Alien: Locating the Nostromo

leading from




a) Auditory references

a.i) Boondocks.
Looking for a way to build an idea about how the galactic geography is formed in the film.

We have very a small amount of information to play with.

In the movie we have Parker's statement "We're way out in the boondocks here" .

A June 1978 version of the script along with the soft copy had Lambert making the comment and this held all the way to revisions through to October 4th 1978.

This as a generalisation suggests a remote area in the galactic area where they travel.
  1. KANE: You got a reading yet.
    LAMBERT: We're way out in the boondocks here...
    KANE: Keep trying...
    LAMBERT: Working on it. (June 1978)
  2. KANE: You got a reading yet.
    LAMBERT: We're way out in the boondocks here...
    KANE: Keep trying...
    LAMBERT: Working on it. (June 1978, soft copy)
  3. KANE: You got a reading yet.
    LAMBERT: We're way out in the boondocks here...
    KANE: Keep trying...
    LAMBERT: Working on it. (June 1978, revised through to October 4th, 1978)

a.ii) A mention of Zeta II Reticuli
Dan O'Bannon introduced the Zeta II Reticuli into his early Alien script, and despite its ommission from various versions of the script such as the Alien Script with Cylinder, it's reintroduced in the various 1978 rewrites and revisions that lead up to the final filmed version movie. One could imagine that David Giler and Walter Hill didn't really want to include it.

Broussard, the navigator from Dan O'Bannon's script who later is renamed Lambert mentions that the Nostromo is "Just short of Zeta II Reticuli, not even reached the outer rim yet"

Zeta II Reticuli was known at the time to be 37 light years from Earth.

There is the possibility that the outer rim means the outer rim of Zeta II Reticuli's solar system or they are on the outer rim of somewhere else. 

Some might say because of what's said in the movie that the Nostromo has almost reached Zeta II Reticuli and the Outer Rim is closer to Earth than the named star system.

So is the Outer Rim before or after Zeta II Reticuli?

  1. BROUSSARD: I got it. Oh boy.
    STANDARD Where the hell are we?
    BROUSSARD Just short of Zeta II Reticuli. We haven't even reached the outer rim yet.
    ROBY: What the hell?
    (Early Alien script by Dan O'Bannon)
  2. LAMBERT:  Found it. Just short of Zeta II Reticuli. We haven't even reached the outer rim yet.
    KANE: Hard to believe"
    LAMBERT: What the hell are we doing out here
    KANE: What are you talking about
    RIPLEY: It's not our system
    LAMBERT: I know that (Terry Rawlings copy of the June 1978 script)
  3. LAMBERT:  Found it. Just short of Zeta II Reticuli. We haven't even reached the outer rim yet.
    KANE: Hard to believe"
    LAMBERT: I don't know. What the hell are we doing out here
    KANE: What are you talking about
    RIPLEY: It's not our system
    (Final Alien film)(Alien, revised final, revised through October 4, 1978) 
  4. LAMBERT:  Found it. Just short of Zeta II Reticuli. We haven't even reached the outer rim yet.
    KANE: Hard to believe"
    LAMBERT: I don't know. What the hell are we doing out here
    KANE: What are you talking about
    RIPLEY: It's not our system
    LAMBERT: I know that (Final Alien film, 1979)
  5. In Alan Dean Foster's Alien novelisation, a variation is found where Lambert says "Just short of Zeta II Reticuli. We haven't even reached the outer populated ring yet."(see Galactic Geography In The Alien Novelisation) (Alan Dean Foster novelisation, p22) 

a.iii) Half way to Earth
Dallas tells the rest of the crew that they are only "half way to Earth" and this is introduced in the script in the June 27th 1978 revision.
  1. Dallas: Some of you may have figured out that we're not home. We're only half way to Earth.(Alien, revised final, revised through October 4, 1978)

a.iv) Getting back on course
In the film, Lambert said "based on the time spent getting to and from the planet and the speed and which it's moving away from the other"

However she reveals that it is "ten months" to Earth with "six weeks" needed to get back on course

In the Alien Script with Cylinder (which features a concrete tower in place of an egg silo,) Dallas tells Lambert to set their course and get them into Light Speed Plus Four, in only in sending their spaceship into hyperspace for their journey home, the crew didn't appear to be that interested in how long it would take to get home in terms of how the visit to the planetoid interrupted their journey.

Perhaps they had an attitude to time similar to space travelers in Joe Haldeman's science fiction novel "The Forever War" in terms of space journeys resulting in centuries elapsing and so nearly a year in space that the final Nostromo crew would have been concerned about, would mean almost nothing.

  1. DALLAS: Set our course and get us into Light Speed Plus Four (Alien Script with Cylinder 1977)    
  2. LAMBERT: How about a little something to lower your spirits.
    DALLAS: Thrill me.
    LAMBERT: According to my calculations... based on the time spent getting to and from the planet and the speed at which it's moving away from the other...
    DALLAS: Give me the short version...
    LAMBERT: It'll take us six weeks to get back on course.
    DALLAS: How far to Earth.
    LAMBERT: Ten months.
    RIPLEY: Christ. 
    (Revised final final script, June 1978 )   
a.v) Six months to get home?
In one instance Ash the android reveals though that it would take six month to get home, but in relation to the rest of the story,
  1. ASH: We've got forty-eight hours of air in our pressure suits and it takes six months to get home. (Revised final final script, June 1978, soft copy)                     
a.vi) Distance from the Frontier
In the Early Alien Script by Dan O'Bannon with Roby (to be later renamed Ripley) as the survivor,  perhaps the planetoid might as well be 250 lightyears away from Earth.

In later rewrites, after what's known as the Alien script with cylinder, the period of time to get to the frontier bcomes five weks and then six weeks.

What the frontier might have been is another question, perhaps the outer rim.
  1. ROBY(dictating): ... So it looks like I'll make it back to the Colonies on schedule after all.  I should be to the frontier in another 250 years or so, and then with a little luck the network will pick me up.  I'm not as rich as I was a couple days ago -- but I'm not exactly broke either. Incidentally, I did manage to salvage one souvenir out of this whole mess. (Early alien script by Dan O'Bannon)
  2. RIPLEY:I should reach the frontier in another 250 years.  With a little luck the network will pick me up...This is Ripley, W564502460H, executive officer, last survivor of the commercial starship Nostromo signing off. (pause) Come on cat. (Alien Script with Cylinder . 1977)   
  3. RIPLEY: I should reach the frontier in another five weeks.  With a little luck the network will pick me up...This is Ripley, W564502460H, executive officer, last survivor of the commercial starship Nostromo signing off. (pause) Come on cat.  (Revised final final script, June 1978 )    
  4. RIPLEY: "I should reach the frontier in about six weeks. With a little luck the network should pick me up"  (Theatrical release of the Alien movie, 1979)
Southern sky constellations, Carina, Volans & Chamaeleon

b) Visual references
b. i)  Map of the star systems
As they attempt to find the position of the Nostromo, the computer begins to show charts of the Southern sky, and we see as blurs the names of the star systems Carina, Volans and Chamaeleon drifting past the screen.

Possibly because the lettering is curved, it's likely that they've used a popular southern planisphere from the 1970s as a basis for the star charts here and perhaps added other background elements.  

(Presently I assume that it must be the Philip's Planisphere (latitude 35 South) available in shops since they have also made use of Philip's Chart of the Stars in the production).

b. ii)  N7117 as displayed
Shortly Lambert looks at the navigation screen on the computer trying to work out where the Nostromo is.

From a point marked possibly as N7117 to Sol, a curved line measures the amount of degrees to a point in the centre of the screen between the two positions and it turns out to be 106 degrees and it's right then that Lambert mentions that they're short of Zeta II Reticuli. 

N7117 on the map is at a higher longitude than Sol along this side of the galactic plane, Sol is quite a distance on the other side, and the long bar straight between them which the curve intersects appears to represent the horizontal path between the two points.

b. iii) What is N7117?
I don't know whether N7117 is the position of the Nostromo or if it's the star system from which they've left.

Perhaps the dust cloud outline in the background might give a clue if they could be matched up.

What any of the letters and numbers on the screen refer to, apart from SOL is anyone's guess at this time.

However in some of the other displays the animators were interested in making sure that they're personal signature found its way into the image since it was unlikely that they would get a personal screen credit.

Nostromo's navigation screen

c) Film makers references
c. i) Ron Cobb the concept designer knew much about O'Bannon's concepts in his script and as far as he knew, the film took place "in an uncharted or unknown part of the galaxy" (Fantastic Film, July 1979, p30).

In fact he would have liked it to have been a binary star system himself, although with stars different to the the known Zeta Reticuli system and as far as he knew the binary star system idea never survived.

In reference to his early concept painting of a planetoid which showed the surface as seen from above covered in cloud with its two stars in the background, he went to say as far as "I wanted it to be planet, part of a double star system. You can see a white dwarf and a red giant in the background" (Future Life #23 December 1980, p61) 

c. ii) Dennis Lowe, who painted the scene with the planets had no idea that the star system was supposed to be part of a binary star system when he came to paint the rouge planet surrounded by it's moons was lit by its star (Alienexperience.com)



d) See: Prometheus and Planet Zeta 2 Reticuli

6 comments:

  1. Excellent, though I think there's a mistake - Broussard became Kane, not Lambert. The likely candidate for Lambert is Melkonis.

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  2. Well, as far as I'm reading it, Broussard said the words and then was made into Lambert the female saying the words, but I suppose I'd better have another look at the characters as a whole, indeed

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  3. I've made an alteration, adding that it is in this instant. Thanks

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  4. awesome post. i was just re-watching alien for the 8000th time and was wondering about this so I came by. the outer rim part was puzzling me also. i think they should have had the movie occur on pluto or some uncharted object in the kupier belt. an object similar to pluto with an even more eccentric orbit would have explained why they were so surprised to run into it as well as making the distances in the movie seem far more believable. i mean why even go across the galaxy for mining purposes if there is tons of useful easy to access ore surrounding our solar system.

    ever think of writing something based on this, making assumptions about how far and how fast the ship had to be travelling and what means they imagined it doing this with?

    sadly i think the movie would break down pretty badly at that point. they basically go from something at least near C or beyond to stopped to investigate the planet. although now that i think of it, if there is gravity in the ship it means they have a "gravity planar" as it is called in the niven universe. such a device would also have the ability to accelerate and decelerate a spaceship incredibly fast.

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    1. I was always under the impression even before seeing ALIENS (from all of the information I gathered as a kid too young to see the actual movie) that "Outer Rim" was the edge of known colonized space, and that the reason they are so far out looking for ore and raw materials is a play on the current climate of the 1970's (and still to this day) that "we will run out of resources to the point of having to either recycle our own waste (which is played upon with Parker's comments about the food they eat: "C'mon.. the food aint that bad. At least you know what it's made of [ie their own shit]"), or search for them in places unknown (such as what provoked the Europeans to come to the New World)."

      Just keep in mind when ALIEN was made, and that Walter Hill and Dave Giler were hell bent on incorporating the popular 70's motif of including an underlying social commentary.

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  5. i need to explore these small planets

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