To get Jones the cat to react fearfully to the descending Alien, a German Shepherd was placed in front of him with a screen between the two, so the cat wouldn't see it at first. The screen was then suddenly removed to make Jones stop advancing and start hissing.
It was Conceptual Artist Ron Cobb who came up with the idea that the Alien should bleed acid. This came about when Dan O'Bannon couldn't find a reason why the Nostromo crew wouldn't just shoot the Alien with a gun.
Bolaji Badejo who plays the Alien in the movie, was a graphic artist, who was discovered at a pub by one of the casting directors. He was seven feet one inch tall with thin arms, just what they needed to fit into the Alien costume. He was sent for Tai Chi and Mime classes to learn how to slow down his movements. A special swing had to be constructed for him to sit down during filming, as he could not sit down on a regular chair once he was suited up, because of the Alien's tail.
During early development, Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett ran into a writing impasse while trying to work out how the alien would get aboard the ship. Shussett came up with the idea "the alien f*cks one of them", which was eventually developed into the facehugger concept. This method of reproduction via implantation was deliberately intended to invoke images of male rape and impregnation, so both writers were adamant that the facehugger victim be a man: firstly, because they wanted to avoid the horror cliché of women being depicted as the easy first target; secondly, because they felt that making a female the casualty of a symbolic rape felt inappropriate; and thirdly, to make the male viewers feel more uncomfortable with this reversal of genre conventions.
The creature is never filmed directly facing the camera due to the humanoid features of its face. Ridley Scott, determined at all costs to dispel any notion of a man in a rubber suit, filmed the beast in varying close-up angles of its ghastly profile, very rarely capturing the beast in its entirety.
Ridley Scott stated that in casting the role of Ripley, it ultimately came down to Sigourney Weaver and Meryl Streep. The two actresses had been college mates at Yale. Ultimately, Weaver was offered the job because Streep was mourning the death of her partner John Cazale at the time of casting.
The spacesuits worn by Tom Skerritt, Sir John Hurt, and Veronica Cartwright were huge, bulky items lined with nylon and with no outlets for breath or condensation. As the actors and actress were working under hot studio lights in conditions in excess of one hundred degrees, they spent most of their time passing out. A nurse had to be on hand at all times, to keep supplying them with oxygen. It was only after Ridley Scott's and Cinematographer Derek Vanlint's children were used in the suits for long shots and they passed out too, that some modifications were made to the costumes.
Dan O'Bannon's original draft title was "Star Beast", but he was never happy with this. It was only after re-reading his script, that he noted how many times the word "alien" appeared, and realized that it was a perfect title. It works as a noun and an adjective, and it had never been used before.
It was Sigourney Weaver's idea to sing, "You Are My Lucky Star" while preparing to get rid of the Xenomorph. Ridley Scott mentions how much flak he got from the studio because of how expensive the rights to the song were.
A scene originally cut, but re-inserted for the Director's Cut, shows Lambert slapping Ripley, in retaliation for Ripley's refusal to let her, Dallas, and Kane back on the ship. According to Ridley Scott and Veronica Cartwright, every time she went to slap Sigourney Weaver, Sigourney would shy away. After about three or four takes of this, Scott finally told Cartwright "Not to hold back. Really hit her." Thus the very real shocked reactions of Weaver, Yaphet Kotto, and Harry Dean Stanton.
A sex scene between Dallas and Ripley was scripted, to show how casually the crew would solve long periods of abstinence. Another reference to this was a deleted scene where Ripley inquires with Lambert whether she ever had sex with Ash. The sex scene was ultimately not filmed, but Ridley Scott revived the idea for Prometheus (2012).
20th Century Fox almost did not allow the "space jockey", or the giant alien pilot, to be in the film. This was because, at the time, props for movies weren't so large, and it would only be used for one scene. However, Conceptual Artist Ron Cobb convinced them to leave the scene in the movie, as it would be the film's "Cecil B. DeMille shot", showing the audience that this wasn't some low budget B-movie.
In the original script by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett, the names of the characters were Standard, Roby, Broussard, Melkonis, Hunter, and Faust (there was no Ash character). Walter Hill and David Giler hated the names, and changed them multiple times during revisions. They finally settled on Dallas, Ripley, Kane, Lambert, Parker, and Brett, and added Ash. The script by O'Bannon and Shusett also had a clause indicating that all of the characters are "unisex", meaning they could be cast with men or women. Consequently, all of the characters are only referred to by their last name (Dallas, Kane, Ripley, Ash, Lambert, Parker, and Brett), and the few gender-specific pronouns (he or she) were corrected after casting. However, Shusett and O'Bannon never thought of casting Ripley as a female character.
The first day that she shot a scene involving Jones the cat, Sigourney Weaver's skin started reacting badly. Horrified, the young actress immediately thought that she might be allergic to cats, and that it would be easier for the production to re-cast her, instead of trying to find four more identical cats. As it transpired, Weaver was reacting to glycerin sprayed on her skin to make her look hot and sweaty.
Ron Cobb's explanation of the what happened to the Space Jockeys: "At some point, a cataclysm causes the extermination of the adults in this unique race, leaving no one to tend and nurture the young. But in a dark lower chamber of the breeding temple, a large number of eggs lies dormant, waiting to sense something warm. Years later, the Space Jockey race comes to this planetoid. The Jockeys are on a mission of exploration and archaeology, and they are fascinated by this marvelous temple and unknown culture. One of them finds the egg chamber and gets face-hugged. He's rescued, but no one knows what's happened. They take him back to their ship and continue their exploration of the planet's surface. When the chest-burster erupts from the Jockey, it goes on a killing rampage until it is shot and killed. The Alien dies, but immediately decomposes and its acid eats through the hull of the Jockey ship, leaving them stranded on the planet. The Jockeys radio out a message that there is a dangerous parasite on the planet, that nothing can be done to save them in time, and that no one should attempt a rescue. Then the Jockeys slowly starve to death."
When casting the role of Ripley, Ridley Scott invited several women from the production office to watch screentests, and thus gain a female perspective. The women were unanimously impressed with then-unknown Sigourney Weaver, whose screen presence they compared to Jane Fonda's.
In the chest bursting scene, Veronica Cartwright, playing Lambert, screams when blood splatters on her. Her screaming was genuine. The cast didn't expect so much blood, and didn't know which way the blood would splatter.
H.R. Giger's initial designs for the facehugger were held by U.S. Customs, who were alarmed at what they saw. Dan O'Bannon had to go to Los Angeles International Airport, to explain to them that they were designs for a horror movie. The actual production design of the facehugger used by sculptors to make the real prop, was created by Dan O'Bannon, as O'Bannon had trained as a designer (Giger wasn't available in England at the time).
Originally, no film companies wanted to make this film; 20th Century Fox even passed on it. They stated various reasons, most being that it was too bloody. The only producer who wanted to make the film was Roger Corman, and it was not until Walter Hill came on-board that it all changed. 20th Century Fox agreed to make the film, as long as the violence was toned down. Even after that, they still rejected the first cut for being "too bloody".
According to Sir John Hurt in the DVD Documentary, he was considered at the beginning of casting to play Kane, but had already committed to another film that was set to take place in South Africa, so Jon Finch got the role instead. However, two separate incidents occurred which got Hurt the role. First, was the fact that he was banned from South Africa because the country mistook him for John Heard, who strongly opposed Apartheid (Hurt points out that he was opposed to it too, but was lucky enough not to get blacklisted) so he was unable to do the other film. Second, Finch became seriously ill from diabetes, and had to pull out. Ridley Scott immediately contacted Hurt, pitched him the script over a weekend, and Hurt arrived on the set Monday morning with little to no sleep to begin filming.
Dan O'Bannon was hypercritical of any changes made to his script and, to be fair, he defended some aspects of the film that ended up being the most iconic (including H.R. Giger's designs). Although he would come on-set and nitpick, O'Bannon was generally welcomed by Ridley Scott, until O'Bannon lost his temper and insulted Scott in front of the whole crew. The producers, including Walter Hill, had minimal respect for O'Bannon and largely ignored him, giving him little credit once the film became a success.
Roger Dicken, who designed and operated the facehugger and the chestburster, had originally wanted the latter to pull itself out of Kane's torso with its own little hands, a sequence he felt would have produced a much more horrifying effect than the gratuitous blood and guts in the release print. A chestburster with tiny arms pulling itself out would be seen in the sequel Aliens (1986).
Aside from being an easy-to-remember moniker for the ship's computer, another reason for the crew referring to it as "Mother" is the actual name of the computer: MU-TH-UR. This is printed in red lettering on the small access door that holds the computer card that Dallas and Ripley use to gain access to the control console room.
H.R. Giger's design for the Chestburster was originally based very strongly on Francis Bacon's "Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion", depicting creatures that, while quite phallic, are also more birdlike, being based on the Greek Furies. Giger's doubts about his first design were confirmed when Ridley Scott fell about laughing at the sight of the prototype Chestburster, describing it as "like a plucked turkey", and Roger Dicken ended up retooling it to resemble the now classic design.
According to myth, the name for the company, "Weylan-Yutani" (the spelling was changed to "Weyland-Yutani" in Aliens (1986) and later films), was taken from the names of Ridley Scott's former neighbors. He hated them, so he decided to "dedicate" the name of the "evil company" to them. In reality, the name was created by Conceptual Designer Ron Cobb (who created the Nostromo and the crew's uniforms) to imply a corner on the spacecraft market by an English-Japanese corporation. According to himself, he would have liked to use "Leyland-Toyota", but obviously could not, so he changed one letter in Leyland, and added the Japanese name of his (not Scott's) neighbor.
After the crew awakens from hypersleep, the navigator Lambert announces that the ship is "just short of Zeta 2 Reticuli." Zeta Reticuli is a real double-star system about thirty-nine light-years from Earth, and has figured prominently in U.F.O. lore. In the 1960s, Barney and Betty Hill claimed to have been abducted by "gray" aliens from Zeta Reticuli.
The movie's Hungarian title translates back into English as "The eighth passenger is the Death". All other Alien movies had titles that end with the word "death". Aliens (1986): "The Name of the Planet: Death"; Alien³ (1992): "Final Solution: Death"; Alien: Resurrection (1997): "The Resurrection of Death". The original releases ignored the word "Alien" from the title, but it gradually became reinserted after more people became familiar with the franchise's English name. Despite this, the Alien is again referred to as "Death" in the Hungarian title of AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004): "The Death Against the Predator".
Potential directors who either were considered by the studio or wanted to direct, included Robert Aldrich, Peter Yates, Jack Clayton, Dan O'Bannon, and Walter Hill. Aldrich, in particular, came very close to being hired, but the producers ultimately decided against it after they met him in person, and it quickly became apparent that he had no real enthusiasm for the project beyond the money he would have received. According to David Giler, the moment when Aldrich talked himself out of the job came when they asked him what kind of a design he had in mind for the facehugger. Aldrich simply shrugged and said, "We'll put some entrails on the guy's face. It's not as if anyone's going to remember that critter once they've left the theater."
In an interview for Métal Hurlant, Ridley Scott revealed that to make the action more realistic, the flight deck was wired so that flipping a switch in at one console would trigger lights somewhere else. The cast then developed "work routines" for themselves where one would trip a switch, leading another to respond to the changes at his work station and so on.
The genesis of the film arose out of Dan O'Bannon's dissatisfaction with his first feature, Dark Star (1974) which John Carpenter directed in 1974. Because of that film's severely low budget, the alien was quite patently a beach ball. For his second attempt, O'Bannon wanted to craft an altogether more convincing specimen. The goofiness of Dark Star (1974) also led him in the direction of an intense horror movie.
The alien's habit of laying eggs in the chest (which later burst out) was inspired by spider wasps, which are said to lay their eggs "in the abdomen of spiders". This image gave Dan O'Bannon nightmares, which he used to create the story. But spider wasps (pompilidae) lay eggs on their prey, not inside them, after which, the wasp maggots simply snack on the sting-paralyzed spiders. O'Bannon may instead have been thinking of either ichneumon wasps, or braconid wasps. The ichneumon drills a single egg into a wood-boring beetle larva, whereas braconids inject eggs inside certain caterpillars. Both result in fatal hatch-outs more alike to O'Bannon's alien.
The vapor released from the top of the spacesuit helmets (presumably exhausted air from the breathing apparatus) was actually aerosol sprayed from inside the helmets. In one case, the mechanism broke and started spraying inside the helmet.
The murky point-of-view footage from the Nostromo's crew's helmet visors when they first exit their craft to investigate the alien planet, was filmed by Ridley Scott, walking a consumer camcorder at low level across the cramped set.
The production designers, in an attempt to cut costs while still remaining creative, constructed several of the sets in such a way as to make them usable in more than one scene. A good example of this can be seen in the "Space Jockey" room (the room in which to away team discovers the skeletal remains in the alien ship) and the "egg chamber". The sets were designed so that the skeleton and the revolving disc, on which it sits, could be removed and the empty space then redressed with the "eggs", creating, combined with a matching matte painting, a vast cavern full of potential alien spawn.
The large Space Jockey sculpture was designed and painted by H.R. Giger, who was disappointed he couldn't put any finishing touches on it by the time filming came about for the scene. Also, the Space Jockey prop was burned and destroyed by a burning cigarette left on the model. The unfortunate event was covered by local television news stations that evening.
Dan O'Bannon requested that Ridley Scott and Producer Walter Hill, both of whom had little knowledge of horror or science fiction cinema, screen The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) to prepare for shooting the more intense scenes. Scott and Hill were stunned by the horror film, and admitted it motivated them to ratchet up the intensity of their own film.
After the first week of shooting, Dan O'Bannon asked if he could attend the viewing of the dailies, and was somewhat staggered when Gordon Carroll refused him. To get past that ban, O'Bannon viewed the dailies by standing beside the projectionist while he screened them for everyone else.
Bolaji Badejo regretted that no one can recognize him as the Alien in the film, but thinking back on Boris Karloff, Sir Christopher Lee, or other successful actors who began their careers by playing grotesque monsters, he adds, "The fact that I played the part of the Alien, for me, that's good enough. Legally, I'll be given the opportunity of doing a follow-up, if there is one." Although he is training for a career on graphic design and commercial art, he exclaims, "Not if a film comes along!"
Dan O'Bannon's idea for the movie came from his experiences on two other projects. He had worked as a writer and special effects supervisor on John Carpenter's Dark Star (1974), a sci-fi comedy that started out as a student project, but got turned into a feature film. Halfway during the production of the movie, O'Bannon thought the movie's premise would work much better as a horror movie, so he started work on a script called 'Star Beast'. Dark Star was a commercial failure, but it was seen by Chilean-French director Alejandro Jodorowsky, who had acquired the rights to Frank Herbert's "Dune". Jodorowsky invited O'Bannon to help him with the book's ambitious adaptation, so O'Bannon sold all his belongings and moved to Paris to work on the film. While briefly working on the ill-fated project, he encountered influential artists such as Chris Foss, Ron Cobb, Jean Giraud (a.k.a. Moebius), H.R. Giger and their unique styles. When Jodorowsky's Dune fell through due to lack of funding, O'Bannon took the creative team and worked on his Star Beast movie (titled Alien at that time), using much of the designs already created for Dune. Ridley Scott, one of the few who had also seen and liked Dark Star, agreed to direct. It has since been said that Alien became the movie that "Jodorowsky's Dune" was supposed to be.
Veronica Cartwright (Lambert) and Sigourney Weaver (Ripley) had both read for the part of Ripley. Cartwright only found out that she wasn't playing the part of Ripley when she was first called in to do some costume tests for the character of Lambert.
A closer look at the alien eggs in the scene right before the facehugger reveals that slime on the eggs is dripping from bottom to top. Ridley Scott did this intentionally by shooting with the egg hanging from the ceiling and the camera upside down.
The initial idea for the opening credits was to have the title made up of bits of flesh and bone, which Ronald Shusett explains was far too gory. Ridley Scott recollects he saw the poster design for the film, and asked that the film's title be used with the same font.
During production, an attempt was made to make the alien character transparent, or at least translucent. Coincidentally, this idea was later used for the title creature's camouflage suit in Predator (1987), which was later decided to take place in a shared universe with this movie.
As Ripley goes through the shuttle start up sequence, a brief shot of a monitor appears which displays an "Environmental CTR Purge" screen. The exact same screen appears in Blade Runner (1982) when Gaff takes Deckard to see Bryant in his flying police car.
Alison Bechdel's column "Dykes to Watch Out For" once proposed a simple test to see if a film treated its female characters as equal members of the cast. The rule has three parts. The film must feature 1: at least two female characters, who 2: have a conversation with each other that 3: isn't about one of the male characters. This criteria came to be known as the Bechdel test. The character in the column says that the last movie she saw that fit these criteria was Alien. Interestingly, there was a scene filmed between Ripley and Lambert where they talk about Ash, but it ended up being deleted.
During the opening sequence, as the camera wanders around the corridors of the Nostromo, we can clearly see a Krups coffee grinder mounted to a wall. This is the same model that became the "Mr. Fusion" in Back to the Future (1985).
In a preview of the bonus feature menus for the "Alien Legacy" box set posted to USENET, the bio for Dallas had him as being born female and Lambert as being born male, suggesting gender reassignment before the events in the film. Negative fan reaction prompted this to be changed before production of the DVDs. Their bios now display their gender with "natural" in brackets behind it, implying that gender reassignment is a fairly common procedure in the future.
Jerry Goldsmith was most aggrieved by the changes that Ridley Scott and Editor Terry Rawlings wrought upon his score. Scott felt that Goldsmith's first attempt at the score was far too lush, and needed to be a bit more minimalist. Then, Goldsmith was horrified to discover that his amended score had been dropped in places by Rawlings who inserted segments from Goldsmith's earlier score for Freud (1962) instead. Rawlings had initially used these as a guide track only, and ended up preferring them to Goldsmith's revised work. Goldsmith harbored a grudge against the two until his death in 2004.
Ripley mentions the facehugger bleeding acid while alive, and fears what it could do when dead. This may echo an earlier version of the screenplay, in which the dead facehugger's skin is dissolving, and the crew is able to throw it out of the ship just in time before its acid eats through the hull.
The name of "the company" that the crew work for is "Weylan-Yutani" (the spelling was changed to "Weyland-Yutani" in Aliens (1986) and later films). The name can be seen on a computer monitor, as well as on a beer can, from which Dallas drinks, during the crew meal. The light blue "wings" emblem seen in several places, most notably Ash's uniform, is intended to be W-Y's logo (the logo was also changed for the later films).
In the Director's Cut, the scene where Brett is looking for Jonesy, he enters a room with lots of chains and machinery, hanging from one of the chains, is the Alien folded into a ball, as not to draw attention to itself, clearly seen as the camera pans around the room.
When Tom Skerritt first read the screenplay for this movie, he declined to be involved, as he was unimpressed with the writing quality, and the low budget. After the screenplay was edited, and the budget enhanced, Skerritt was approached again, which prompted him to sign on. Halfway through production, he approached Writer and Executive Producer Ronald Shusett, asking if he could trade his salary for half a percentage point of royalties.
The sets of the Nostromo's three decks were each created almost entirely in one piece, with each deck occupying a separate stage and the various rooms connected via corridors. To move around the sets, the actors and actresses had to navigate through the hallways of the ship, adding to the film's sense of claustrophobia and realism. The sets used large transistors and low-resolution computer screens, to give the ship a "used", industrial look, and make it appear as though it was constructed of "retrofitted old technology".
The writing partnership between Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett came about when Shusett approached O'Bannon about helping him adapt a Philip K. Dick story to which he had acquired the rights. That was "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale," which later became Total Recall (1990). O'Bannon then said that he had an idea that he was stuck on, about an alien aboard a spaceship, and that he needed some assistance. Shusett agreed to help out, and they tackled the alien movie first, as they felt it would have been the cheaper of the two to make.
Walter Hill's re-write included making two of the characters female (and adding a romantic subplot that was deleted) as well as altering much of the dialogue written by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett. The original dialogue had been described as "poetic", but Hill dismissed it as pretentious and obscure.
In The Blue Planet (2001), David Attenborough said the Alien was modelled after the Phronima, a creature spotted by submersibles at great depths. However, there is little evidence to support this claim. The original Alien design was based on a previous painting by H.R. Giger, Necronom IV, which bears little resemblance to the Phronima. Giger's agent, Bijan Aalam, claims "He never inspired himself by any animals, terrestrial or marine."
The dead fossilized alien is commonly referred to as the "Space Jockey". It was a term used by the production crew, and was subsequently adopted by fans of the movie, even though the name itself isn't used anywhere in the movie, nor in the script. Similarly, the terms "facehugger" and "chestburster" were used throughout production to refer to the face-grasping parasite and newborn alien respectively, and have become widely recognized terms, even though they were never used on-screen.
Sir Ian Holm and Ridley Scott recalled that one day, as Ridley rolled into the studio in his Rolls-Royce, Sigourney Weaver quipped, "Nice car. Did your dad buy it for you?" The comment really irked Scott, but Holm seemed to observe that she was yanking Scott's chain, having recognized him as being self-made and proud of it.
Veronica Cartwright had originally auditioned to play Ripley, but producers opted for Sigourney Weaver instead. Weaver was initially more interested in playing Lambert because in the early screenplay, Lambert was written as a wise-cracking character. In later re-writes, the role of Lambert became much more subdued and serious, and was given to Cartwright.
Brett's death was storyboarded by Ridley Scott originally for the Alien to use its inner mouth to take his heart out of his chest, harkening back to the image of the space jockey. The Alien would then leave Brett, where he would be found by Parker and Ripley, who'd cradle his body. Scott abandoned this idea, due to it being too similar a death to the chestburster scene, and the scene that now plays, was made up on the day it was shot.
An early draft of the script had a male Ripley, making this one of at least three films where Sigourney Weaver played a character originally planned to be a man. The second is The TV Set (2006) and the third is Vantage Point (2008).
Ridley Scott and Jerry Goldsmith were at odds with each other on the usage of the original music score. As a result, many crucial cues were either rescored, ill-placed, or deleted altogether, and the intended end title replaced with Howard Hanson's "Symphony No. 2 (Romantic)". The original intended score was featured as an isolated track on the now out-of-print 20th Anniversary DVD.
To assist the actors and actresses in preparing for their roles, Ridley Scott wrote several pages of backstory for each character, explaining their histories. He filmed many of their rehearsals in order to capture spontaneity and improvisation, and tensions between some of the cast members, particularly towards the less-experienced Sigourney Weaver, translated convincingly on film as tension between their respective characters.
The computer screen displaying Nostromo's orbit around the planet contains a hidden credit to Dr. Brian Wyvill, one of the programmers for the animation. Within the top frame entitled Deorbital Descent, it is possible to isolate the letters "BLOB", Dr. Brian Wyvill's common nickname.
Harry Dean Stanton's first words to Ridley Scott during his audition were, "I don't like science fiction or monster movies." Scott was amused, and convinced Stanton to take the role, after reassuring him that the film would actually be a thriller more akin to Ten Little Indians.
Three versions of the landing craft were built for the production: a twelve inch version for long shots, a forty-eight inch version for the landing sequence, and a seven ton rig for showing the ship at rest on the planet's surface.
Ridley Scott's first exposure to early Alien (1979) drafts were sent to him by Sanford Lieberson, then head of 20th Century Fox's London headquarters. Lieberson had seen Scott's The Duellists (1977) and was adequately impressed to consider the neophyte filmmaker.
Up until 2012, all the androids in the franchise had been named in alphabetical order: Ash in this film, Bishop in Aliens (1986) and Alien³ (1992), Call in Alien: Resurrection (1997), and David in Prometheus (2012). This trend seems to have come to an end as the new android character in Alien: Covenant (2017) is called Walter. In this new film, however, David is still to be a main character, and both he and Walter are portrayed by Michael Fassbender.
Originally, in the end lifeboat scene, the Alien was meant to be latched onto the ceiling of the vehicle until Ripley sees it, but Ridley Scott felt this was too similar to what happened with Brett, so it was changed.
When Sir John Hurt was being fitted up for his scene on the table, it was a long and complicated affair, and ultimately, he got somewhat bored. In the end, he asked the crew if he could have his cigarettes and a bottle of his favorite wine, which they poured for him. He was then happy and relaxed afterwards, with his creature comforts.
Unimpressed with the poor body cast mold made of Bolaji Badejo (the actor cast to play the Alien), H.R. Giger was prepared to suggest a replacement before he'd met Badejo. One of his suggestions was supermodel Verushka, who Giger described as just as tall as Badejo. Reportedly, Ridley Scott was open to the suggestion. When he finally met Badejo, Giger realized that he was perfect for the Alien role, and insisted that a new body cast be made.
The vast majority of this movie was filmed using a handheld camera. Art Director Roger Christian remarked in an interview that "Eighty percent of Alien was shot on Ridley's shoulder". Referring to the fact that Ridley Scott did all the hand held camera work himself.
Carlo Rambaldi constructed three alien heads based on H.R. Giger's designs: two mechanical models for use in various close-up work, and an elementary model for medium-to-long shots. Rambaldi was not available to operate his creations on the actual shoot, though he did spend two weeks in the UK as a Technical Advisor to Ridley Scott and his crew.
The literal translations of some of this film's foreign language titles include Alien: The Eighth Passenger (Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Spain, Canada, Denmark, Israel, and France) and Alien: The Uncanny Creature from a Strange World (West Germany).
Giger's first attempt at an egg had the top with one long slit across it, when he presented it to Scott, the department head burst out laughing, as it looked far too much like a woman's vagina, the slit was duplicated at a ninety degree angle, to make it more like an "X", which satisfied everyone.
When Ripley punches in the code to activate the scuttle procedure, one of the button tabs reads AGARIC FLY. While engineering sounding in name, fly agaric is actually a highly poisonous hallucinogenic mushroom, whose toxin used to be commonly used in flypaper.
Following the massive success of their Star Wars action figures, Kenner marketed an Alien toy for Christmas 1979. However, instead of the three to four inch size used for the Star Wars figure, the Alien figure was eighteen inches, and was not paired with figures of the Nostromo crew. While faithful to the Giger design and featuring a hinged jaw, the figure was highly breakable. Due to parental complaints, Kenner pulled the action figure. The toy has since become a collector's item, with mint boxed versions going for as much as one thousand dollars.
Ridley Scott was so bored, while waiting for the budget to be determined on the film, in his spare time he storyboarded the entire movie, and then sent it to the studio, where they were so impressed with his vision, they doubled the budget.
Ridley Scott originally conceived flying mice robots, that while the crew were in hypersleep, would zip around corridors repairing things. However, executives believed this was too similar to Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977).
For the Director's Cut of the movie, a deleted scene was restored where the Nostromo crew listens to the signal from the planet before landing. This scene had already been available as a bonus feature on the first DVD edition of the film. The sound they originally heard was quite scary and organic, almost sounding like an extremely deep, slowed-down voice. Kane's response ("Good God!") and the suggestion that it could be a voice actually made a lot of sense in this version, but for the scene in the Director's Cut, for unknown reasons, a much more mechanic and subdued sound effect was used.
Tons of sand, plaster, fiberglass, rock, and gravel were shipped into the studio to sculpt a desert landscape for the planetoid's surface, which the actors would walk across wearing space suit costumes.
Cinematographer Derek Van Lint found the lighting issues on the Alien, the monitors, LEDs, fluorescents, and standard incandescent lights, all had various color temperatures, so getting them to match on camera, was an enormous technical challenge.
The original Panaglide SteadiCam system was suggested for this movie, but with neither RIdley nor Derek Vanlint familiar with the format, they decided against using it, so they could operate cameras on the film themselves, and not rely on outside technicians.
The release and success of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) has often been stated as instrumental in getting 'Alien' made. The screenplay for Alien had been written for 20th Century Fox, but the studio was not very interested in financing a science fiction movie at the time. When Star Wars became a big hit, Fox was very eager to continue their recent success of space-themed science fiction films as quickly as possible. With a finished screenplay ready for production, they wasted no time in greenlighting the project.
Ridley Scott's plan for Kane entering the egg chamber, originally involved him entering through the ceiling and landing on the blue laser "placenta", which caused a faint breeze, as air was released. The space around Kane would be pitch dark, so Kane would activate hundreds of little lights on his space suit like a Christmas tree, which would illuminate the area.
While walking towards the derelict ship, the storm around them obscured their vision, so Lambert's helmet gave her a heads-up display, mounted on a visor inside her helmet, which showed a 3-D topographical map rendering of the environment around her, so she could see where she was going.
Originally, the lighting plan for this movie, was to have everything pre-lit, so they wouldn't have to rearrange lighting from shot to shot, but Ridley soon realized it was looking very television-ish, with an even all-round, fit-for-everything lighting plan. Also, actors and actresses would wind up moving in parts of the set that weren't lit well enough, so they went back to normal lighting set-ups for each angle.
The process of preparing to make this film ended up having a major impact on another violent, shocking, R-rated film, The Warriors (1979). Walter Hill and David Giler were watching an Israel-set film called Madman (1978), because they had heard positive notice on Sigourney Weaver's performance, and wanted to see if she was a good fit for the role of Ripley. Of course, it turned out that she was, but Hill found himself very impressed by the supporting work in Madman (1978), of an unknown actor named Michael Beck, and he thought Beck could be a good fit for a major role in The Warriors (1979). He called Beck to come in and read for the part of gang leader Swan, and Beck nailed the audition, and was immediately cast.
The famous chestburster scene was parodied in Spaceballs (1987). In that scene, with Sir John Hurt as Kane, and the Nostromo crew are seen eating and having a laugh over one of the crew member's joke. Hurt starts choking. The alien bursts out of his chest, and Hurt says "Oh, no! Not again!" and the Alien performs "Hello, My Baby" from One Froggy Evening (1955).
Ridley would always use Gigers Necronomicon book, to explain the kind of designs he wanted to Giger, who was gratified, as he was using his own designs, instead of having to copy another artists strange designs.
H.R. Giger was asked by a Shepperton Studios Manager if he would front the cost for frames for all of his paintings. Giger refused, and instead offered to fly economy instead of first class on all of his flights, they complimented him on his head for business.
H.R. Giger met with monster maker Roger Dicken. Giger was warned he was a prickly character by Scott, and not to criticize his work. Giger was horrified when Dickens confessed he found Gigers work repulsive abortions, and the creature should be beautiful. In a blind rage, Giger told Scott and Carroll he would do the monster work himself. The studio agreed, but only if he focused on the main Alien and left the other creations to Dicken.
The Alien was to be transparent, until H.R. Giger's team began to run out of time. Following a disastrous failed cooking of the molds, the team decided, in a car park, that the Alien would be standard latex, as the production would suffer huge costs if they didn't meet the looming deadline.
Dan O'Bannon and H.R. Giger were heavily inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft in their concept of the Alien. Especially Lovecraft's stories featuring the Cthulhu monster are said to have been particularly influential. Cthulhu is described as a giant, vaguely anthropoid creature with tentacles, chained in a submerged ruin on the bottom of the sea. Although it is hardly ever seen, its escape from imprisonment is a constant source of dread for mankind.
Despite many fans calling the creature asexual, or referring to the creature as "it", the Alien is heavily implied to be male. In fact, when fans and the film's cast refer to the creature by it's gender, they always say "he" or "him".
Yaphet Kotto was sent a script, off the back of his recent success with Live and Let Die (1973), although it took some time and deliberation between Kotto and his agent, before he was offered the part.
One common story is that "Weyland" and "Yutani" were the names of two of Ridley Scott's neighbors whom he didn't like. However, this isn't the case. Ron Cobb, the designer of the movie, came up with the name "Weylan-Yutani". "Weylan Yutani, for instance, is almost a joke, but not quite. I wanted to imply that poor old England is back on its feet, and has united with the Japanese, who have taken over the building of spaceships the same way they have now with cars and supertankers. In coming up with a strange company name, I thought of British Leyland and Toyota, but we couldn't use 'Leyland-Toyota' in the film. Changing one letter gave me 'Weylan', and 'Yutani' was a Japanese neighbor of mine."
The Alien franchise was produced by Brandywine Productions. The Brandywine river is found in J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth universe. Sir Ian Holm starred as Bilbo Baggins in the theatrical versions of The Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit, respectively.
Peter Beale, one of the Fox executives argued with Giger over his fee, which Giger saw as insulting, and the same money paid to a high grade secretary working in Switzerland, Gordon Carrol fought in Giger's corner, in a discussion that lasted three hours.
H.R. Giger discovered that old designs were still being constructed by the Art Department, Giger spoke to Production Designer Brian Seymour, who told him he was aware things had changed, but to stop them mid construction would wreck morale, and they had to be kept busy until the new designs were ready to be built, and it was better to let them finish, then replace them. When Giger asked what would happen to the old work, Seymour told him "scrapped". Giger was baffled at this strange economy of waste.
Initially, Gigers derelict ship was accepted, and then rejected, in a tense meeting with the Fox team and Scott, they were concerned the bone-like shape would blend into the already bone-like environment. Giger believed his friends O'Bannon and Shusett were behind the idea, and tried to argue his case that the biomechanical nature of the ship would separate it from the background, until Gordon Carrol ordered him to create something new. Ridley remained quiet in the discussion, drawing a standard plane like fin sticking out of the ground in silent opposition. Two months later, Giger returned to the UK astonished to find they had gone back to his original designs, feeling there wasn't enough time to begin again.
The early screenplay by Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett contained the Alien, the Derelict Ship, the Space Jockey, but also an ancient pyramid-like structure on the planet's surface full of alien eggs (more shaped like canisters), where the crew of the Nostromo was to encounter the facehugger. The notion was that the pyramid, eggs, facehuggers and Alien would all be indigenous to the planet; the Derelict Ship had once landed on the planet and its pilot, the Space Jockey, had become an unfortunate victim of the facehugger. The pyramid was written out due to budget concerns in subsequent versions, and merged with the Derelict Ship. The idea of a pyramid-like structure filled with eggs/canisters resurfaced again in AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004) and in the Alien prequel Prometheus (2012).
Although never stated on film, the planetoid where the Nostromo lands and finds the Derelict Ship is named 'Acheron' in several drafts of the screenplay. In Greek mythology, Acheron is the "stream of woe", a branch of the river Styx which separates the underworld from the world of the living. The screenplay of the sequel Aliens (1986) also mentions the name Acheron, but refers to the planetoid with the technical name LV-426 on-screen. Both names have subsequently been used in expanded-universe media such as games and comics.
When the film won in the category for "Best Effects, Visual Effects" the presenters were Farrah Fawcett and amputee Oscar-winner Harold Russell who opened the envelope with his prosthetic hook hands (April 14, 1980 Dorothy Chandler Pavilion).
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The film was originally scripted to end with Ripley escaping the Nostromo with her shuttle, and the Alien dying on board the Nostromo. Ridley Scott thought this ending was way too simplistic, so he negotiated with the studio for an additional half a million dollar budget, and a week of filming to add a "fourth act" to the movie, showing how the Alien stowed away aboard the shuttle, and Ripley trying to flush it out. Scott originally wanted a much darker ending, where the Alien climbs back into the shuttle and Ripley harpoons it, but it makes no difference. The Alien runs towards her, slams through her masks, and rips her head off. It would then sit in her chair, and start mimicking Captain Dallas' voice, saying "I'm signing off, hopefully the network will pick me up." Apparently, 20th Century Fox wasn't too pleased with such a dark ending. According to Scott, while pitching this idea over the phone, there was a long and uncomfortable silence. Within fourteen hours, a studio executive arrived, who threatened to fire him on the spot, unless he changed the ending to one where the Alien would die. Scott later admitted that allowing Ripley to live was the better ending.
The rumor that the cast, except for Sir John Hurt, did not know what would happen during the chestburster scene is partly true. The scene had been explained for them, but they did not know specifics. For instance, Veronica Cartwright did not expect to be sprayed with blood.
For the chestburster sequence, Sir John Hurt stuck his head, shoulders and arms through a hole in the mess table, linking up with a mechanical torso that was packed with compressed air (to create the forceful exit of the alien) and lots of animal guts. The rest of the cast were not told that real guts were being used, so as to provoke genuine reactions of shock and disgust.
Ridley Scott's original cut was a lot bloodier, but because of the negative reactions of test audiences, and the possibility of an X rating, scenes with violence and gore were cut down. Some outtakes that can be seen in making of documentaries show longer and bloodier versions of the chestburster scene, and Brett's death scene.
Extra scenes filmed but not included, due to pacing problems: The crew listens to the eerie signal from the planetoid. An additional discussion between Parker and Ripley over the comm, concerning the progress on the Nostromo's engines. A scene in which a furious Lambert hits Ripley for her earlier refusal to let her team back aboard the Nostromo. An additional conversation between Lambert and Ash, in which Lambert notices a dark patch over Kane's lungs on the scanner, foreshadowing Kane's fate. A discussion among the crew, immediately following Kane's death, on how to proceed further. Alternative death scene for Brett: Ripley and Parker witness Brett (still alive) being lifted from the ground. Ripley and Lambert discuss whether Ash has sex or not. An unfinished scene, in which Parker spots the Alien next to an airlock door. He asks Ripley and Lambert over the comm to open the airlock and flush the Alien into space. However, the alien is warned by a siren and escapes, but not before it gets injured by a door, and its blood creates a small hole, causing a short decompression. Ripley finds Dallas and Brett cocooned. Brett is dead, and covered in maggots; Dallas is alive and begs Ripley to kill him. She does so with a flamethrower. The mercy killing scene would eventually be recycled and used in Alien: Resurrection (1997) when an alien/human-hybrid clone of Ripley begs the real Ripley to kill her, to which she does so with a flamethrower. Many of these scenes were included in the Director's Cut, which Ridley Scott made at the request of many fans who had seen those scenes as bonus material on the earlier DVD release.
Before filming the scene where Ash shoves a rolled up magazine into Ripley's mouth, Ridley Scott told Sigourney Weaver that Sir Ian Holm was going to stick the magazine "up your hooter". The British slang term for nose left Weaver more than a little confused, since "hooter" is slang for "breast" in American English.
Despite releasing a new version of the film titled "Alien: The Director's Cut", Ridley Scott wrote in a statement in the film's packaging, that he still feels the original Alien (1979) was his perfect vision of the film. The newer version is titled "The Director's Cut" for marketing purposes, featuring deleted scenes many fans wanted to see incorporated into the film (such as the scene where Lambert and Ripley discuss whether or not they've slept with Ash, suggesting there's something not quite right about Ash). He also deleted as much material from this cut to maintain the movie's pacing.
For Parker's death, a fiberglass cast of Yaphet Kotto's head was made, and then filled with pigs' brains. The forehead was made of wax, so that the Alien's teeth could penetrate it easily. Barbed hooks were fastened to the end of the teeth to make sure it broke the wax surface effectively.
For the Alien's appearance in the shuttle, the set was built around Bolaji Badejo, giving him an effective hiding place. However, extricating himself from the hiding place proved to be more difficult than anticipated. The Alien suit tore several times, and, in one instance, the whole tail came off.
According to a quote from Veronica Cartwright in a film magazine, when the Alien's tail wrapped around her legs, they were actually Harry Dean Stanton's legs, in a shot originally filmed for another scene entirely.
According to Ridley Scott in the DVD commentary, he had envisioned a moment in the ending scenes of Ripley and the Alien in the space shuttle, in which the Alien would be sexually aroused by Ripley. Scott says that in the scene, after Ripley hides in the closet, the Alien would find her, and would be staring at her through the glass door. The Alien would then start touching itself as if comparing its body to Ripley's. The idea was eventually scrapped.
Originally, there was no subplot with the Company betraying the crew. When David Giler and Walter Hill re-wrote the first draft by Dan O' Bannon and Ronald Shusett, they wanted to find ways to make the plot more interesting. They initially added a third act twist, where the ship's CPU had a hidden directive. Mother was supposed to allow the facehugged Kane into the ship, despite Ripley's objections. Although the Company had programmed Mother to reroute the Nostromo, and investigate the origin of the species, the computer functioned under its own special protocol. As Mother states in the final scenes, she was not keen on betraying the crew, but she took a neutral place by allowing the creature to enter the ship, gestate and evolve. When Ripley scolds Mother, the CPU retorts that her allegiance lies only to science. The data for this "key-product" would be fascinating for the scientific world. The producers and writers finally realized that this revelation would be too reminiscent of HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). They kept Mother as the CPU, but incorporated Ash as the seventh and final character, who was always intended to be the spy. He was written as an android, and much of his attitude echoes the scrapped Mother storyline (he opens the hatch to allow the parasite to enter the ship, despite the quarantine rules. In the Director's Cut, he monitors the stain inside Kane, but lets it incubate, he wants to keep the dead facehugger for further studies, and he repeatedly expresses his wonder for the new fascinating species). Ash even had extra dialogue about the key products found in space, and the orders by the Company, but Ridley Scott ultimately decided to streamline the death scene of him, and make it more foreboding for the remaining crew.
The room where Brett gets taken out by the Xenomorph, was a point of contention between Ridley Scott and the producers. They didn't understand why there would be water pouring, or chains dangling in a ship such as this. Scott, feeling he needed the extra movement, stuck to his guns.
Although Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett had included a clause in the script, stating that all of the characters could be either male or female, they hoped to avoid what was already becoming a cliché in horror films: the female in danger being the only one left alive to face the killer at the climax, later referred to as the "final girl" phenomena. Ironically, that's exactly how the character of Ripley ended up, although it must be noted that, from the outset, she is much stronger and more resourceful than the typical horror film "final girl".
The Xenomorph in this film is slightly different from others of his kind featured in the sequels in terms of behavior: unlike the other Aliens in the franchise, which kill only for food, host gathering or self-defense, the Alien in this film is implied multiple times in the film, novelization, and several scripts to be very sadistic, and enjoys killing for fun. This is shown when the Alien kills Parker: he waits thirty seconds or so, while squeezing Parker so hard he bleeds, before finally killing him with a headshot.
Several planned but un-filmed scenes were; Dallas and Parker using a craft called "The Flying Bedstead" to enact repairs on the exterior of the ship while in space. A sex scene between Ripley and Dallas. The crew using internal cameras to look for the Alien, where they find it halfway matured, looking something like a cross between the chestburster and an egg with feet. Dallas' death was to take place in a huge upside down "wind tunnel" in the air duct system. Dallas looks up to see the Alien on the ceiling of this massive cylinder, where it leaps from one side to the other in a super-fast descent toward him. The Alien was to pull Ripley out of the shuttle with the grapple wire where she shoots it with a pistol and makes her way back inside before destroying it with the engines.
Walter Hill and David Giler's most significant contribution to the script was to make Ash an android. Although Dan O'Bannon has been reluctant to acknowledge any positive changes by Hill and Giler, Ronald Shusett has described the addition as a significant improvement to the plot.
The shot where the Xenomorph's tail goes through Lambert's legs and up her back, was actually taken from the scene in which Brett was killed. The pants and boots don't fit what Lambert is wearing in the scene, where she encounters the Alien. Originally, her character was to crawl away from the Alien, and essentially die from fright, hiding in a locker, but this was never shot.
Ridley Scott has recently said that Blade Runner (1982) shares a universe with the Alien franchise, which of course shares a universe with Prometheus. Even beyond that, the Alien and Predator franchises share a universe as well, as shown in the Alien vs Predator movies. In total, this means that five different movie franchises (Blade Runner (one film), Alien (four films), Prometheus (one film), Predator (three films), and Alien vs Predator (two films)) share a universe. This also means that there are a total of eleven films in this franchise (fifteen, if you include the upcoming movies).
The character of Ash, and subsequently an android character being introduced into the film, is what Dan O'Bannon calls a "Russian spy", someone on a mission, who it is discovered, intends to sabotage said mission. "If it wasn't in there, what difference does it make?" the screenwriter asks. "I mean, who gives a rat's ass? So somebody is a robot." O'Bannon was annoyed by the character being added, and called it "an inferior idea from inferior minds well acted and well directed."
A different version of Ash explaining to the remaining crew what his mission was had much different dialogue. According to Veronica Cartwright, Ash originally asked them if they had tried to communicate with the Xenomorph yet. There was also dialogue about the Alien being an experiment of some kind.
A scene scripted, but only partially filmed, was referred to as the "Air Lock scene". It was supposed to take place after the scene where Ripley finds out about Ash's special order. Parker contacts Ripley and Lambert over the intercom, saying that he is watching the Alien moving in a corridor near an inner airlock door. He asks Lambert to open the inner door from the bridge, in the hope that the Alien will enter the air lock, so they can close the door and blow it out into space. Ripley makes her way to Parker's position, and the plan seems to work, until an alarm suddenly goes off. It startles the Alien, and as it escapes the air lock, its tail gets crushed under the inner door. Its blood causes a small hull breach, which temporarily decompresses the section, knocking Ripley and Parker unconscious. After being revived, Ripley is convinced that Ash set off the alarm in order to protect the Alien. This leads to the scene where Ash traps and assaults Ripley (her nosebleed was meant to be an aftereffect of the decompression). Only the shots from the Nostromo's bridge were filmed, but the remainder of the scene had to be scrapped, due to time limitations.
When she was interviewed about Sir John Hurt, following his death on January 25, 2017. Sigourney Weaver stated that she had thought Sir John Hurt was really dying when they filmed the chestburster scene, and did not realize that he was acting when they filmed the sequence, and that cast were not acting when the Alien comes out of Sir John Hurt's chest and runs off the table.
The Xenomorph and the facehugger only appear on-screen for around four minutes. Director Ridley Scott purposely reduced the amount of screentime of the Xenomorph to make its limited appearance all the more scary.
On January 25, 2017, Sir John Hurt became the first main cast member from the film to pass away, just as his character Kane did in the film. On September 15, 2017, Harry Dean Stanton became the second cast member to pass away, just like his character Brett is the second character in the film to die.
It was rumored that when the film premiered on the ITV network in the UK in 1982, a scene was shown which happened towards the end of the film, in which the Alien's shadow could be seen as it sneaks aboard the escape shuttle, just before Ripley's terrifying final confrontation with it. However, this scene is not among the deleted scenes in the special features on the DVD.
In the first half of the first four Alien films, one or two characters are introduced and built up in a way to make the audience think that they are going to be important characters throughout the story, only to have them killed off less than halfway through. In this movie, it is Dallas (Tom Skerritt).
The scene where the Alien enters the room and approaches Lambert, was trimmed down and re-shot. Originally, it was filmed in wide shots, showing the full Alien as it approached Lambert while walking on all fours, belly-up. Ridley Scott felt it made the Xenomorph appear too human in configuration, so it was re-shot mainly with close-ups, and far less focus on the Alien.
This is the only film in the Alien franchise that does not contain a variation of the Alien Queen. In Alien 3 (1992), Ripley discovers that an Alien queen embryo is growing inside of her in the third act, while Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007) features a premature Predalien Queen, according to the directors. This is because James Cameron developed the concept of an Alien Queen for Aliens (1986), so the idea did not exist for this film's production.