Memory: The Origins of Alien

The documentary Memory: The Origins of Alien looks at the conception and making of Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi/horror classic. Perhaps it's worth mentioning that Alien is a personal favorite, as well as one of the few movies I find genuinely scary. It's a film that means a great deal to many people, myself included. Even if you've absorbed all the DVD/Blu-ray supplementary materials and read comprehensive books like Alien Vault, there's stuff in this doc that will probably be new to you. And the way it presents that material is what makes it special.

Alien was conceived by writer Dan O'Bannon, who found great inspiration in old science-fiction movies and comic books. He once stated that he “steals from everybody,” which is not an untrue statement. Many of the story's elements, including the famous chestburster scene, can be traced back to very specific places – not that it mattered, because he assembled everything in a fresh way.

O'Bannon's widow is interviewed about his formulation of the tale, his creative style, and more. Also here is Ron Shusett, who co-wrote the final screenplay. Actors Tom Skerritt and Veronica Cartwright, meanwhile, discuss what it was like to film some of the more notable sequences. There's long been a rumor that the cast members had no clue what was coming during the chestburster scene; the stars set the record straight. Archival footage of artist H.R. Giger is used to get into the groundbreaking creature design – a major contributor to Alien's chilling impact.

Memory would probably play like an extended, albeit entertaining DVD bonus feature if that's all there was. Director Alexandre O. Philippe takes a slightly different approach, though, bringing in experts and academics to contextualize how the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Francis Bacon, and Joseph Conrad influenced Alien. They additionally offer up some thematic interpretations, the most intriguing of which is that the movie works as an exploration of the patriarchy, and possibly even a call to tear it down. Getting all this information helps reveal that the film works on viewers at subconscious psychological levels they may not have realized.

The lack of participation from Sigourney Weaver and Ridley Scott is obviously disappointing. Nevertheless, learning about Alien's making and getting an in-depth analysis of its subtext proves sufficiently compelling. Memory: The Origins of Alien does precisely what any good cinematic documentary should: it helps us see a classic motion picture from new perspectives.


out of four

Memory: The Origins of Alien is unrated, but contains gory clips from Alien. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.