While Alien remains in an elite class of truly transformative, genre-defining films, it seems that director Ridley Scott originally envisioned an extremely different climax for his 1979 space-horror epic. With Scott’s long-in-the-making return to the continuing (properly branded) franchise with Alien: Covenant arriving soon, the director dishes on a key moment during the making of the original film that could have changed the way it would be perceived by posterity.
Speaking with EW, Scott discusses a frightening (albeit blunter,) Alien alternate ending that he originally pitched to executives at 20th Century Fox. The film saw the crew of the commercial ship Nostromo get picked off by the film’s titular newly-born Xenomorph stowaway, leaving third-in-command Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) as the last person standing (along with Jones the cat) after an epic escape-shuttle showdown involving a space suit, a harpoon, an airlock button and an impromptu interstellar alien barbeque. However, Scott describes original designs for a killer coda with the brutal death of said protagonist with his alternate pitch:
“Before she slammed the buttons to open the door, I think she [Ripley] hits the buttons and the Alien holds on to the door. She harpoons, it makes no difference. It comes forward and it slams through her mask and rips her head off.” Adding, “I’m pitching this to the studio from Shepperton [a studio outside London,] and I could feel the tension over the phone.”
After describing a long silence over the phone, Scott continues his description with a shocking, Terminator-esque development, stating:
“Then, I cut to the desktop and the Alien’s hand comes and [taps on the buttons] and then, in a perfect mimic, mimics [Tom Skerrit’s dead ship captain] Dallas’s voice, saying, ‘I’m signing off.’”
The result of this apparent divergence of visions was a rather quick visit to the Shepperton set from the studio big brass, at which point they essentially read Scott the Riot Act:
“The first executive arrived within 14 hours, from Fox, threatening to fire me on the spot, so we didn’t do that [ending].”
While Scott seems somewhat wistful about his original macabre plan for one of the most important female protagonists in the history of fiction in Ellen Ripley, calling the alternate ending “a bit Hitchcock,” he does affirm the idea that keeping her head intact was, ultimately, the right thing to do. Indeed, with the bellwether 1979 film spawning three series sequels, two Alien vs. Predator crossover films, Scott’s artful 2012 prequel Prometheus and, of course, his own upcoming return with Alien: Covenant, Scott clearly took the path that benefitted the fans and himself (he’s planning four more movies after Covenant,) by keeping Ripley intact, despite initial temptation for a 1970’s-apropos darkly fatalistic ending.
Alien: Covenant will see classic visionary Ridley Scott in the director’s chair, taking the franchise back into a frighteningly claustrophobic, visceral form as a new crew is stalked by shadowy new breeds of Xenomorph. The film hits theaters on May 19. In the meantime, check out the original ending for Alien to get a better picture of how askew things could have gone with Scott’s original vision.