A specialist in documentaries about movies, the director Alexandre O. Philippe gave himself a tough act to follow: His 2017 film “78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene” applied a variety of approaches — historical, theoretical, technical — to deconstructing a single sequence in “Psycho.”
Few moments in cinema have been as impactful as the death of Janet Leigh’s character in that film. The closest equivalent to that kind of shock in “Alien” is the demise of John Hurt’s character by chest-burster — a coup of suspense and puppetry that receives its due analytically in Philippe’s “Memory: The Origins of Alien,” a deep dive into Ridley Scott’s 1979 science-fiction blockbuster.
But much of “Memory” plays like a conventional making-of doc, with crew and cast members reminiscing about how scenes and concepts came to be. (Veronica Cartwright recalls the stench of viscera used for the gore when they filmed Hurt’s untimely end.) There are also some glaring omissions. Scott is heard from only in archival interviews. There isn’t any commentary from Sigourney Weaver, the most prominent of the living cast members not included.
While it is generally engaging to learn about the influences of the screenwriter Dan O’Bannon or the artistic process of H.R. Giger (who designed the alien), the documentary is at its least fawning when it focuses on technique. It highlights Scott’s extensive use of camera motion to keep viewers on edge and his subtle blocking that emphasizes class tensions among the ship’s crew members. The film is also, in its way, an elegy: An acknowledgment of the prequels “Prometheus” and “Alien: Covenant” implies that, for Scott, the craft of “Alien” was itself a tough act to follow.
Memory: The Origins of Alien
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes.
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