife of one of the studio execs. She wouldn’t leave her room for several days.
With the cut finally down to its actual runtime they had their first public screening. However, the sound was terrible and the audience did not receive the film well. Scott was furious since he had even checked the theater several days before. At this point, Fox believed they had mixed the film poorly.
The second screening took place in Dallas. The sound was perfect. Many members of the audience left because the film was too intense. One of the ushers actually fainted when Ash’s head came off. The theater owner actually complained about the film, saying that the audience would want their money back. Those who didn’t walk out would actually walk to the back of the theater not wanting to be that close to the screen.
For forty eight hours the line to get into the film at the Egyptian theater was around the block. They ran the film consistently for that length of time.
With the failure of Dark Star and the bad experiences on set, Alien O’Bannon almost never saw the film in theaters. Drunk on the opening night, O’Bannon drove around Hollywood angrily. So mad, in fact, he finally decided to go the opening. He saw a huge line and realized it was for Alien. Shusett sat O’Bannon in the theater and began crying seeing all those people enjoying his film.
At the Egyptian there were several props from the film including the Space Jockey. One person even tried setting fire to it thinking it was the work of the devil.
If You Like: Solaris
Rorie takes to the community to find out what other movies you might like...if you liked Solaris.
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