Documentary Review: ‘Memory: The Origins of Alien’

Review by James Lindorf

Director Alexandre O. Philippe is continuing his look at some of the most significant scenes and films in cinema history with Memory: The Origins of Alien. In 1971 a relatively unknown writer named Dan O’Bannon penned a 29-page script entitled Memory. Eight years later, the Ridley Scott directed film, now known as Alien, would go on to be one of the most beloved Sci-Fi movies ever. After grossing ten times its production budget and spawning seven sequels, the fascination with the world of Alien is still expanding. Never-before-seen materials from O’Bannon and H.R. Giger, including original story notes, rejected designs, exclusive behind-the-scenes footage and interviews, are the backbone of the film. The film features appearances from Veronica Cartwright (The Birds), Roger Christian (Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope), Tom Skerritt (Top Gun), Ronald Shusett, and Roger Corman (The Silence of the Lambs). Screen Media will be releasing the film nationwide and On-Demand on October 4th.

It is evident in every frame that everyone involved in this production reveres the work done by Scott, O’Bannon, and Giger. It is both its greatest strength and weakness. When everything is sacred, it tends to lose meaning, just like the film has a habit of losing focus. It is unclear if they wanted to make a profile on O’Bannon, discuss the cultural impact of Alien or do a deep dive into the Chest-burster scene like Philippe’s film ‘78/52’. The dissection and discussion of that iconic scene are easily the strongest of the three elements. The recontextualization of specific scenes and themes in a modern atmosphere is a close second. This segment was a bit short because Alien didn’t have a decision as questionable as having a white woman play a Latinx woman like its sequel, Aliens. Everything else about the documentary is tied for a distant third, not because it is poorly made or presented, but because it borders on sycophantic. As shown, everyone who was involved in the creation of Alien is an unquestionable genius, and anyone who walked away or declined to participate is an unmitigated fool.

There is new information here, but most of it is far from groundbreaking. Memory does work as a one-stop-shop for information that is available, but spread thin among behind-the-scene featurettes, commentaries, and books about the production. Memory: The Origins of Alien is well made and a must-watch for any serious fan of Alien or Sci-Fi in general, but may lack the focus and surprises to keep casual viewers around until the credits roll.

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