Review: MEMORY: THE ORIGINS OF ALIEN Bursts Open Mythology
Over the past decade, writer-director Alexandre O. Philippe has made a name for himself as a documentary maker, picking all sorts of interesting subjects like Paul the Psychic Octopus, or Star Wars fandom turned sour in The People vs. George Lucas. His previous film 78/52 was an excellent and meticulous (if at times fan-boyish) look at the (in)famous shower scene from Psycho. So when news arrived that for his next film, Alexandre was going to aim his focus on another classic scene - the "chestburster" from Alien - I was laughing with glee. What's not to love about THAT idea?
Well, the end result has arrived and it's called Memory - The Origins Of Alien. And while the "chestburster" features prominently, in both concept and execution, Alexandre didn't quite make it the sole subject of his film. As he stated in interviews, he discovered that a documentary about just that one scene would make a great extra on a DVD, but not much more.
However, during his pre-production research he did stumble across a few interesting facts about the underlying inspirations, and he noticed similar sources being used by both designer H. R. Giger and writer Dan O'Bannon. Intrigued, Alexandre started digging further, and shifted the focus of his documentary on the age-old mythologies which, directly or indirectly, led to the creation of Alien.
The documentary starts with mythology, then focuses on the stories which inspired Dan O'Bannon and H. R. Giger, then moves to the most iconic and shocking scene of Alien (the "chestburster") to show how these are all linked, from fear of the unknown, to guilt, to body horror. The philosophising gets a bit preachy and sounds overly self-important at times, but Alexandre O. Philippe never lets it digress into drivel, and he is smart enough to put plenty of incredibly funny anecdotes and behind-the-scenes bits in. There are plenty of never-published-before snippets in it, and many of the ideas and inspirations are interesting.
In short: if you're a fan of Alien (or just agree that it's a classic) I strongly advise you to check out Memory - The Origins of Alien. Audiences at the Imagine Film Festival in Amsterdam awarded it a 8.2 out of 10, which is damn impressive.
Review originally published in April 2019. The film opens in select theaters in the U.S. on Friday, October 4, 2019.