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Alien Origins – Alternate Xenomorph Mythos Revealed!

September 13, 2012

Long before the ALIEN franchise devolved into something far less alien, there existed an alternate vision of the mythos dreamed up by ALIEN’s co-writer Dan O’Bannon.

As detailed in O’Bannon’s original screenplay, the eggs were housed in a pyramid-like temple belonging to an alien culture which was indigenous to the planet.

In an eight page booklet included in the authorized limited edition Alien Portfolio Of Crew Insignias, produced by The Thinking Cap Company in 1980, concept artist Ron Cobb relates his understanding of the Alien life-cycle as explained to him by O’Bannon:

“In Dan’s original conception [sic] the alien race had three entirely different stages in its life-cycle. First, the egg, which is tended by third-stage adults and housed in a lower chamber of the breeding temple. When ready to hatch, the egg is placed in the middle of a sacrificial stone and a lower animal, the equivalent of an Alien cow, is then led to the stone. Sensing the warmth, the face-hugger springs out, attaches itself to the animal and deposits a fetus in the stomach. The face-hugger soon drops off and the fetus develops inside, eventually chewing its way out and killing its host. This creature, the chest-burster, is the Alien’s second stage, and it simply runs about eating, mindlessly carnivorous. At this stage the creature is still controlled and nurtured by adult Aliens, until the chest-burster begins losing appendages and becomes more and more harmless. Finally, its bloodlust gone, the Alien becomes a mild, intelligent creature, capable of art and architecture, which lives a full, scholarly life of 200 years.”

“At some point a cataclysm causes the extermination of the adults of this unique race leaving no one to tend and nurture the young. But in a dark lower chamber of the breeding temple a large number of eggs lie dormant, waiting to sense something warm.”

“Years later, the Space Jockey’s race comes to this planetoid. The Jockeys are on a mission of exploration and archeology and they are fascinated by this marvelous temple and unknown culture. One of them finds the egg chamber and gets face-hugged. He’s rescued, but no one knows what’s happened. They take him back to their ship and continue their exploration of the planet’s surface. When the chest-burster erupts from the Jockey it goes on a killing rampage until it is shot and killed. The Alien dies, but immediately decomposes and its acid eats through the hull of the Jockey’s ship, leaving them stranded on the planet. The Jockeys radio a message that there is a dangerous parasite on the planet, that nothing can be done to save them in time and that no one should attempt a rescue. Then the Jockeys slowly starve to death. Eventually, the Nostromo picks up the signal and, not knowing it’s a warning, lands and starts the whole thing again.”

This backstory does well in explaining the Alien’s anti-social behaviour in ALIEN – as the creature which is born aboard the Nostromo is essentially a juvenile, separated from its own culture, without its elders around to keep it in check.

 Dan O’Bannon (1946 – 2009)

And while on the subject of the roots of ALIEN, here’s an excerpt from an interview Dan O’Bannon gave which was printed in the September 1979 issue of Fantastic Films Magazine. At one point, O’Bannon reveals that the bounds of Ron Cobb’s genius go way beyond his genre-defining designs for ALIEN:

“You know, Ron Cobb gave continual input into the film right from the very start. He gave us one of the major plot elements, the monster has an incredibly corrosive bloodstream, one of the reasons the monster can’t be cut up or fired at is that its blood would eat right through the ship. That was Ron’s idea and I want everyone to know it.”

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes right-brained people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies.

From → unsung trivia

  1. gregory moss permalink

    I should perhaps clarify a point. Since posting this, I’ve had a few people point out that I appear to be contradicting myself with regard to my review of Prometheus (see July archives), in which I criticize Scott’s prequel for demystifying the Space Jockey and explaining away the origin of the Alien – by arguing it should be left, well, a mystery. By revealing O’Bannon’s original idea for the Alien’s origin, aren’t I guilty of the same thing? Well, no, I’m not suggesting O’Bannon’s concept (especially the idea that the Alien aboard the Nostromo is merely a juvenile lacking parental control!) is the actual backstory we should be aware of while watching the movie (the whole pyramid sequence was abandoned due to budgetary reasons anyway). I, like many others, much prefer the idea that the creature is merely a wild, untamed beast – pursuing its natural instincts to survive and procreate. But this is such a fascinating piece of ALIEN’s history, which I haven’t seen documented elsewhere, I thought it worthy of mentioning. 🙂


  2. I’m glad you liked my post on the “Alien” franchise. You’re always welcome at “Swords, Specters, & Stuff.”


    • gregory moss permalink

      Cheers Mike. Thanks for dropping by! You did a great job summing up each of the films in the ‘Alien’ franchise. If you haven’t seen it already, you might like to check out the documentary ‘Wreckage & Rage’ in the blu-ray Anthology collection. It features an in-depth look at Ward’s ‘monks in space’ concept for Alien 3. The set also contains the 2003 restored workprint of Fincher’s film, with over thirty minutes of material (and indeed a whole subplot!) cut from the original theatrical release. This extended cut is closer to what Fincher originally intended and goes a long way in redeeming this much maligned third entry in the series. And I urge everyone to go check out Mike’s excellent site! Cheers! 🙂


  3. The original life-cycle mooted for the Alien was why I always hated Aliens and all its Alien Queen nonsense. Its just so wrong!


    • I never had an issue with the Alien Queen – as it did fill a logistical hole in its life-cycle (a result of Giler and Hill’s endless meddling with O’Bannon and Shusett’s original draft of Alien). Something had to have laid those eggs in the derelict right? At least Cameron’s concept of the Queen wasn’t nearly as much of a stretch as the idea in Prometheus that the jockeys were nothing more than empty environment suits – Aaaarrgghh!


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