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DVD Review

DVD cover

Memory: The Origins of Alien


Distributor: Dogwoof
RRP: £15.99
Certificate: 15
Release Date: 02 September 2019

Only days after if was released in selective cinemas, Dogwoof releases Memory: The Origins of Alien, on DVD and on Demand. Said to be the most comprehensive documentary on this ground-breaking film from 1979, it incorporates interviews, storyboards, artwork, and a history from original concept to realisation...

Although it could be argued this genre began in the 1950s with the plethora of fun science fiction monster b-movies, the modern era of SF horror undoubtedly began with Alien in 1979. Without the style, impact and, ultimately, the success of this enterprise there may not have been many other subsequent big budget Hollywood ventures. In fact, so enduring was the rude awakening that humanity isn’t the dominant species in the universe that it has remained with us for four decades. Many movies have tried to emulate Alien (among them Species and Splice), but even some of the sequels have fallen short in that respect.

As you would expect, the documentary explores many (although not all) of the film, concentrating mainly on style and the timeless chest-bursting scene. There are snippets of interviews with the late Dan O’Bannon, the scriptwriter, and new interviews with his widow. O’Bannon, of course, worked alongside the great John Carpenter on Dark Star (which he also acted in). When they fell-out, O’Bannon worked on his own concept called Memory (from where this documentary gets its title). At some stage in the process the name changed to Star Beast (a rather tacky title), before settling on Alien. The strength of the original 29-page script is evident in the fact the first section of the film remained unchanged.

For me, by far the most interesting and informative part of this documentary lies with the origins of the alien designs and environments. Of course, we all have H.R. Giger to thank for the artwork which had never revealed the like in popular culture. His phenomenal designs were described as menacing, uncomfortable, sexual and beautiful. It has been said that much of his artwork was influenced partly by the ancient Egyptian culture, but more fully by the tales and themes of classic horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. I adore Lovecraft; I have a leather bound complete collection of his work, which I have read at least three times, and some favourite stories more frequently. Lovecraft’s setting and slow-burn creeping menace (or, as Lovecraft himself would put it: The Crawling Chaos) is all over Alien – as well as Lost Horizon, another favourite of mine. Giger even published a collection of his work under the title The Necronomicon – a forbidden and rare book invented by Lovecraft, incorporating all of the information about the Elder Gods (or Old Ones) – creatures that would be likely to send even the reader to the edge of madness.

Yes, Giger was influenced (is any idea completely original?) but this stuff - enhanced even further by Francis Bacon’s The Furies – had never been seen before. So, for the first time the public was offered a culture not even slightly humanoid. Life is the only film to even get close to emulating the impact of Alien. So powerful was Giger’s influence that when the film company banished him from the project, director Ridley Scott brought him back in.

Much as this is an interesting and compelling documentary, I do rather feel short-changed on extras (of which there are none); considering there is a Blu-ray set of the six (non-Predator) Alien films, with extended cut versions of some, and other extras, for only £15.99. Although this is a 95 minute piece, when you consider John Carpenter’s The Thing had the full feature, plus an 80 minute documentary and a whole host of brilliant extras, I think this would sit more comfortably as a special feature – perhaps on a future 4K collection of the films.


Ty Power

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