In space no one can hear Geek Dave scream 10 things you might not know about Alien...
1. Alien came about thanks to co-writer Dan O'Bannon’s dissatisfaction with his first feature film - the 1974 movie Dark Star,
which was directed by John Carpenter. That film had been given such a low budget that the alien in it was crafted from a beach ball! So, for his new script O’Bannon wanted to write something that had an altogether more epic and intense feel to it, and would lend itself to a larger production.
2. O'Bannon had an idea about an alien trapped on board a spaceship, and generally terrorising the astronauts on board, but he was stuck with crafting it into a usable story. It was at this time when Ronald Shusett approached O'Bannon about helping him adapt a Philip
K. Dick story which he had acquired the rights to - that was "We Can
Remember It for You Wholesale" (a story which would later become Total Recall). The pair struck up a writing partnership, and Shusett suggested they tackle O'Bannon's alien idea first as he felt
it would be the cheaper of the two to make, and more likely to sell.
Between them the pair completed the script for "Star Beast" - the original title for Alien.
3. No movie studios were interested in Star Beast. Various reasons were given, but the main one was that it was too gory. The only person remotely interested in making the movie was B-Movie maestro Roger Corman. Thankfully that never came to pass as the script landed on the desk of Walter Hill - well to be exact it went to Walter Hill's "Reader". A Reader is an assistant who reads and summarises any potential projects, Walter Hills' Reader loved the script and passed it through to him with the note "It's like Jaws, but in space." Walter Hill agreed to direct the movie, and with his name attached to the project 20th Century Fox agreed a budget of $4.2 million under the condition that the violence was toned down.
4. Walter Hill and producer David Giler made some revisions to the screenplay. They changed all of the names of the main characters (for instance Ripley was originally known as Roby), and also assigned them 'sexes'! This was because the script by O’Bannon and Shusett had been written so that all of the characters were "unisex", basically meaning they could
be cast with either male or female actors. It was Hill and Giler who chose to make Ash a robot.
5. Of course, as you know Walter Hill did not go on to direct Alien, he basically gave the job to Ridley Scott and stayed on in the role of producer. Scott was very keen to take the project on as the one that he had been previously working on for Paramount, Tristan + Isolde, was stuck in development hell. One of the first things Scott did was present a series of storyboards to 20th Century Fox depicting some of H.R. Giger's designs for the movie. On the strength of the stylised artwork he persuaded Fox to double the budget from $4.2 million to $8.4 million. (Eventually the budget overran to close to $11 million).
6. When it came to casting Alien there were almost two Star Wars friends in major roles. Han Solo himself, Harrison Ford, turned down the role of Dallas, and his fur-ball buddy Chewbacca, Peter Mayhew, was narrowly beaten to the part of the alien - the producers chose to go for Bolaji Badejo instead. He was a graphic artist who
was discovered at a pub by one of the casting directors. Being a 7ft 2inch tall Masai with thin arms he looked as if he'd be perfect for the role. With no acting experience as such, he was sent for Tai Chi and Mime classes to
learn how to slow down his movements. On set a special swing had to be
constructed for Badejo to sit down during filming, as, thanks to the alien's tail, he could not sit on a regular chair once he was suited up.
7. As for Ripley, Veronica Cartwright was originally attached to the part. She was hired on the strength of her audition for the role, but producers decided she'd be better suited as Lambert. Apparently no-one told Cartwright this until she was first called in to do some costume tests for the character of Lambert! Ridley Scott has since stated that the final choice for Ripley ultimately came down to two actresses who had previously been schoolmates at Yale, Sigourney Weaver and Meryl Streep. Scott asked for insight from many of the women who worked in the production office to help him make the decision, as he wanted a females perspective. He showed them both the screen tests, Weaver's was Ripley closing off speech aboard the Nostromo’s shuttle at the end of the film.
The women were unanimously impressed with then-unknown actress, comparing her screen presence to that of Jane Fonda’s.
8. John Hurt revealed that he was considered very early on in production to play the part of Kane, but he'd already committed himself to another
film, so an actor called John Finch was cast in the role instead. Hurt was due to fly to South Africa to begin filming that other movie, but a mix-up between himself and the actor John Herd resulted in Hurt being denied a work permit and entry to the country. Apparently Herd had spoken out about Apartied and was barred from working in South Africa - Hurt points out that he was also opposed to apartheid but hadn't found himself on the blacklist. It appeared that even though the mix-up could be sorted his visa would not arrive in time, and so Hurt was forced to withdraw from the production and found himself without work. At almost the exact same time John Finch was diagnosed with diabetes, and so he had to withdraw himself from the production of Alien. This was absolute eleventh hour timing, as shooting was due to start within a week. Unaware of Hurt's current circumstances Ridley Scott contacted him on the off chance he might reconsider. A script was sent to him on the Saturday and John Hurt arrived on the set Monday
morning to begin filming.
9. It's often been stated that none of the cast, except for John Hurt, knew what would happen during the 'chest bursting' scene - so their reactions would be genuine. That is partly true, the scene itself had been explained to them, but nobody knew any of the specifics. Four cameras were set up as Ridley Scott wanted to capture this scene in just one take, knowing that any subsequent attempts would not have the same effect on the cast. One of the best reactions came from Veronica Cartwright, who had absolutely no idea that she'd be sprayed with blood, thus giving the exact reaction the production team were looking for.
10. Ridley Scott originally wanted a
much darker ending to Alien. Amongst his ideas was one where Ripley would not make it out alive. Whilst in the escape shuttle the alien would bite off her
head, then sit in her chair and start speaking in her voice directing a message towards Earth - basically along the lines of "I'm coming to get you, beware!" Fortunately 20th Century Fox
nixed that, otherwise we likely wouldn't have had Aliens (and I wouldn't be able to do "10 things you might not know about Aliens" next Monday).
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