ALIEN (Feb 1978) Revised Draft by Walter Hill and David Giler


Revised Draft by Walter Hill and David Giler, Based on a screenplay by Dan O’Bannon, Story by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett

Los Angeles: Brandywine Productions, 1978. Vintage original film script, 12 x 8 7/8″ (31 x 23 cm,), plain stiff wrappers with affixed label on front cover, brad bound, 99 pp., brad bound, title written on spine, JUST ABOUT FINE.

ALIEN was the second feature film directed by Ridley Scott and — along with Scott’s 1982 BLADE RUNNER — is considered one of the best written and directed, most beautifully designed, and most influential science fiction movies ever made. The film is clearly the product of multiple talented auteurs. In addition to director Scott and creature designer H.R. Giger, the movie bears the stamp of four principal screenwriters.

The film’s original story was by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett. O’Bannon had previously co-written the independent feature DARK STAR (1974) with its director John Carpenter, a comic science fiction project with many narrative similarities to ALIEN (scruffy crew aboard a starship forced to deal with an alien and other issues). O’Bannon and Shusett were living together when they conceived and wrote the original ALIEN treatment and would later re-team as screenwriters of Paul Verhoeven’s TOTAL RECALL (1990), on which Shusett also acted as producer. Among his many other genre projects, O’Bannon was the director/writer of 1985’s RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD.

Prior to producing and co-writing ALIEN, Walter Hill had established himself as one of Hollywood’s leading screenwriters and action directors. His oft-praised minimalist writing style can be appreciated in the screenplays he wrote for Peckinpah’s THE GETAWAY (1972) and his own THE DRIVER (1978). ALIEN resembles two of the best films Hill wrote and directed, THE WARRIORS (1979) and SOUTHERN COMFORT (1981), insofar as it concerns an isolated group in transit, confronting an external menace, and the Hill/Giler drafts of the ALIEN screenplay are textbook examples of Hill’s characteristically spare approach. David Giler was Hill’s co-writer and co-producer on ALIEN and SOUTHERN COMFORT, and the two of them later co-produced the ALIEN sequels as well as cable television’s TALES FROM THE CRYPT.

Each of the Hill/Giler drafts is prefaced by a quote from W.H. Auden emphasizing the archetypal quality of the narrative:

Science fiction plucks from within us our deepest fears and hopes then shows them to us in rough disguise: the monster and the rocket.

The 2/78 draft begins — as does the completed film — with a scene of the crew waking up aboard the commercial starship “Nostromo”. There are seven crew members — Dallas, Kane, Ripley, Ash, Lambert, Parker, and Brett — as well as a pet cat (unnamed in this draft, but subsequently named Jones). The on-board computer, “Mother” has awakened them prematurely — before the completion of their voyage — to investigate something on a nearby planetoid. This eventually leads to the intrusion of their ship by the eponymous Alien.

There are few major differences in narrative structure between the 2/78 screenplay draft and the completed film, although much of the action and the dialogue has been tweaked. Subsequent drafts contain more workaday banter between the crew members. As in the completed film, the “invasion” begins when crew member Kane (John Hurt) is incubated by an alien egg, and the embryo bursts from his chest, but missing from the film is a short sequence in this draft where Kane’s floating corpse appears outside the windows of the spaceship.

Among other differences — The 2/78 draft has a love scene between Ripley and the Captain, Dallas, that is wisely omitted from the completed film. The role of Jones the cat has been expanded. Although Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) is the first crew member to be attacked by the full-grown Alien, in the 2/78 draft this occurs while he is with the other crew members; in the completed film this occurs while he is by himself looking for Jones, as the cat watches. Later drafts and the film also include a suspenseful section not in this draft where Ripley has to locate Jones before she escapes from the Alien (or so she thinks) on the ship’s shuttle.

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