The first sentence of the Alien Xenomorph page on Wikipedia is painfully erudite: “The “Alien” (also referred to as the “Xenomorph” or “Xenomorph XX121″) is a fictional endoparasitoid extraterrestrial species that is the eponymous antagonist of the Alien film series.” Needless to say, that’s not very helpful to the average person. If you want to learn about the incredible Alien from the movies, perhaps the following fun facts are easier to swallow!
1. TRULY ALIEN
The ‘ALIEN’ is actually called a xenomorph. That’s the scientific term for an extraterrestrial life form. Director of the 1979 film, Ridley Scott, admitted, “I’ve never liked horror films before because in the end it’s always been a man in a rubber suit.” He wanted something truly and utterly foreign. Producer Dan O’Bannon introduced Scott to Necronomicon, a book of paintings by H.R. Giger, and Scott “nearly fell out of his chair.” Noting the biomechanoid creatures of paintings Necronom IV and V, Scott said, “Why look any farther? I’ve never been more certain of anything in my life.”
But that did not mean there weren’t issues. Giger himself was brought on board to do his best to allay Scott’s concerns. “As I do with all my work, I made the creature look biomechanic. I worked with Plasticine, rubber, bones, ribbed tubes, and different mechanical stuff like wires. The whole costume is translucent; the head is fiberglass.” A separate head and torso was created for close-ups where the creature snarls, opens its mouth and sticks out its tongue—which also has a mouth with teeth that opens. Alas, in the end…
2. IT WAS JUST A MAN IN A RUBBER SUIT
Creating the xenomorph in the pre-digital era meant either puppetry or, to Scott’s disgust, a man in a rubber suit. The production ran into difficulty figuring out who to put in the suit. They interviewed karate champions, a mime artist, and even considered fashion runway models. Then they stumbled upon a student of graphic design in England, one Bolaji Badejo. As a member of the African Masai tribe, he stood seven feet, two inches tall and was reed thin. After making a full-body plaster cast of his naked body, Giger went to work on the suit.
Director Ridley Scott’s concerns were corroborated during a set test of Badejo in the xenomorph suit. When a producer suggested Badejo run around the set, Scott immediately countermanded. “No, I don’t want to see him running around. Every time we see him, I want him in a new pose. Every movement is going to be very slow, very graceful, and the Alien will alter shape so you never really know exactly what he looks like. The most important thing in a film of this type is not what you see but the effect of what you think you saw.”
3. OSCAR-WORTHY DRAMA BEHIND THE SCENES
Artist HR Giger controlled all extraterrestrial designs in 1979’s “ALIEN”. Such independence, director Ridley Scott insisted, was paramount to the look and feel of the alien environment. Giger sailed to England (he had a deadly fear of flying) and spent months designing and building the sets and creature effects. His work won him an Academy Award. Hollywood came calling.
Alas, Giger found difficulty working under the constraints of Hollywood. Every design was commandeered by producers who cared only for profit. After disappointing work on several films, including Poltergeist 2, and seeing his designs proliferate throughout Hollywood without him getting credit, the artist grew depressed and began complaining. He became, in effect, blacklisted.
Director James Cameron, who took over the helm for the hit Alien sequel Aliens, was well aware of Giger’s reputation in the business. He avoided working with the artist entirely. Indeed, Aliens is the only film in the franchise that does not mention Giger at any point in the credits. Cameron was a huge fan of Giger, however, and wrote him a two page letter explaining and apologizing for not working with him on “ALIENS.”
4. GENIUS OR MADMAN?
First day on the job of designing alien sets, Giger said to the production secretary, “I want bones.” After touring medical supply houses and slaughterhouses, a truck pulled up to deliver. There was an entire row of flawless human skulls, three fully preserved snake skeletons, and even a rhinoceros skull. Rumors spread on set that one set of bones belonged to his deceased fiancee, who had committed suicide.
“So you’d go into Giger’s studio and you’d see this guy looking like Count Dracula, dressed all in black leather, with his black hair, lily-white skin, and blazing eyes. He was surrounded by a room full of bones and he was carving away frantically at this giant block of styrofoam, and his whole black leather costume and his hair were covered with snowflakes from the stuff.”
“It was very hot that summer in London… but Giger was still decked out in his leathers. And everybody tried to get him to take off that jacket, but he wouldn’t do it. You see, I don’t think he dares take off those clothes, because if he did you’d see that underneath he’s not human. He’s a character from an H.P. Lovecraft story.”
To explore more about the genius behind the Alien, see H.R. Giger: Creator.
5. AMERICA’S MONSTER CRUSH
In 2001 Media Psychology Lab of Los Angeles conducted a survey of America’s favorite monsters. While the xenomorph only hit #10, it should be noted that those surveyed were as young as six and old as ninety. This no doubt explains why the majority of top entries skewed towards the iconic, being both kid-friendly and less-violent:
- #1 Dracula
- #3 Frankenstein
- #4 Godzilla
- #5 King Kong.
A similar 2004 UK poll proved Brits like their monsters scarier than Americans do: Alien ranked #3. Still, no one can deny the popularity of the xenomorph. Including 2017’s Alien: Covenant, it has been featured in eight feature films, not mention countless novels, comics, video games, and role-playing games.
6. MONSTER HIGH FIVE BONUS
Giger originally conceived of the chestburster—the stage of the alien that incubates inside a host and bursts forth—as a sort of “bloody turkey”. Unfortunately an attempt to model the creature came out looking like the Christmas variety. The final version of the creature was more like a spider with a tail. Luckily all those in the production were strong enough to admit when they were wrong. Indeed, producer Dan O’Bannon had originally planned to give the film the decidedly lackluster name of “Star Beast.”
Did you know all that? If you know something else fun that we missed, share it in the comments and exalt in the glory that will surely follow.