Tuesday, November 09, 2021

DOC NYC ’21: Alien on Stage

Few original films from 1979 are still generating sequels, theatrical documentaries, and even unlikely stage adaptations. Sure, the recent sequels have been questionable, but the second film has nearly equal status as a classic—and so does the third, for Fincher fans. Given extreme events that transpire, the idea of reconceiving Ridley Scott’s Alien for the stage would be daunting for anyone, especially for a company of limited means, like this amateur troupe of Dorset bus company employees. Nevertheless, they did just that, winning over super-fans Lucy Harvey & Danielle Kummer, who subsequently documented the production’s West End premiere in Alien on Stage which screens during this year’s DOC NYC.

Ordinarily, the Dorset bus drivers, known as “Paranoid Dramatics” would mount an annual holiday “pantomime” to raise money for charity. Basically, these were broad farces that encouraged ruckus responses from the audience. However, they decided to go serious for a year and agreed to give Luc Hayward a shot at adapting
Alien. It would be a family affair, with his mom Lydia playing Ripley and his father Raymond creating sets.

As director, Dave Mitchell drew on his military background to whip the company into shape and keep them focused. However, Peter Lawford might have had the hardest assignment as the creature designer. Their initial week-long run in Dorset was not the sell-out they hoped for, but it attracted two curious patrons from London, Harvey and Kummer, who were inspired to arrange their special one-night only premiere on the West End.

Alien on Stage
is an amiable film, but it is rather narrowly focused on the show’s genesis and the preparation for their West End “transfer.” (It isn’t much of a spoiler to say the Dorset players became a cult hit and would return in the year following.) However, they do a nice job of capturing the flavor of the show, which is unpolished but impressively resourceful. The Xenomorph costume really looks cool, while the chest-bursting effects are admittedly crude, but that is part of their charm.

Although Hayward somewhat simplified the narrative, he managed to keep a great deal of the film in stage version, as we saw from re-watching the original
Alien after screening the doc. Indeed, maybe the highest praise for the Dorset production is that it makes you want to revisit Scott’s film. Alas, nobody associated with any of the Alien films appears in the documentary, to offer comment or judgment. (More than anyone else, we would have loved to see a reaction shot from Joan Collins, who had a production booked to follow the DIY Alien in the same theater, later that night.)

It would surely be great fun to watch the Paranoid Dramatics’
Alien with an enthusiastic audience, so maybe seeing the documentary at festival screenings is the next best thing for fans who are unlikely to get to Dorset or the West End anytime soon. However, as a film divorced from the live audience experience, it is all very pleasant, but not exactly essential viewing. Still, it is pretty cool to see a group of regular folks, who get a big idea and pull it off, in their own way. Recommended for Alien franchise fans, Alien on Stage screens in-person Sunday (11/14) and Monday (11/15) and online (11/15-11/28).