Alien Writer Dan O’Bannon Thought You Shouldn’t See The Movie Twice…Or The Sequels Ever
This year marks the thirty-fifth anniversary for the movie Alien, which opened on May 25th, 1979. And it’s one that’s not going unnoticed. Not only will Sega will be releasing a sequel in video game form called Alien: Isolation on October 7th (my hands-on preview of which you can read here), but there are also a number of other things being planned (none of which I can talk about yet) to celebrate the release of this classic science fiction movie.
As part of the celebration, Fox recently screened the movie in one of the theaters they have on their studio lot in Los Angeles. Which was great for me because while I’ve seen Alien numerous times, I had never seen it on the big screen, since I was only eleven at the time (though that didn’t stop the idiot parents who brought their five-year-old kid to the Fox lot screening).
It was while I was waiting for the movie to start that I remembered something. In 1999, when Alien was celebrating its twentieth anniversary, Fox Home Video released it and its three sequels on DVD and VHS, both individually and as a boxed set called Alien Legacy. And to promote it, they set up interviews with Dan O’Bannon, who had co-created the story of Alien with Ronald Shusett, and then wrote the movie’s screenplay (with uncredited help from David Giler and Walter Hill). Which Fox must’ve later regretted because when O’Bannon spoke to me about the movie, he proceeded to explain why you should never see Alien twice, or its sequels ever. Which, of course, would mean that you shouldn’t buy them individually or in the Alien Legacy.
Dan O’Bannon with Ron Shusett
Here now, for the first time, is the uncut transcription of my brief phone conversation with O’Bannon.
What kind of hallucinogenic drugs were you on when you created the creature and how can I get some?
Drugs don’t help. You’ve got to clean up in order to be able to write. Back then, in that era, I had a couple of friends who tried to take psychedelics to make movies, but they didn’t get very good results.
I’ll tell you something: There were a lot of things in my life that converged on that moment to make me write that particular script. It was a distillation of things that had thrilled me and scared me in science fiction movies and stories since I was a child.
But where did you get the ideas for the creature? Because people always give credit H.R. Giger, who designed it, but without your script it just would’ve sat there. Or worse, spouted one-liners.
Well yes, you could’ve taken that look, and put it with a lame script, and you would’ve had Blade Runner.
I mean, I can design aliens too, but specifically forwent — if that’s a word — doing so in that script because I wanted to get [H.R.] Giger, if possible, to design the thing. I couldn’t see any purpose to be served with me thinking up what it looked like. What I set out to do in that script was to decide that it did, it’s behavior, and let the designer work around that.
Dan O’Bannon with H.R. Giggler
What do you think of what other writers added to the creature’s behavior?
They thought up all of the things I discarded. All of those almost-good ideas, they’ve trotted them all out in a big parade. They don’t know, they’re working blind. They. Do. Not. Know…. I Know. I have the instinct, I can tell, and the people who made the sequels are working blind. They should be making something else.
The first thing you should realize is that it should never have been sequelized at all. There’s nowhere left to go. A good deal of the impact is surprise, never having seen this thing before. Once you’ve seen it, it’s just repetitive. So they shouldn’t have made a sequel at all. The fact that they did was generated simply by a desire to leech more money off the idea. That’s all. The fact that a lot of people like the sequels is neither here nor there. A lot of people like a lot of things.
Have you seen the movie lately?
Do you think it still holds up?
No. Because the images are all familiar.
But is that a virtue of time, or having seen the movie?
Having seen the movie, and its many imitations. There’s no novelty to it. it’s still a handsome film, but it simply cannot be as effective. We are afraid of the unknown. When it is known, it’s not as scary. This movie was meant to be scary above all.
Following Alien, O’Bannon went on to write two segments in 1981’s Heavy Metal, “B-17” and “Soft Landing,” as well as 1985’s The Return Of The Living Dead (which he also directed), and co-wrote 1986’s Invaders From Mars, 1990’s Total Recall, 1995’s Screamers (which was based on a Philip K. Dick story), and 1997’s Bleeders. He passed away on December 17th, 2009. Which was the thirtieth anniversary for Alien.
I have no idea if O’Bannon ever changed his mind about seeing Alien twice, or the sequels. But what I do know is that as I said there, in the theater on the Fox lot, watching the movie for the first time on a big screen, I was not the only one who was getting scared. Again.
And no, I’m not talking about the kid.