Ridley Scott’s Alien is one of my all-time favorite movies and one that I rewatch on a regular basis, along with the rest of the Alien franchise. I’ve bought the box sets multiple times, seen all the behind-the-scenes footage, own five coffee-table books and have a shelf adorned with various Alien tat.
When I discovered Alexandre O. Philippe, the director of 78/52 and Doc of the Dead, was working on a new documentary about Alien, I was excited to say the least. Memory: The Origins of Alien explores the various artists, films and literature that provided the inspiration for the film and ruminates on the supposed societal reflection that the film had at the time of its release in 1979.
Through archival footage (some never before seen) and interviews with select cast, crew and film scholars, Philippe crafts an entertaining video essay that’s visually astute, acutely evoking the brilliant aesthetics of Alien and lovingly presenting the information in a well researched manner but never quite delves too deeply into any one topic. For die-hard fans of the series, this may prove to be a bit of a disappointment, as there are no big revelations here, just a rehash of facts that many folks already know with a glossy coat of paint.
A large portion of the film rightfully discusses the life of Dan O’Bannon, the mastermind behind the script for Alien, and the series of events that led him to writing what would become one of the most iconic and influential science fiction films ever made. Although O’Bannon died in 2009, Philippe enlists the help of his widow, Diane, to help guide audiences through his creative mind. This could have been a documentary on its own and provides the bulk of the film’s much-too-short runtime.
Perhaps the most fascinating sequence of the documentary comes from the detailed breakdown of the iconic chest-bursting scene, presented in incredible detail and reminding us that this is the same director of 78/52, a feature-length film about Hitchcock’s shower scene in Psycho.
Memory: The Origins of Alien is a great looking documentary that provides an interesting look at (objectively) one of the greatest films ever created, but it’s not something that long-time fans will find revelatory; it sadly feels like a more surface-level exploration than the deep dive I expected. Still, even without the participation of Ridley Scott (I really wish they would have snagged him), it remains an entertaining essay on one of my all-time favorites.