MEMORY: THE ORIGINS OF ALIEN / CERT: TBC / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: ALEXANDRE O. PHILIPPE / STARRING: DIANE O’BANNON, CARMEN GIGER, VERONICA CARTWRIGHT, DAN O’BANNON, RIDLEY SCOTT / RELEASE DATE: TBC
Alexandre O. Philippe previously gave us a history of film zombies with the decent Doc of the Dead, and now brings us a fairly self-explanatorily titled documentary, charting the genesis of the seminal sci-fi horror movie that still chills audiences 40 years after its debut, along with the creation of one of the most iconic movie monsters of all time.
You might go into Memory: The Origins of Alien wondering how much of the story is left to be told after four decades of analysis and pop cultural immortality, and for a while it manages to surpass expectations. The opening twenty minutes or so are quite engaging, relating Dan O’Bannon’s inspirations for Alien’s screenplay, identifying the direct influences that ‘50s monster movies and EC horror comics had on the story’s look and events. It also delves into the writer’s early life that shaped his need to escape into imagined worlds, and with some archive footage of O’Bannon and input from his widow Diane, the story is given a highly personal touch.
However, the interest doesn’t hold up. Once the story of the film’s growth moves past O’Bannon’s work with John Carpenter in the creation of micro-budgeted sci-fi comedy Dark Star and onto Alien’s actual production, it begins delving into far more familiar territory and retells stories heard dozens of times before. The lack of major names involved in the production is notable, with Veronica Cartwright (Alien’s Lambert) being the most significant interviewee, while the rest of the talking head contributions, aside from Diane O’Bannon and Carmen Giger (conceptual artist H.R. Giger’s widow), consist of various writers and academics.
The film’s main issue comes from the latter of these, with each attempting to ascribe a symbolic significance to the film that really isn’t there. Arguments are made such as how characters’ positioning and movement within shots represents the moving through societal hierarchy, or drawing out significance from the crew meal right before the chestburster scene, where in the background the cat is also eating. And as for that infamous moment of gore, we get yet another retelling of its composition and filming, although to be fair having Cartwright relate the story of getting drenched in fake blood does provide it with a degree of personal authenticity.
There is a great deal of effort put into comparing the Xenomorph to various primordial deities and figures of ancient legends that feels too forced to be taken seriously, as though the contributors are dictating a graduate thesis and trying to make intellectual points with neither the demonstrable evidence to back them up nor arguments that in any way convince. In particular, the Furies of Greek myth are paralleled with the creature, to the extent that a trio of actors dramatise their summoning to avenge Clytemnestra, along with and several location shots of the Delphic oracle. One of the things that makes the Xenomorph such a terrifying creation is its utter otherness that defies natural laws to be completely, yes, alien (which is in itself one of the reasons for the film’s change in title from the far more B-movie-esque Star Beast), and attempts to quantify this only belittle the achievement and actually end up sounding a somewhat pretentious.
Although Memory: The Origins of Alien does contain some interesting talking points, overall the film feels like little more than a DVD extra, and lacks the substance attain the relevance to which it aspires.