A must-see documentary about the making of Alien, here’s our review of Memory.
Director: Alexandre O. Philippe
Cast: Veronica Cartwright, Diane O’Bannon, Roger Corman, Roger Christian, Terry Rawlings, Ronald Shusett, Tom Skerritt
Release date: 30th August
Reviewer: Ryan Lambie
It’s a testament to the strength of Ridley Scott’s film that it can withstand so much scrutiny; despite all the books, essays and other documentaries already made about Alien, director Alexandre O. Philippe’s Memory still finds fresh things to dig up. It puts Alien in its late-70s context, contrasting its blood-curdling dread with the upbeat fantasy of Star Wars and Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, and drawing parallels between the movie’s acid-dripping antagonist and the Sirens of Greek myth.
There are contributions from academics, cast and crew, and perhaps best of all, Diane O’Bannon – wife of late screenwriter Dan, who provides some insights into her husband’s life and personality. Did you know, for example, that a young O’Bannon helped his father fake a media-baiting UFO photograph? Or that he bore a lifelong fear of insects, which arguably fed into his work as a screenwriter, whether it was his initial drafts of Alien (later rewritten by David Giler and Walter Hill) or They Bite, a much earlier monster-movie screenplay that served as a dry-run for his most famous creation?
It’s when the documentary analyses Alien’s place in genre history – spotting the parallels between it and its forebears in comics, H.P. Lovecraft’s weird fiction, B-movie cinema and ancient myth – that Memory shines the brightest. When it falls back into more conventional making-of territory, it unwittingly draws comparison to Charles de Lauzirika’s exhaustive The Beast Within, which first appeared on Alien franchise DVDs from 2003 onwards. There’s surely a small number of Alien fans left who aren’t aware of how its chest-bursting scene was shot, and it’s a pity chunks of Memory’s second half are devoted to well-trodden lore.
Towards its conclusion, though, Memory returns to its comparative studies, and in the process reminds us of just how well Alien’s aged. It places Alien against Ridley Scott’s later entries in his saga, Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, and inevitably the latter look somewhat wan in the face of the former. 40 years ago, precisely the right filmmakers got together at just the right time. From their collective imaginations came an unforgettable, perfect lifeform, which dug its way into subconscious and has remained crouching there ever since.
In its most insightful moments, Memory serves as a fitting ruby anniversary tribute to that unholy union.