Dec 21, 2009

R.I.P. Dan O' Bannon, Alien screenwriter (reputedly)

“Alien is to Star Wars what the Rolling Stones were to the Beatles,” said producer David Giler, “Its a nasty Star Wars.” Produced by the same studio, Fox, still under the management of Alan Ladd, the Alien script had been sitting on the desk as Fox for almost a year without a flutter of interest, according to screenwriter Dan O’ Bannon: “They wanted to follow through on Star Wars, and they wanted to follow through fast and the only spaceship script they had sitting on their desk was Alien, so they greenlighted it, wham.” It almost certainly couldn’t have been the quality of O’Bannon’s script. A hardcore sci-fi nut and neophyte screenwriter, fresh from USC, O’ Bannon had written something called Starbeast, and it came crammed with clichés from sci-fi movies of the fifties like Forbidden Planet and It! Terror From Beyond Space. There were pyramids, and holograms, and an all-male cast, who spoke at length about “what should be done” in stiff, officer-class locutions, but never got around to doing very much: —
STANDARD steps forward and slaps ROBY across the face.
The others are shocked.
HUNTER: Hey now, what is this?
STANDARD: Ask him.
ROBY: I understood why you did that.
After a hard stare at Roby, Standard give him a curt nod and
turns his attention to the machinery.
It read like The Last Days of the British Raj in space — all curt nods,
hard stares and stiff upper lips. “It had not even B-picture merit,”
said producer Walter Hill. “Nobody could take it seriously. It had
a ‘Jesus gadzooks’ quality about it”. Hill had just set up a production
company, Brandywine films, with his partner David Giler, and landed
a production deal at Fox, when a friend passed them O Bannon’s
script, and while they both hated it, they admired what Hill called
the “low cunning” of its set-up — “you had a monster that could not
be killed without destroying your own life-support system”. Giler
sensed that the key to the film would be to treat it like an A-movie,
with full production values, and so he and Hill sat down and rewrote
the script in just under three days. Hill was the writer / director
behind such films as The Warriors and The Driver, and he wrote
scenes that played out like a one-liner competition at a tough-guy
convention. “Character is action,” he once said. “In my films, when
somebody puts a gun in your face, character is how many times you
blink.” He dropped the pyramids, introduced a computer called
mother, made two of the characters women, introduced a note of
discord between the officers and the working class crew, and
streamlined the whole thing with his headlong, hard-boiled style
— somewhere between “staccato and blank verse”, said Giler,
and it went something like this:—
A red stain.
Then a smear of blood blossoms on his chest.
The fabric of his tunic is ripped open.
A small head the size of a man’s fist pushes out.
The tiny head lunges forward, comes spurting out
of Dallas’s chest trailing a thick body.
Spatters fluids and blood in its wake.
Lands in the middle of the dishes and food.
Wriggles away while the crew scatters.
Halloween Haiku. It is to Hill, then, that we owe much of Alien.
From Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned To Stop Worrying And
Love The Summer by Yours Truly

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