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Memory: Alien doc exclusive clip reveals screenwriter's original vision

By Josh Weiss
Alien 1979

In the summer of 1979, the world was changed forever when a parasitic life-form pushed its way out of John Hurt's chest and began to terrorize (and kill) the rest of the crew members aboard the Nostromo. Today, it's hard to imagine a world without the ever-present Alien franchise, but it wasn't always that way. In fact, audiences almost got a totally different movie called "They Bite" from the movie's screenwriter, Dan O'Bannon.

Memory, an upcoming documentary about the origins of the first Alien film, doesn't just take a deep dive into the creative processes of O'Bannon, director Ridley Scott, and visual designer H.R. Giger — it also explores the cultural and mythological implications behind the project. For writer/director, Alexandre O. Philippe, it was a matter of finding the right "lens" through which to frame the story.

"I think that there’s a hundred ways to approach a movie like Alien, there are so many different themes and ideas," Philippe tells SYFY WIRE. "You could make an entire feature just about Ripley. You could make an entire feature about the clash that happened between Dan O’Bannon and Walter Hill and David Giler. Those are stories that, in a way, have been told, but to me, I really connected with this idea of origins. I felt, first of all, that Dan O’Bannon is the unsung hero of Alien. I think that people don’t really understand how vital he was to the movie being what it is. In my research, I very quickly started zeroing in on this idea of the symbiosis that occurred between Dan O’Bannon, H.R. Giger, and Ridley Scott and how, quite frankly, Alien is the result of that sort of triptych of that symbiosis between those three."

Below, you can watch an exclusive clip from the documentary that examines They Bite:

Digging into the personal archives of O'Bannon and Giger (both of whom are sadly deceased), Philippe was able to piece together the full story of how one movie came to define an entire generation, and continues to dictate popular culture to this day. However, the journey of a thousand Xenomorphs began with just one person: Dan O'Bannon. The documentary's title, Memory, is a direct reference to the name of the writer's original truncated draft for the game-changing project.

"[I looked at] Dan’s fascination with H.P. Lovecraft and his fear of insects and his Crohn’s Disease and his interest in comic books," adds Philippe (who also spoke with us back in January about the doc's #MeToo themes). "All of those elements are part of that and so to me, it was really the day that I met Diane [Lindley, his widow] and that I was able to look at the extraordinary archives that she has that I thought, ‘Okay, this is the story that we’re trying to tell, and then we’re gonna go way, way, way back into the mythological roots of the film as well' ... It was really fun to dig into Dan’s archives and discovering all of these early early drawings that he had made. Finding his early script called They Bite, which was, in a way, an early version of Alien. And then reading Memory, the 30-page script, which exists and is unbelievable ... I would certainly say Diane’s interview was one of my favorites because she really provides the emotional spine [of the film]. You can feel the love that she has for Dan and the respect that she has for his work and how important it is for her to make sure that it is understood how vital his contributions were to Alien being what it is. I think without her, it wouldn’t have worked."

Memory: The Origins of Alien bursts forth in theaters and on-demand next Friday, Oct. 4. In April, SYFY WIRE exclusively reported that the movie would be released by Screen Media and Legion M, the latter of whom acquired the distribution rights at the Sundance Film Festival. In fact, Legion M's acquisition of the documentary was chosen entirely by fans via the company's SCOUT platform.

"For the casual fans, or the people who may not have even watched the film, my hope is that it will make them want to go and watch it. That they’ll want to go and run to the theater to watch the 40th anniversary edition or to rent or buy the DVD," says Philippe. "For the hardcore fans, I hope to provide a new take, a new way to look at Alien, a new way to think about the origins of the film and also to show them some of the archival materials, especially from Dan O’Bannon’s collection that have never been seen before. So, I think even the most hardcore fans who are like super super familiar with everything, they’re gonna see stuff in there that’s completely brand-new to them."