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Memory: The Origins of Alien review - a study of the sci-fi horror classic | reviews, news & interviews

Memory: The Origins of Alien review - a study of the sci-fi horror classic

Memory: The Origins of Alien review - a study of the sci-fi horror classic

In space no-one can hear you scream, but they can hear you being very reverential

Production sketch from an early version of the script for Alien by Dan O'Bannon

Forty years after Alien made a star out of Sigourney Weaver, comes a documentary that goes into forensic detail about the movie’s original writer and monstrous imagery but barely mentions its lead actor despite the fact that her portrayal of Ripley broke all the stereotypes of women in sci-fi.

The omission is a little baffling, but for superfans of Alien, the kind who pore over its different iterations (it’s probably the only film that runs shorter in its director’s cut) and delight in spotting every visual reference, there are plenty of pleasures to be had in Memory: the Origins of Alien.

Director Alexandre O. Phillippe has form when it comes to making genealogical studies of classic horror films – he made 78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene in 2017. His auteur ambitions have risen since and he opens his homage to Alien with a redundant and faintly ridiculous attempt to mimic its style, filming three hag-like women with metallic dentures writhing around in sheets in a blue lit set. They’re the Delphi temple’s Furies, apparently, Greek mythology being one of the many cultural references that inspired Alien. Luckily, this clunky "dramatic device" is over fairly swiftly and we move on to the titles (nicely done with atmospheric sound design). 

For the rest of the documentary, Phillippe limits his filming reverence to shooting all his interviewees against a black backdrop. And what a lot of them there are and how indistinguishable they are from each other, especially with no individual contextual frame. Assorted movie enthusiasts espouse their theories and express their enthusiasm but don’t add hugely to the acreages of written analysis that Alien has generated over the decades.  

Moving away from the buffs there are interviews with producers including Roger Corman (who loved the script but didn’t think he could raise the necessary budget) and art director Roger Christian among other creatives. Absent alongside Weaver are actors Ian Holm or Yaphet Kotto although Veronica Cartwright and Tom Skerrit provide some vivid anecdotes about the process of shooting the film, particularly the infamous "chestburster" scene. Cartwright describes the rank smell on the set that day, attributed to the butcher's offal used to augment the stage blood that gushed copiously. 

There’s a little behind-the-scenes footage of the puppet work that went into the "chest-burster" which is used in depth to augment the interviews. It’s understandable that the late John Hurt appears in an old interview matted into a TV screen.There’s also an archival interview with the late Giger (the artist responsible for the creatures) but it’s baffling that Phillippe has also resorted to archive for an interview with the very much alive Ridley Scott. Still, there’s an excellent interview with the widow of Dan O’Bannon, the original screenwriter. Diane O’Bannon provides a fascinating biographical portrait of her late husband and details his creative influences. Tracing the origins of the first script of Alien makes for enjoyable segments rich with well-presented visual sources – from DC comics Seeds of Jupiter to 1950s bug horror B-movies to Francis Bacon and Lovecraft’s Necronomicon. When Memory: the Origins of Alien focuses on such arcana, it’s a treat, but there’s not quite enough of it to make up for the acreage of interviews with the superfans. 

Cartwright describes the rank smell on the set that day


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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