Walter Hill, who cowrote and coproduced "Alien" ... told me last week that the greatest influence on "Alien" was the original Howard Hawks production of "The Thing," which he calls "still my favorite science fiction movie."
What Hill loved about the first "Thing" was the way it celebrated an intuitive pragmatism over pure science "in the face of the unknown." That's one thing he and his partner, David Giler, emphasized when they rewrote the original script of "Alien."
"Alien" made several contributions to the sci-fi movie genre that are all Hill and Giler's own. As Hill put it in conversation, "It's set in a used universe. Everything out there is a bit rundown. The crew is on a crappy old ship."
Hill and Giler introduced the idea that the engineers on a space ship "should be like the below-decks guys in any kind of ship. David and I called them 'truckers in space' and gave them a yabbo sensibility. It's now almost obligatory that in every science fiction movie someone is wearing a baseball cap. When we did it, it was novel."
British director Ridley Scott made the film, his first big-budget picture, after his splendid debut in "The Duellists." Scott gave it all his visual finesse. Hill says, "I always thought there was something English about the veneer and the formality of it, but simultaneously it has a social construct that is very American. It's very much a product of American culture and of writers and actors with American cultural attitudes."
The tension between officers and engineers, the rift between the science officer and the rest of the crew, and the mistrust of corporations -- all these elements echo the tensions of Carter-era America. And, says Hill, "If you can get past the ludicrous engineering of the thing, there is, at rock bottom, a fundamental logic to the piece. The idea that you'd hang on to something like this alien for weapons research -- at the time, that was a fresh idea, though today it must seem old hat."
Throughout the process, Hill and Giler kept their irreverent sense of humor. They called the space ship "Nostromo" not as a reference to Conrad's novel, but simply because it sounded good. They named Sigourney Weaver's character Ripley (right) not after Patricia Highsmith's homicidal antihero but after "Ripley's Believe It or Not." (Her first name, Ellen, was the middle name of Hill's mother.) The other characters were named for athletes: George Brett, Dave Parker, Jack Lambert, Arthur Ashe. http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/movies/blog/2011/01/walter_hill_on_alien_at_charle.html