15 Fascinating Facts About Alien

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Ridley Scott’s Alien was perhaps the first movie to reveal the true terrors of space, where no one can hear you scream. The 1979 horror sci-fi classic gave us spine-tingling new special effects and a revolutionary heroine in Ellen Ripley, the alien’s only worthy adversary. But she almost didn't make the movie. Find out how she wound up in the script, which rock band helped with the lighting design, and more interesting Alien facts below.

1. It was originally called Star Beast.

When Dan O’Bannon was drafting the screenplay that would become Alien, he had a more unusual title: Star Beast. He didn’t like it, but struggled to find a better replacement until one late-night writing session. As he was typing dialogue in which the crew members discussed the alien, that word jumped out at him. He promptly ditched Star Beast for the simpler title, which he loved because it was a noun and an adjective.

2. Star Wars helped Alien get made.

Initially, Alien wasn’t an easy sell. O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett (who co-wrote the story, but not the screenplay) bounced between producers for a while, almost landing a deal with B-movie legend Roger Corman. But the script eventually went to a new company, Brandywine Productions, which had ties to 20th Century Fox. The three founding members asked for all sorts of rewrites, but each new treatment O’Bannon and Shusett returned wasn’t swaying the brass at Fox. Then Star Wars arrived and took over the box office. Every studio in town rushed to get anything remotely sci-fi into production, so Alien got the green light.

3. A Swiss surrealist painter designed the aliens.

All the aliens in the movie—the “facehugger,” the “chestburster,” the humanoid “space jockey,” and the big bad adult—were designed by the surrealist painter H.R. Giger. O’Bannon handpicked him for Alien. He had first met Giger in Paris while working on Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed Dune movie. He was struck by Giger’s sinister images, and even more so by his actual demeanor. As O’Bannon recalled in The Beast Within: The Making of Alien, Giger offered him opium immediately upon introduction. When O’Bannon asked the artist why he took opium, Giger replied, “I am afraid of my visions.” O’Bannon assured him it was only his mind. “That is what I’m afraid of,” Giger said.

4. Dutch customs detained H.R. Giger for his designs.

Dutch customs officials once stopped Giger because they thought his paintings were photographs, and were deeply disturbed. But Giger was just annoyed. “Where on earth did they think I could have photographed my subjects?” he responded. “In hell, perhaps?”

5. Ripley was written as a male character.

O’Bannon and Shusett wrote the entire cast as men, but they left a note in the screenplay that “the crew is unisex and all parts are interchangeable for men or women.” Shusett admits they never dreamed of the lead being a woman, though. The producers made that call, believing a female Ripley would be more unique but also more palatable to their bankrollers. As Brandywine producer David Giler remembered, “Looking it over, [producer Walter Hill] and I thought, ‘Here’s this one character who’s not too interesting.’ And this studio—I hate to say this, but for very cynical reasons—this studio [20th Century Fox] is making Julia and Turning Point and they really believe in the return of the woman’s movie. [We’d] probably get a lot of points if we turn this character into a woman.”

6. Ash wasn't in the original script.

Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm, John Hurt, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Yaphet Kotto, and Harry Dean Stanton in Alien (1979)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Ash, the secretly android member of the crew played by Ian Holm, did not appear in O’Bannon’s script. He was invented by the producers. While Shusett loved the addition, O’Bannon was less enthusiastic. He complained in the 2003 DVD commentary, “If it wasn’t in there, what difference does it make? I mean, who gives a rat’s ass? So somebody is a robot.”

7. The ship's name comes from a Joseph Conrad novel.

All the horror unfolds aboard a spaceship dubbed Nostromo. The name was ripped from the title of a 1904 novel by Joseph Conrad, which follows an Italian explorer sent to South America to plunder a silver mine. That’s not the movie’s only Conrad reference, though. The shuttle that Ripley uses to escape is called Narcissus, and that moniker refers to yet another Conrad novel, with a much more problematic title.

8. Cast members regularly passed out on set.

Spacesuits (even fake ones) tend to get hot—especially when they don’t let any air out. Add in set lighting and a summertime production schedule and you have some truly sweltering conditions. Veronica Cartwright, who played Lambert, revealed in The Beast Within that the actors were fainting so regularly that a nurse was kept on standby with oxygen tanks. But the costumes weren’t actually updated until kids got involved. For a few perspective shots, Scott put his two sons in spacesuits. They also passed out, which finally forced the crew to modify the costumes.

9. A 6-foot-10-inch Nigerian student played the lead Alien.

Bolaji Badejo wore the famous alien suit, and he didn't get the part through a traditional casting call. Badejo was in a pub in London, where he’d moved to study graphic arts, when a casting agent spotted him and immediately called Alien associate producer Ivor Powell. Powell and Scott had been struggling to find someone who fit the praying mantis aesthetic they wanted, but lanky 6’10” Badejo was just their guy. He took mime classes to get the alien motions down and sat on a custom swing in between takes. (With a tail like that, chairs were out of the question.)

10. The egg required hydraulics, hand shadows, and cow tripe.

Most directors make their cameo via a walk-on bit, not shadow puppets. But Scott’s big appearance in the movie comes when an alien facehugger appears to move inside its egg. As io9 noted, that was really just Scott flicking his gloved hands under the moving light. The egg also came outfitted with steel hydraulics along the top. And when it's all opened up? Those are cow intestines, not alien parts, nestled inside.

11. The Who's Roger Daltrey helped with the lighting.

When the Nostromo crew disturbs the facehuggers, there's a beam of blue light, which indicates early trouble. And you have The Who to thank for that. Lead singer Roger Daltrey was experimenting with lasers right next to the studio where Alien was shooting, and he graciously lent his equipment out to Scott.

12. The actors were genuinely shocked by the chestburster scene.

For the iconic scene where a chestburster shoots out of John Hurt’s torso, Scott wanted the best possible reaction from his cast. So he deliberately kept details hidden from all the actors, aside from Hurt. They knew a creature would emerge, they had seen the puppet, and they were more than a little suspicious of the raincoats they’d been given. But they had no idea what kind of gore was in store. Their reaction to the bloody burst is completely genuine. According to The Guardian, Yaphet Kotto (Parker) shut himself in his room right after the scene and wouldn’t talk to anyone.

13. The chestburster was inspired by Dan O'Bannon's medical problems.

No real person has ever “birthed” an extraterrestrial through the chest, but Alien’s screenwriter understood this horrifying affair better than most. O’Bannon suffered from Crohn’s disease, and it directly inspired the chestburster scene. He likened his digestion process to “something bubbling inside … struggling to get out.”

14. Ash's innards were made from milk, caviar, pasta, and marbles.

Remember that weird white goo that seeps out of Ash’s android head when he’s decapitated? Scott’s crew made that from a combination of milk, caviar, pasta, and glass marbles. It was especially unfortunate for the Holm, who hated milk.

15. A cocoon scene was cut.

The movie initially offered a much more concrete ending for Ripley’s crewmates Dallas and Brett. In a deleted scene, Ripley encounters them both as she’s rushing to the shuttle. They’ve been wrapped in an alien cocoon, and only Dallas can make out any words. When it becomes clear to Ripley that they’re beyond saving, she torches the entire cocoon. Almost everyone involved felt the scene dragged down Ripley’s escape, and since the original cut was well over three hours, it was left out of the final film.

This story has been updated for 2019.

11 Fun Facts About Them!

Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Joan Weldon and James Arness star in Them! (1954).
Warner Home Video

In the 1950s, Elvis was king, hula hooping was all the rage, and movie screens across America were overrun with giant arthropods. Back then, Tarantula (1955), The Deadly Mantis (1957), and other “big bug” films starring colossal insects or arachnids enjoyed a surprising amount of popularity. What kicked off this creepy-crawly craze? An eerie blockbuster whose impossible premise reflected widespread anxieties about the emerging atomic age. Grab a Geiger counter and let’s explore 1954's Them!.

1. Them!'s primary scriptwriter once worked for General Douglas MacArthur.

When World War II broke out, the knowledge Ted Sherdeman had gained from his career as a radio producer was put to good use by Uncle Sam, landing him a position as a radio communications advisor to General MacArthur. However, the fiery conclusion of the war left Sherdeman with a lifelong disdain for nuclear weapons. In an interview he revealed that upon hearing about the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima, he “just went over to the curb and started to throw up."

Shifting his focus from radio to motion pictures, Sherdeman later joined Warned Bros. as a staff producer. One day he was given a screenplay that really made his eyes bug out. George Worthing Yates, best known for his work on the Lone Ranger serials, had decided to take a stab at science fiction and penned an original script about giant, irradiated ants attacking New York City. "The idea appealed to me very much,” Sherdeman told Cinefantastique, "because, aside from man, ants are the only creatures in the world that plan to wage war, and nobody trusted the atomic bomb at that time.” (His statement about animal combat is debatable: chimpanzee gangs will also take organized, warlike measures in order to annex their rivals’ territories.)

Although he loved the basic concept, Sherdeman felt that the script needed something more. Screenwriter Russell S. Hughes was asked to punch up the script, but died of a heart attack after completing the first 50 pages. With some help from director Gordon Douglas, Sherdeman took it upon himself to finish the screenplay. Thus, Them! was born.

2. Two main ants were built for the movie.

Them! brought its spineless villains to life using a combination of animatronics and puppetry, courtesy of an effects artist by the name of Dick Smith. He constructed two fully functional mechanical ants for the production, with the first of these being a 12-foot monster filled with gears, levers, motors, and pulleys. Operating the big bug was a job that required a small army of technicians who’d pull sophisticated cables to control the ant’s limbs off-camera. These guys worked in close proximity and often crashed into each other as a result, prompting Douglas to call them “a comedy team.”

The big insect mainly appears in long shots, and for close-ups, Smith built the front three quarters of a second large-scale ant and mounted it onto a camera crane. During scenes that required swarms of ants, smaller, non-motorized models were used. Blowing wind machines moved the little units’ heads around in a lifelike manner.

3. Them! features the Wilhelm Scream.

Fifty-nine minutes in, the ants board a ship and one of them grabs a sailor, who unleashes the so-called "Wilhelm Scream." You can also hear it when James Whitmore’s character is killed, and the sound bite rings out once again during the movie’s climax. Them! was among the first movies to reuse this distinctive holler, which was originally recorded three years earlier for the 1951 western Distant Drums. Since then, it’s become something of an inside joke for sound recording specialists. The scream has appeared in Titanic (1997), Toy Story (1995), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Batman Returns (1992), the Star Wars saga (1977-present), all three The Lord of the Rings movies (2001-2003), and countless other films.

4. Leonard Nimoy makes an appearance.

In one brief scene, future Star Trek star Leonard Nimoy plays an Army man who receives a message about an alleged “ant-shaped UFO” sighting over Texas. He then proceeds to poke fun at the Lone Star State, because, as everybody knows, insectile space vessels are highly illogical.

5. Many different sounds were combined to produce the screeching ant cries.

Throughout the movie, the monsters announce their presence with a haunting wail. Douglas’s team created this unforgettable shriek by mixing assorted noises, including bird whistles, which were artificially pitched up by sound technicians.

6. Sandy Descher had to sniff a mystery liquid during her signature scene.

Like Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, Them! has a deliberate pace and the massive insects don’t make an onscreen appearance until the half hour mark. Douglas took credit for this restrained approach, saying, “I told Ted, let’s tease [the audience] a little bit before you see the ant. Let’s build up to it."

So instead of showing off the big bugs, the opening scene follows a little girl as she wanders through the New Mexican desert, listlessly clutching her favorite doll. That stunning performance was delivered by child actress Sandy Descher. Later, in one of the most effective title drop scenes ever orchestrated, a vial of formic acid is held under her character’s nose. Suddenly recognizing the aroma, the traumatized youngster screams “Them! Them!” Descher never found out what sort of liquid was really sloshing around in that container.

“They used something that did smell quite strange. It wasn’t ammonia, it was something else,” she told an interviewer. Still, the mysterious brew had a beneficial effect on her performance. “They tried to create something different and it helped me a lot with that particular scene,” Descher said.

7. Them! was originally going to be filmed in 3D and in color.

To hear Douglas tell it, the insect models looked a lot scarier in person. “I put green and red soap bubbles in the eyes,” he once stated. “The ants were purple, slimy things. Their bodies were wet down with Vaseline. They scared the bejeezus out of you.” For better or for worse, though, audiences never got the chance to savor the bugs’ color scheme.

At first, Warner Bros. had planned on shooting the movie in color. Furthermore, to help Them! compete with Universal’s brand-new, three-dimensional monster movie, Creature From the Black Lagoon, the studio strongly considered using 3D cameras. But in the end, the higher-ups at Warner Bros. didn’t supply Douglas with the money he’d need to shoot it in this manner. Shortly before production started on Them!, the budget was greatly reduced, forcing the use of two-dimensional, black and white film.

8. The setting of the climactic scene was changes—twice.

Yates envisioned the final battle playing out in New York City’s world-famous subway tunnels. Hughes moved the action westward, conjuring up an epic showdown between human soldiers and the last surviving ants at a Santa Monica amusement park. Finally, for both artistic and budgetary reasons, Sherdeman set the big finale in the sewers of Los Angeles.

9. Warner Bros. encouraged theaters to use Them! as a military recruitment tool.

The film’s official pressbook advised theater managers who were screening Them!& to contact their nearest Armed Forces recruitment offices. “Since civil defense in the face of an emergency figures in the picture, make the most of it by inviting [a] local agency to set up a recruiting booth in the lobby,” the filmmakers advised. Also, the document suggested that movie houses post signs reading: “What would you do if (name of city) were attacked by THEM?! Prepare for any danger by enlisting in Civil Defense today!”

10. The movie was a surprise hit.

Studio head Jack L. Warner predicted that Them!, with its far-fetched plot, wouldn’t fare well at the box office. So imagine his surprise when it raked in more than $2.2 million—enough to make the picture one of the studio's highest-grossing films of 1954.

11. Them! landed Fess Parker the role of TV's Davy Crockett.

When Walt Disney went to see Them!, he had a specific objective in mind: Scout a potential Davy Crockett. At the time, Disney was developing a new television series that would chronicle the life and times of the iconic frontiersman, and James Arness, who plays an FBI agent in Them!, was on the short list of candidates for the role. Yet as the sci-fi thriller unfolded, it was actor Fess Parker who grabbed Disney’s attention. Director Gordon Douglas had hired Parker to portray the pilot who ends up in a psych ward after an aerial encounter with a gargantuan flying ant. And while his character only appears in one scene, the performance impressed Disney so much that the struggling actor was soon cast as Crockett.

By the Texan’s own admission, his good fortune may’ve been the product of bargain hunting. “Walt probably asked, ‘How much would Arness cost?’ and then ‘This fellow [Parker], we ought to be able to get him real economical,” Parker once said.

George R.R. Martin Doesn't Think Game of Thrones Was 'Very Good' For His Writing Process

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

No one seems to have escaped the fan fury over the finals season of Game of Thrones. While likely no one got it quite as bad as showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, even author George R.R. Martin—who wrote A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the show is based, faced backlash surrounding the HBO hit. The volatile reaction from fans has apparently taken a toll on both Martin's writing and personal life.

In an interview with The Guardian, the acclaimed author said he's sticking with his original plan for the last two books, explaining that the show will not impact them. “You can’t please everybody, so you’ve got to please yourself,” he stated.

He went on to explain how even his personal life has taken a negative turn because of the show. “I can’t go into a bookstore any more, and that used to be my favorite thing to do in the world,” Martin said. “To go in and wander from stack to stack, take down some books, read a little, leave with a big stack of things I’d never heard of when I came in. Now when I go to a bookstore, I get recognized within 10 minutes and there’s a crowd around me. So you gain a lot but you also lose things.”

While fans of the book series are fully aware of the author's struggle to finish the final two installments, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, Martin admitted that part of the delay has been a result of the HBO series, and fans' reaction to it.

“I don’t think [the series] was very good for me,” Martin said. “The very thing that should have speeded me up actually slowed me down. Every day I sat down to write and even if I had a good day … I’d feel terrible because I’d be thinking: ‘My God, I have to finish the book. I’ve only written four pages when I should have written 40.'"

Still, Martin has sworn that the books will get finished ... he just won't promise when.

[h/t The Guardian]

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