Review: Memory: The Origins of Alien (Sundance)

PLOT: An in-depth examination of the origins of Ridley Scott’s seminal 1979 classic and it’s enduring legacy as modern day mythology.

REVIEW: MEMORY: THE ORIGINS OF ALIEN is the latest from documentarian Alexandre O. Philippe. Known for making some of the weightiest documentaries about film and their effect on the pop culture out there, Philippe’s take on ALIEN doesn’t specifically concern itself with the nuts and bolts making Ridley Scott’s seminal classic. That territory’s been well covered elsewhere (the ALIEN Legacy Blu-ray’s for one), but this is unique in that for at least two-thirds of the movie, it’s more concerned with the lead-up to shooting, hence the title – “The Origins of Alien.”

It’s one of the few ALIEN documentaries you’ll see where the emphasis is placed on writer Dan O’Bannon, who emerges here as an iconoclastic writer working from a variety of influences in the genre. Phillippe fully acknowledges how O’Bannon, in writing his initial treatments, was probably influenced by everything from Lovecraft to EC Comics to schlock sci-fi like IT – THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE and Mario Bava’s PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES. Rather, thiscelebrates the diverse material he pulled from. The argument is made here that ALIEN is now more than a film, but rather a modern-day myth, and it’s not hard to see his point.

To illustrate, think of the xenomorph. Basically, it’s a man in a rubber suit, but how often do you think of the alien like that? Probably never. Rather, the xenomorph, in a very real way, has become a living thing, and part of our collective consciousness. It might sound heavy, but it’s arguments like this that make MEMORY an essential piece of the ALIEN mythos.

In addition to O’Bannon, much time is spent on H.R Giger and finally Ridley Scott, with the final argument put forward being that the finished film is the shared product of these three visionaries. In one of the doc’s only drawbacks, Scott, the only one of the three men still alive, doesn’ participate on camera, but at least there’s a wealth of material they’re able to cull from archive interviews he’s done about the series.

If you’ve ever been curious about how a movie like ALIEN winds up looking and feeling the way it does, MEMORY is a mind-blowing piece of work, taking you through everything that influenced O’Bannon/Giger/Scott. You see how people as diverse as Alejandro Jodorowsky, Stanley Kubrick, and artist Francis Bacon all played important roles, as did ancient myths, specifically that of “The Furies”, with the xenomorph itself acting as a modern version of this.

Certainly, this is Phillippe’s most accomplished film to date, and it’s no wonder rumor has it he’s working with William Friedkin on a doc examining THE EXORCIST, as he’s the kind of documentarian a director dreams about examining their work. So, if you want to hear about how Sigourney Weaver wound up being cast as Ripley, this may not be for you, but if you’re interested in a lively conversation about how the character is a reaction to late-seventies patriarchal malaise, then yes, MEMORY is indeed a terrific addition to the franchise.