A movie like Alien doesn’t just come out of nowhere. There’s the screenplay, the director’s vision, and a massive combination of artistic endeavours from people who do the costumes, the lighting, and everything in between. And that’s the basic knowledge of filmmaking where most dissections of a movie’s origin end. Memory: The Origins of Alien goes so far beyond that it borders on excess.
Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe (78/52, The People vs. George Lucas), Memory goes way past the bare bones of the 1979 Ridley Scott classic, diving into its core DNA. The film traces Alien’s myth back to the specific works the main creators used as inspiration – comics that writer Dan O’Bannon read as a boy and movies he saw as a teenager, paintings H.R. Giger used to design aspects of the creature, the decisions that got Ridley Scott on the project, and so much more.
When Memory is breaking down O’Bannon’s influences – showing Francis Bacon paintings, dissecting the works of Joseph Conrad, or listing Greek gods – it’s endlessly fascinating. Audiences simply don’t get deep dives into films in this way. We see how movies are made on set, follow their releases, and explore their cultural significance after the fact. But to see how many books, films, comics, paintings, and more influenced Alien is astonishing.
O’Bannon is the obvious star of Memory.
Where the film loses a bit of its impact is when it reverts back to a more basic dissection of Alien as a film. Analysing camera moves, blocking, frame structure – all of it is interesting but feels like information anyone with a film degree could come up with on their own. Thankfully, those moments are overshadowed by the mythology stuff and, eventually, a crazy in-depth analysis of the chest burster scene which, the film surmises, is one of the touchstone moments in film history.
More so than even the actual technical origins of Alien, the first hand stories of filming the chest burster scene – and the raw dailies, the images of other creatures designs, the first hand accounts – all of it is so good that that could have been a whole movie on its own. Which, it turns out, was Philippe’s original idea. Here though, these details are used as a climax to a story that, for the most part, pays tribute to a truly remarkable film, giving it so much respect it borders on over-indulgent. And yet, if you’re a fan of Alien or science fiction at all, you may not want it to end.
Memory: The Origins of Alien is available now on selected VOD services.