Memory: The Origins of Alien Review
Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror classic Alien may, on the surface, be described as a slasher in space but in the 40 years since its release, conversations over its meaning have only expanded. Whittling down the countless academic explorations and production stories into a satisfying documentary is a gargantuan task - and one that Memory: The Origins of Alien mostly succeeds in.
For those who haven’t already immersed themselves in the numerous articles and behind-the-scenes special features detailing the troubled production of Alien, this documentary is an excellent jumping-off point. It dives deep into the series of coincidental events that created the iconic xenomorph and discusses why this initially-low-budget creature feature struck a chord with audiences.
However, it’s when the documentary broaches the topics of collaboration and mythology that it starts to stand out. While the academics and critics are the driving force of the narrative, the human connection is what makes Memory work so well. It achieves this by looking to the late Dan O’Bannon, who conceived and wrote the screenplay to Alien - or as it was initially titled: Memory.
Branching outward from O’Bannon’s sheltered childhood, Memory tracks how his influences and interests melded into the now-revered screenplay. Sci-fi comic panels, Scott’s storyboards and H.R. Giger’s phenomenal artwork are brought to life as the camera pulls apart images, a brilliant visual display that draws parallels from everything from H.P. Lovecraft to Francis Bacon, a sharp contrast with the insubstantial and lacklustre live-action segments.
The most fascinating parts of Memory are when it calls attention to the unlikely series of events that brought the movie together, and the shared ideas held by various artists at the top of their game. First, it’s about the expansive potential of human creativity and collaborative art, before director Alexandre Philippe starts to ask deeper philosophical questions about mythology shared across disparate cultures and the collective unconscious.
Unfortunately, this conversation is occasionally side-lined to touch on other aspects of the production. A good portion of the film focuses on the iconic chest-burster scene, without adding much new or establishing a link to its other themes. In this and other segments, the documentary loses its focus and starts to feel more like an incomplete first instalment of a docu-series.
Regardless of these faults, the documentary is always compelling and visually inventive, making even the more stale elements engrossing. It might not do enough to become top-tier documentary filmmaking, but it does manage to create its own riveting narrative - while reminding us how much of a miracle Alien turned out to be in the first place.
Memory: The Origins of Alien is released on August 30