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StarBeast — Alien, the Chestburster

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THE ALIEN, SECOND PHASE: Once the Alien (First Phase) has attached itself to the face of a victim, it lays eggs in the victim’s stomach, and the egg grows into the Alien (Second Phase). This is a small creature which bites its way out of the victim’s body.

-Dan O’Bannon, original letter to H.R. Giger

With the Facehugger dead, the crew of the Nostromo has one last dinner before returning to cryosleep; unexpected to them (besides Ash), a creature violently erupts from Kane’s chest. To first conceive the appearance of the baby Monster, Scott directed Giger at Francis Bacon’s painting Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944). Giger told Cinescape: “Bacon did a crucifixion in [1944], and there is a kind of beast in it that has a head that is only a mouth — Ridley said he wanted something like that. It was logical; this beast has to come out, to chew and claw its way out suddenly, unerringly.” The first concepts, however, proved to be underwhelming; Giger himself was unsatisfied, labeling them in retrospective as “chickens without feathers.” Dicken, who had been assigned the construction of the Chestburster, was also less than impressed. “To me, it looked like a plucked turkey,” he said, “a veined, repulsive-looking thing with fangs. I said: ‘you want me to make this? It looks like a turkey.’ And they said, yes, that’s what they wanted. Well, there wasn’t a need for anything very complicated, since all it had to do was force its way out of the chest and then flop onto the table; so we figured the best approach was to build it as a hand puppet, about three times life-size so I could get my hand up into the neck. Obviously, you couldn’t get something the size of a large turkey out of a human chest, but initially they were going to cheat it somehow.”

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StarBeast — Alien, the Egg and the Facehugger

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When Hans Ruedi Giger was finally hired as a designer for Alien, he was assigned the task to conceive all the otheworldly aspects of the film — the planetoid, the Derelict and its Pilot, and the Alien itself in all of the stages of its life cycle. Obviously unable to also construct all the needed creature effects within the tight schedule of the production, Giger was aided by special effects veterans attached to the project. First hired was Carlo Rambaldi, in the wake of his special effects work on John Guillermin’s King Kong. Though enthusiastic about the project, Rambaldi’s availability was limited, due to having already committed to other projects (such as Nightwing). Also hired was sculptor and model maker Roger Dicken, who had collaborated with associate producer Ivor Powell during the production of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Dicken also provided some of the sound effects for the Alien, in collaboration with Percy Edwards.

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StarBeast — Prologue: Alien, Dan O’Bannon’s Cosmic Horror

The final Alien design.

The Alien story begins with Dan O’Bannon, a Hollywood writer with a taste for Lovecraft and the sci-fi of old. It was during the pre-production of the ill-fated Dune directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky that O’Bannon had a fateful meeting: a Swiss surreal artist by the name of Hans Ruedi Giger. Giger had been hired by Jodorowsky to conceptualize Giedi Prime’s architecture and barren landscapes, as well as Arrakis’ Sandworms. The peculiar airbrush paintings portraying grotesque amalgamations of organic and mechanical parts (what Giger called “biomechanics”) made an immediate impression on O’Bannon, capturing his imagination. He recalled in his essay Something Perfectly Disgusting: “[Giger’s] visionary paintings and sculptures stunned me with their originality, and aroused in me deep, disturbing thoughts, deep feelings of terror. They started an idea turning over in my head — this guy should design a monster movie. Nobody had ever seen anything like this on the screen.”

Years before, O’Bannon had written They Bite, a script featuring ancient parasitic insects that could assume traits of their victims after consumption. Whilst the project would never see the light, certain ideas within that script influenced what would become Alien. “The producers I showed it to felt it was too weird,” O’Bannon related, “and that it would be too expensive to do because of the special effects involved. But they all did admit that it frightened them. When I got ready to write Alien, I pulled a couple of concepts from They Bite and put them into deep space.”

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Monster Gallery: Alien (1979)

Pilot of the Derelict

General Note: this article refers to the original ideas and concepts behind the Pilot of the Derelict seen in Alien (1979); those have since been retroactively altered with the release of Prometheus, and are no longer officially valid, unless the current continuity is altered further. Please note that the Engineers and their suits from Prometheus will not be featured on the site, following the site’s personal criteria.

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A stranded starship, on a Planetoid lost in the immensity of Space, conceals its dead Pilot, and something alive and awaiting, inside of it. One of the key elements of Ridley Scott’s Alien, the former creature was conceived as part of an unknown alien race, which either came in contact with the Alien, or even engineered it for mysterious purposes — something ultimately left ambiguous in the film itself. This character was given various nicknames: labeled as simply ‘Pilot’, ‘StarPilot, ‘Starrider’, or, humoristically, ‘Dental Patient’ (by Aliens director James Cameron); the name it is most commonly known as, however, is ‘Space Jockey’ — a designation inspired by Robert Heinlein’s eponymous novel. Hans Ruedi Giger, the designer of the creature, used it to refer to the Nostromo crew, and it was first used for the dead Pilot in one of the script drafts written by David Giler and Walter Hill, who also changed the alien entity into a human skeleton. Its nature in the final film was eventually reverted to that of an incomprehensible “alien lifeform”, closely to how O’Bannon envisioned it in his 1976 draft for Alien — where the introduction to the Pilot plays out very similarly to the final film. “Suddenly, Melkonis lets out a grunt of shock,” the script reads. “Their lights have illuminated something unspeakably grotesque: A HUGE ALIEN SKELETON, SEATED IN THE CONTROL CHAIR. They approach the skeleton, their lights trained on it. IT IS A GROTESQUE THING, BEARING NO RESEMBLANCE TO THE HUMAN FORM. [Sic]”

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