Alien: Ridley's creative turnaround


Gare de Sarlat

a) Metal Hurlant epiphany in Dordogne
In 1976, Ivor had picked up a copy of Metal Hurlant at a magazine rack at the Gare de Sarlat as he and Ridley waited for their train for their return from a trip there for The Duellists.  

While they sat on the train going back to Paris, Ridley sort of saw it and picked it up , and there was Dan O'Bannon's comic book story illustrated by Moebius called The Long Tomorrow which would later become an inspiration for Ridley's look for Blade Runner. 

The images from the magazine hooked Ridley,  so he would examine the illustrations carefully and enjoy them. 

It was like an epiphany and from this he figured that he knew what to do with science fiction. 

He began adapting swords and sorcery ideas from the publication for his "Tristam and Iseult" and taking a look at the visions of the future at the same time


Metal Hurlant, May 1976




b) Star Wars revelations 

Time went by and Ridley Scott had just done The Duellists and got it out into the public. 

It didn't actually do that well but people loved it. Seven prints of it were made.

Ridley loved the experience of doing The Duellists with David Puttnam, and then started talking about perpetuating this place, Dordogne in France with another piece of history.

He thought it would have been a good idea to put his head on the chopping block again and make Tristam And Iseult.

While Scott was in LA to show the Duellists in the summer, Puttnam said to him "Why don't we go see this new film? I can get two tickets, do you want to go? I think you should go. I understand it's pretty good."

And so they trooped down to perhaps the Egyptian Theatre or was it the Mann's Chinese Theatre to see the Science fiction movie, Star Wars, and this was the first piece of science fiction since 2001: A Space Odyssey for Ridley.  (Star Wars opened on 25th of May in 1977 in the USA and wouldn't reach the British screens until December 27th)

They went to an afternoon performance at 2:00pm, and Ridley was eight rows from the front with David Putnam. 

Ridley never saw or felt audience participation like that, in my life. The theater was shaking. When that Star Destroyer came in at the beginning, Ridley thought, "I can’t possibly do Tristan and Isolde, I have to find something else. "

By the time the movie was finished, it was so stunning that it made Ridley miserable and this would the highest compliment he could give it; he was miserable for week.

He hadn’t met George Lucas at that point, but he thought, "Fu*k George".

What he saw when he watched the movie was that George made a fairy tale story, with a princess, the young prince, and the cynical Harrison Ford playing Han Solo. 

To him, it was an absolutely perfect rendition of a great comic serial. 

It impressed him so much, he found it innovative, sensitive, courageous and he saw it over three consecutive days and for him it didn't diminish at all. 

He would consider it a milestone film and one of the ten best films he very saw.

He was stuck by how Lucas took was was essentially a fairy tale and made it seem totally real, and so Ridley was convinced that there was a great future in science fiction 

It made Ridley sit up,  think about his "Tristam And Iseult" which was being developed as a fantasy period piece wasn't going very far

He then thought "My god, what am I doing this for? Here's this guy and I'm thinking of doing Tristan And Iseult? I must be out of my mind. I'm never going to get an audience like this – his is what cinema is about. Cinema is about taking people on an adventure for two and a half hours where they are entirely taken into that world.  "

With this, the development of Tristan and Iseult was discontinued.




Quote source
  1. Interviewer: Tell us how you first came across the script of Alien? What was it called and who was credited as writer?

    Ridley Scott:
    …I came across the script of Alien when I…it during…actually I was finishing off The Duellists, I think. I’m trying to…I have to remember now.
    Interviewer:
    I think the Duellists was finished.

    Ridley Scott:
    Was it?

    Interviewer:
    I think so.

    Ridley Scott:
    ok. Ok. Now I remember now. I was in the first film syndrome and you know, when you are first unpracticed at the process of working in between or doing more things at once, you know, more things…several things at once…I was totally fixated on The Duellists and we got it out and, you know…that was…the history…and then I decided to address something, what was I going to do. And The Duellists didn’t actually do that great. In fact, here they ran, made 7 prints. So it actually did really terrible. But everybody loved it. That was what was interesting about town even then. The ones that counted really adored it. So even in those days a minority were going back and back to see this film. And out of the blue came a script, I was sitting in London actually and it wasn’t even through an agency, they found my address and it came to me through David Giler I think. And Giler and Hill were the producers at that moment with Gordon Carroll and on the front cover was Dan O’Bannon and Ron Sushett and I think I sat down in the morning and it took me about one hour and twenty minutes to read it. And I knew I was going to do it. I knew I’d do it in the first read. And I was then hunting down to try and find where their telephone numbers were, and I finally found them, called them, I think I called them that afternoon, that day when they got up. And I think I was then standing in LA within about 2 days. they just brought me straight out. That’s when I discovered that in fact I was about the fifth in line, you know, they’d passed it around all kinds of people, even Robert Altman, and Robert Altman’s great, but Robert Altman? You’d give Robert Altman the Alien? I don’t think so. But it had gone through Walter Hill’s hands and I forget who the other ones were. Maybe even Friedken actually. But they’d all said no, thinking it was a B movie, you know. Cardboard box with a monster charging around. And I’d just read it and saw it. And because I’d been steeping myself…I’m trying to think back…I was steeping myself into…between The Duellists and this read, that’s it, it’s coming back. I went to see, because I was planning to do Tristam and Isolde because I loved the experience of doing The Duellists with David Puttnam and in fact we’d all enjoyed it tremendously and we’d been in a fantastic part of France and we were always talking about `why don’t we perpetuate this place with some other piece of history’ and basically we’d put our head back on the chopping block and go do Tristam and Isolde. And while I was here with The Duellists David had taken me to The Egyptian to see this film. So I went and saw Star Wars and that was the first piece of science fiction that really made me sit up apart from Stanley’s, and thought `my god, what am I doing this for?" I’m thinking about Tristam while this guy’s doing this. So that really changed my whole thinking at that moment. That was the in between bit.
    (as known to be said in the interview for the Alien Evolution documentary)
  2. Ivor Powell: one day we were travelling back from our first wrecky down to the Dordogne in the South of, in Sarlat, sort of mid France, and on the Station waiting for the train, there was this magazine rack, and there was this comic there called Metal Hurlant/ Heavy Metal and I bought it and we were sitting on the train going back to Paris and Ridley sort of saw it and picked it up and there was one of Dan O'Bannon's erm, er comic strips in there, erm which was about, which was part of the foundation for. for , for Blade Runner. Anyway, that, the images in that Heavy Metal comic absolutely hooked him, he suddenly, it was like he had an epiphany, and so I think vaguely that was the kind of oh no, he just kind of saw the light there,  (Q&A at Genesis Cinema August 23rd 2014)
  3. Ridley Scott: I was in Hollywood in the Summer of 1977. David Puttnam said to me "Why don't we go see this new film? I understand it's pretty good.' So we trooped down to Mann's Chinese Theatre and saw this thing called Star Wars. It impressed me so much! It was innovative, sensitive, courageous – I saw it on three consecutive days, and it didn't diminish at all. I consider it to be a milestone film – one of the 10 best I've ever seen. I was most struck by how Lucas took what is essentially a fairy tale and made it seem totally real. The combination of 2001 – a threshold film that presented science fiction as I thought it should — and Star Wars convinced me that there was a great future in science fiction films. So I decided to terminate my development of Tristan and Iseult. Coincidentally, at that time I received the script of Alien. (Ridley Scott: The Pocket Essential Guide)
  4. Ridley Scott: I thought "Here's this guy [George Lucas] doing this and I'm thinking of doing Tristan And Isolde? I must be out of my mind. I'm never going to get an audience like this – his [Star Wars] is what cinema is about. Cinema is about taking people on an adventure for two and a half hours where they are entirely taken into that world. (Ridley Scott: The Pocket Essential Guide)
  5. DEADLINE: Alien stamped the way outer space movies are shot. It came not long after Star Wars, which is being revived later this year. Can you recall how seeing that movie the first time affected you?
    SCOTT: Absolutely seminal for me, that first one that George Lucas directed. So creatively brilliant that he decided to make it the flip side of the coin to 2001, and it certainly became the flip side of Alien which I would do two years later. George made a fairy tale story, with a princess, the young prince, and the cynical Harrison Ford playing Han Solo. To me, it was an absolutely perfect rendition of a great comic serial. I learned to draw from comic strips, the better ones. I always remembered the early Supermans were better drawn than the later one, and the early Tarzans were spectacularly well drawn, the anatomy of the jungle was great. There’s artistry in comic strips and George was obviously a devotee of that and what he did was brilliant.
    DEADLINE: What was your take away?
    SCOTT: I canceled the film I was going to do, after I saw Star Wars. I’d finished The Duellists, which upon reflection is a good film that got a prize at Cannes. God bless Paramount for giving me $800,000 to make it, but they didn’t know what to do with it. If it had been 25 years later, you’d have had Harvey Weinstein or someone. But after it got the Grand Jury Prize, some bright spark saw the film and said, why don’t we give Ridley Alien? God knows why, but I had been a designer; my first job in television was as a set designer, and I was a devotee of comic strips. I enjoyed making The Duellists so much that I decided, with David Putnam, that I’d do Tristan and Isolde. I was in LA to show The Duellists and David said, there’s a film called Star Wars at the Chinese. I can get two tickets, do you want to go? I think you should go.
    We went to an afternoon performance at 2:00, I was eight rows from the front with David Putnam. I never saw or felt audience participation like that, in my life. The theater was shaking. When that Death Star came in at the beginning, I thought, I can’t possibly do Tristan and Isolde, I have to find something else. By the time the movie was finished, it was so stunning that it made me miserable. That’s the highest compliment I can give it; I was miserable for week. I hadn’t met George at that point, but I thought, Fu*k George. Then, somebody sent me this script called Alien. I said, wow. I’ll do it. I was the fifth choice. They’d been to people like Robert Altman. How could you offer Robert that movie? He’d be like, this thing comes out of his chest, are you kidding? But I knew what to do. I read it and said, I’ll do it! I’d been in Hollywood 22 hours. They said, ‘do you want to change anything?’ Nope. ‘Do you…?’ Nope. I love it. I love it. I’m in.
    DEADLINE: So Ridley Scott’s Alien exists, thanks to Star Wars?
    SCOTT: Thanks to Star Wars, and to Stanley Kubrick for the way he influenced George and definitely influenced me, with 2001. The design on 2001…that’s the threshold for everything being real. You look at 2001 and you look at Star Wars. Stanley’s design influenced everybody. I’ve never shaken it off; it influenced me even with Prometheus. Stanley really got it right. Stanley was like the Big Daddy, so I never got jealous of him. I watched his 18th Century film Barry Lyndon when I was about to do The Duellists and I’d go, wow Stanley, you did all that in one shot. Hmm. Stanley was like the godfather. There’s a certain level of director where we all feed off each other. It’s like a painter who looks at the work of a peer and goes, damn. The influences can come even from brand new work, because I look at everything. Everything. Most of it is not so good. (http://deadline.com/2015/09/ridley-scott-the-martian-star-wars-2001-alien-blade-runner-prometheus-toronto-film-festival-1201522484/)

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