Memory: The Origins of Alien, directed by Alexandre O. Phillipe, is an essential film for any fan of Ridley Scott’s iconic sci-fi-horror movie that has stood the test of time. By no means is this a conventional behind-the-scenes documentary, but it still provides some fascinating insight into the beloved film’s origins.
The main purpose of this documentary is to explore the narrative underpinnings of what is perhaps the seminal movie of the genre. Although there is some discussion of how Ridley Scott’s vision helped bring the film to life, Phillipe seems much more interested in the ideas of screenwriter Dan O. Bannon and the things that influenced him while writing the script. This approach is interesting, making this feel like more than a bonus feature one would find on a collector’s edition release of the DVD.
That said, this documentary is very much made with fans of Alien in mind. If one does not already appreciate the movie in question, they are likely to be overwhelmed by the amount of adulation that Phillipe and all of his interviewees express. The experience works much better if one already understands how the script works and the emotional impact it has on the audience, because Phillipe doesn’t spend too much time lingering on these things.
Still, the main purpose of the documentary is not to explain why Alien is such a wonderful film — most people who are watching this will already know that — the goal is to illustrate why the movie is so complex. By offering an evaluation of all the different sources from which Bannon drew influence, Phillipe allows audiences to realize and admire the level of thought that went into this film. Alien isn’t just a scary movie — it’s so much more.
One of the things that the movie does quite well is establish Bannon as the silent hero of Alien. Although much of the credit in discussions goes to Ridley Scott, and Phillipe does give credit where credit is due, much of the creation of the terrifying world of the Nostromo lays with Bannon. Over the course of the documentary, viewers will learn more about the process by which Bannon built the world of Alien than they ever imagined possible.
Of course, there are some cool anecdotes to be heard about various things that went on during production, such as the creation of the design of what would come to be known as the Xenomorph, but a majority of the documentary’s substance is found in its exploration of the mythological and thematic underpinnings of the script.
Phillipe’s documentary is also very well-made on a technical level. By combining footage from Alien, interviews from film scholars and people involved with the production, and the occasional reenactment illustrating the myths being described, Phillipe tells the story in a very natural and cinematic way.
While created primarily with fans of the movie in mind, Memory: The Origins of Alien is a fascinating exploration of a classic. Likely to make a great double-bill with the film at its core, this will likely be a favorite among film scholars for years to come.
Memory: The Origins of Alien hits theaters and VOD on October 4.