Dissecting the derelict
(written about 1998)

leading from

I wrote this essay about the ideas of the original Alien movie in mind. In terms of the original movie it was' very informed as far as the information available to the public at the time. It was written I think around 1998 when a new fan website devoted to Alien asked me to write an essay, and the site closed down shortly afterwards, but they were the only people interested in asking me to write something, over the years though this essay has been appreciated by numerous people over the years keen to get involved in the mysteries of Alien and that has helped me to find the direction to create this site

My intention was to ground out many of the mysteries of the film known at the time an since then more information has been discovered and shared and the context of discussion about the original film has changed.  The still relevant core of the content here is to be found in the Space Jockey's story as that section evolves and the other elements no redundant can be found elsewhere around the site.

Dissecting the Derelict

The Scene

On the Acheron planetoid in the film, 'Alien', a derelict composed of something organic has
three open organic entrances that lead up into the ship. At least one leads up into a corridor around the pilot's chamber's platform with the dead pilot in his chair behind something like a cannon, telescope or navigating instrument. He has a hole in his ribcage, that may have exploded outwards, he is sealed into his seat and his arms are tethered down at the side, and then in the platform around his seat, the astronauts discover a shaft that looks a little worn around the edge, leading down into a silo below. Here spores are spread out across the ground beneath a layer of blue light that when penetrated emits a tone.

The spores each contain an organism known as the 'face hugger'. It is shown within the life cycle frieze painted by H.R.Giger for a derelict interior, that when someone touches the spore, it becomes transparent and it's cross shaped opening opens and the 'facehugger' resembling a crab made from two skeletal humanoid hands connected to a single tail leaps out of a spore, and grabs onto a humanoid victim with it's finger, implanting something within the victim's body that grows and erupts from the victim's rib cage, and we can assume that the victim is always killed.

It seems that many thousands of years later the derelict vessel is discovered because of a transmission left behind emanating from the vessel that attracted the attention of other space travelers.

The Problem

Despite what we can claim to know from the description of things here, we really can't claim to know what is what. And then we can look for clues within the words of H.R.Giger, Ridley Scott and maybe Dan O'Bannon, and their view as creative designer, film director and script writer have a hold on the way we view the whole world of Alien through the interviews that they have given

However to introduce the world of alien organisms into terms of how the humans know of them in the universe of Alien.

The universe take place in a part of outer space where mysteries surrounding ancient cultures and strange organisms might prevail like we have heard of the yeti and the Loch Ness monster and then suddenly a spaceship comes by with something that it did not expect.

Harry Dean Stanton:Well. we just figured the crew was more familiar, on a mundane level with alien creatures. We figured that they had been heard of and talked about. It wouldn't have been all that new to us. From my point of view anyway,aliens had been discussed in the world in which we worked. Probably a lot of weird things had been found, so it wasn't that bigt a deal. Of course it's strange, but I think the crew viewed aliens like we view the Yeti or the Loch Ness monster. And UFOs for example, look at the attitude we have towards that.(Alien collectors edition p45)

The Theories Begin

Primitive Culture to Biological War Weapons

In the original Alien story, an alien traveler landed on the planetoid and had investigated an old pyramid there and the traveler had been infected and killed by the creature that had been dormant for thousands of years. It had planted an organism in the traveler's chest through his mouth, that grew and exploded from it's ribcage.

O'Bannon in view of the script, had an alien race involved in a complex bloody
birth ritual.

O'Bannon: I saw the inhabitants of the planet as tough and primitive, and with an extremely complicated sexual cycle. Reproduction was very difficult for them and had therefore become central to their religion. And this pyramid was an temple to reproduction. When the astronauts came upon this crumbling structure covered with ugly angular carvings, they begin to realize that they are in the presence of real antiquity. They're unable to find an entrance at the base, so they scale the pyramid and discover at the top a flue that goes straight down from the peak. This is where the character Kane sets up his tripod and winch and lowered himself down -way below ground level - to the floor of this chamber. Using his suit lights, he looks around in the darkness and in the middle of the room finds a stone plinth with blood drains in it. all over the walls are alien hieroglyphs. Also in there centrally located are these eggs - spores really. So these beings had two sexes of their own, but they needed a third host animal to reproduce. So they'd bring in an animal , put it on a plinth with a spore, and whammo! Then they'd lead the inseminated animal off to an enclosure somewhere to await the birth. But the planetoid was now dead and this civilisation had been gone for a million years. All that remained of it was this pyramid and these spores - which can survive dorman for incredible lengths of time even under the most adverse conditions. That's what I originally saw. And since I made it up, naturally I'm going to like it better: but to me that's a loy more sinister sequence of events and a lot more ingenious than blurring the two cultures together (Cinefex 1, p48)

There seems to be an assumption about how long these things have been down there, and why they're down there.

So the alien of the film's title was the dominant life form?

Ridley Scott: On that rock, yes,. It may have waited thousands of years for some other life form to come near. It's only trigger you see is another life form. Another biological presence enable it to move on and develop. It ruly does have an abstract kind of purity. And almost like a weapon, a product of biological, rather than bacteriological warfare. (CFQ vol9, no1, p14)

With Ridley's view here, it seems that they are not natural to the planetoid. And in the film, probably that planetoid had been a place that could never have had any real life of it's own. What were they doing on this barren planetoid? If we assume a former civilisation here had an ability to use space travel, life forms could have found there way here through one way or another. Giger designed a landscape for the planetoid" to be biomechanic, a mixture of technology and some kind of magma, so as to create the feeling that maybe a technical civilisation has been destroyed"(CFQ vol9, no1) and Scott made the assumption that "perhaps it was developed as a weapon and got out of control. Imagine a few thousand of those things, " (CFQ vol9, no1, p14) along with his hope to talk about "two different civilisations"(CFQ vol9, no1, p14) in a sequel never received any further exposure.

Giger's Egg Silo and the Derelict squeezed into one

Scott had planned at stage one to film part of Turkey where people lived in large pyramid structures, but  this didn't cut to budget and keep everything safe in the studio. Giger was brought in to design both the pyramid and the derelict ships. The pyramid idea had given away to an extraordinary biomechanic breast shaped silo, still with the exterior and interior designed by Giger.

O'Bannon: In the movie, the Earthmen discover a wrecked, derelict spacecraft, actually no, that's not correct. In the movie, the men discover a wrecked construction of non human manufacture and inside of it they find eggs of the monster. In the original script, the men find the crashed derelict spacecraft and they enter it, they discover that the alien are all dead. They return to their own ship to contemplate what may have killed the alien crew and then they discover a pyramid on the planet which appears to be indigenous and it's primitive, They enter the pyramid and there they find the eggs.

Since the derelict and the silo both followed the biomechanic design of Giger, and budget cuts were necessary

O'Bannon:"They combined these two elements, they squeezed them into one sort of uneasy entity"

Fantastic Film:"The idea behind that, I would assume, being that the dangerous aliens were
coming back to spawn"

O'Bannon:"No, they were two different races. In my script, it was a space going race that landed on this planet and had been wiped out by whatever was there. And now the Earthmen come and endanger themselves in the same way. In the new version, it's just a sort of a surrealist mystery."
(Fantastic Films UK #1, US No10,  p29-30)

The derelict that was once a space ship seems no longer to be a space ship, we can't say what it is, no one can make a direct claim.

Giger conforming to the ideas of the initial story thought about the derelict having been infested at one point by the aliens noted "we decided that it would be a good idea to have these eggs inside the derelict like termites within the wall of a house". (CFQ Vol 9, no 1)

When the derelict and the silo were combined, the presence of the pilot was no longer necessary, in the script, the Jockey was removed from the ship entirely, and a few empty spore cases were to be discovered, an idea was scripted to have the jockey's body embedded within the biomechanical landscape, but with Scott's insistence it was put back in its seat in the pilot chamber to confuse the hell out of everybody.

The design of the derelict

Scott: I took the drawing of the space ship off a section of one of Giger's paintings, 'cause we
couldn't work out what the hell the spaceship was going to look like, and so I was staring at his book, the Necronomicon, and he'd drawn something up that almost looked like a musical instrument, so I kind of drew around that, and said "what about this, it looks like a giant croissant, but actually it worked, like a boomerang. (DVD commentary)

Giger created the final image that looked as if it were something planted that was on the verge or maturing.

In regards to what we assume to be engines sticking out like arms either side of the main hull of the vessel, they might not be engines at all. Scott didn't want this to be obvious. because he has seen photos of what seemed to be UFOs and he was mystified because he had no idea how these things could be powered (see Fantastic Films (UK)# 3, (US) No.12, p27)

The ideas surrounding the space jockey

The Space Jockey 's history begins with the basic idea that O'Bannon had in mind, which Scott wanted to include evidence of in a prognosis scene. But the relationship between the Jockey and the Silo had been altered ever since Giger had been brought in to design both and so with the same biomechanic style evident, the silo and the derelict vessel must have been made by the same builders. To connect things further, in the silo the Alien Life Cycle Hieroglyphics had been changed in terms of the appearance of the victim, which was at first an anonymous astronaut but soon Giger altered it to resemble a member of the Space Jockey's race, and this frieze was filmed but left out of the final film.

We wonder about the way the jockey has been joined to his seat, and for visual reasons, Scott wanted it to be like a 'fossil, almost, one which you'd have a hard time deciding where he leaves off and the chair, on which he died, begins.." Tying everything in with his biomechanoid concept, Giger states that the creature "is biomechanical to the extent that he has physically grown into or out of his seat - he's integrated totally into the function he performs."

To explain more about the Jockey with it's "cavernous head"

Scott : The space jockey is, I've always thought the driver of the craft is now after many ages, of course it would be dustless, but has begun to look like a perfect example of Giger's mind which is where does biology end and technology begin, because he seems to have grafted the creature into what was essentially, let's say a pilot's seat. ........but he's pretty gruesome, but let's say he was part of the civilisation he came from and now had melded into his seat..(DVD commentary)

Fritz Billitzer, in his essay about Giger's biomechanoids, me mentions as an example of biomechanical relationships in the real world, that an "astronaut is literally sunk into his vehicle and instruments. He simultaneously studies them while being studied by them." Seeing that the Necronomicon was used as a bible for the Alien production, I wonder if a mutated understanding of these words had at the time influenced the way that the Jockey and his seat were designed.

Dan O'Bannon who always wanted the alien to be an innocent traveller, was pleased with the final Space Jockey, because in contrast to the alien chestburster that grew into something that represented itself as a carnivore, the Jockey did not posses the characteristics of a carnivore, and thus could "imagine it as some totally non violent herbivorous creature sailing around space," And people involved in the film felt that it was benign without being able to say why they felt it.

Peering into the Silo that's below the Jockey's chamber

We wonder how the silo is part of the derelict, with an open shaft right next to the jockey's seat. In the design of the actual platform, there is a shaft entrance on both sides, but it was not to be seen this way in the film. There are no solid answers, we can only just about peer into the silo entrance and glimpse something to understand about the way the entrance is formed, in contrast to what we might have seen in an earlier script describing it as an acid eaten hole, but the shaft entrance has four corners and then some planks at the side seem to be warped a little, and one wonders if this is just part of the ships design.

However the reasons for various things change beyond explanation because of the budget cuts.

The secret of no answers.

Ridley was keen to leave the viewers on the edge about what they had seen due to the constraints of the film budget and time, and maybe he would have been able to go into details about the alien races from an anthropologists point of view in the sequel, which he never directed and so never had any answers to spill forth on the Alien matter to spill forth in a movie form. He was content to allow it to be debatable whether the pilot was an integrated part of the vessel or a separate entity that had ossified into its seat, and that the pilot's chest hole had been created by a chest buster bursting from an infected pilot, or a half grown alien creature had punched a hole into it's chest and pulled something out since it was too young to pull the Jockey's body away to be cocooned. He didn't try to define what the thing was that the jockey sat behind. These things remained as variable, although Giger who had designed it assumed that it was a telescope, despite this unending mystery, later.

Scott was keen in the DVD commentary to emphasize basically "clearly from here this is
where the transmission would emanate from probably in an automatic transmission, so this creature obviously had experienced a, maybe one of the eggs had been disturbed, and a creature had got out, had attacked the rest of the crew, don't ask me where they got to."(20th Anniversaey DVD commentary )

Necronomic Temple Environment

Scott thought of the derelict as being a temple environment, in a similar way to the
Nostromo's maintenance area where Brett is snatches , also being a temple environment with the landing leg as the central icon. We can compare the Space Jockey in his seat to being a central icon. Scott mentioned that both scenes are linked by the same music. The need to create temple environments might come from the Giger's Necronomicon book, which shows photos of Giger's own inspiring temple environments created in painting form, and it might have seemed only right that Scott should be so inspired to follow.

The Spores

In the silo, below the jockey's chamber, there are thousands of spores that must be as old as the Jockey's remains. They are covered over by a film of blue light, Scott added stated

Scott: The sheet as I call it of the laser beam, this is a laser beam spread thin like a thin
sheet, but it worked great here and I never thought it would photograph because it's pretty low key, but you know, with the wizardry of, of Derek, we got it. So this is all just handheld lay the sound on as you go through the laser beam, you can here, there's a sound to the laser beam, you can here it now, like a seal. I always thought of the laserbeam as the placenta wall for the, erm ,eggs.(20th Anniversary DVD commentary)

We are to find out from one of the cut scenes from Alien that the way these things are created are by the aliens themselves with the aid of victim's bodies.

Scott: Loose on the ship, this new alien, begins to lay eggs in the bowels of the ship. It lives to propagate and must find food for it's offspring - in this case, the crew members of the Nostromo upon whom the young aliens can feed in their eggs until a new host comes along prodding the eggs. The the cycle begins all over again (Sight and Sound v48.n.1 Winter 78/79, p26)

Without this scene, the information within it isn't recognised as part of the alien mythos, and instead we  have spores layed as eggs by an egg laying queen seen in Cameron's 'Aliens' film, that's another stage of the alien's life cycle, that might have layed enough eggs to fill the derelict's egg silo. James Cameron wanted an egg layer because he was not convinced by the idea that human victims could genetically transform into spores. He saw no evidence in this regarding Kane's corpse for instance, but this information  was only in reflection of an idea from the script that Scott hadn't gone with. The spores transformation that he went with was to show human bodies being eaten away alive by the cocoon material, as the cocoon grew around the human's remains.

The Derelict's Interior Dimensions

To know the dimensions of the ship's interior would be a starting point to unravel the mysteries of the derelict, and this is a point that we can not have defined details about what's inside. It might be a decision between either following either Ridley Scott or Giger's representation of the way it was constructed to have an operational reality.

We can break it down into two directions

i. Scott has stated that the spores are "on board the derelict" (Starlog Sept 79, p240,) the silo thus becomes a chamber that is the cargo hold of the derelict. Also in reference to the character Kane being lowered into the chamber below

Scott : So he's being lowered in to the hold really, this would be argued as the hold of  the ship(20th Anniversary DVD commentary)

ii. Giger has referred to the silo as being under the ship.

It has never been defined, it possibly never made that much a difference to them. I possibly didn't make any difference then. But to follow Giger's viewpoint that the silo is below the ship,we might wish see what are possibly volcanic gases coming through the floor of the ground of the silo, as if the silo has decided to use this as a continuous heating system. The derelict was designed to be separate from the rock of the planetoid while the silo design had always be viewed as built into the surface of the rock.

In the sketch by Giger of the entrance tunnel to the pilot's chamber (Giger's Alien, p33, images 376a-c, sketches for corridor) shows that he did not design it with the silo as the cargo hold. Of course we don't know much about the derelict interior, if something had been put down in a sketch, and a diagram that we did not see in a film, it can be always altered until it makes its way to the release of the movie.

A detour to the alien

The alien in the film is a creature who's origins that we know little about without it's existence crossing into the world of the Space Jockey's and it's derelict. We know that it has a life cycle and that it's an unusual organism with an elongated head and an elongated tongue with no visible eyes. And in Dan O'Bannon's original idea it seemed to look more like a humanoid lobster than anything else.

The biology of this creature is possibly a poetic creation . It's supposed to be an alien, and then maybe it does make itself out to be a creature that looks like an amalgam of various curious creatures on planet earth, but none share it's biology or life cycle. It's not supposed to be a prediction of what we'll find, but instead an extroadinary idea for a film monster that doesn't look as if it's been seen in a movie that predated it. The creature has only been there earlier in paintings by Giger, and also there is some vague similarity to a creature from a Dali drawing and some eyeless demons from a painting by Beksinski from 1970, but Giger had not seen this latter artist's work until the mid 1980s.

It's one large muscular structure that Ridley Scott would like to have shown folded up into the shape of a box. It also appears to be able to defy gravity in an unpronounced way. We are not sure if it's holding itself up or if it's floating in the air.

The first alien had a limited life, the second film's aliens could live for much longer, and the third and fourth films took place within a span of time that did not allow us to really make any judgement about the length of time that they lived.

In Giger's world of thought, this thing is half "cyborg", and it had metallic teeth to remind us. Giger tells us that the elongated tongue is so long because it gives the elongated head a purpose. The creature also has a large brain.

The original Necronom painting that it was based on showed a creature that was a cross between parts of a motorbike and a vaguely humanoid motorcyclist with some sea creature like body parts mixed in. Scott wanted the creature to appear to look feminine, but the right performer could not be discovered.

Scott was also interested in the tall wiry forms of Massai Tribesmen, and so in a local pub, an actual so a native male of the African Gold Coast was found to wear the costume. Scott imagine soon imagined the creature to look like a hermaphrodite.

The initial idea was to make the Giger designed costume translucent so that the muscles of the African performer within the costume could be seen flexing through, but it was impossible to have the right material made. It was also impossible to have a costume made that would allow the performer as much natural movement as Scott had hoped, because he was interested in displaying the graceful bodily movements that the performer had with his Massai Tribesman physique.

The Jockey and the Spores

The relationship between the derelict and the spores is severely aggravated, because they
have been brought together through budget cuts, and they are not related. Discussions went on questioning whether  the chestburster would grow up to be a Space Jockey type creature, while Scott simply wished to present the fact that the Jockey was a victim of these spores The spore had originally an obvious vaginal opening in  the top with an inner and outer labia, and just so that the Catholic countries would not be upset, the opening was changed to a cross lipped labia which opened up like a flower

The mysteries of this cross lipped form have crossed over as a motif in the Alien Comic Book series, to represent the shape of the pupils of the eyes of the Space Jockeys

Mixed with the genes of the Jockey and the human

The Chestburster in Alien grew into a creature that like a Space Jockey to some extent,was biomechanic  in appearance, and so Scott wished to make it clear that the facehugger that infected Kane had carried genes over from the Space Jockey, because the spores that were in the egg silo were possibly created by something that had erupted from a Space Jockey, and this is the reason for the biomechanic look of the alien creature.

The end of the line, and back to a connection in the distant past

As Scott wraps up the ideas within the streams of 1979 Alien interviews about the background information regarding the derelict, and later came to a conclusion that he kept for a number of years

Scott: The derelict ship was a battlewagon or a freighter, that was carrying either it's own
kind or a weapon from A to B and something went wrong. (The Book of Alien, p87)

We never find out exactly how it went wrong, or where it intended to go, but 12 years later, we find out a little something more, that would expand the alien mysteries a little more. In an interview for the Alien Laserdisc collectors set, Scott revealed to us a place where the demon's of it's cargo of spores had been once upon a time in history, and it's our planet Earth, The demons that we think about are perhaps somehow memories of this biological entity. Years later he continued to restate some of his open ended ideas

Scott : I always wanted to go back and make an alien five or six. er,where we find out where they came from and go there, and answer the question 'who are they?' Mars, Mars is too close, so they can't be, they can't be gods of War, but the theory was, in my head was, this was, a... an aircraft carrier, a battle wagon, of a civilisation and the eggs were a cargo which were essentially weapons, (sorry) like a large form of bacteriological stroke biomechanoid warfare. (20th Anniversaey DVD commentary )

The trail leaves off, there is no place in Earth history to account for the alien. we are not sure what is supposed to be happening. We might pray that Ridley Scott might reveal these answers surely.


  1. I had a few theories of my own:

    Naturally we already have Scott's own idea of the Alien as a biological weapon, and that maybe the crew (if there was any crew short of the pilot/brain of the ship) were "set up" by their Company much as the crew of the Nostromo were. Even so, there are a few other possibilities:

    (1) the Jockey and the Alien are one in the same.

    To keep with O'Bannon's idea of Acheron being a breeding ground for the Jockeys, who is to say that the Alien we see in ALIEN is the equivalent to our own primitive ancestors such as Cromagnon or Neanderthal.. only in the case of the Alien the evolutionary rate is expotentially increased, so while it took us hundreds of thousands of years to evolve to our point, the Alien after it's initial birth would only need a matter of months before it would transform into the equivalent of the 15 foot tall Jockey we saw in the Derelict's chair.

    IE, both O'Bannon and Scott are correct: the eggs "are" used as a weapon, to drop upon the worlds of those antagonizing their race.. but instead of destroying their enemy they literally convert them and their world into an extension of their own. The Alien is a colonization tool, whereupon the biological substance the Alien secretes slowly but surely transforms the environment it is within to that of the Jockeys own, as well as convert the population into more Jockeys.

    (2) the other theory I had came from an idea mentioned by my brother. I noticed how Ash mentions that Acheron 'has coal.. well below the line." Coal is carbon.. where did all of the carbon elements come from? Also take into account that Acheron is 1/4th the size of our Moon (if not even smaller, as it is roughly 2,000 kilometers in width), yet it has an atmosphere and .85 Earth gravity.

    There is no physical way such a small planetoid could have comparable gravity to Earth, much less any sort of atmosphere of any kind. That is when my brother made the point: if none of that makes any logical sense, who is to say that Acheron is not an artificially fabricated world?

    What if the Derelict is NOT a spacecraft, telescope or anything short of a ruse... like the worm on the end of a deep sea fish's tongue. The signal is the equivalent to a scent a flower emits to attract bees and other insects, so those insects would inadvertently pollinate the flower and thus help it reproduce. Maybe Kane WAS below the "Derelict" after all, and the real mystery is hidden underneath in the form of the entire planet below.

  2. I would also like to add a theory in regards to the Alien Queen as seen in the sequel ALIENS.

    How do you reconcile the concept of the Alien Queen and the more ant-like aspects of the Aliens in the sequel as compared to the more independent spider wasp elements of the original Alien?

    There is a way to retain continuity between the two. What if the colonists in Hadley's Hope were too close to the terraformer, to the degree that they were being irradiated enough to cause even a slight mutation to their cellular DNA? Thus, when Newt's father is infected with a normal facehugger (as opposed to a "super" facehugger, as seen in the assembly cut of ALIEN 3), what he is implanted with is in essence the equivalent of the Alien in the first film.

    Due to his mutated cells from exposure to the terraforming plant, the embyro is thus mutated into what we know as the Queen, which in turn produces eggs that implant the "bone headed" warriors, who serve the sole purpose of serving the Queen (ie they are weaker versions of the smooth headed Alien as seen in the first film). This would explain the "less intelligent" aspects of the bone headed Aliens, as well as explain the more intelligent Alien Queen (who, ironically enough, dies the same exact way as the Alien in the first movie).

  3. As far as I know, Dan O'Bannon had the idea that a cultured civilisation lived on the planetoid and that the alien as we know it was their young form, but O'Bannon never thought of them as being the space jockeys, and so the pilot in that ship was only a visitor, if you have a reference for where you might have seen O'Bannon stating that the planetoid was the Jockey's breeding ground, I would be eager to read it. However someone in the production team somewhere did have the idea about the alien spores in the derelict being the young of the jockey and so there was the argument about whether to imagine them to be the young or indeed bioweapons that Ridley was dealing with and who came up with that sudden realisation during the production is unknown. It seems that Ash said the word "cold" rather than "coal" but it has taken quite a while to find that out. But indeed there could well be the endless questions about what exactly the derelict is, an organism in its own right or indeed a construct, there was a space craft in an episode of Star Trek that was a living organism piloted by a man from inside and indeed different questions to ask about what the transmission is supposed to be. In one version of the script, as shown in the Alien screenplay book by Paul Sammon, the source of the transmission within the ship actually changed.