After the smashing 1977 success of "Star Wars," Hollywood executives realized the commercial potential of the science fiction genre. This afforded opportunities to the few writers who had science fiction scripts ready, some of whom had had trouble getting their movies made before the new sci-fi craze. This included Dan O'Bannon's script for "Alien," which studios finally took seriously after George Lucas' worldwide phenomenon took off.
"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,'" said O'Bannon in "The Beast Within: The Making of Alien."
Finally having been given the green light to make his movie, O'Bannon needed a director. This also proved difficult, as the script was light on character development and heavy on action and violence. That was until he brought in British director Ridley Scott.
At that point in his career, Scott had only directed one feature film, "The Duellists." He had achieved a lot of success with it, winning "Best Debut Film" at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival. His success as a rookie director gave him a lot of buzz around Hollywood, but even with all that buzz, Scott was pretty far down the list of directors asked to work on "Alien." He only got the job after four other directors passed on it.
And Then, And Then, And Then
According to an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, while all the previous directors had been scared away by the film's lack of depth, Scott saw an opportunity. "I thought the script had an inordinately good engine. I thought it was virtually no characterization whatsoever. It was, 'And then and then and then.' And then I got to a page where it says, 'And then this thing comes out of the guy's chest,'" said Scott. "And I'm thinking, 'This has put off four of the directors' — because I was number five on the list. Obviously, clearly, the previous four went, 'What?!? This is ridiculous,' and just put it down. Because I'm a bit of a designer, I could see the film and I knew exactly what to do."
Scott took the extremely plot-driven script and filmed it to perfection, using his film-making techniques to heighten tension and allowing his actors to provide the characterization that was missing from the script itself.
Scott was even unafraid of the gruesome chestburster scene, one that has become the film's most iconic image, even earning a parody in "Spaceballs." In fact, he made it so visceral and horrifying that when the film first premiered, he considered whether he'd perhaps gone too far. Whether or not he did, the film was a classic, spawning multiple sequels, all of which Scott says are worse than his original.
"Alien" kicked Ridley Scott's directorial career into high gear, and it's hard to imagine the movie without him behind the scenes. And all of this because he was willing to take a risk that four other directors weren't.
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