Instead of spending my shekels on ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (sort of a “Ten for this? You must be mad!” thing) I watched the Director’s Cut of the Original ALIEN today and spent some time watching the special features on disc 2 of the nine-DVD ALIEN QUADRILOGY boxed set.
I had checked out some of them before, but there’s a ton of material here and one I hadn’t taken in was “A Nightmare Fulfilled”, which is a half-hour featurette chronicling the reaction to the film.
A number of significant players are featured, including director Ridley Scott, Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), John Hurt (Kane), Tom Skerritt (Dallas), Veronica Cartwright (Lambert), editor Terry Rawlings, producer David Giler, and Alan Ladd, Jr., former President of 20th Century Fox. It’s well-done and features a lot of great interview material, shots of promotional material from the film’s original run, and film clips from the film and from behind the scenes.
The initial screening with a test audience went terribly, mostly due to an awful sound system at the theater. The next night in Dallas, the sound was spot on. At first they thought that it was going to be another long night anyway, because they could see people getting up and walking back. They learned they weren’t leaving, though. They were just going to the rear of the theater and standing to watch from there. They didn’t want to be so close to what was going on. When an usher fainted (when Ash’s head was knocked off), they knew they had something.
Tom Skerritt relates a story that Ridley Scott told him about complaints from a theater owner whose bathrooms were being ruined by people throwing up after watching the scene where the alien bursts from Kane’s chest. They finally “took care of that”, they told Scott. Scott asked them how they did that.
“We just cut it out of the picture. The bathrooms were fine after that.”
They CUT THE SCENE! Can you BELIEVE it?
Lines were around the block the whole time during a 48-hour-straight run when the film opened. There hadn’t been a formal premier, and Veronica Cartwright had to buy herself a ticket and wait in line at the Egyptian. She claims it was “so totally bizarre” in a totally, like, Valley Girl dialect.
Mary Selway (Casting (UK)):
I was terrified. I can’t remember the audience reaction because I only remember my own. And I screamed. And I knew–of course I knew–a creature was going to burst forth but it made no difference. I was petrified.
This reminds me of my own experience. I was nine and had read the Alan Dean Foster novelization twice. This made me confident that I was prepared. I mean, I KNEW what happened and that the beast was destroyed in the end.
As Selway said, it made no difference.
And my brother, five, didn’t even have the limited preparation that I had. I still don’t think he’s recovered. What my dad was thinking when he took us, I’ll never understand.
I went to go see the re-release this past spring, and sitting a couple of rows in front of me was a family with two kids about the age my brother and I must have been when we first saw the movie in 1979. And the mom was with. And the grandmother. I realize that times have changed and that today’s kids have a different outlook on things, but maybe [Ed. – MAYBE???] that’s because parents have programmed them to have a different outlook on things.
You’ll notice that I’m not holding Ridley Scott and 20th Century Fox responsible.
I understand somebody tried to set fire to it or something. Because they thought it was the work of the Devil. [Laughs] Great. [Laughs]
Nothing like a few claims that your film is the work of the Devil (or evil Democrats) to drive up the box.
Ridley Scott notes that he hasn’t made another science fiction movie since ALIEN (1979) and BLADE RUNNER (1982) changed the look of the future:
I thought I hit space in the urban side of the world in sci-fi. And so in a funny kind of way its good, ’cause I’ll only do another science fiction if I’ve got a really good script. So it really finally is about the story. Its all about the story. The trappings, the dressing, is not insignificant and it’s an art form in itself. But it’s not the priority.
This is where 90% of films fail, in my humble opinion. Good stories can make bad effects and bad acting almost watchable, but no amount of effect magic or brilliant performance can make a bad story into a really good movie.
Roger Christian (Art Director) notes ALIEN’s place in the world of film:
It’s one of the great franchises that we have in today’s cinema and I think it would be not very hard and not very difficult to turn it back into where it came from. I would go back to the roots of where the first one was which is the scary monster in the dark. Is it going to jump out at you.? Is it going to get you?
Unfortunately, the latest offering seems to be nothing more than a money-grubbing effort to milk the franchise name, as was the previous one. Too bad.
John Hurt says he’d be real interested in seeing how that derelict got onto that planet and what the Alien eggs were doing in that cave. I realize that the whole prequel thing has about been beat into the ground, but I agree with him. Besides, the situation at the end of ALIEN 4 basically sucks, so we either need to have Victoria Principal wake up and realize it was all just a dream or we need to go back in time.
Way back in my own time line, once upon a time, I tried to write an ALIEN screenplay. It was really my first effort at screenwriting, and I never got very far. This was just after ALIEN3 came out. The primary character was going to be Ripley’s daughter and she was going to be a computer officer who accidentally discovered what happened to her mother in a databank. (Yes, I know that ALIENS tells us Ripley’s daughter died. But THINK, man. Who told her that? A Company man. Do we have even one documented instance of a Company man telling Ripley the truth about anything? Ever? I chose to work under the assumption that He Was Lying.)
The story was going to be set decades after ALIEN3, but thanks to the wonders of hypersleep, Ripley’s daughter was going to be a hot, well-toned babe. In fact, a major theme in my story was going to be the problems associated with being a space traveller, and her non-spacefaring boyfriend was going to have aged from 20 to 45 while she was away on her last trip.
You’ll notice that I’m outlining a story for an ALIEN film and I haven’t even mentioned the Alien yet. It’s not that the Alien doesn’t have a prominent place in an ALIEN film, but it’s that there’s more to an ALIEN film than the Alien.
And I don’t mean “Well, we’ll put a Predator in it, then.”
The first ALIEN movie was the ground-breaker. The second, although it was packed with far more action, in fact contained far more story. The third film, though it threw away most of the story and development that the second one brought, at least tried to tell a story and build characters. The fourth one ignored that, and a little bird tells me that the latest effort is not just a bad ALIEN movie. It’s a bad MOVIE movie.
The trailers, which I’ve linked to a couple of times, don’t really look all that bad. But its PG-13 rating and 87 minute run time scare me. And, having learned a lesson when I was nine about ALIEN movies and being prepared to be scared, I expect this one to be even more worser than I think.
That’s very sad, and I fear that there’s no way to bring the franchise back from this one.
So, instead of financing this latest monstrosity and encouraging them to make more, just watch the originals again. And check out the special features on the QUADRILOGY set.