Dan O'Bannon Interview
With your background in effects for Dark Star and Jodorowsky’s Dune, and even your computer graphics contribution to the original Star Wars, was there a time when you might actually have passed a successful career in optical effects?
Well, I almost did. I supervised all of the effects on Dark Star and executed many of them – that taught me a lot of technology. And there was the aborted adaptation of Dune, which was going to be directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky, and he hired me on to supervise all the special effects. I went over to Paris, which was quite a thrill, and I stayed there for six months. Jodorowsky had found a company that did a lot of special effects for French commercials, and he told them that I was going to be their boss. So I worked with them.
I told Jodorowsky that in order to do these effects we were going to have to storyboard. He wasn’t familiar with storyboards, so I explained it to him, and he got so interested in it that he had the entire film storyboarded – every shot. That was more than I needed, but what the heck. And I was over there with a guy named Guy Delacluse, and he had a company; he was very nice and we worked together planning how we were going to do all these effects.
So the entire movie was designed, and Jodorowsky found these very good and fantastically original sci-fi artists to do design all of the sets and costumes and spaceships and everything. It was an amazing achievement. It was like being in an art museum, that room where they were hanging it, designing it all and putting it on the wall.
Then, when we were just about camera-ready, the French backers pulled out. Now I have no idea what my career would have been if they had gone ahead and made the movie. It probably would have been different, but instead I found myself back in L.A., flat broke, My car I’d given away. I had no apartment, all my belongings were in storage, and I ended up on Ronnie Shusett’s sofa, and it was there that I wrote Alien. I knew that I wanted some of the artists that I had met on Dune to work on Alien, and in particular Giger to design the thing.
So some of my experience with Dune went into Alien. But the main reason that I wrote Alien at that time was that I needed money, and the only way I could think of to make any money and get off of Ronnie’s sofa was by writing a spec script that the studios would like and buy. And due to certain factors of luck, it indeed happened.
Actually I got off of Ronnie Shusett’s sofa a little earlier; George Lucas contacted me because he was in the closing phases of all of the post-production and special effects on Star Wars. He needed me to do these little targeting screens, military display things because at that time there really were no computer displays available, so they had to be faked. He knew from seeing Dark Star that I had faked some using conventional animation. He didn’t pay me a lot of money, but he paid me enough to get off of Ronnie’s sofa and get a little apartment.
Just about the time that that job ended, Fox greenlighted Alien.
Are you nervous to see the Alien, essentially your baby, evolve into storylines that are further and further away from the original universe you created?
Well, I’m not nervous about it anymore. I’ve gone through the annoyance at making these silly sequels, so I didn’t really care anymore.
Did you have any more input into AvP2: Requiem than just your credit as having created the alien character?
No, no. You’ve got to understand that Walter Hill and David Giler, who have been attached to the project from the beginning, they hate my guts. Because they’re scoundrels. They thought that by pulling a couple of fast ones that they could steal my screenplay credit from the original Alien.
This is where they rewrote the names of the characters in your original script?
Yeah. They should have had enough experience themselves to know that that wouldn’t work, because they both had a couple of studio pictures already in their background, and they were both Writer’s Guild members, and they had been through arbitrations. The arbitrations standards are pretty clear, and they should have realised that no minor changes were gonna get them – certainly not the sole screenplay credit, which they expected, and in fact they ended up getting no screenplay credit. I don’t know – villains think as villains think; y’know – they’re stupid. When they failed to get that credit they both just flipped their lids.
They’d already targeted me as a victim, meaning that I was ‘not a friend’. And then when the victim ended up not being victimised, they were just furious, just beside themselves. Walter Hill spent several years telling everybody who would listen, any journalist that he’d really written Alien and I stole his credit, until I finally got fed up and had my lawyer shut him up for good.
So no, they were not about to have me involved in any of those sequels. They’re only interested in the money with those sequels, anyway. These are not artistic fellows.
Did you even see the first Alien Vs. Predator film?
Yeah, sure, I saw it.
What did you think of it?
Videogame. I did have an idea that they didn’t use, and that was that the alien in his next phase turns into the predator. But they weren’t interested in hearing from me…at least it would have had some continuity between the two ideas.
Where would you like to see the next Alien film head? Perhaps back to the more high-budget universe that you---
I’d like to see it stop. A horror movie’s a fragile thing, and once you’ve gotten past the original, it isn’t scary anymore. So you do a bunch of sequels to a horror movie, all they do is drain any remaining impact out of the original. All of the sequels to for instance Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers, same thing; they over-expose the ideas, and when you look at the original, it’s not as effective as it would have been if you had just left it alone.
But money makes the world go round and Hill and Giler saw that as the best way to make more money without having to do any work. So as producers with an in at Fox, they just continue to shove those things through.
So as far as you’re concerned the Alien franchise is pretty much played out now?
It was played out after the first one, as far as I’m concerned. Cameron, in the first one, did about the only thing you could do, which was that he changed to a different genre, from a horror movie to an action film. But once he had done that, there really was nothing left to do. And they just keep squeezing the thing till it’s an empty bag. But as long as it keeps bringing in money to them, they’ll keep doing it.
Gordon Carroll was the only decent one among the producers. He had a falling out with them over Alien and they stopped liking him too, and he passed away a couple of years ago.
Read Martin Anderson's full Dan O'Bannon interview