Alien: Industrial conglomerates
and their ships

Leading from
Alien: Making the Movie   



a) Nostromo, one of an armada of ships
In the universe of the movie Alien, the Nostromo was one of an armada of ships that would wait in moon orbit for their crews to be shuttled up to them. The armada would in turn be one of several owned by multi-national industrial conglomerates who had been mining and exploiting space for decades. Ridley imagined that fifty years into the future, the world had been converted into the property of two or three large conglomerates, whose sources of energy are provided by the exploitations of deposits in space. The Super-cargo spaceships that link Earth and the planets would transport enormous loads of minerals - gas, oil and the like.

Nostromo's refinery with spires that didn't appear in the film

The refinery itself is a conglomerative mountain of technology. A picker craft would put all the stuff aboard and the refinery would perhaps slowly crush the contents or simply turn it into liquid or gas for easier transference back to Earth. At the culmination of many long voyages, each covering many years, the ships look used, beat-up, covered in graffiti and uncomfortable. They certainly didn't design the Nostromo to look like a hotel.

When Ridley was in and out of London, he would notice whether it was looking tidy or untidy and it drove him crazy. He then applied this rule to Alien. He had been flying to and from the United States a lot of that time and he noticed how Boeing 747s were gradually getting beaten up. When he was in the lavatory aboard the plane, he would notice that even there someone had done some graffiti. And then along side that were instructions on the use of the lavatory in four different languages. And so he applied all of this thinking and projected it ahead near enough a hundred years, although he felt he probably could have gone further with it in the film.

Ships could be so vast that different companies would have actually built different parts of them giving them the look of something rather hybrid. (See "Combination ship" in Creating the Nostromo: The Crunch) In a tongue in cheek fantasy way,  Ridley was imagining a not too distant future in which flying in space looked like taking an aircraft flight, and there are many vehicles tramping around the universe on mining expeditions, erecting military installations and so on, but the reality of this would seem unlikely for perhaps a thousand years.

The Queen Mary
The Nostromo itself was the size of something like the Queen Mary ocean liner, it would have had corridors two to three hundred feet long, and would be comparable to the Japanese super tankers three quarters of a mile long, and so the refinery would have been perhaps a square mile.  The Nostromo had to be able to fly both in space and under atmospheric conditions, Ridley saw it as a gigantic maneuverable jump jet and therefore it was able to get wherever it wanted on various planets, landing in quite narrow, rocky terrain, and thus was only near enough streamlined object in the whole of the lander and refinery construct.

Japanese supertanker built in 1979

b) Computerised ship and its crew
By this time, possibly the value of human life has diminished considerably, and in view of the Big Brother idea of a lifeless megastructure which becomes more prevalent. The machinery, the information data and cargo are of more importance to the corporations that the individuals on the ship. Its employees are now considered expendable. Ridley used the word "workies" to describe them and the idea was that nobody in their right minds would do what they're doing unless they're going to get set up for life by doing it, it would be like signing onto an oil tanker for eight years, and so these jobs which took them on several year journeys through space were to them normal state of affairs. For the sake of efficiency, for the duration of the actual journey, the computer run the ships while the humans remain in a state of hypersleep.

In this case, the Nostromo is driven by a computer called Mother, and as far as running the ship goes, the crew is secondary. Once on the ship, their function is minimal. The idea is that they need know only how to work the ship's basic equipment, and that equipment can start itself, repair itself, think for itself and act as its own monitoring system. However in the Alien movie, two men, Brett and Parker are physically involved in the repair of the ship in order to make it ready to take off again from the planetoid.

Nostromo
The Hawker Harrier Jumpjet
c) Weylan-Yutani
c. i) Weylan-Yutani, an industrial conglomerate, is based in Honolulu and is Japanese owned which is incidentally why the crew's spacesuits have something of the Samurai about them. It would be comparable to a super-Sony, 50 times bigger than it was in the 1970s. Back in the late 1970s when Alien was made, the idea of mega corporations seemed like exotic speculation  ( the idea was explored also in the form of Tyrel in Blade Runner released three years later) and by the 21st Century it became a reality. Perhaps Alien took place a hundred years into the future from when it was made which would place it generally in the 2070s or perhaps it took place somewhere early in the 22nd century. Ron Cobb might well have gone ahead and called the company Leyland-Toyota, it would have been to show that England was getting back on its feet and had united with the Japanese who have taken over the building of spaceships the same way they had by the late 1970s with cars and supertankers, but using those names would have invited trouble for the production. ( See Origins of Weylan-Yutani)

d) Red Star Lines
Ron Cobb came up with the idea as a patch for Red Star lines which he wrote as Red Star Line, (originally the name of transatlantic ocean liner transporting from Belgium to America and Canada from 1873 and 1934) and this is purchased in 2115 by the White Dwarf Complex and would be a company used to transport and rotate crews. (One can think about how red stars in astronomical points of view are usually Red Giants that are giant aging stars in astronomy and White Dwarfs are the generally Earth sized burnt out cores of collapsed stars, so there there is the interplay there)



e) Farside: Lunar Mining - Lifting
Farside Lunar Mining would feature on a patch worn by one of the crew, and this badge showed a map connection such places as Icarus, Leibnitz, Mach and Kuliki. Are these places on the dark side of the moon. Leibnitz so happens to be a city in Austria, while Kuliki can be found as the name of settlements in Poland and Russia.


f) Third World Empire and The United Americas
Economics and diminishing resources have led to the political merging of cultures that seemed unlikely in the 1970s. During the last quarter of the 21st century, UK joined forces with Japan and dozens of developing countries to form the Three World Empire. A powerful economic bloc created by the Third World Empire help necessitate the merging of North and South America into one economic giant The United Americas, by 2104.


g) Earth Vicinity
The definition of Earth perhaps has extended out as an inner city of planets, in a tongue in cheek way, it would have been imagined that almost everyone from the planet either Black, Chicano or Oriental, while the caucasians have moved to the suburbs of Mars. By 2087, "Earth Vicinity" space was an area extending 16.3 light years around planet Earth, encompassing 39 star systems, with 14 colonies on planets within the other start systems within that area. Ron Cobb was still using the term after the movie. (see: Galactic geography of Alien)



h) "The Outer" Rim
"The Outer" rim extended 54 light years from the Earth. Interplanetary commerce and the mining of deep space flourished, and from 2088 to 2102, The Third World Empire pioneer the establishment of settlements on Mars and Saturn's moon Titan. (see: Galactic geography of Alien)

Source Quotes

  1. Michael Seymour: We tried to create an inter-galactic supertanker with a sense of geography. A sort of three-deck ship. (Warren Presents Alien Collector's Edition, p16)
  2. Fantastic Films: How did you view the Nostromo?
    Ridley Scott: The thing's like the bloody Queen Mary. Do you get a sense of the scale of the interior? That it's big? We couldn't build the two to three hundred foot-long corridors which it would have but it's supposed to be like one of these Japanese super-tankers. Three quarters of a mile long. The refinery behind it would be God-knows how big. I mean, well.... I dunno, a square mile.
    Fantastic Films: But the Nostromo had to be able to fly both in space and under atmospheric conditions?
    Ridley Scott: I saw it as a gigantic maneuverable jump jet. Therefore it was able to get wherever it wanted on various planets, landing in a quite narrow, rocky terrain. So that's the only streamlined object in the whole thing.  (Fantastic Film US#12/ GB #2, p20)
  3. Ridley Scott: The refinery itself is a conglomerative mountain of technology.

    FF: What was the refinery carrying?

    Ridley Scott: Ore, I suppose. They'd do all the work inside once the "picker" (the smaller craft) would put the stuff aboard. The ore would be turned into liquid or gas for easier transference back to Earth (Fantastic Film US#12/ GB #2, p20)
  4. Ron Cobb: One of the things I enjoyed most about ALIEN was its subtle satirical content. Science Fiction films offer golden opportunities to throw in little scraps of information that suggest enormous changes in the world. There's a certain amount of potency in those kinds of remarks. Weylan-Yutani for instance is almost a joke but not quite. I wanted to imply that poor old England is back on its feet and has united with the Japanese, who have taken over the building of spaceships the same way they have now with cars and supertankers.  (Alien Portfolio)
  5. Ron Cobb: I designed these patches with the same thing in mind as when I designed the Nostromo's interior, to help sketch in a background as to where and when the story takes pace. I wanted to imply that the ship was from "The United Americas," instead of the United States. The Earth might have become the inner-city of planets, with almost everyone from the planet either Black, Chicano or Oriental. All the caucasians would have moved out to the suburbs of Mars. Whether its sociologically sound or not, people can relate to that and it's funny. That's where "implied history" comes through. It's not necessary to pinpoint a time or place, this is fantasy and doesn't need a super-rational context. However, in this case I thought it would contribute to the picture. Ridley was very keen on the "heavy metal" fantasy aspect of Alien, but I found it an interesting challenge to show what an actual commercial spaceship of this time would look like. Kubrick did that very well in 2001 and I wanted to try it here without losing any of the values Ridley was looking for, try to create a believable projection of the future. Its the real or possible elements of science fiction that made it a delightful and relevant way to comment satirically on the present. (Alien Portfolio)
  6. Rob Cobb's Tricentennil and UK-7 patched are the only indication yet given as to how far in the future Alien takes place. From information gathered through Cobb and his designs we can ascertain many world developments that have occurred by the time of this story (Alien Portfolio)
  7. As near as can be determined , ALIEN takes place sometime during the first two decades of the 22nd century.(Alien Portfolio)
  8. Economics and diminishing resources have led to the political merging of cultures unlikely in the present day. During the last quarter of the 21st century the United Kingdom joined forces with Japan and dozens of developing countries to form the Third World Empire.(Alien Portfolio)
  9. Interplanetary commerce and the mining of deep space is flourishing. From 2088 to 2102  The Third World Empire pioneered the establishment of settlements on Mars and Titan. (Alien Portfolio)
  10. The powerful economic bloc created by the Third World Empire helped necessitate the merging of North and South America into one economic giant in 2014.(Alien Portfolio)
  11. Multi-national corporations like Weylan-Yutani have been mining and exploiting space for decades. 
    (Alien Portfolio)
  12. To walk down a London street in 1978 was to be confronted with the flotsam and jetsam of Britain's imperial past and nose-pierced, ripped jean present - a country in a blender. (Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Summer, p88)
  13. Ridley Scott: I’m a neatnik, a pathological neatnik,  and so I notice these things, When I’m in and out of London I notice whether its looking tidy or untidy and it drives me crazy. So I just applied that rule [to Alien]. I’d been flying to and from the United States a lot at that time, and I’d noticed how 747s were gradually getting beaten up. I was in a lavatory on a 747, and I noticed that even there someone had done some graffiti. And then alongside that there were instructions on the use of the lavatory  in four different languages. So I applied all this thinking, except having jumped ahead, say, a hundred years. And I still believe I probably didn’t go far enough.  (Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Summer, p88)
  14. New Musical Express: Scott proceeds to advance a wealth of background detail about Alien, much of which doesn't feature as such in the film at all, but was projected to give everyone involved a complete impression of what they were supposed to be filming. The Nostromo for example was envisaged as one of an armada of ships that would wait in moon orbit for their crews to be shuttled up to them. The armada would in turn be one of several owned by multi-national conglomerates ( "a sort of super-Sony, 50 times bigger") - which is why incidentally the crew's spacesuits have something of the Samurai about them, the film's imaginary Company being based in Honolulu is Japanese-owned.(NME, 15th September, 1979)
  15. Ridley Scott: The Crew are workies.  Nobody in their right minds would do what they're doing unless they're going to get set up for life by doing it. It's like signing onto an oil tanker for eight years. (NME, 15th September, 1979)
  16. Ridley Scott: Talking to the Company. Talking to Weylan-Yutani which I figured at that time, and in fact, it reflected it in Bladerunner that erm, the world eventually obviously is going to be run by companies and organisations, um, which seemed exotic, you know, eighteen years ago, but now, it's a reality, right. That's the way we're headed, um and so this was speculation at the time, but funnily, by the time I got to do Blade Runner, the idea of the Tyrel corporation was a mega mega company...(Raw Alien 20th Anniversary DVD Ridley Scott Commentary) 
  17. Ridley Scott: Let's assume that in fifty years time, the world has been converted into the property of two or three large conglomerates, whose sources of energy are provided by the exploitations of deposits in space. The Super-cargo spaceships that link Earth and the planets would transport enormous loads of minerals - gas, oil and the like. (Film Illustrated. v9. n99, Nov 1979, "Duelling with Death, The Alien World of Ridley Scott")
  18. Danny Peary: ln Alien, everything looks old, uninviting, bleak, disheveled. What was the look you wanted for your major set. the starship Nostromo?  
    Ridley Scott:
    The look really was meant to reflect the crew members who, l felt, should be like truck drivers in space. Their jobs, which took them on several-year journeys through space, were to them a normal state of affairs. Therein lies the fantasy. The reality would not be like this for maybe a thousand years - but in our tongue-in-cheek fantasy we project a not-too-distant future in which there are many vehicles tramping around the universe on mining expeditions, erecting military installations, or whatever.
    At the culmination of many long voyages, each covering many years, these ships — no doubt part of armadas owned by private corporations — look used, beat-up, covered with graffiti, and uncomfortable. We certainly didn't design the Nostromo to look like a hotel.
    (An interview with Ridley Scott by Danny Peary,Omni Screen Flights, Screen Fantasy, p294)
  19. Harry Dean Stanton: He wanted to make it look like flying in space was like taking an airplane flight. Make it old hat, more or less  make it natural and common place as possible. (Warren presents, Alien Collector's Edition, p45)
  20. Daniel Peary:Alien is the first space film, I believe, that features working-class characters rather than a crew of scientists, military men, or astronauts

    Ridley Scott: That's absolutely correct. At this point in time, I believe everyone in a crew can be a working-type. The Nostromo is driven by Mother, a computer, and, as far as running the ships goes, the crew is secondary. Once on the ship, their function is minimal. They need know only how to work the ship's basic equipment. That equipment can start itself, repair itself, think for itself, and act as its own monitoring system.

    Daniel Peary:
    At this point in time, has the value of humans diminished even further than today as far as the military-industrial complex is concerned? I am struck by the opening scene in which the ship's computer and machinery "come to life" before the humans are revived from their suspended-animation state.

    Ridley Scott: It's possibly that the value of humans could have diminished. I'm now thinking on the level of the Big Brother idea of a lifeless megastructure and its attitude toward human employees who are considered expendable. In this instance, the machinery, information data, and cargo are of more importance to corporations than the individuals on their ships. I certainly think this situation has parallels today. But the fact that computers can run the ship before the humans are revived is meant to be logical and nothing to do with Big Brother and an unfeeling company. Ships will be run by computers specifically for efficiency reasons

    (An interview with Ridley Scott by Danny Peary,Omni Screen Flights, Screen Fantasy, p295)
  21. Ron Cobb: They think they're back, that they've arrived in Earths vicinity. (Fantastic Films, July 1979, p30)
  22. Ridley Scott: Constant question from different actors who'll be nameless within the... within the cast who'd say "What's my character, what's my motivation?" And so I thought the the best thing to do was to sit down,  I wrote a little bio on each of them, starting at birth through to Mum and Dad , university, training college, how they got into NASA, NASA projected into industry, industry to Weylan-Yutani, finally having done Mars and Moon, yada yada yada  (Ridley Scott Q&A, Egyptian Theatre, Hollywood, California)

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