I wrote this essay about the ideas of the original Alien movie from 1979 in mind. In terms of the original movie it was very informed as far as the information available to the public at the time.
It was written I think around 1998 when a new fan website devoted to Alien asked me to write an essay, and the site closed down shortly afterwards, but they were the only people interested in asking me to write something, This essay was appreciated by numerous people over the years keen to get involved in the mysteries of Alien and that has helped me to find the direction to create this site.
As it stands here, I have kept rewriting parts of it occasionally keeping to the information and perhaps misconceptions available at the time of the writing because it was appaulingly written due to the attempt to keep the information condensed. Perhaps the whole thing about this is that it can not be written accurately and every time one tries to, something goes wrong. I think that the whole essay now looks meaningless.
My intention was to ground out many of the mysteries of the film known at the time and since then more information has been discovered and shared, and the context of discussion about the original film has changed. As I've said, much of my original essay is now meaningless
a) The Scene
a.i) In the film Alien, the crew of the Nostromo spacecraft are on their way home to Earth, but a transmission has been intercepted by the ship's computers and it comes from an unknown planetoid in a place said to be "Just short of Zeta II Reticuli, not even reached the outer rim yet"
Zeta II Reticuli was known at the time of the making of the film to be 37 light years from Earth. This transmission leads them to a mysterious vessel found on the planetoid's surface.
a.ii) What they find is something roughly shaped like a giant swollen horseshoe, looking as if it's composed of organic matter. It can be seen to have three open entrances that lead up into the hull. In the Alien film production, this thing is known as the derelict ship.
a.iii) The Earth explorers take one entrance that leads up into a corridor that runs around a central platform in the derelict ship's pilot chamber . This place holds the remains of a giant dead extraterrestrial pilot sealed into it seat, looking as if it has either grown into its seat or out of it. His arms have been tethered down. The Earth explorers think that it looks fossilized. It sits behind something that could be a cannon, a telescope or perhaps just a navigating instrument.
a.iv) We call this character the Space Jockey because that's the nickname that the Alien production team gave it. This character's skeletal remains have a hole in its rib cage that show signs of perhaps having exploded outwards.
a.v) In the platform, at the side of the dead pilot in its seat, the Earth astronaut explorers discover a hole with worn sides that acts as an entrance into a vast chamber below that's known in the film production as the Egg Silo. Here the astronauts find the round organic pods to be known as spores are spread out across the ground beneath a layer of blue light that when penetrated emits a tone. Each spores contains a curious organism inside.
|Kane exploring the egg silo in Alien|
a.vi) In the painting Alien Life Cycle Hieroglyphics by HR Giger that was at one stage going to be shown in the actual film as a wall mural, we see the top of a spore opening out wide and the thing inside, what is known in the Alien production as a 'facehugger' resembling a crab with humanoid long skeletal fingers and a long tail, leaps out of the spore, and grabs onto a humanoid victim's head, inserting a tube down the throat, implanting within the victim's body a life form and then dies. This other life form grows and erupts from the victim's rib cage, biting its way through, coming to be known in the Alien production as the chest burster. We might even assume from the painting that the victim is always killed.
a.vii) With what is to be seen in the film, it looks as if something happened many thousands of years of ago, and later the derelict ship is discovered because of a transmission emanating from the vessel sent out to other space travelers, first of all seeming to be something that might be mistaken by Earth travelers for an SOS and later is to be revealed in a translation as a warning.
b) The Problem
b.i) Despite what we can claim to know from the description of the various things here, we still don't really know what is what. We can look for clues within the ideas shared by creative designer H.R.Giger, the film director Ridley Scott and perhaps even the script writer Dan O'Bannon, with their views having a hold on the way we view the whole universe of "Alien" through the interviews that they have given
b.ii) However to introduce the alien life forms in terms of how the humans should perceive them in the universe of Alien, it takes place in a part of outer space where mysteries surrounding ancient cultures and strange organisms might prevail like we have heard of the yeti and the Loch Ness monster. Here the Nostrom0 crew suddenly come by a derelict spaceship, containing something that no one expected.
- Harry Dean Stanton:Well. we just figured the crew was more familiar, on a mundane level with alien creatures. We figured that they had been heard of and talked about. It wouldn't have been all that new to us. From my point of view anyway,aliens had been discussed in the world in which we worked. Probably a lot of weird things had been found, so it wasn't that big a deal. Of course it's strange, but I think the crew viewed aliens like we view the Yeti or the Loch Ness monster. And UFOs for example, look at the attitude we have towards that. (Alien collectors edition p45)
Primitive Culture to Biological War Weapons
c.i) In the original Alien story, a non human space traveler landed on the mysterious planetoid and had investigated an old pyramid there.
c.ii) There traveler had been infected and killed by the creature that had been dormant inside for thousands of year.
c.iii) Something that we now know of as the face hugger had planted an organism in the traveler's chest through his mouth, that grew and exploded from its rib cage.
c.iv) Dan O'Bannon had in the script, an alien race living on that planet involved in a complex bloody birth ritual.
c.v) He saw the inhabitants of the planet of staff and primitive, with extremely complicated sexual cycle with addiction is very difficult for them and had therefore become their religion
- O'Bannon: I saw the inhabitants of the planet as tough and primitive, and with an extremely complicated sexual cycle. Reproduction was very difficult for them and had therefore become central to their religion. And this pyramid was an temple to reproduction. When the astronauts came upon this crumbling structure covered with ugly angular carvings, they begin to realize that they are in the presence of real antiquity. They're unable to find an entrance at the base, so they scale the pyramid and discover at the top a flue that goes straight down from the peak. This is where the character Kane sets up his tripod and winch and lowered himself down -way below ground level - to the floor of this chamber. Using his suit lights, he looks around in the darkness and in the middle of the room finds a stone plinth with blood drains in it. all over the walls are alien hieroglyphs. Also in there centrally located are these eggs - spores really. So these beings had two sexes of their own, but they needed a third host animal to reproduce. So they'd bring in an animal , put it on a plinth with a spore, and whammo! Then they'd lead the inseminated animal off to an enclosure somewhere to await the birth. But the planetoid was now dead and this civilisation had been gone for a million years. All that remained of it was this pyramid and these spores - which can survive dorman for incredible lengths of time even under the most adverse conditions. That's what I originally saw. And since I made it up, naturally I'm going to like it better: but to me that's a loy more sinister sequence of events and a lot more ingenious than blurring the two cultures together (Cinefex 1, p48)
c.vii) There seems to be an assumption about how long these things have been down there, and why they're down there.
c.viii) Ridley Scott's view is that they had been waiting thousands of years for some other life form to come near, and its only trigger was another life form.
c.ix) Another biological presence enable it to move and develop. he saw it has having an abstract kind of purity, and it was also like a weapon as a product of biological warfare rather than bacteriological
- Interviewer: So the alien of the film's title was the dominant life form?
Ridley Scott: On that rock, yes,. It may have waited thousands of years for some other life form to come near. It's only trigger you see is another life form. Another biological presence enable it to move on and develop. It ruly does have an abstract kind of purity. And almost like a weapon, a product of biological, rather than bacteriological warfare. (CFQ vol9, no1, p14)
c.xi) In the film, probably that planetoid had been a place that could never have had any real life of its own.
c.x) What were they doing on this barren planetoid?
c.xi) If we assume a former civilisation here had an ability to use space travel, life forms could have found there way there through one way or another.
c.xii) Giger designed a landscape for the planetoid "to be biomechanic, a mixture of technology and some kind of magma, so as to create the feeling that maybe a technical civilisation has been destroyed" (CFQ vol9, no1) and Scott made the assumption that "perhaps it was developed as a weapon and got out of control. Imagine a few thousand of those things, "" (CFQ vol9, no1, p14) along with his hope to talk about "two different civilisations"(CFQ vol9, no1, p14) in a sequel that never received any further exposure.
d) Giger's Egg Silo and the Derelict squeezed into one
d.i) Scott had planned at one stage to film part of it in Turkey where people lived in large pyramid structures, but this didn't work with the budget and it was decided to keep everything safe in the studio.
d.ii) Giger was brought in to design both the pyramid with the alien life form, and then also the derelict ship.
d.iii) The pyramid idea had given away to an extraordinary biomechanic breast shaped silo, still with the exterior and interior designed by Giger.
- O'Bannon: In the movie, the Earthmen discover a wrecked, derelict spacecraft, actually no, that's not correct. In the movie, the men discover a wrecked construction of non human manufacture and inside of it they find eggs of the monster. In the original script, the men find the crashed derelict spacecraft and they enter it, they discover that the aliens are all dead. They return to their own ship to contemplate what may have killed the alien crew and then they discover a pyramid on the planet which appears to be indigenous and it's primitive, They enter the pyramid and there they find the eggs.
d.iv) However, since the derelict ship and the silo both belonging to two different civilisations, followed the biomechanic designs of Giger, and budget cuts were necessary, these two elements were combined and and squeezed into what Dan O'Bannon termed as "one sort of uneasy entity". he had decided that what we was happening there has become a sort of a surrealist mystery.
- O'Bannon:"They combined these two elements, they squeezed them into one sort of uneasy entity"
- Fantastic Film:"The idea behind that, I would assume, being that the dangerous aliens were
coming back to spawn"
O'Bannon:"No, they were two different races. In my script, it was a space going race that landed on this planet and had been wiped out by whatever was there. And now the Earthmen come and endanger themselves in the same way. In the new version, it's just a sort of a surrealist mystery." (Fantastic Films UK #1, US No10, p29-30)
d.vi) Giger conforming to the ideas of the initial story thought about the derelict having been infested at one point by the aliens noted "we decided that it would be a good idea to have these eggs inside the derelict like termites within the wall of a house". (CFQ Vol 9, no 1)
d.vii) When the derelict and the silo were combined, the presence of the pilot was no longer necessary. In the script, the Jockey was removed from the ship entirely, and a few empty spore cases were to be discovered.
d.viii) An idea was scripted to have the jockey's body embedded within the biomechanical landscape of the planet, but with Scott's insistence it was put back in its seat in the pilot chamber to confuse the hell out of everybody.
e) The design of the derelict
- Scott: I took the drawing of the space ship off a section of one of Giger's paintings, 'cause we couldn't work out what the hell the spaceship was going to look like, and so I was staring at his book, the Necronomicon, and he'd drawn something up that almost looked like a musical instrument, so I kind of drew around that, and said "what about this, it looks like a giant croissant, but actually it worked, like a boomerang. (20th Anniversary DVD commentary)
e.i) HR Giger created the final image of the derelict vessel making it look as if it were something planted that was on the verge of maturing.
e.ii) In regards to what we assume to be engines sticking out like arms either side of the main hull of the vessel, they might not be engines at all. Scott didn't want this to be obvious.
e.iii) Because he has seen photos of what seemed to be UFOs and he was mystified because he had no idea how these things could be powered (see Fantastic Films (UK)# 3, (US) No.12, p27)
f) The ideas surrounding the space jockey
f.i) The Space Jockey's history begins with the basic idea that Dan O'Bannon had in mind, and Ridley Scott wanted to include evidence of it in a prognosis scene.
f.ii) But the relationship between the Jockey and the Egg Silo had been altered ever since Giger had been brought in to design both and so he did this with the same biomechanic style that he was known form, but it made it look as if the egg silo and the derelict vessel must have been made by the same builders.
f.iii) To connect things further, in the silo, the appearance of the victim in Giger's Alien Life Cycle Hieroglyphics had been changed, at first it resembled an anonymous astronaut but soon Giger altered it to resemble a member of the Space Jockey's race, and this frieze was test filmed but left out of the final film.
g) To explain more about the Jockey with it's "cavernous head"
g.i) We might wonder about the way the jockey has been joined to his seat, and for visual reasons, Scott wanted it to be like a "fossil, almost, one which you'd have a hard time deciding where he leaves off and the chair, on which he died, begins.."
g.ii) Tying everything in with his biomechanoid concept, Giger states that the creature "is biomechanical to the extent that he has physically grown into or out of his seat - he's integrated totally into the function he performs."
- Rudley Scott : The space jockey is, I've always thought the driver of the craft is now after many ages, of course it would be dustless, but has begun to look like a perfect example of Giger's mind which is where does biology end and technology begin, because he seems to have grafted the creature into what was essentially, let's say a pilot's seat. ........but he's pretty gruesome, but let's say he was part of the civilisation he came from and now had melded into his seat..(DVD commentary)
g.iii) In an essay featured in the book Giger's Necronomicon, Fritz Billitzer, mentions as an example of biomechanical relationships in the real world, that while an "astronaut is literally sunk into his vehicle and instruments. He simultaneously studies them while being studied by them."
|John Glenn in a Mercury space capsule|
g.iv) Seeing that Giger's Necronomicon was used as a bible for the Alien production, I wonder if a mutated understanding of these words had at the time influenced the way that the Jockey and his seat were designed.
g.v) Dan O'Bannon who always wanted the alien to be an innocent traveller, was pleased with the final Space Jockey, because in contrast to the alien chestburster that grew into something very carnivorous, the Space Jockey did not posses those characteristics , and thus one could "imagine it as some totally non violent herbivorous creature sailing around space," People involved in the film production felt that it was benign without being able to say why they felt it.
h) Peering into the Silo that's below the Jockey's chamber
h.i) We might wonder how the silo is part of the derelict ship, with an open shaft right next to the jockey's seat.
h.ii) In the design of the actual platform, there is a shaft entrance on both sides, but it was not to be seen this way in the film.
h.iii) There are no solid answers, we can only just about peer into the silo entrance and glimpse something to understand about the way the entrance is formed, in contrast to what we might have seen in an earlier script describing it as an acid eaten hole, but the shaft entrance has four corners and then some planks at the side seem to be warped a little, and one wonders if this is just part of the ships design.
h.iv) However the reasons for various things changing beyond explanation is because of the budget cuts.
i) The secret of no answers.
i.i) Ridley was keen to leave the viewers on the edge about what they had seen due to the constraints of the film budget and time, and maybe he would have been able to go into details about the alien races from an anthropologists point of view in the sequel, which he never directed and so never had any answers to spill forth on the Alien matter in a movie form.
i.ii) He was content to allow it to be debatable whether the pilot was an integrated part of the vessel or a separate entity that had ossified into its seat, and that the pilot's chest hole had been created by a chest burster erupting from the infected pilot, or a half grown alien creature had punched a hole into its chest and pulled something out since it was too young to pull the pilot's body away to be cocooned.
i.iii) He didn't even try to define what the thing was that the jockey sat behind.
i.iv) These things remained as variables, although Giger who had designed it assumed that it was a telescope.
- Scott was keen in the DVD commentary to emphasize basically "clearly from here this is where the transmission would emanate from probably in an automatic transmission, so this creature obviously had experienced a, maybe one of the eggs had been disturbed, and a creature had got out, had attacked the rest of the crew, don't ask me where they got to."(20th Anniversary DVD commentary )
j. Necronomic Temple Environment
j. i) Ridley Scott thought of the derelict ship as being a temple environment, in a similar way to the Nostromo's maintenance area where the character Brett is snatched away by the alien beast is also a temple environment with the landing leg as the central icon.
j. ii) We can compare the dead alien pilot in his seat to the idea of a central icon.
j. iii) Scott mentioned that both scenes are linked by the same music.
j. iv) The need to create temple environments might come from the Giger's Necronomicon book, which shows photos of Giger's own which are the Passage Temple and The Spell created in painting form. It might have seemed only right that Scott should be so inspired to follow the idea
k. The Spores
k.i) In the silo, below the Space jockey's Chamber, there are thousands of spores that would be as old as the Jockey's remains. They are covered over by a film of blue light
- Scott: The sheet as I call it of the laser beam, this is a laser beam spread thin like a thin sheet, but it worked great here and I never thought it would photograph because it's pretty low key, but you know, with the wizardry of, of Derek, we got it. So this is all just handheld, lay the sound on as you go through the laser beam, you can hear, there's a sound to the laser beam, you can hear now, like a seal. I always thought of the laserbeam as the placenta wall for the, erm ,eggs.(20th Anniversary DVD commentary)
k.ii) We are to find out from one of the cut scenes from Alien that the way these things are created are by the aliens themselves with the aid of victims' bodies.
- Scott: Loose on the ship, this new alien, begins to lay eggs in the bowels of the ship. It lives to propagate and must find food for it's offspring - in this case, the crew members of the Nostromo upon whom the young aliens can feed in their eggs until a new host comes along prodding the eggs. The the cycle begins all over again (Sight and Sound v48.n.1 Winter 78/79, p26)
k.iii) Without this scene, the information within it isn't recognised as part of the alien mythos, and instead we have spores layed as eggs by an egg laying queen seen in James Cameron's 'Aliens' movie
k.iv) That is supposed to be another stage of the alien's life cycle, that might have layed enough eggs to fill the derelict's egg silo.
k.v) James Cameron wanted an egg layer because he was not convinced by the idea that human victims could genetically transform into spores.
k.vi) He saw no evidence in this regarding Kane's corpse for instance, but this information was only in reflection of an idea from the script that Scott hadn't gone with.
k.vii) The idea for the spore transformation that Ridley Scott went with was to show human bodies being eaten away alive by the cocoon material, as the cocoon grew around the human's remains.
|Early stage of the Brett egg that confused many people|
l) The Derelict's Interior Dimensions
l.i) Knowing the dimensions of the derelict ship's interior would be a starting point to unravel its mysteries, and this is a point that we no defined details about.
l.ii) It might be a decision between either following Ridley Scott or Giger's representation of the way it was constructed to have an operational reality.
l.iii) We can break it down into two directions
l.iii.1) Scott has stated that the spores are "on board the derelict". The separate building that was the egg silo thus becomes a chamber that is the cargo hold of the derelict. This was mentioned in reference to the character Kane being lowered into the chamber below
- Ridley Scott "on board the derelict" (Starlog Sept 79, p240,)
- Scott : So he's being lowered in to the hold really, this would be argued as the hold of the ship (20th Anniversary DVD commentary)
l.iii.2.) Giger has viewed the egg silo as being under the ship.
l.iv) It has never been defined, it possibly never made that much a difference to them.
l.v) But to follow Giger's point of view that the silo is below the ship, we might wish to see what are possibly volcanic gases coming through the floor of the ground of the silo, as if the silo is using this as a continuous heating system.
l.vi) The derelict was designed to be separate from the rock of the planetoid while the silo design had always be viewed as built into the surface of the rock.
l.vii) In the sketch by Giger of the entrance tunnel to the pilot's chamber (Giger's Alien, p33, images 376a-c, sketches for corridor) it shows that he did not design it with the silo as the cargo hold.
|376a, sketches for corridor by HR Giger|
|376b, sketches for corridor by HR Giger|
|376c sketches for corridor by HR Giger|
l. viii) Of course we don't know much about the derelict interior, if something had been put down in a sketch or a diagram that we did not see in a film, it can be always altered until it makes its way to the release of the movie.
m) A detour to the alien
The alien in the film is a creature whose origins that we know little about without its existence crossing into the world of the Space Jockey's and its derelict spaceship.
We know that it has a life cycle and that it's an unusual organism with an elongated head and an elongated tongue with no visible eyes.
In Dan O'Bannon's original idea it seemed to look more like a humanoid lobster than anything else.
The biology of this creature is possibly a poetic creation.
It's supposed to be an alien, and then maybe it does resemble a creature that is an amalgam of various curious creatures on planet Earth, none of which share its biology or life cycle.
It's not supposed to be a prediction of what we'll find, but instead an extraordinary idea for a film monster that doesn't look as if it's been seen in a movie before.
The creature has only been there earlier in paintings by Giger, also there is some vague similarity to a creature from a Dali drawing and some eyeless demons in a Beksinski painting from 1970, but Giger had not seen this latter artist's work until the mid 1980s.
|A Beksinski painting featuring the eyeless ghouls|
It's one large muscular structure that Ridley Scott would like to have shown crushing itself into a ball.
It also appears to be able to defy gravity in an unpronounced way and we would not be sure if it's holding itself up or floating in the air.
The first alien had a limited life cycle, the second film's aliens could live for much longer, and the third and fourth films took place within a span of time that did not allow us to really make any judgement about the length of time that they lived.
In Giger's world of thought, this thing is half "cyborg", and it had metallic teeth to remind us. He tells us that the elongated tongue is so long because it gives the elongated head a purpose. The creature also has a large brain.
The original Necronom IV painting that it was based upon, showed a creature that was perhaps a cross between parts of a motorbike and a vaguely humanoid motorcyclist with some sea creature like body parts mixed in, of course if one looked at it longer, it was likely to reveal many things about itself. Ridley Scott wanted the creature to appear to look feminine, but the right performer could not be discovered.
Ridley Scott was also interested in the tall wiry forms of Massai Tribesmen as seen in a book photos by Leni Riefenstahl, and so in a London pub, an actual native male of the African Gold Coast was found who could wear the costume. Scott soon imagined the creature to look like a hermaphrodite.
The initial idea was to have Giger design a translucent costume so that the muscles of the African performer within the costume could be seen flexing through, but it was impossible to have the right material made.
It was also impossible to have a costume made that would allow the performer as much natural movement as Scott had hoped, because he was interested in displaying the graceful bodily movements that the performer had with his Massai Tribesman physique.
n) The Jockey and the Spores
The relationship between the derelict and the spores is severely aggravated, because they
have been brought together through budget cuts, and they are not related.
Discussions went on questioning about whether the chestburster would grow up to be a Space Jockey type creature, while Scott simply wished to present the fact that the Space Jockey was a victim of these spores
The spore had originally an obvious vaginal opening in the top with an inner and outer labia, and just so that the Catholic countries would not be upset, the opening was changed to a cross lipped labia which opened up like a flower
The mysteries of this cross lipped form have crossed over as a motif in the Alien Comic Book series, to represent the shape of the pupils of the eyes of the Space Jockeys
o) Mixed with the genes of the dead alien pilot and the human
The Chestburster in Alien grew into a creature that like the dead alien pilot to some extent, was biomechanic in appearance, and so Ridley Scott wished to make it clear that the facehugger that infected Kane had carried genes over from the dead alien pilot, because the spores that were in the egg silo were possibly created by something that had erupted from pilot's chest, and this is the reason for the biomechanic look of the alien creature.
p) The end of the line, and back to a connection in the distant past
As Scott wraps up the ideas within the streams of 1979 Alien interviews about the background information regarding the derelict ship, he later came to a conclusion that he kept for a number of years, that it was a battlewagon or a freighter, that was carrying either its own kind or a weapon from A to B and something went wrong
- Ridley Scott: The derelict ship was a battlewagon or a freighter, that was carrying either its own kind or a weapon from A to B and something went wrong. (The Book of Alien, p87)
We never find out exactly how it went wrong, or where it intended to go.
But 12 years later, we find out a little something more, that would expand the alien mysteries.
In an interview for the Alien Laserdisc collectors set, Ridley Scott revealed to us a place where the demons of its cargo of spores had once upon a time in history been, and it's our planet Earth.
The demons that we think about are perhaps somehow memories of this biological entity. Years later he continued to restate some of his open ended ideas
- Ridley Scott : I always wanted to go back and make an alien five or six. er,where we find out where they came from and go there, and answer the question 'who are they?' Mars, Mars is too close, so they can't be, they can't be gods of War, but the theory was, in my head was, this was, a... an aircraft carrier, a battle wagon, of a civilisation and the eggs were a cargo which were essentially weapons, (sorry) like a large form of bacteriological stroke biomechanoid warfare. (20th Anniversary DVD commentary )
The trail leaves off, there is no place in Earth history to account for the alien. We are not sure what is supposed to be happening. Some of us prayed that Ridley Scott might reveal these answers surely.