Origin Of The Xenomorph
The xenomorph is one of the strangest movie monsters out there. It’s not a person. It’s not even normal among other alien-type monsters. Where aliens in other movies, from Signs to E.T., stuck with the “little green man” archetype, the xenomorph went somewhere completely different. It had a bizarre black exoskeleton and double set of jaws like a moray eel. Its parasitic lifecycle, which moves from the facehugger through the chestburster and into the full-grown xenomorph. You can examine every facet of this thing and find nothing normal or familiar about it. Dan O’Bannon, one of the screenwriters for the original film, made the comment that “Alien” can be a noun or an adjective. The movie is about an
alien, yes, but the whole thing is also thoroughly alien. So where did this come from?
In order to understand where the peculiar qualities of the xenomorph come from, we have to look at the source of the art: the late H.R. Giger.
When Giger was first being considered as an artist for the special effects team, 20th Century Fox was skeptical. It was thought that Giger’s art was too strange, too horrifying, too alien for popular consumption. The studio was worried that the kind of things that Giger created were just too over-the-top for the viewing public. But Ridley Scott, the director, insisted on using Giger. He
made the decision to bring the artist on board after seeing a collection of his work in the book Necronomicon. One must be grateful to both men: Giger, for his vision and unique style, and Ridley Scott, for his moral courage in using such a transgressive artist. Without those two, popular culture would not have received one of the most unique and uniquely disturbing of its icons. We wouldn’t see xenomorph models, Alien t shirts, or other Alien merchandise.
So, what made Giger tick? What made him and his work both so original, so disturbing, and above all, so freaking weird? Ultimately, it was sheer force of personality. Giger was a larger-than-life individual. If any project was not carried out to his exact specifications, he would disown it. He did that with a Japanese bar that was themed after his artwork; it didn’t live up to his exact specifications, so he disowned it. Another example of the size of his personality was director James Cameron’s reaction to him. When James Cameron directed the 1986 Aliens, a sequel to Alien, he did not ask for Giger to be brought back on. Even though the original film was hugely successful, and even though this was largely due to Giger’s work on the special effects, he was not asked to work on the sequel. The reason? Simple: Cameron felt threatened by Giger. Cameron was afraid that Giger’s force of personality, his uniqueness and dominating artistic genius, would make it impossible for Cameron to make the movie his own. Giger was simply such a singular individual that Cameron could not imagine carrying out his own vision if Giger were present.