Memory: The Origins of Alien
78/52 director Alexandre O Philippe delves into the world of Ridley Scott's Alien – fanatics will find little new here, but this is an entertaining, informative companion to the 1979 sci-fi
Coinciding with the fortieth anniversary of Ridley Scott’s pop culture phenomenon, Memory: The Origins of Alien looks at the genesis of the iconic monster and franchise. The brainchild of writer Dan O’Bannon, the quasi-mythological space horror went through many iterations including a first draft where the crew lost their memories instead of their insides. Through a combination of talking heads and archival footage, the 1979 film's ‘making of’ is explored with great detail and enthusiasm.
The idea of the cultural nexus and the myths that speak to each generation runs strongly throughout the conversations; considering that Alien has lived beyond the 1970s socioeconomic outlook and many films of this era, the discussions enhance understanding of its place then and now. The time spent exploring films, art, and comic books that contain early echoes of Alien’s style and world – including side-by-side comparisons with films from A Clockwork Orange to Dark Star – proves the documentary's highlight. The talking heads range from cast and crew members to pop culture scholars to O’Bannon’s widow, with old clips from O’Bannon, John Hurt, and other deceased creatives filling in the gaps. However, it never feels like the conversation is over. Understandings of Alien and its place in the canon will continue to evolve, and while influences and predecessors are cited, no discussion points are marked as definitive.
At the same time, Alien is interrogated on its own merits and themes. Much time is spent analysing how Scott framed the crew’s relationship dynamics and used selective movement to create an eerie lifelessness. The chest buster scene gets a large portion of the documentary – while one of cinema’s best-known moments, the enthusiasm and technical planning that went into the sequence still makes it worthy of exploration. And if there was any question whether the highly sexual imagery in the plot and monster design was intentional, Memory... makes clear the answer: yes, it was.
Memory: Origins of Alien may not contain much new information for the Alien franchise fanatic, but its deep dive into the influences, parallels and production of the sci-fi classic makes it an entertaining, informative companion for the film enthusiast. While not terribly critical of the film or the production team, it is a comprehensive, celebratory look at the craft and collaboration behind an iconic monster.
Memory: The Origins of Alien had its UK premiere at Edinburgh International Film Festival
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