Alien is not only one of the most studied films in cinema history, it is also a franchise that is still continuing with new entries. So Franchise Fred is pretty well versed on the original Alien, but Memory: The Origins of Alien offers some new theories even for Franchise Fred.
Alexandre O. Phillippe’s documentary establishes the climate of sci-fi post Star Wars and pre-E.T.. He quickly focuses on Dan O’Bannon’s quirky childhood and comic book writing. Then it gets into parallels to At the Mountains of
Madness with an ancient society and the unkillable creature that wiped them out, and later on Joseph Conrad’s Narcissus and Nostromo. Phillippe shows some side by side comparisons of other influential movies which I may not have picked up on had I not seen them in tandem.
The most interesting theory to me is that Alien is a film made by men dealing with guilt over the oppressive patriarchy. Clarke Wolfe articulates the strongest case that Ash is the ultimate representation of misogyny, because he is a robot programmed by men to carry out oppression. Will Linn, of the Joseph Campbell institute, lost me with his analysis but maybe it’s the altitude.
It’s less new analysis than it is a thorough behind the scenes account of Alien, and that’s perfectly fine. Alien is worth it, and so is Dan O’Bannon. Particular focus is paid to the chest burster scene, from O’Bannon’s dealing with his own Corhn’s disease, to the screenplay page to practical effects. There are archival interviews with O’Bannon, H.R. Giger, Ridley Scott and John Hurt, three of whom are no longer with us.
I do appreciate how Memory and its subjects compare the original with Scott’s own prequel Alien: Covenant and detail exactly why the latter doesn’t work. By the standards Scott established himself, Covenant falls into tired cliches.
More than anything, Memory definitely makes me want to watch Alien again. I suppose that’s mainly just seeing the film clips and remembering how good it is and wanting to experience that again, but I can definitely rewatch it now thinking about patriarchal guilt and the classical literature. It ends with the O’Bannon archive showing he had many more ideas in various stages. Someone should still develop them so we get more Dan O’Bannon movies.