Alien ar­rival

Total Film - - Contents -

John Hurt hurts…

Ared stain. Then a smear of blood blos­soms on his chest. The fab­ric of his shirt is ripped apart. A small head the size of a man’s fist pushes out. The crew shouts in panic.” Five sen­tences is all it took for screen­writer Dan O’Ban­non to make movie his­tory, but the mak­ing of Alien’s in­deli­ble chest­burster mo­ment is al­most as leg­endary as the scene it­self.

Shot at Shep­per­ton Stu­dios in the lat­ter half of 1978, leg­end would have it that Ri­d­ley Scott kept his cast clue­less about the fate of John Hurt’s Kane. But this is only partly true: Sigour­ney Weaver and Veron­ica Cartwright had a sneak peek of the baby xeno in the spe­cial ef­fects depart­ment, while Tom Sk­er­ritt spied on the crew as they set up the shot. And they all had O’Ban­non’s five sen­tences. But Scott, sens­ing this was his film’s make or break mo­ment, kept some tricks up his sleeve…

The 135-sec­ond se­quence was cap­tured across two set­ups, with four cam­eras con­stantly run­ning. In the first, the crew of the Nostromo try to re­strain a vi­o­lently con­vuls­ing Kane. Be­tween set­ups, the cast were kept away for hours as SFX su­per­vi­sor Nick Allder and his team stuffed a fake Kane torso with of­fal ac­quired from a lo­cal abat­toir, and pre­served with formalde­hyde. Cartwright com­pared the stench on set to an oper­at­ing room.

If the cast weren’t al­ready on edge when they were fi­nally brought back, the clear plas­tic now cov­er­ing cam­eras and crew must have set alarm bells ring­ing. On the first take, the hy­draulic ram-mounted pup­pet failed to rip through Kane’s blood-soaked shirt. Ten­sion was now at break­ing point. All the while O’Ban­non and co-writer Ron­ald Shusett watched from the wings, gig­gling like kids at Christ­mas.

Dur­ing the sec­ond take, the chest­burster suc­cess­fully rup­tured Kane’s shirt, but a blocked pipe left the scene cu­ri­ously blood­less. The sur­prise spoiled, Scott in­structed Allder to add a sec­ond pipe pointed at the cast, and turn the pres­sure up to 11. Re­ceiv­ing a jet to the face, Cartwright’s hor­ri­fied re­ac­tion is any­thing but act­ing.

It’s this au­then­tic­ity that makes Alien’s chest­burster scene spe­cial. Scott had nur­tured an en­vi­ron­ment that en­cour­aged his cast to re­act with tan­gi­ble ter­ror, mak­ing it more than sim­ply a con­cep­tu­ally hor­ri­fy­ing tech­ni­cal marvel. Not bad for five lit­tle sen­tences. JF

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.