The Story Behind The Screenplay: Part 1 - Alien

The Story Behind The Screenplay: Part 1 - Alien


The Story Behind The Screenplay is a new series by Martin Keady that examines the origins of some of the greatest screenplays. It begins with one of the most extraordinary and extraordinarily successful screenplays ever written – Alien.

April 26 2017 was “Alien Day”, the second annual celebration of the remarkably successful Alien series of movies, organised by the studio that made them, 20th Century Fox. The very fact that there is an “Alien Day” at all is incredible, given that the original Alien was, in addition to being a sci-fi film, a horror film. There are few other horror films, if any, that have permeated the global cultural consciousness to the extent that they can be considered deserving of such celebration — having their own “day” of the year, like a birthday. However, it is also somewhat ironic, because it demonstrates that the sheer shock and awe that the original film inspired has largely been dissipated. That is a shame, because the original Alien, far more than its seemingly endless succession of sequels and prequels (the latest, Alien:Covenant, will be released within the next few weeks), is simultaneously one of the scariest and most brilliant screenplays ever written.

alien

Like so many sci-fi scripts, Alien began as a short story, co-written by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett in the mid-1970s. The two men were young sci-fi enthusiasts of the kind who did so much to create the entire sci-fi movie genre, with George Lucas, of course, being the archetype. They had already cut their teeth as film-makers and screenwriters when they began working together. In particular, O’Bannon had attended the University of Southern California film school, where he met a man who would go on to become another giant of the sci-fi genre, John Carpenter.

Carpenter followed in the footsteps of Lucas, who was about a decade older and another alumni of USC, by turning a short sci-fi film he had made at film school into a low-budget but high-concept feature. In Lucas’s case, Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB became THX 1138 (1971), his first feature. In Carpenter’s case, the title of his short film, Dark Star, remained the same for the expanded feature, which was released in 1974. O’Bannon had a crucial role in the making of the feature-length version: he co-wrote the script; edited the film; and even played one of the leading roles. Dark Star, dubbed “The Spaced-Out Odyssey”, was that rarity, a sci-fi comedy, about the crew of an intergalactic space-ship charged with the task of destroying unstable planets that might threaten human colonisation of the universe. It was, and remains, a classic cult film, but for all its low-budget brilliance O’Bannon remained dissatisfied, for two main reasons: first, he felt that the alien depicted in the film was poorly, even laughably, realised; and, secondly, he yearned to make a space drama, and ideally a deep space drama (in both senses of the phrase). Eventually, with Alien, he would.

Read the full article on TheScriptLab.com

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