Alien: Adding The Gremlins idea

leading from

From the stack of Dan's partially completed ideas, they pulled out an old script called Memory, it was half finished, and basically the first half of the final Alien movie. It was the script idea that Dan had shown Ron when they first met and Ron had suggested using Dan O'Bannon's script for the Gremlins story as a second half.

Dan said “you got half a script in Total Recall, I liked it but you’re stuck, I’m stuck on the first third of Star Beast, let’s sit and address that first”, and so they did, and Dan got the script out of storage,

Dan said “what do you think?” and Ron replied said, well, it depends on what you do with the second half, and Dan said “well yuh, I don’t know where to go with it.

And Ron read it and a little while later on, Ron comes back into the front room and said “Well, you remember you told me an idea you had once for a movie. It was the one where the Gremlins get onto a B-17 bomber during World War II and give the pilots a lot of trouble. So why don’t you make that the second half and put it on a spaceship?

Dan said “Oh yeah


A watercolor illustration by Gustave Tenngren featuring Gremlins
on a spitfire
for “What Every Pilot Knows,”
by Quentin Reynolds
for Collier’s magazine (October 31, 1942).


To Dan, this point that Ron was putting across was obvious, the fact that the second half of the story could be like the Gremlins scenario but put in a space ship and Dan said “that is really a good idea”. He knew for himself that suitably adapted to his spaceship story, somehow it would create an absolutely hypnotic screenplay. 

The rest of the structure wrote itself, Ron remembered that it was three weeks, their view was that they had the whole just exactly as you see it in the final movie, with one exception, they didn’t have the idea about the robot, and that was later to be contributed by Davd Giler and Walter Hill the producers of the Alien movie, but this was the only thing major thing.

"The Thing from Another World", served as a model for the Alien film, O'Bannon saw the film when he was only five years old. He remembered that it was about a hostel environment which traps the semi-professional crew in narrow passageways as they fight off an inimical and very weird space monster.

The Gremlins idea in general, it was based on those stories that Dan knew about from the second world war, that gremlins would damage the large bombers . This was actually a common belief that gremlins were responsible for all the various malfunctions to plane engines and such during that time and also Roald Dahl wrote a book that popularised this concept called, “Gremlins” back in 1943.  Dan toyed with the idea.
B-29 Bomber

It was set in one of the allied bombers, he had in mind both the B-17 bomber and the B-29 Bomber, which is just on a bomb raid over Tokyo and it's heading back to its Pacific island base. Some gremlins jump off a cloud and and get on the tail of a bomber, get into the aeroplane and get in the tail end of this where the little tail gunner's position is, and through the rest of the movie, these little monsters start working their way forwards through the plane towards the front, killing men as they go, while the pilots are trying to get back to the island base and barricade the gremlins back so that they can land before the creatures get far enough forward to kill all of them.


Source quotes 
  1. Dan O'Bannon:"We pulled out one that I liked very much, an old script called Memory that was half finished and was basically what the first half of Alien is now. I told Ron I'd never be able to figure out the rest of the story. So he read it and said "Well, you told me another idea you had once for a movie. It was the one where gremlins get onto a B-17 bomber during World War II and gives the pilots a lot of trouble. So why don't you make that the second half and put it on a spaceship?" (Book of Alien, Scanlon and Gross)
  2. Dan O'Bannon:"That was a great idea, but then we had to figure out the monster. Well, I hadn't been able to get Hans Rudi Giger off my mind since I left France. His paintings had a profound effect on me. I had never seen anything that was quite as horrible and at the same time as beautiful as his work. And so I ended up writing a script about a Giger monster." (Book of Alien, Scanlon and Gross)
  3. Fantastic Film: Ron Cobb was telling me you were sleeping on Shusett's couch.                    Dan O'Bannon:Yeah, right, that was when Dune fell through. And incidently, I hear that Dino DiLorentis now has picked up Dune, but I bet you it wont be the same picture that Jodorowksy was going to make. So, there I was on his sofa, didn't have any prospects at all. It was a terrible situation; I couldn't stay on his sofa indefinitely so I hauled myself up out of the black depression and said I was going to do something, - I'm going to write a script. And haggling over it a little while, Ron and I agreed to do something together. I said "I've got a great first half of a script and I've never known what the second half of it was " and I gave it to him and he read it . And he thought about it and he said, "You had another idea for a film, and it wasn't a science fiction, it wasn't a space movie."  It was an idea I had called" Gremlins," about a bomber in the second World War, a B-17 bomber bombing Tokyo on a bombing mission at night through a rain storm. Now on the way back, it's a several hour flight back to their Pacific Island base, Gremlins get into the airplane, And they have to fight these things off. He said "why don't you make that the second half? Put it in a space ship? " And I said, "Yeah, that would work. That's good, that's great." (Fantastic Film #10, p7-10)
    B-17 Bomber
  4. Dan O'Bannon:With the spaceship stuck in the ground, the story seemed in danger of stalling. That was when Ronnie Shusett came to the rescue , by reminding me of another script idea I'd told him about, called Gremlins, about supernatural creatures on a B-17 bomber. The setting of this other story was World War II, Pacific theater:  our boys, having firebombed Tokyo, turn back toward their island base, at which moment lightning strikes the tail of the plane, bringing deadly little monsters on board: the "gremlins" of WWII lore and legend. Invading the tail gunner's turret, they kill him, and begin to work their way forward. The body of the story tells how the aircrew fights them off, while trying to make it back to their island runway - many hours later - before the gremlins exterminate them all. Ronnie was right! Gremlins , suitably adapted, would marry to my spaceship story to create an absolutely hypnotic screenplay. It was worth a co-story credit (Something perfectly disgusting by Dan O'Bannon, 2003, Alien Quadrilogy DVD set)
  5. Dan O'Bannon: I mentioned this to Ron Shusett, whose sofa I was staying on at the time, and he reminded me of another idea I'd had: a B17 is coming back from a strategic bombing run over Tokyo and something gets on the ship, in the tail. So this thing works its way through the many bulkhead doors until it's coming towards the cockpit. He said " Why don't you stick it onto the first story?" ("Kill By Mouth, p118, Neon (UK). December 97)
  6. Dan O'Bannon (5:46):"I said so what do you think? Well, you know, it depends on what you do with the second half. I said yeah, and I don't know where to go with it. Little while later Ron comes back into the front room, he said " you remember you told me about a script, an idea you had about monsters getting on a B-17 during World War 2, Gremlins. I said "Oh yeah". Basic idea there was that during a, a bomb raid, some gremlins jump off a cloud and get on a tale of a B-17, and as it's on its way back to base, these little monsters start working their way forward through the plane, toward the front, killing men as they go, the trick is to try to barricade them back there until they can get back to base and land, and I say, yuh,  and I said I... well his point was obvious, his point was why don't you do that for the second half in the space ship, i said that is really a good idea." (5:46, Alien Legacy Starbeast DVD)
  7. Dan O'Bannon: I tell you what, basically he did, I had been talking around all these ideas to Ronnie, i said I want to do this story now about astronauts who are forced to land on a dead planet in some remote part of the universe, there they discover an ancient alien artifact, inside of course there's which some kind of a monster or a threat, and ah, I was having a little bit of trouble making up the monster and I didn't quite know where to go with the second half of the piece, and er, Ronnie reminded me that er, some time before I had told him about another script idea I had, called Gremlins, this was pre Joe Dante Gremlins, and that idea was simply about the erm, world war two flying fortresses who reported that little creatures would get in their ship called Gremlins an mess up their instrumentation. I had the notion that er, erm make it a B-29 and make it the raids on Tokyo taking off from some island base, flying in, incendiary bombardment of Tokyo and on the way back through the clouds, they get separated from the formation and bumpity bump, something lands on the plane, and of course they're gremlins, really really mean ones who er, break into the ship, by means of the er, gun turret at the rear of the ship which is glass, and they start working their way forward killing everybody that the meet and then doing horrible things to them, and so that the er, the bulk of the picture is these men who have like I don't know, a thousand miles of pacific to fly over before they can reach their own base and in the mean time they have to fight off these little creatures who want to kill them and who are progressively working their way forward through the ship, and it was an idea that I had, and erm shelves, one has
    Illustration from Roald Dahl's 1943 book Gremlins
    a million ideas, talks about them, some of them you work on, some of them you just leave in your mind and occasionally one of them later gets re- resurrected and this was one of the ones that was sitting back there. Ronnie said "why don't you…. he said "the first half of your idea about the space ship and the men landing and picking up some type of monstrosity is a… it's a really good one, um, what if you took the second half of that story Gremlins and stuck it onto that," which is to say, the second half of the movie is the astronauts on their way home with the thing in the ship and they're having to battle the thing and try to save their lives, by then so that they can get home and then I said that's, I said "that's terrific, that's , yeah, that would, that's, that would work really good. " (Alien Anthology Blu-Ray capsules, O'Bannon working with Shusett) 
  8. Ron Shusett: And we addressed ourselves to finishing Alien, and it er, it took us, I'm not sure how  long, but we worked from that first act he had and we got... the breakthrough was the chestburster (Alien Legacy: Starbeast, 5:34) (N.B. Whoever made that documentary didn't actually get to the point about where they had the chest burster idea but left the main part of the creation of the film story as Ron Shusett deciding  that the Gremlin script should form the second half of the script that we know of as Memory )

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