Memory: The Origins of Alien


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There are already plenty of deep dives into the making of Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi/horror classic Alien, but Memory: The Origins of Alien is an exceedingly deep one indeed. Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe (who took a similarly focused look at Psycho with 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene), Memory opens by foregrounding the life and pulp influences of Dan O'Bannon, Alien's oft-forgotten screenwriter, but as the film progresses, Philippe grows obsessed to the point of tedium with Alien's chestburster scene. (That is a remarkable scene, but the attention lavished on it here comes at the expense of about a dozen other remarkable sequences in Alien.) Alongside archival interviews with Scott and the late artist H. R. Giger, Memory boasts a dude-heavy lineup of film scholars, filmmakers, and actors, many of whom offer smart contributions (a bit contextualizing Alien alongside other movies of the late 1970s, from Manhattan to MASH, is great), even as others suggest theories that can charitably be described as stretches. (Philippe goes along real hard with one of the latter, to the point of staging an elaborate opening that feels like nothing so much as an Alien fan film.) Memory never acknowledges the existence of Alien's increasingly lousy sequels (and it barely acknowledges Scott's increasingly lousy prequels), but only one omission is truly unforgivable: While Memory's talking heads are happy to discuss the movie's brutal, discomfiting reflections on gender, hardly anything is said about Sigourney Weaver's Ripley—Alien's unmistakable backbone, and the reason for much of the film's success. Plenty of the clips in Memory feature Ripley, but Weaver herself is MIA, and making an Alien documentary without Weaver is... well, it's about as good of an idea as making any other Alien movie without her.

by Erik Henriksen
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Alexandre O. Philippe