Sundance Review: MEMORY: THE ORIGINS OF ALIEN Is At Least Wackier Than Your Average Special Feature

Say, that ALIEN movie is pretty good.


Alien is a classic. It’s one of the best science fiction films, one of the best horror films, and simply one of the most beautiful films ever made. And it was made during a cinematic era particularly exalted by most of the movie writers you read online. As such, it’s quite possible you feel like you’ve heard enough about Alien at this point. Far too much to watch another whole documentary on the subject.

That may be true, but there's still a little room for messing around. Alexandre O. Philippe’s Memory: The Origins of Alien, is worth another dip into this world, even if none of it is actually new to you. There’s an idiosyncrasy to Memory that warrants a viewing regardless of how well-versed you are in the material. With presentation constructed the way it is here, it’s not so bad to hear the same information twice.

Memory begins not with talking heads or footage from Ridley Scott’s seminal film but rather a curious dramatization of the awakening of the Furies from Greek Myth. As we watch these three witch-like creatures arise from their cavernous floor, mouths filled with metal teeth, it immediately becomes clear this won’t be your average making-of documentary, which makes sense from a filmmaker like Philippe. Memory doesn’t quite reach this height of boldness again, but it definitely kicks the documentary off with a strong opening statement. For one, it avers that this will be a lot stranger than most movie documentaries (once it settles down, this isn’t really the case). And two, it’s not afraid of making laborious stretches to find ponderous takes on Alien (yep, that’s definitely a feature).

That’s probably the central takeaway from this particular Alien examination: it’s not afraid to go up its own ass. The film draws from everything - Greek myth, the pyramids - as stepping stones to the creation of Alien’s aesthetic, thus presenting it as an expression of human fear in continuity with ancient times that will produce eye-rolls in just as many people as it informs. The film’s inherent sexuality is belabored as though such takes are a brand new discovery. There’s a long stretch about how artist Frances Bacon’s “Crucifixion” inspired the Chestburster that is about as convincing as shopping mall Tarot reading.

And yet, I was never bored with the film. I appreciate its efforts to color outside the lines a little. It is especially good when it gets down to the business of the actual making of Alien. The cast interviews are interesting, and it’s refreshing that Memory doesn’t try to cover the whole production, focusing mostly on Dan O’Bannon’s development of Alien and the production of the iconic chestburster scene. Sigourney Weaver is missing and Ridley Scott’s contributions appear poached from other interviews, but the voices the film did procure are informative enough.

Your mileage is definitely going to vary on this one. There’s no real need for it to exist, and it travels down some ridiculous paths that’ll annoy some. I found it enjoyable, but certainly not vital. I would never tell anyone this is something they have to see. Without fail, the best parts are watching clips of Alien on the big screen. It would be infinitely better to just see the original film projected instead. 

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