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  Memory: The Origins of Alien Buy this film here.
Year: 2019
Director: Alexandre O. Philippe
Stars: Axelle Carolyn, Veronica Cartwright, Roger Christian, Roger Corman, Ben Mankiewicz, Dianne O'Bannon, Ivor Powell, Terry Rawlings, Carmen Scheifele-Giger, Gary Sherman, Ronald Shusett, Tom Skerrit, Clarke Wolfe, Dan O'Bannon, Ridley Scott, H.R. Giger
Genre: Horror, Documentary, Science Fiction
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Some films seem to draw their inspiration from primal themes that have been around for some time, not merely a few months, or even a few years, but for whole millennia; one hesitates to say the 1979 horror science fiction hit Alien had its origins in humanity's fears from the dawn of our species, yet somehow the talent pooled to bring it to the silver screen did tap into fears that had settled at the base of our psychology. As all the best horrors did, it came across as being something more than a simple scary story, but how was that brought about, and were the creators aware of what they were presenting, and indeed representing, for the delectation of the moviegoing masses?

Some films become phenomena, and Alien was one of those, indeed it would have been the most significant science fiction picture of the nineteen-seventies had it not been for a certain Star Wars that had cleaned up at the box office a couple of years before. Although Alien had elements that rooted it in its decade, from its post-Vietnam unease to its naturalistic dialogue, its monster was so original in conception that it was clear to almost everyone who saw it that they had witnessed the birth of an outright classic. And that was not all they had witnessed the birth of, thanks to the emphasis on body horror that had been pioneered by Canadian director David Cronenberg.

While you could imagine Cronenberg looking on at Alien with envious eyes, it was not a project that was quite "him", if you see what I mean. His work was more cerebral, but director Ridley Scott, writers Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett, and art designer H.R. Giger were aiming for something visceral, something that punched the audience in the gut and asked them to thank the film for it. Thank them they did, with their endeavours becoming one of the biggest blockbusters of all time, but so steeped in its self-crafted mythos was it that both its fans and the culture around it were unable to leave it alone, worrying at it to try and understand precisely why it had resonated.

Which brings us to this little item, a documentary made for cinemas which could just as easily have been an extended featurette on a Blu-ray box set, not unlike critic Mark Kermode's television documentary of around twenty years before it. What made this any different? For a start, Kermode had more access to the main players involved, in his case because more of them were still alive, and there's nothing the director of this, Alexandre O. Philippe, could have done about that, though Scott was still with us and apparently they couldn't get their schedules to match up. This was not as much of a handicap as it might appear, for many others involved, plus wives and critics, were able to offer their accounts and create a fully realised sense of what it was like to make, but perhaps more importantly what it was like to watch.

This may sound a little silly, for surely the best method of discovering what a film is like to watch would be to, well, watch it, but there's always interpretation and placing it in a history of entertainment that you may not be aware of or pick up on. As Alien was so rich with potential for both of those, the commentators were plainly enthused about getting their teeth into a project that got its teeth into them right back, so we had musings over the depiction of class (there are tensions between the crew of the spaceship), sexuality (the whole plot is essentially a "how would men like it?" shocker about rape), soulless corporations (one character represents The Man who wants to exploit the monster at the expense of that crew), and divining what the influences may have been: yeah, yeah, It! The Terror from Beyond Space and Planet of the Vampires and Queen of Blood, but also the life cycles of parasitic wasps in nature. Overall, nicely presented, the clips were well-chosen, you could quibble about the stuff they included or left out, but if it enhanced your enjoyment of a modern myth for the cinema, so much the better. Music by Jon Hegel.

[This arrives in UK cinemas 30th August & on DVD & On Demand 2nd September.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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