Alien: Brett's death in the Claw Room -
Temple Environment

Leading from
The Nostromo
and
 

a) Looking for an atmosphere in the leg room

At the beginning of the picture, Ridley Scott and Nicky Allder were talking about having fire and CO2 etc coming from the engines, but then it came to the point where they were filming the landing leg chamber, referred to at the Claw Room by Ridley and the leg locker by Allder.

When they were shooting the scene where Brett "gets it" in the chamber, Ridley was looking for a strange visual touch to enhance the atmosphere which also would lead to the idea of the engines for the Narcissus at the end of the movie).

They started out putting steam and smoke and various other things in the engine area and it wasn't quite right. So for no other reason that just to see what it would look like, Allder decided to try drops of water and Ridley responded "Yes, that's exactly what I want. "

So they had this gentle dripping coming down and during one of the shots Ridley seemed to pan the camera up into the roof and what would be seen were all these water droplets falling, very heavily back-lit and Allder found the effect to be very beautiful, but there was a big argument about the water drops in the room but Ridley stuck to his guns.



b) Questions about the falling water

The studio people were asking "how would you have water dripping inside this room?"

Ridley's response was "why not?"

They asked "Why the chains?"

Ridley responded "Well, the chains aren't very high-tech. yeah, you know what, you've still got to let things down, so it's still going to be rope or water, it's not necessarily electronic"

He had the chains dressed because the room looked a bit blank and he needed the movement in there.

Then they were asking " How's it moving?"

He responded "I don't care"

'Where's the water coming from? " they continued

Ridley responds "Condensation"

The next question was "Why the condensation?"

Again Ridley must answer a question, "Because something's gone wrong in the ship's air conditioning and it's not life threatening, they'll put up with it"

Even Ivor Powell, near enough sci-fi grounded found himself asking Ridley "what-what-what's all this wet business, I mean, wha-what-what's the raison d'etre for it"

And Ridley would respond " Oh no, it's great, you know."

And it was Ridley coming from the point of someone with an artistic eye for detail

Water dripping down the leg chamber


c) Brett enters the leg room

Terry Rawlings as the film editor with a background in sound editing, loved the sound of the dripping water surrounding the viewer as if it were like entering a rain forest


This room was the landing leg room where the floor would open and the leg would go down and support the ship.

Brett knew that he was in trouble, but after all, the thing that he is looking for ought to be small, but of course it isn't

The cat snarls.

To get this reaction out of the cat, so next to Harry Dean Stanton, he had a German shepherd hidden behind a sheet of board on a leash, so obviously it couldn't get near the cat.

They raised the board and Ridley got the reaction he wanted. As if the cat went "What!"

It gets to the point where there's the sound of water landing on the peak of Brett's had and down his face, he's cooling off, and there's a long stretch that leads up to something.


The Claw (images taken from the film and merged on Photoshop)
d) The Claw Room idol

The forty foot tall, left over from an earlier filmed landing seqence, has been hoisted a few feet off the stage and the chamber has been constructed around it.

To heighten its visual eeriness, criss-crossed shafts of light streamed through the overhead latticework and the water condensation trickled incessantly to the floor.

The landing leg itself becomes the idol that almost filled up the room but remained suspended in the air.

Ridley wanted to see the landing leg, the "claw" idol seen through the gap between the massive doors as big as the walls.

The "claw" would be so big that it almost touched the walls but was still hanging in the air.

The Claw as seen from the rafters (image taken from the film)

e) Reference to Heath Robinson

He also mentioned Heath Robinson in his comparison, an artist who drew cartoons featuring unlikely machines, and so his name entered the language as a description of any unnecessarily complex and implausible contraption.

Heath Robinson cartoon
f) Connection with another temple environment

As it happens, the derelict space craft is also a temple in this way, with the space jockey as a central idol (which becomes interesting in view that the Space Jockey chair and occupant are inspired by the Henu Barque which would have taken central place in its own chapel) and becomes connected to the claw room temple by a piece of music played in both environments.

Space Jockey a central idol of a temple environment
g) Brett gets it

They were quite limited in what they could do with the alien. 

At one point, the script called for it to run up and down the corridors like a human being: but when they got the finished costume, they stayed late one evening  at the end of a day's shooting - just to see what it looked like in the sets and to shoot a few tests. 

And of course, they found it would look ridiculous to see this thing running around - it would give the whole thing away immediately. 

So when they came to film that actual death of Brett, Ridley brought Nicky Allder onto the stage and said to him " I want Brett to get it now, but I don't just want the creature to dart out and menace him to start with. I'd rather have it reach out and sort of caress his head - almost kind of inquisitive at first. Then you see it squeeze up, and the blood starts running down Brett's face, and it cracks his head open.

So they ended up doing this virtually on the spur of the moment. They ran blood tubes into Harry Dean Stanton's cap and through his hair, and the blood ran out and down his face.

Storyboard for the Alien ripping Brett's heart out


h) Alien descending

The cat is peering around the corner and going backwards, and then suddenly the alien is descending.

The thing now is in its mature form, transformed beyond recognition to a large seven foot engine of destruction.

Ridley wanted the creature to be be perched on one of the ship's retractable landing legs. To maintain the gravity defiant position, Bolaji was suspended on a wire right.

Ridley brought the creature in upside down and what it was at first was a tale coming down behind his back and then a jellified almost aspic like forehead, Brett turns around.

The articulated tail, which was to slide between Brett's legs and hoist him up, had to be operated by overhead wires since its internal cable mechanism was not altogether succesful 
(See :The Alien's Tail )

The alien's head was seen as something beautiful in a streamlined way, and Brett doesn't know what he is looking at, and suddenly it comes up, its face is seen, the famous mouth opens up, the viewers would know that Brett was in real trouble and death occurs.

Harry Dean Stanton felt that he screwed up with this scene because he could never play terror.

He knew how to laugh, how to cry and do everything else but playing terror.

It would happen later that he would understand that rather than look scared, he should just look as if he had not seen anything like whatever it was before.

Since the scene called for Brett to be swept from his feet and carried up into the tower, a separate harness had to be employed for harry Dean Stanton as well

Parker and Ripley would have rushed in but somehow it seemed too normal and Ridley decides to leave Brett to die in a lonely fashion and then they would come to the discussion in the room. The cat would have been the only witness.





i) Editing Brett's death

Originally the scene where Brett was killed was longer and there was the rain in the falling water. and because the stuntman had his arms outstretchced, it looked as if the creature was on a cross hanging up but couldn't be seen properly because he was diffused by the falling water.
They were saying to Terry, "take it out because you're giving it away"

But Terry responded "No one's going to know what they're looking at 'cause you've never seen it , "

j) Sigourney's interpretation of Brett's death

When Sigourney saw the death of Brett, she thought that the scene showed the creature as something more than a destructive force.

What she liked about the scene was how the alien comes down with these beautiful gestures and looks at him, puts out its hands and holds his face.

Brett suddenly gets afraid and then alien strikes.

She got the impression that in the first shot we see of the alien it appears to be investigating this human, and she liked that idea, and it seemed as if she was getting what Ridley was driving at with the scene, although it was somewhat misleading because in view of the cocoon scene which she knew about, the alien quickly made up its mind that the Nostromo crew are there to be transformed


Source quotes:
  1. Fantastic Films: In the film the landing foot is a claw like thing, but in the storyboard it's a tapered roller

    Ridley Scott: This is how these things change. After I thought about it for a while I decided not to have these huge steel rollers. Eventually it developed into a foot and the foot became a claw after a while longer. We ended up using the claw in two places. Somehow when one does a storyboard, you can suddenly work out a method to show how big the ship is( Fantastic Films #11, p28)
  2. Ridley Scott: I wanted a huge claw room down in the bilge, where the ship's feet would be retracted during flight, like the anchor cable tier on an ocean liner. (Fantastic Films #11, p34)
  3. Ridley Scott: The visual idea I had in mind was to fill the entire room with the "claw" so that it almost touched the walls and floor, but is still apparently hanging free in the air. (Fantastic Films, #12, p25-26)
  4. Ridley Scott: These are jet engines standing on end. And we used all the stuff as essentially real, so I just got stuff. And this is like, I always thought was like Egyptian treasure.. treasure trove, this room, so I said the whole room should be gold, and so we made it, sprayed it all gold, and I got that really off the first moon landing vehicle which of course had all that, it looked like what I call in English Heath Robinson, kind of a simple lashup with a lot of copper, tin foil underneath to protect it and er, so we kept that in mind. (Alien director's commentry dvd)
  5. Ridley Scott: First thing I wanted to see was something that you didn't understand, so when Harry Dean Stanton goes after the cat, I figured I just bring him in from upside down, which was basically just a tale coming down behind his back, then a kind of jellified almost like aspic forehead , then he turns around, then it comes up and you see the face, and then you knew that you were in real trouble. (Alien Saga documentary)
  6. (Harry walks into the next room and wets his face in the dripping condensation)

    He knows he's in trouble, but after all, the object he's looking for is small, isn't it. Now, to get this reaction out of the cat, I had a leashed on my ad for all animal lovers because my cat wouldn't behave so I had a German shepherd behind a sheet of board on a leash, so it obviously couldn't get near the cat. l just raised the board and I got the reaction. (chuckle) The cat went
    "what!" (chuckle)
    (1:04:00)

    I always like this when he, and the sound on the peak.. on his peak... down his face, he's cooling off... silence again...long stretches ...leading up to something

    (Image of the cat peering around the corner)
    There he is

    And here we have it


    (alien descending)

    There it is, perfect reaction, and there ... beautiful head, I wanted it to be beautiful, and I guess that's beautiful in a streamlined way, and the cat going backwards is perfect. And he doesn't know what he's looking at, no idea what he's looking at, and there's the famous mouth.

    (jaw tongue comes out at Brett)

    The uh, we used to have, uh, you know, Ripley and er, Sigourney and ...and er Yaphett rush in, but somehow that was too normal, it was more elegant to leave him to die in a lonely fashion and then come to them here. The cat was the only witness. (Alien Legacy dvd commentary)
  7. (1:01:10 /1:03:47) Ridley Scott: And yeah, I remember running the film in, I think we were in London? Or as it L. A., the Egyptian, but I remember running it in London and er, and the film in L. A., and I knew we had something really extra-ordinary (1:04:00) because of mainly because of the reaction, not just during but afterwards
    (1:01:27 /1:04:06) Sigourney Weaver: Mmm
    (1:01:27 /1:04:06) Ridley Scott:There was this kind of stunned silence and er, and I remember Harry coming up to me, I think it was in the Egyptian, and he's so sweet, and Harry looked at me and said "Thanks for the closeups man"
    (1:01:40 /1:04:19) Sigourney Weaver: Aaah, sweet
    (1:01:41 /1:04:20) Ridley Scott  : Yeh, and er, and he meant when he walks through and goes "here kitty kitty kitty"
    (1:01:47 / 1:04:27) Sigourney Weaver:Yes
    (1:01:48 /1:04:27) Ridley Scott :which is great.
    (1:01:49 /1:04:28) Sigourney Weaver:Yes
    (1:01:49 /1:04:28) Ridley Scott: That moment you know he is gone,
    (1:01:51 /1:04:30) Sigourney Weaver:I know
    (1:01:52 /1:04:31) Ridley Scott: but but er, he was very sweet and er, he and Yaphet made this great duo, you know.
    (1:01:58 /1:04:37) Sigourney Weaver: Mmhmm
    (1:01:58 /1:04:37) Ridley Scott: And, er, in fact I think the whole (01:02:00) to me is probably the best ensemble I've ever had
    (1:02:04 /1:04:48) Harry Dean Stanton: Now this is where I screwed up, I could ne... I could never play terror. Oh, I can play crying, I can laugh, I can cry, I can do everything but playing terror, and I didn't know it at the time but I found out later how to play terror.(1:05:00) And I didn't use it in this part. It worked, but I wish I had known it, you don't look scared, you just look like "I've never seen anything like this before"
    (1:02:28 /1:05:12) Tom Skerrit: like... "woo-oo-ooh"
    (1:02:29 /1:05:14) Harry Dean Stanton: that's all you have to do
    (1:02:30 /1:05:15) Veronica Cartwright: Urrrgh, there's the skin, it's shedding its skin
    (1:02:35 /1:05:20) Tom Skerrit: Something's up Harry
    (1:02:37 /1:05:23) Harry Dean Stanton: God, these sickening images are gonna get'im
    (1:02:40 /1:05:26) Veronica is laughing
    (1:02:42 /1:05:29) Harry Dean Stanton:  Disgusting
    (1:02:46 /1:05:33) Terry Rawling: This is great soundwise too, when you just enter this like rain forest with the rain and the dripping just surrounding you
    (1:02:57 /1:05:46) Ridley Scott: Again, sticking to your guns. 
    Why the water? (01:03:00)So I just say," why not?
    Why the chains? "Well, the chains aren't very high-tech". 
    I said, "yeah, you know what, you've still got to let things down, so it's still going to be rope or water, it's not necessarily electronic", (1:06:00)
    So I had the chains dressed because the room looked a bit blank and I need the movement in there uh. How's it moving? I said, "I don't care."
    Where's the water coming from? I said "condensation". 
    Why the condensation? "erm because er, something's gone wrong and the ship, but they can... it's not, it's not life threatening, they'll put up with it."

    (1:03:36 / 1:06:24) Tom Skerrit: The clinking


    (1:03:38 /1:06:26) Veronica Cartwright: Yuh, the chains and the...


    (1:03:39 / 1:06:26) Tom Skerrit: Oh, yeah. Oh Ridley! Ridley! Ridley!

    (1:03:43 /1:06:30) Veronica Cartwright: And the rain, see like that there. There's that, all that moisture that's coming in. You wouldn't get that moisture in outer space, I don't think but...

    (1:03:51 /1:06:38) Tom Skerrit: You do now

    (1:03:53 /1:06:40) Harry Dean Stanton: That was my idea, Ridley loved me for that one, he took ....  he lapped it up immediately.

    (1:03:57 / 1:06:44) Tom Skerrit:Yeah

    (laughter)

    (1:04:22 /1:06:53) Ridley Scott: There's always this sense that "Had I made it too slow?" But I think the slowness.  It isn't slow, I think it makes it more tense, (1:07:00) you know something always is going to happen. This was always amusing, I couldn't get a reaction from the cat, so I said I'll know what I'll do, so I put a board along side Harry Dean Stanton and had a German Shepherd there and we just lifted the board, it was on a leash so it never harmed the cat, but that's how you get that reaction from the cat, it's basically going "Whaaaat!" and erm, it... there. And that's where it sees the shepherd (01:05:00) and Harry's trying to ignore it.  That's still a pretty unique look at a new movie beast. I think it was very  confusing when people saw that. I mean, diffused and horrified and I think particularly after what happened on the table, I , think that it got to a moment where some people wanted to leave. And there were. We have people walk out at certain points. Which I was really nervous about and I was told afterwards "no no no, actually, in this instance , that's a plus. 'cause that will drive the word of mouth". And so I started to realise that word of mouth is as important as anything else on a film.

    (01:07:37) Would I do this today? Erm, not really, I'd be "queeda"(?), I'd still be going for the tension, I'd still be going for nothing happening, but erm, but I think it worked pretty well. Sometimes you look at these things and then go "I want to cut, I want to cut, over". (1:08:00) (Alien commentary from alien quadrilogy)
  8. Wayne Imms: It might be a silly question, but how do you know, how do you know how to make a film like that?

    Terry Rawlings: Well, it's perfectly instinctive, you've got to feel it yourself. I mean, there's no rule book is there? There is no rule book, you do it until you're happy with it, and then obviously when an audience see it, er, they either let... tell you it's working or isn't working, and er , and that was , as I say, that was a difficult thing with that film. but er, I think looking at it again today, everything worked, and I think apart from the one in the, the rain room with the chains, when Brett gets killed, the first one, this, yeah, erm, well the second one really, no whatsit
    Other voice (possibly Wayne or Ivor): What, other than Kane?
    Terry Rawlings: Yeah, other than Kane, he's the first one, that was longer originally, we had it, I had it longer, and I found it more tense and more stressful, and the thing is, I remember there was a shot I had of the alien in the water, like on a cross. It looked like he was on a cross hanging up, but you couldn't see it properly 'cause he's all diffused with the water coming down, and he starts looking up and you know, the way he looks and he thinks he's seen something, and the thing is, they said "take it out because you're giving it away". I said "No one's going to know what they're looking at 'cause you've never seen it" , but when we see it, they know they've seen it.  (Alien Q &A, Genesis Cinema, August 24th 2014)(
  9.  Ivor Powell: no, yeah, well, that's a difficult one because I mean erm, I mean , well talking about the rain, the rain sequence, I mean, I, erm, again being sort of scifi grounded, I sort of said to Ridley, "what-what-what's all this wet business, I mean, wha-what-what's the raison d'etre for it" etc and he said " oh no, it's great, you know", I, (Alien Q &A, Genesis Cinema, August 24th 2014)
  10. Nick Allder: At the very beginning of the picture, we were talking about actually having fire and CO2 and God knows what else in the engines. But then, when we were shooting the scenes where Brett gets it in the leg locker, Ridley was looking for kind of a strange visual touch to enhance the atmosphere - and that's what really led us to a final solution for the engine effects at the end.  We started out putting steam and smoke and various other things into that leg area, and it wasn't quite right. So for no other reason than just to see what it would look like. I decided to try drops of water. And Ridley said 'Yes, that's exactly what I want. " So we had this gentle dripping coming down, and during one of the shots, Ridley kind of panned the camera up into the roof, and what you saw were all these water droplets falling - very heavily back-lit - and it was a really beautiful effect.  (Cinefex 1, p68)
  11. Cinefex: The first use of the full-size alien coincided with its initial appearance in the film. Brett, foolishly wandering off in search of the ship's cat, is the first to fall victim to the creature in its mature form, transformed beyond recognition to an awesome seven-foot engine of destruction. The encounter takes place in the lower recesses of the Nostromo's utility deck, in a towering chamber housing one of the ship's retractable landing legs. The forty foot leg, left over from the earlier-photographed landing sequence, had been hoisted a few feet off the stage and the chamber constructed around it. To heighten its visual eeriness, criss-crossed shafts of light streamed through overhead latticework and water condensation trickled incessantly to the floor. (Cinefex 1, p59)
  12. Cinefex: For its first appearance, Ridley Scott wanted to have the full-size alien perched on one of the ship's retractable landing legs. To maintain the gravity-defiant position, Bolaji Badejo was suspended on a wire rig. Since the scene called for Brett to be swept from his feet and carried bodily into the tower, a separate harness and wire rig had to be employed for Harry Dean Stanton as well.  (Cinefex 1, p59)
  13. Cinefex: In keeping with his wish to instill the creature with balletic grave, Ridley Scott wanted to have it curled up, in total defiance of gravity, about ten or twelve feet up the side of the landing leg. Then as Brett entered the chamber, the beast would slowly unwind and swoop-down, snatching the unsuspecting engineer and disappearing with him up the shaft.(Cinefex 1, p59)
  14. Cinefex: During the filming, however, Scott came up with an additional embellishment, "Ridley brought me onto the stage." Nick Allder related, " and he said: " I want Brett to get it now, but I don't just want the creature to dart out and menace him to start with. I'd rather have it reach out and sort of caress his head - almost kind of inquisitive at first. Then you see it squeeze up, and the blood starts running down Brett's face, and it cracks his head open." So we ended up doing it almost on the spur of the moment. We ran blood tubes into Harry Dean Stanton's cap and through his hair, and the blood ran out and down his face." (Cinefex 1, p59)
  15. Cinefex: The remainder of the sequence was somewhat more complicated. In addition to his already cumbersome alien outfit, Bolaji Badejo had to be fitted with a harness and wire rig in order to appear suspended on the side of the giant landing leg.  The articulated tail, which was to slide between Brett's legs and hoist him up, had to be operated by overhead wires since its internal cable mechanism was not altogether successful. Then Harry Dean Stanton, too, had to be fitted with a flying harness so he could be lifted off the ground. Coordinating all the movements in a realistic manner proved to be an arduous problem one that was never satisfactorally overcome. (Cinefex 1, p59)
  16.  Questar:The you attribute the alien with a sort of intelligence?
    Sigourney Weaver: I wouldn't go that far. There are scenes such as when Brett is attacked that begin to show the creature as something more than a destructive force. What I liked about the scene with Brett is that the alien comes down with these beautiful gestures and looks at him, puts out his hands and holds his face. The Brett suddenly gets afraid and the alien strikes. In the first shot you see of the alien it appears to be investigating this human. I liked that idea. it is somewhat misleading because the alien quickly makes up his mind that we are there to be transformed. (Questar #5, Nov 79, p24-25)

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