If, like I was, you’re asking yourself if the world needs another Alien documentary – especially after the tons of extras that have appeared in the boxed sets over the years – then you really need to give Memory: The Origins of Alien a watch. Huge lifelong fan that I am of the franchise (and in particular the original movie), even I learned things I hadn’t known before… and that’s no mean feat, let me tell you.
It begins with almost a short film in itself, which connects the origins of the film to that famous classic myth about the Furies (a superb turn here from House of Demons’Mickey Faerch as the Greek-speaking Furie). I got so engrossed in this, I had to wonder if I’d put the right disc in and I was actually watching the start of a spinoff. We move swiftly on then, however, to tackle the run up to Alien itself, which includes Diane O’ Bannon’s recollections about her future husband Dan: the main driving force behind the film getting off the ground. You’ll discover how his early life in the Midwest, his obsession with insects and Lovecraft, not to mention hooking up with Jodorowski for the ill-fated Dune adaptation all came together to spark one of the beloved sci-fi horrors of all time.
You’ll discover why They Bite was dubbed the script of ‘Alien before Alien’, how DC comics like Seeds of Jupiter, films like It! The Terror from Beyond Space and Planet of the Vampires slot into the timeline and how not getting a director’s credit on Dark Star alongside John Carpenter led to O’Bannon’s desire to create a more serious version of that film. You’ll hear how Dan wrote the first 30 pages while kipping on Ronald Schusett’s couch (calling it Memory, hence the documentary’s title) and how they played a game they came up with based on Monopoly called Poverty because they were so broke. And the story of how Ron dreamt of the perfect way to continue the script, waking Dan up to tell him, “The alien fucks the astronaut!” is hilarious. Then you’ll find out how Giger came on board, bringing with him an obsession with all things Egyptian (as explained by his widow, Carmen Giger), how Dan had to fight for the artist when Fox sacked him off the project, and how it moved on from being Starbeast (a film Roger Corman – another one of the interviewees – almost made himself) to an eventual masterpiece in the hands of visionary Ridley Scott.
There are brand new reminiscences about everything from the first time Scott read the script (collaborator Ivor Powell: “He just said, ‘Fuck Me!’”), to what went through Tom Skerritt’s mind when he was first approached (“I thought $2 million? That’s an Ed Wood movie… $10 million now? I’m in.”) right up to the filming of the infamous Chestburster scene, which – contrary to popular belief – the cast did know about in advance (Veronica Cartwright on the puppet: “It was just like this penis with teeth!”).
Add to this archive interview footage from the likes of the late Giger, O’Bannon and John Hurt (“There was a kind of frisson on set…”), analysis and comment from people such as Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz, actress and writer Clarke Wolfe (“Ash is just such a dick!”), critic Alan Jones (“We take openings with huge spaceships for granted now…”) and screenwriter/director Axelle Caroyln (“I don’t know how explicitly the studio knew what they were doing… Let’s make a film about male rape and pregnancy!”) and all in all you have something pretty special indeed that’s never been seen before.
No extras here, as the feature is one giant extra – so all I’ll say is that this is a must own for fans not only of the Alien films, but of the genre as a whole. Go buy! Paul Kane