MEMORY: THE ORIGINS OF ALIEN, US, 2019. Directed by Alexander O. Philippe. 95 minutes. Rated M (Science fiction themes, coarse language, blood and gore)
This film was released on the 40th anniversary of Ridley Scott’s classic, written and imagined by Dan O’Bannon, Alien. Alien made an extraordinary impact in 1979, a different kind of science-fiction film, not a close encounter in the benign sense, but the hostility of aliens and human coping.
The documentary is primarily for those who appreciated the film Alien as well as those interested in the developments of science-fiction in film, from the B-budget films prior to the 1970s, who the moving to A-listing from the 1970s.
However, it seems as if the diehard fans of Alien have not been pleased with this film. Some bloggers attack it for not saying anything new about their beloved film. Some are highly critical that Sigourney Weaver is not one of the interviewees (while Veronica Cartwright gets quite some attention, Tom Selleck offers comments and there is a brief comment from John Hurt). There is also quite some criticism of some of the talking heads, and there are many, the historians of film, the social historians who explore texts and subtexts in quite some detail, explorations of myths both past and present – some finding that there reflections are too esoteric. There are quite some discussions of patriarchy, women’s issues, praise of Ripley, explorations of sexual experience, pregnancy, giving birth, especially by a male character. There is also some discussion of the robot character, Ash, and his being programmed to evil.
With those opinions in mind, cinemagoers and those who have seen Alien over the years (as well as the several sequels and the renewed interest from original director, Ridley Scott, with Prometheus and Alien Covenant in more recent years) will probably find a great deal of detail and interest.
Introducing the film is the widow of writer Dan O’Bannon, who wrote the original screenplay as well as quite a number of variations on the Alien theme. On the one hand, his interest goes back comics. On the other hand, the film goes back also to ancient Greece, Delphi and the Fates. Also of interest is the material on the Swiss inventive illustrator, H.R.Giger, especially concerning the emerging creature – and some discussion of painter, Francis Bacon, and his autobiographical imaginings and suggestions of monsters.
The film gives great attention to sequences from the film, especially the visuals, building it up with the explanations of how it was set up at length and filmed, of the creature emerging from John hurt’s chest.
One of the other advantages of the film is that Alien is placed in the context of some of the small-budget films of the 1960s (especially the Roger Corman-produced Queen of Blood which seems to have been a strong influence on O’Bannon). There are clips from of the films. And, a number of the cinema experts have quite a lot to say about the technical blocking of sequences, the photography and editing.
The director, Alexandre O..Philippe, has also made documentaries on other films including Hitchcock shower sequence from Psycho and on William Friedkin and The Exorcist..
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Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.