Memory: The Origins of Alien (2019) Review

There is no denying the enduring popularity and power of Alien, either inside or outside of horror circles. However, it is often termed Ridley Scott’s Alien and while Scott undoubtedly added a huge amount to the film, the genesis of the project came far before his involvement. Memory examines the development of the ideas from screenwriter Dan O’Bannon and combines this with elements of the video essay. The mix of personal touches and intelligent film exploration creates a deeply absorbing and rewarding documentary.

If you have seen and enjoyed director Alexandre O. Philippe’s 78:52:Hitchcock’s Shower Scene you will be at home with Memory, although there is a more personal touch here, especially in the scenes involving Diane O’Bannon. The film outlines screenwriter Dan O’Bannon’s early work, inspired by Lovecraft and comics and how a number of central themes were a preoccupation for him. The Although Bannon passed away in 2009 his influence reigns throughout the film and his passion for the project is palpable.

It is incredibly difficult to listen to Diane O’Bannon talk about losing her husband, emphasising that his work has touched people forever without developing a serious lump in your throat. It is clear that Dan O’Bannon had an incredible vision for the film and fought hard throughout the production to best achieve this. This is best illustrated in his battle to have HR Giger put back onto the project after his work is deemed too overtly sexual by the studio. The final combination of O’Bannon, Giger and Scott being so successful seems the ultimate reward for O’Bannon’s persistance.

The video-essay portions are more similar to 78:52. Well-known Alien fans like Axelle Carolyn are on hand to discuss the importance of the film’s content – especially the aspect of male violation and pregnancy. Perhaps more unexpected is a reference to Kramer vs. Kramer, as part of considering Alien within a wider 1970s context of panic around the family unit. The insights are illustrated by scenes from the final film and also some behind-the-scenes material. While some Alien scenes (like the chest-burster scene) are iconic and need no explanation, showing some of the smaller moments to emphasise wider meaning are very helpful.

Memory works as both a portrait of the development of a film as well as an appraisal of the finished product. Interesting contributors, great pacing and a lot of heart make it essential viewing for anyone with even a passing interest in Alien or wider film.

Memory: The Origins of Alien is released in UK cinemas on August 30th, with DVD and On Demand to follow on September 2nd through Dogwoof. Details of the release and screenings are available here.

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