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ALIEN’S 45th IN PICTURES: As The Science-Fiction Original Returns to Theaters, We Look At How Ridley Scott Gave Us Jaws In Space

  • We celebrate the 45th Anniversary limited re-release of Alien in words and images.
  • Re-release date: Alien Day (April 26) 2024
  • Run time: 1hour 57 minutes.

 

It’s that time of year again, so fire up your flamethrowers as we celebrate Alien Day in words and pictures. In case you didn’t know it, April 26 (4/26) honors all things Alien, a clever play on the Xenomorph stomping ground of LV-426. But in 2024, it’s a special occasion — marking 45 years since Ridley Scott’s Alien first burst from the chest of sci-fi horror.  

Remembered for everything from John Hurt’s iconic chestburster scene to putting Sigourney Weaver on the map as Ellen Ripley, Alien’s immortal tagline of, “In space, no one can hear you scream,” rings through the ages. While it’s a testament to Scott that the word alien is now largely associated with his seminal movie rather than bulb-headed fellas in flying saucers, how did this little slugger become one of the greatest horror movies of all time?

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A different (star) beast ….

 

Above and below: Classic Alien “chestburster” scene. 20th Century Studios

 

 

As much as Alien is attributed to Ridley Scott, it wouldn’t have gotten off the ground without Dan O’Bannon. After creating the sci-fi comedy Dark Star in 1974, O’Bannon wanted to make a movie where the alien looked “real.” Ronald Shusett teamed up with O’Bannon, and before long, they’d written 29 pages of Memory. This included the opening scene of a crew awakening to find their voyage interrupted by a strange signal.

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The Xenomorph design was the brainchild of H.R. Giger, who’d worked with O’Bannon on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s (never realised) take on Dune. When Dune collapsed, O’Bannon and Shusett returned to Memory and tried to rework it with the former’s earlier idea about gremlins infiltrating a WWII B-17 Bomber. Medmitted that he was influenced by many other projects, famously saying, “I didn’t steal Alien from anybody. I stole it from everybody!”

Above (C) and (L): External and internal views of the space tug Nostromo. 20th Century Studios

Alien’s origins can be largely traced back to Edward L. Cahn’s It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958). The story of a crew searching a wreckage and being hunted by the creature that sneaks aboard will sound familiar. And even the final scene of suited astronauts trying to blast the monster out into space found a home in Alien, although this wasn’t the only gene pool that the Xenomorphs hatched from.

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Jaws in space

 

 

Another famous bloodline is John W. Campbell Jr.’s 1928 novella, “Who Goes There?” As well as evolving into John Carpenter’s The Thing from 1982 (which is often compared to Alien itself), Campbell Jr.’s story became Christian Nyby’s The Thing from Another World in 1951. Splicing together It! The Terror from Beyond Space and The Thing from Another World, O’Bannon and Shusett pitched their idea of “Jaws in space” to studios. 

Similar to Steven Spielberg’s 1975 nautical horror, Scott harked back to the old Hitchcock ideals of showing the audience less to let their imagination conjure something even more frightening. Just as the titular shark of Jaws only had four minutes of screentime, Alien featured the Xenomorph for exactly the same amount of time. Everyone remembers the moment when Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) meets his end in the bowels of the Nostromo, giving viewers just a flash of the monster. 

The script went through rewrites under David Giler and Walter Hill, who added the android character of Ash (Ian Holm) and shifted focus to him. The success of Star Wars saw 20th Century Fox want to make the most of sci-fi, but Alien being the only script on its desk meant it was the only choice. Although O’Bannon assumed he’d direct Alien, the studio optioned it to Hill. After Hill declined, a younger Ridley Scott quickly signed up after making a name for himself on The Duelist

With the ink still wet on Scott’s contract, he impressed 20th Century Fox with his storyboards channelling vibes of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars, leading to the studio doubling Alien’s budget to about $13 million (it ended up costing $11 million). Still, Scott’s storyboards (known as Ridleygrams these days) focused on the horror of the movie, with the man himself describing Alien as “the Texas Chainsaw Massacre of science fiction.”

A “burst” of talent 

 

As Alien continued to gestate, there was the question of who to cast. O’Bannon had purposefully focused on the Xenomorph, and with Shusett leaving the genders of the seven humanoid characters vague, the role of Ripley was originally envisioned as male. Described as “truckers in space,” Alien demanded a rough and ready cast, wanting someone akin to Harrison Ford’s Han Solo. Ironically, the 2000 biography Harrison Ford: Imperfect Hero claims the Star Wars legend was offered the role of Captain Dallas.

Things weren’t easy on the cast, with there being horror stories about Skerritt, Hurt, and Veronica Cartwright struggling in the suits. Still, spare a thought for Nigerian student Bolaji Badejo, who had the honor/misfortune of being 6″10 and crammed into the cumbersome Xenomorph suit. Weaver also told The Guardian they didn’t know how THAT chestburster scene was going to go down. Organs from the abattoir were doused in formaldehyde but started to smell under the lights. The cast was unaware the creature was going to burst through Hurt’s chest, and when a spray of blood hit Cartwright in the face, she passed out. 

As for the iconic Ellen Ripley, Weaver told AnOther how the character evolved into being one of the first female action heroes. Weaver said she was originally dressed in a baby blue spacesuit, leading to Scott saying, “You look like f*****g Jackie O in space!” The director put Weaver in an old NASA flight suit and gave Ripley her signature look. Weaver herself points out, “Ripley is not a sexy space babe. I never worried how I looked, I worried about getting down the corridors fast enough to escape the explosions!” Ironic then that Scott had to fight the studio to avoid the planned ending of Ripley being killed off. 

A box office bloodbath

 

The Xenomorph. 20th Century Studios.

 

Like Jaws, Alien took an unexpected bite of the box office, and like Jaws, Alien was milked by a series of sequels with varying degrees of success. Then again, we’ve never had a Jaws vs. Piranha movie. In the end, Alien has made an impressive $184.7 million, spun out into a whole franchise, and been cloned numerous times with everything from ‘Alien in the Antarctic’ (John Carpenter’s The Thing) to ‘Alien in the Jungle (Predator), and ‘Alien with Bugs’ (Starship Troopers).

Despite its success, Alien was caught in more trouble when Giler, Hill and Gordon Carroll sued Fox for unpaid profits. Using Hollywood accounting, the studio wrote it off as a loss and cast doubt over a sequel. The unofficial Italian movie Alien 2: On Earth was released in 1980, but in the end, Fox returned to this world when James Cameron eventually took the reins for Aliens in 1986. Scott told The Hollywood Reporter he was “p*ssed” he wasn’t asked back to direct the sequel, although he claims he would’ve turned it down anyway. 

 

20th Century Studios

 

20th Century Studios

 

Scott would eventually come back to the Alienverse, but 2012’s Prometheus served as a lore-logged prequel, and it was very different from Alien