Ridley Scott’s 1979 film Alien remains one of the most cherished sci-fi films ever made. Combining its B-movie thrills (the boogeyman picking off a crew one by one) with a grander sense of world-building and an eerie sense of the kind of adventures and horrors exploration of any kind may reveal, it is a film that elevates itself beyond just another science fiction B-picture. It spawned a successful franchise, but for many, Scott’s original remains the best, mixing genre thrills with a deep level of artistry that is thanks in large part due to the incredible creatives that he surrounded himself with.
It is this element of Alien’s creation that interests documentarian Alexandre O. Philippe, an individual with a clear fascination with the nuts and bolts of film and myth-making, as previously demonstrated in his Psycho-focused doc 78/52. Clearly a fan, of those involved Memory seeks to explore the various points of inspiration that the makers of Alien looked to, from both a place of narrative and design. And while it can occasionally stir a fanboy fascination in oneself, there’s something about Memory that just doesn’t quite coalesce into something that feels like a vital piece of the Alien puzzle.
The making of Alien is something that is incredibly well documented. Ian Nathan’s book on the subject is a proverbial treasure trove of details that document the making of Scott’s break-out movie with page turning relish (there’s just so much to play with in that book, it will keep you occupied for hours). The Alien Quadrilogy DVD box set, as well, has with it a very in-depth documentary on the making of the film and its follow-ups. What, then, can Memory offer that the already rich content that we’ve been given in the past can’t?
It is a question that the doc itself seems to struggle with. A lot of the talking heads from the archives are the same that you’ve seen before and a lot of the stories that are expressed you’ve probably heard a million times if you’re into the Alien franchise. Where it does try to stake its claim is by offering a view at the collaborative side of filmmaking, choosing to focus a lot on screenwriter Dan O’Bannon and H.R. Giger, and other artists who influenced Scott’s work.
This approach to looking at the making of Alien does often take some interesting turns, particularly when it goes into how much it is rooted in stories of Greek and Egyptian mythology and symbolism. It often allows the film to have a similarly eerie atmosphere to Alien itself, provoking a sense that the film is operating as part of a grander narrative within the wider tapestry of the history of human storytelling than we perhaps give it credit for.
But for every tangent that has a sense of exploration and tantalising lore around it, there are also plenty that feel far to navel gazing, and frankly a bit dull. The need to make this documentary feel different to the wealth of knowledge and content we already have about Alien clearly weighs on Philippe’s mind, and the film struggles to reconcile with its own identity crisis. It amounts in a documentary that’s clearly made with a lot of affection with its subject, but also with a mindset that hasn’t come completely to terms with exactly the kind of document that it wants to be.
Memory may offer some little nuggets of trivia gold along its exploration of Scott’s classic movie, but there is the feeling that one can’t escape; the feeling being that this plays a bit too much like a glorified DVD extra. And in a world where we already have a pretty top-notch DVD extra concerning the making of Alien, you’re left with a slight empty feeling in the stomach, a void that only sitting down to watch Alien again in all its chest-bursting glory can fill. And if the documentary inspires you to at least do that, then it’s not a complete waste of time.
Dir: Alexandre O. Philippe
Scr: Alexandre O. Philippe
Prd: Kerry Deignan Roy
DOP: Robert Muratore
Music: Jon Hegel
Country: United States
Runtime: 95 minutes
Memory: The Origins of Alien is in select cinemas from 30th August and on DVD & On Demand 2nd September