Many hardy spacefarers will no doubt meet a grisly end on May 19 this year, as that date sees the release of Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant, the latest movie in the long-running Alien series.
It all began back in 1979 with a simple but effective ‘haunted house in space’ movie, featuring the crew of the spaceship Nostromo picking up an unwanted passenger and proceeding to be ripped apart by it. Stories from behind the scenes of Alien can shine a light on this still-beloved classic.
Through three sequels, Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley survived several further encounters with the nasty Xenomorphs (well, she survived most of them). The series then went off in some unexpected directions, crossing over with the Predator films before going back to explore the origin of humanity. It’s also spun off into a variety of other media, with surprising results. To prepare yourselves for the imminent release of Alien: Covenant, get yourself up to speed with the franchise and some of the astonishing facts behind its scenes.
15. It Was Pitched As ‘Jaws In Space’
While we may think of Ridley Scott as the main creative force behind Alien, the film actually came from the mind of screenwriter Dan O’Bannon. After having worked on low-budget sci-fi comedy Dark Star, which featured an alien creature made of a spray-painted beach ball, O’Bannon wanted to make a similar film but with a more realistic creature, this time with a horror tone rather than a comedic one.
Collaborating with another writer, Ron Shusett, O’Bannon developed this idea into a full screenplay. He took influence from a range of well-known sci-fi movies. The idea of professional characters being chased around a claustrophobic environment by the creature came from The Thing From Another World. While the part when the crew ignores a warning not to land and faces horrific consequences came from Forbidden Planet.
But at the heart of this idea was a simple three-word pitch–‘Jaws in Space’. Despite the film’s many influences, this crossing over of genres had not been done before. The slow reveal of the monster would build up tension like Spielberg had with the shark in Jaws and save on budget! With these three words, O’Bannon and Shusett pitched the movie to studios, and 20th Century Fox decided to invest.
14. The Alien Was Meant To Look S*xual
One thing O’Bannon and Shusett couldn’t work out when writing the script was how to get the alien monster on board the spaceship. And then Shusett had an idea. “The monster screws one of them” allowing for the iconic chestburster scene as a twisted form of childbirth. This idea became the core of the film, with O’Bannon later commenting, “This is a movie about alien interspecies rape. That’s scary because it hits all of our buttons.”
The distorted s*xual edge to the story was carried over into the design of the alien itself. O’Bannon showed Ridley Scott a copy of the book Necronomicon, by Swiss surrealist artist H. R. Giger, and Scott loved one particular print from the book, citing its strong s*xual overtones. This became the basis for the design of the Xenomorph, which line producer Ivor Powell said “could just as easily f*ck you before it killed you.”
Though this imagery mainly applies to the first Alien movie, the idea did carry on through the series, to a certain extent. When designing the alien/human hybrids for Alien: Resurrection, director Jean-Pierre Jeunet wanted them to have both male and female genitalia. This, however, was a step too far for Fox, who had the designs toned down.
13. There Was A Batman VS. Aliens Comic
Like many successful movie monsters, the Xenomorphs have extended their talons into other media, having terrorized humanity in novels, video games, and comic books. Most of the comics have been additions to the Alien universe that could comfortably fit into the story line of the series. However, others have seriously mixed things up by pitting the aliens against other comic characters.
Such crossovers have included Judge Dredd vs. Aliens, Aliens versus Predator versus the Terminator, and of course, Batman/Aliens. This 1998 adventure begins with Batman parachuting into the South American jungle to investigate the disappearance of a Wayne Industries geologist, only to find that the Xenomorphs are inhabiting the jungle. Later, aliens are let loose into Gotham City, and we even see some alien/human hybrids made using DNA from the Joker and Two-Face. And you thought Alien: Resurrection was ridiculous.
12. James Cameron Constantly Clashed With The Crew Of Aliens
Aliens may only have been James Cameron’s third film as director, but that didn’t stop him from doing an incredible job. Not all of the crew saw this at the time, though, and the production was fraught with tension.
It was Cameron’s first time filming in the UK, and Pinewood Studios provided the young director with his crew. However, many of the British team saw him as too inexperienced to handle the job, especially since The Terminator hadn’t yet been released on their side of the Atlantic and so all they had to go on was Piranha II. Nor were they fond of his 14-hour working days, so Cameron ended up confused at the heavily unionized crew’s insistence on tea breaks. Well, Brits need their tea.
The tension came to a head when director of photography Dick Bush (no smirking) insisted on lighting the alien queen’s nest brightly, ignoring Cameron’s request for a moodier look. Having had enough, Cameron fired Bush. Consequently, the crew walked out. It took a tough talking-to from Cameron and producer Gale Ann Hurd to get everyone back to work. The shooting eventually resumed with the nest lit how Cameron wanted.
11. The Actor In The Alien Suit Was Found In The Pub
Names like Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, and Tom Skeritt are well-known even to casual film fans, as Alien boasted some serious acting clout. But you probably haven’t heard of Bolaji Badejo, even though he was the man behind the film’s title role.
When working out how to portray the alien on screen, Ridley Scott decided that the closer it appeared to a human, the scarier it could be. Circus performers were tried, as were multiple actors in the same costume. But neither proved terrifying enough, so Scott sent his team out to find a very tall and thin man.
And this man was Badejo, a 6’10” and seriously skinny graphic designer, who casting director Peter Ardram noticed in a pub in London’s Soho. In his mid-20’s (at the time), Badejo had to take up mime classes and a serious training regime in order to get the movements of the alien creature how Scott envisioned, and the final result was something seriously creepy. To this day, Badejo’s IMDb page has one single credit–but what a credit!
10. Aliens Is A Vietnam War Allegory
While Alien is a creepy horror film in space, its first sequel, Aliens, is a much more action-packed type of sci-fi. Full of people with big guns shooting at aliens with big teeth, it’s perfect for easy Saturday night viewing, with a beer and a takeaway and not much thought needed.
But there’s more to the story than first appears. Many cinema-goers speculated that the film was inspired by the Vietnam War, which writer/director James Cameron later confirmed in an audio commentary for the special edition. Take the Colonial Marines, a technologically superior force sent into battle with what Cameron calls “a lot of firepower and very little wisdom” against an enemy they believe they can easily beat, only to be proved very wrong–a clear comparison with the American forces sent into Vietnam emerges.
9. The Many Versions Of Alien 3
After the success of Aliens, it’s no surprise that 20th Century Fox wanted a third movie. But no one could make their mind up on what it should be about.
A very early version of Alien 3 was scripted by cyberpunk author William Gibson. His script saw the Sulaco, the ship Ripley escapes on at the end of Aliens, being boarded by soldiers from a communist space colony, only for them to be attacked by a face-hugger on board. Everyone somehow ends up at a space station/shopping mall, where full-on alien chaos breaks out. Eventually, the space communists and space capitalists must team up against the space Xenomorphs.
But this script wasn’t up to the studio’s standards, and the real life fall of the Soviet Union meant that the political allegory became somewhat outdated. The next attempt at Alien 3 came from writer/director Vincent Ward, whose vision included Ripley crash-landing on a planet consisting of a giant wooden monastery, where the monks come to regard the alien as the devil. While this would certainly have provided some cool visuals, the studio thought the story too artsy and not commercial enough.
8. There Were Many Shameless Rip-Offs Of Alien
Nowadays, when a big blockbuster movie is released, low-budget rip-offs from the likes of The Asylum can often be seen cropping up in store DVD shelves and tricking clumsy buyers. But such cinematic imitation is no new phenomenon, as across the 1980’s, many cheap sci-fi horror flicks cropped up hoping to grab a quick buck off the tails of Alien’s success.
For example, there was Galaxy of Terror, from B-movie mastermind Roger Corman, which featured an unforgettable (for all the wrong reasons) scene where a woman is raped by an alien worm. There was Alien Contamination, an Italian movie in which a grotesque extraterrestrial lays its eggs around Earth. Director Luigi Cozzi wanted to set it in space, but the budget wasn’t there. And then there was 1982’s Mutant, featuring a creature able to change its shape but with a default form suspiciously similar to that of Giger’s Xenomorph design.
But the most shameless of all, thanks to its ballsy title, is Alien 2: On Earth, which is in no way at all a sequel to Alien. This Italian production sees a spacecraft returning to Earth, bringing an extraterrestrial monster with it, which goes on to terrorize a group of friends in a cave. For the US release, it unsurprisingly had to change its title, and went with Alien Terror.
7. Alien: Resurrection Originally Ended On Earth
While logic would dictate that the ending of Alien 3 would be the last we’d see of Ripley, she’s even more surprisingly tough than her extraterrestrial nemesis, as she has managed to return for one more film—1997’s Alien: Resurrection. But this, too, went through many changes in development.
The man hired to write the script was Joss Whedon, before his successes with the likes of Buffy and The Avengers. His original script had a final act set on Earth, in which the cloned Ripley battled the aliens for control of humanity’s home planet. While it would be great to see the iconic monsters finally setting foot on Earth, this was taken out of the screenplay.
Whedon hung onto the idea of Xenomorphs on Earth, and even attempted a follow-up script based on this concept. It, too, never came to pass, though. We did eventually see aliens on Earth in the Alien vs. Predator films, but can’t help but wonder what Whedon had in mind.
6. The First Alien Video Game Was Released In 1982
It’s heart-racing enough to watch the crew of the Nostromo try to survive as a Xenomorph stalks and kills them, but it can only be even worse when you yourself are in that situation. That’s the thinking behind many Alien video games, though the very first one, surprisingly released as far back as 1982, couldn’t exactly be described as scary.
In fact, Alien for the Atari 2600 was not much more than a Pac-Man clone. You had to navigate a maze collecting alien eggs (as bad an idea as anyone who’s seen the film knows that is) while avoiding three aliens. The eggs were Pac-Man’s dots and the aliens were the ghosts (in case you haven’t guessed), while the fruits were replaced by spaceships and planets.
As time went on, Alien games became more sophisticated, though the first one to really be worth looking into was 2014’s Alien: Isolation. Following Amanda Ripley as she investigates her mother’s disappearance, it’s set on an alien-infested space station and feels like a genuine addition to the series’ story.
5. James Cameron And Ridley Scott Both Disapproved Of Alien VS. Predator
2004’s Alien vs. Predator answered the questions of many fans who’d spent long nights lying awake wondering what would happen if their favorite movie monsters clashed. Although it may have been a great commercial proposition for studio heads wanting to cash in on not one but two franchises, no one is claiming that it’s the artistic peak of this series.
Definitely not Ridley Scott and James Cameron, the two directors behind the series’ first and most loved films. Cameron had actually been working on a potential fifth Alien film at the time AvP was conceived, but stopped working on it when he heard that Fox wanted to make the next installment a crossover with the Predator series, claiming that such “milking” would “kill the validity of the franchise.”
Meanwhile, Scott had no time for this. He stayed distant from the project and didn’t even watch the finished film, claiming in a 2012 interview that he still hadn’t seen either Alien vs. Predator movie. Cameron, however, did end up seeing the film and found it better than he expected, claiming it to be “actually pretty good” which is a nicer review than many critics would give it.
4. The Cast Didn’t Know What Would Come Out Of John Hurt’s Chest
One of the most famous scenes in Alien (actually, one of the most famous scenes in cinema) is when John Hurt’s character, Kane, falls ill at the dinner table and the alien creature fights its way out from inside his chest, spraying blood everywhere, and sending the crew into a panic. That panic was genuine.
The cast members has seen the puppet of the ‘chestburster’ but hadn’t been told how much blood would be pumped out or just how gory the whole thing would look, with the crew being careful to keep the cast away from set during tests of this effect. Four cameras were set up so the whole scene could be done in one take, with an air hose leading from under the table into the puppet’s tail so it would whip around as it splattered the red stuff.
The effect worked so well as Scott and his crew could have hoped for, with Veronica Cartwright, who played Lambert, going into hysterics at the sight. Though it may seem cruel to the poor actors, it added an edge of believability to this grisly scene.
3. Prometheus Was Inspired By Real ‘Ancient Astronaut’ Theories
It wasn’t until 2012 that Ridley Scott returned to direct a second film set in the world of Alien. But Prometheus was a far cry from the sci-fi horror he’d helmed over 30 years before. A much more philosophical film (in ambition, at least), it followed a space crew on a mission to learn about the origins of humanity.
Though this movie originally started out as an Alien prequel, Scott became less keen on the direct links to his 1979 classic and more interested in the bigger questions he wanted to ask. So the final movie revolves strongly around the idea that an ancient alien race, the Engineers, shaped the course of the human race.
As unlikely as it all sounds, this wasn’t the first time someone had put across this ‘ancient astronaut’ theory. In fact, the idea as it was presented in the movie was actually influenced by Chariots of the Gods, a book by Erich von Däniken that hypothesizes that many of Earth’s ancient civilizations got their technologies and religions from extraterrestrial visitors, whom they welcomed as gods. The evidence behind von Däniken’s theories is far from solid, but hey, at least we got an interesting movie out of it.
2. The Final Scenes Of Alien Were A Last Minute Addition
Just when you think you’ve finally defeated the monster, it comes back for one final struggle. It’s a classic horror movie trick, but it allows for Alien to have one hell of a climax. That wasn’t always the case, however.
Even during filming, Alien was set to conclude with Ripley escaping in the shuttle as the Nostromo explodes behind her, taking the Xenomorph with it. But Ridley Scott came up with a “fourth act” in which it turns out that the alien is on the shuttle too, and negotiated an increase in budget and a few extra days of filming in order to add on this now-iconic ending.
Even at this stage, it wasn’t certain how the sequence would end. One of Scott’s ideas was for the alien to bite off Ripley’s head and make the final log entry using her voice, while Sigourney Weaver suggested Ripley could trick the alien by acting softly towards it. We can agree that the ending they settled on was better than both those ideas.
1. Whatever Happened To Neill Blomkamp’s Alien Film?
On January 1, 2015, Neill Blomkamp, the director of low-budget sci-fi hit District 9, posted a series of images on his Instagram, showing concept art for a potential new Alien movie along with the caption “Was working on this. Don’t think I am anymore.”
Not long after this, Fox announced that a new Alien film directed by Blomkamp would in fact be made, and things started to take off from there. Sigourney Weaver signed on, and Michael Biehn (Aliens’ Hicks) revealed that he’d been contacted. The plot, it was discovered, would carry from the end of Aliens and ignore the unpopular plots of Alien 3 and Resurrection.
As intriguing as this sounded, the news about it started to slow down, and by the end of 2015, the project had been put on hold to allow for Ridley Scott’s Prometheus sequel to be made first. Now that Covenant is almost out, you might think we’re finally gonna see this, but it seems that the next Alien film will actually be another of Ridley’s projects. And the most recent comment on the matter from Blomkamp is that chances of us ever seeing his take on the series are “slim.”